The art of being prepared

You've been selected for interview so you've obviously got the right skills and experience for the job. Your challenge is to ensure you present your experience in a compelling way during the interview. What's going to make the interviewer walk out and think ‘wow, we have to hire this person!’?

Set the scene

It is important to set the scene at the beginning of an interview. Avoid jumping straight into detail otherwise you'll miss an opportunity to get the interviewers on the same page as you. If you approach the start of the interview correctly, the rest will flow more easily and you will minimise time focused on structural questions thus allowing you to spend more of the interview demonstrating your successes.

In order to set the scene, describe your current role in terms of the team structure, who you report into, what areas of the business you're responsible for, who you manage (if you have line management responsibilities) and which key stakeholders you work with. If you're from outside the legal sector, you should start by briefly describing the organisation you work at in terms of size, products, clients etc. If you already work in a professional services environment outline the number of partners and fee earners you work with, and explain the structure of your function in that firm – for example, do you sit centrally or within a practice area? At this stage you should also mention if you have international responsibility.

Practice this scene-setting out loud beforehand so that by the time you get to interview, it's a slick, short, clear description.

Know your CV

If your CV has been written well (see our previous blog posting on CV writing) it will contain examples of key achievements. It's likely these are the things the interviewers will ask you about. So make sure you know your CV and are ready to talk about the achievements listed. It's best not to have your CV in front of you during the interview as you don't want to appear to be reading from a script.

Give tangible and measurable examples

This is how you differentiate yourself. You will be asked to talk about your experience in a specific area and the best thing you can do is give tangible evidence of your success rather than just saying what you did. If you're an HR professional, for instance, and you're asked about your experience in salary reviews, rather than saying you've had experience of salary reviews, give a tangible example. This might include your objective, how you benchmarked salaries, what level fee earners and staff you were dealing with, which partners and/or directors you consulted with, how it was communicated, whether you had any challenging situations, and what the result was etc.

Practice explaining your experience in an 'achievement' rather than a 'doing' way. By the time you get to interview you'll impress the interviewers with all your tangible evidence of success.

Tell anecdotes and stories

Telling anecdotes and stories is a great way to bring your experience to life and you will be remembered for a good story. If you're a BD professional being asked about your pitching experience, why not respond with “well I've actually just finished working on a really challenging panel pitch for company X …” and tell the story. Or “we had a near disaster with a recent pitch for company Y …” and give anecdotal evidence of what happened. You may be asked how you cope in difficult situations. Instead of replying theoretically, tell a story to bring your response to life.

Preparation as ever is key to success. As may be obvious from the tips above, the more you think about your approach to interview, and practice your responses, the more likely you will be to receive not just one, but a choice of job offers.

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