Guide to smashing a job interview

Written by Natalie

The blasted job interview. For so many people this is daunting, however for people who stammer this process is crippling. The terror of being questioned and explaining why YOU deserve the opportunity to work for their company. 

I felt inspired to share my personal interviewing advice following a previous podcast, where I shared some of my personal secrets that have enabled me to have a 99% interview success rate and why I now thrive on the challenge of an interview and fighting off the competition.

Simply, for me it was mindset. Once I reached university I realised I’d made it on my own. Whilst at university I secured a head chef position. I was a manager, in charge of my own kitchen and team. I realised I’d made it on my own. Id reached these milestones because I’d worked hard to gain all the knowledge and experience I could. When I was a line chef, I made sure I knew and could do everything the head chef could do. Why? because if they go off sick, on holiday or just need an extra pair of hands and they need a back-up, who are they going to come to? Me. I created and reinforced my own worth, I created an environment where people respected me.¬† This simple change in mindset was the platform for me to expand on and grow my confidence on the back of the knowledge and experience I was gaining from my career. From then on I have worked my way up the kitchen ranks to go onto completely change my career, and work in higher education with learners completing apprenticeships in Business, management & leadership and hospitality & catering.

This leads me into my pre-interview advice, I follow these like they’re life or death, and they really help me feel like I’m in control. ūüí™

Before applying for that amazing job: If you’re ready to apply for jobs, then you’ll have a CV and, I hope, a cover letter. Now I have heard mixed feelings about adding information about your stammer to your CV, I feel that if you’re not comfortable with it on, don’t include it, as the idea of it being on there is to generate awareness, curiosity and for me, questions. If you’re uncomfortable with questions, this will create a negative interview experience, and we’re trying to avoid that. However if you are comfortable with including it, I feel that this is can be valuable.

For me the reason is that I work in higher education dealing with upwards of 40+ students per caseload, through my visits with students I have been able to not only educate but also expose individuals who ordinarily wouldn’t come into contact with a PWS or speech disorder. For this reason I have something to offer that I’m pretty sure no other candidate would have. We all do, its just whether we know how to use it.

Before I have even mentioned my stammer, I have taught them 2 fundamental British values “tolerance” and “diversity” (OFSTED requirement) not only this¬†I have also taught and shown¬†them what equality¬†in the workplace looks like. For this reason I include it in my personal profile right at the top because I believe it sets me apart from my competition, but for all the right reasons.¬†

If you work in an industry that doesn’t deal with customers directly, or you can’t think of an area where your stammer sets you apart from your colleagues (but I dare you to tell me you can’t!) then you can include it in your “hobbies and interests” section, if you’re active within the stammering community then include this! Tell them that you attend conferences, tell them that you run your own support group or blog. Even if you’re only active on social media and you only read posts, will they know that? No.

As long as you’re not fibbing about your credentials, we can let you off on the little white lies you tell to get it on there!¬†

Now the cover letter, this is actually really important as your CV tells them what you’ve done, whereas your cover letter tells them what you have to offer and where you want to go. Basically you can tell them what you want!

So, what’s your goal? This goal doesn’t necessarily need to be something you plan to gain with the employer your applying with,¬†again they don’t need to know that, they just see someone who is driven and knows what they want and is going to be dedicated. I again include my stammer in my cover letter because it’s something that I can offer them, that would add to their company (how many pws do you think they already hire?) and¬†I of course tell them how. If you really wanted to go the extra mile, I write my cover letter around the job description I’m applying for, this is a skill though and can take time we just don’t have! (But if you want to know more, just ask!)¬†

You’ve got yourself an interview: Congratulations! you have been short-listed for interview. This means they have chosen you over others to meet face to face. This means that you are currently more than qualified to do the job and they like the sound of you. So enjoy this moment for a minute. Do you feel how good that feels? That feeling is confidence. It might be small but that is what is going to drive you over the next few days while you prepare yourself to knock their socks off!¬†

Before I go into the main tips, a¬†great bit of advice is to make notes! You’ll take those with you, I always have notes with me and if an employer doesn’t like that, well then they are not my kind of employer. I have key bits of information I want to remember, I will highlight throughout what I include in these notes.

Tip 1: Read and re-read the job description. My advice – print it off. I know you will have already read it pretty well to determine whether it is worth applying, but now your reading it so you associate yourself with the type of person they are looking for and not just what the job entails and whether you can do it. I do this because I know that their questions will closely link to the type of person they are looking for. If the job description is asking for someone organised, ask yourself am I really organised?¬†Well, how are you organised? Do you use a diary? Or are you tech-savvy like me and use Google that links emails, calendars and every single other google¬†app together so I can never miss a single thing? The likelihood is they may ask, and saying “I’m very organised” isn’t going to cut it, they’re going to want to know how. If you read that job description and your thinking “I meet most or all of what they’re looking for”. Then, breath another sigh of relief. This is another moment you want to enjoy and take on that feeling of confidence and add to the little stockpile your saving up for interview day!

This is where I would start compiling notes, I would note down what I believe are key attributes they are looking for and I try to include these when I answer questions. 

Tip 2: Know more about the company than the interviewer!¬†Without fail they will¬†ask “What do you know about the company?”, and looking blankly at them saying “Errrm” because you can barely remember the name of the company, let alone anything else is never going to go down very well. All you have to do is sit and go through their website! Everything you need to know is on there. Now you don’t have to go as far as me as the subheading suggests and know the exact date the company started, where their first branch was or what their turnover was for 2002. I joke, I stir clear of financials!¬†

You do however want to know basic details of the company; How long has it been running for? How many branches, if any? How many employees they hire and¬†do they have any sister companies or within an umbrella organisation. I also find it useful to look at the ‘events’ section or ‘business updates’ sections, as this tells you what the¬†company has done recently, like raise money for charity, if this is something you also do, note this down because you are going to want to mention it as it shows you share the same values! Also knowing all this actually shows you want to work for the company.¬†

Now an absolute must here for me is to read through the company values and ethics. If they don’t resonate with me then I’m going to struggle seeing myself working for them. I know this sounds extreme but I want to know that my employer is seeking the same things as me, after all, I will be the face and representation of the company when dealing with customers, I need to be happy with what I’m representing.

Again take notes!! Once you have exhausted every single page of their website, look back over your notes and make sure you feel comfortable with what you have got. Once done, this is another milestone for you to enjoy and take confidence in the fact that you are already more prepared than a lot of others! but there is still more for us to do to really make sure that we stand out. 

Tip 3: know your strengths (and weaknesses): This sounds like common sense but you’d be surprised how many people are unprepared for this question or they give the generic “I’m a team player” or “I’m a good communicator”, but are answers like that going to knock their socks off? The answer is no, be creative, if your not creative then find ways of rewording them, for example “I’m a team player” could be changed to “I can establish and maintain strong relationships with colleagues”¬†and “I’m a good communicator” to “I ensure all information is passed on clearly and concisely and has been understood”. Now I know what your thinking… these are long answers, and I don’t need anymore to say! But answers like these create conversation, whereas the shorter the answer the more jolted and awkward the interview will feel. For me this is all part of forming a relationship with the interviewer, you want them to see your personality and imagine working with you.

Now I mention weaknesses in the sub-heading, some employers do ask this, although I haven’t been asked this in a very long time. If they do, they’re trying to catch you out, so it pays to be prepared. With these, I don’t feel it’s so much how you present them but more how you manage them.

Remember make notes! List 3-5 strengths and weaknesses. 
You have identified your strengths and weaknesses, this is probably the hardest step. Don’t create a final draft until the day before, take a few days to seriously think about it and make them count, especially the weaknesses! Draw confidence from you achieving this and add it to your pile! – it’s important to say that being able to identify your weaknesses is a priceless ability. Being able to “check yo-self” is important!¬†

Tip 4:  Always have questions: This is an important one and one a lot of people miss. They will always ask if you have any questions at the end. Now how I tackle this one is I just sit and write any question I can think of, even ones I know the answer too already, just in case it sparks another one. Things like; What channels are there for progression? What benefits do I get? How many will be on my team?

Use this time to really get to know who you’re going to be working for, so I always ask about the interviewers and their backgrounds. This again adds to that relationship and shows your actually interested, plus¬†you might find you have things in common! And gives an opportunity for a conversation the other applicants may not have had! I can’t speak for every interviewer but some frown upon not having questions to ask, I have had a few times where they have genuinely answered all my questions throughout the interview, this is okay, just tell them!¬†

Tip 5: Surprise questions: Everyone being interviewed dreads the ‘surprise’ questions, you know the ones that render you speechless? Well I’ve had a few of these myself, and for a PWS these can end the interview for you right there. So, how is it best to be prepared for these? Well, there’s no real way of preparing, unless you’re going to sit and think of every single question possible. So my personal advice for these is to just expect them, if you can’t prepare an answer, prepare yourself to be asked. If you are asked one, take a breath, they would rather you take an extra few seconds to think and compose yourself then to ramble on for 5 minutes about nonsense and not even answer the question.

Take this time to breathe and think…sit back even! as soon as you tense up, your body is going to hit you with adrenaline and you won’t be able to think clearly, let alone say what you want to say. And remember, it’s ‘quality over quantity’ so give them as clear and concise answer as possible. All with a smile, because you nailed it.

Tip 6: You’re not the only one being interviewed!
So I have saved my best and most valuable tip till last, and this tip is priceless. Simply put, an interview is not only an opportunity for the interviewer to interview you but an opportunity for you to interview the interviewer and the company.

My logic? When you go to an interview, unless you have worked for them before or currently, you have no idea what it’s like to work for them. Now I know a lot can be misconstrued and hidden during such a short space of time, but trust me when I say, if it’s not right, you will feel it. So take this opportunity to actually figure out what it will be like to work for them, there’s a lot you can learn from what they didn’t say. For example, I once asked about flexibility of hours, because it was a home-based role, their answer “Your hours depend on your students”, what I got from that was no. For this reason when they offered me it, I actually turned it down. That’s right!¬†Never be afraid to turn down a job because it doesn’t fit in with what YOU¬†want out of life! They actually called me back and offered me a more flexible contract, so it pays to be stubborn sometimes.

For me this tactic means I’m too busy listening to their answers, to be worrying about my stammer, because there is nothing worse than starting with a company, being 4 weeks in and realising you made a mistake!

Before leaving an interview, if they haven’t already told you always ask when you expect to hear their decision by. There’s nothing worse than leaving and realising you forgot to ask and you’re then left in limbo and it’s my luck that on those occasions its weeks! This way your prepared for their call.

That’s it, I have shared my interviewing wisdom with you, you should now have an overflowing pot of confidence waiting for you to use, because your now so prepared you’ve basically written a script!
I’m no expert, I can only share what has worked for me. So much so that I have just secured a job that I thought I lacked experience for so if I can swear by anything, it’s these! These tips will only work however if you believe you can do it and you deserve that job.

If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect other people to believe in you?

Now, I’m sure your asking, where are the tips to help with my stammer? Well I have given you them. The confidence and control you have gained in preparing are what is going to be helping your stammer, plus you’re too busy interviewing them remember!

Please take a look at this link from the British Stammering Associations website, they have some resources for employees in the workplace: https://www.stammering.org/help-information/topics/work/employers-stammering-network-0/employees.

Happy job hunting and even happier interviews!

#Proudtostammer ūüíö

Guide to smashing a job interview

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