Patricia McBride

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Interview Techniques

(Young People Now magazine)

There is so much competition for jobs now that thorough preparation is vital for success. But don’t relax once you have been given an interview date. Patricia McBride, author of the book Excel at Interviews: tactics for job and college interviews, gives tips on brushing up your interview techniques by understanding the types of question you will face.

Interviewers are taught different types of general questions they can use in all situations.

Closed questions can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. An example could be: ‘So you’ve been living in Bradford for three years?’ This type of question is used for finding out or clarifying information. But beware.

     Some interviewers are not skilled and will ask you a closed question when they actually want a longer answer. Do not be afraid to elaborate a little. For example, to the question above you could answer, ‘Yes, I like it here very much and have no plans to move.’ This will also tell the interviewer that you’re not going to vanish to another location once you've gained training and experience from their organisation.

     Leading questions strongly suggest to the other person how to answer. ‘So you'll be familiar with this type of work, then?’ ‘Well, how much do you want to earn? The maximum I can afford to pay is…’

     This is poor questioning technique and one which interviewers should avoid; the canny interviewee will quickly reply in the expected manner. I was actually asked the second question, along with the answer, by a personnel manager. I replied: ‘That’ll do nicely!”

     Multiple questions are when several questions are asked at once - also the sign of a poorly trainer interviewer. Such questions are so difficult to answer because they cause confusion. ‘So, what did you enjoy at college? Was it exciting being away from home for the first time? And what did they teach you that you can use here?”

     If you are unlucky enough to be faced with this type of questioning, keep calm. Remember as many of the questions as you can and then say: ’Well, if I could answer your first question first…’ and so on, until you’ve answered them all. If you can’t remember any, ask the interviewer to repeat them. The odds are that they won’t remember them either!

     Probing questions delve a little further into whatever is being discussed. ‘Can you tell me a little more about that?’ Skilled interviewers are likely to use this technique to encourage you to expand on your answers.

     Open questions are the most commonly used by a skilled interviewer; they are questions that are difficult to answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and often begin with the words who, what, when, where, how, tell me, describe, explain. For example, ‘How do you think your skills will fit this job?’ ‘What have you learned that will help you do this work?’

     Many interviewers recognise that open questions are also a way of encouraging nervous or quiet people to speak. When you are considering what type of questions you might be asked, word them as open questions. This is the sort you are most likely to meet.

     Hypothetical questions are those which pose a problem and ask you to describe how you would handle it. They are usually questions relating to the job or course you're applying for, but be prepared. I have heard college lecturers ask questions like: ‘If you were Prime Minister, what would you do about…’

     An example of a job related hypothetical question is ‘You have four urgent pieces of work on your desk, and only time to finish two of them. How would you decide which two?’ If you can’t answer this from direct experience, the trick is to refer back to a similar situation you have known. Simply say: ‘Well, I had a situation like that once.. could I tell you about it?’

     Make a checklist and be sure you know your responses to these questions (which you can guess from the Selection Criteria you should be sent). Also be prepared for questions such as:

*     What do you think school/college really taught you?

*     Did you belong to any clubs outside school?

*     What subject did you dislike most?

*     How fast can you…?

*     What do you think are the main tasks of this job?

*     Why do yo want to do this course/job?

*     What are your strengths/weaknesses?

*     If people were talking about you, what weaknesses would they feel you had?

*     What do you think you can offer this organisation/college?

*     Tell me about something you have done which you are proud of.

*     What do you think your references would say about you?

*     What leisure activities do you enjoy?

*     Would you describe yourself as sociable?

*     All your leisure activities are very sociable, this this job involves a lot of working alone. How will you cope?

     Now it’s cringe time. Think of all those questions you seriously dont want to be asked. For example: ‘Why were there 20 spelling intakes on your application form when you're applying for a job as a proofreader?’

     Try to turn these negative questions into positive answers. For example, ‘Why were you sacked from your Saturday job?’ you ay think you were sacked unfairly, and this may be the case, but one of the rules of the interview game is that you don’t run down ex-bosses, teachers or examining boards. Think about why you were sacked. Was it through some behaviour which you have now changed, for example, your unpunctuality?

     You could answer like this, ‘I had only just left school and unfortunately my parents were getting divorced and we had to move house. I became rather unreliable at work, and they didn't keep e on after my three month probation period. But things have settled down now and I’m back to my old self. You can see from my school references that I’m usually a very reliable person.

     Or perhaps the question would look more like this: ‘I see you were a member of a heavy metal band for a year. What use do you think that might be for this organisation?’

     Let’s assume the interviewer isn't being sarcastic and really wants to know. Either way, you should answer this type of question seriously. You could say, ‘Yes, that was good year which I really enjoyed. I learned a lot from it. We had to pull together as a team to get through a long list of gigs and always give a good performance. I learned to keep calm when everyone around me was rushing around…’

     You should never be asked questions of an intimate personal nature, they are not relevant to your ability to do a job. It is a sad but true fact that gender, race and sexual orientation discrimination still exists in Britain despite such discrimination being illegal. If you are asked a question of this nature you need to decide if the person is actually prejudiced or simply lacking in understanding.

     If a remark has been unforgivable, challenge the interview,gather your belonging and leave. Don’t lowee yourself to their level! Act assertively - you can get your point across just as effectively.

Captivating CVs

(Courses Magazine)

Patricia McBride, author of CVs and Applications (aimed at 19-21 year olds),

gives you top tips for writing the perfect CV.

Spring and early summer are busy periods for final-year students. Revision and exams dominate all your available time, yet inevitably you have to think about job hunting too. With high unemployment and as many as 200 people applying for some jobs, it’s easy to feel downhearted before you start.

     But think positive because with a winning CV you can improve your career prospects and get ahead of the field. While even a brilliant CV won’t guarantee you a job, it should get you an interview and that narrows the odds to about 8-1.


The CV examined

     So what exactly is a CV? The initials stand for curriculum vita or ‘story of your life’. But don’t take this too literally. What employers are interested in is information about your life as it relates to the job on offer. A CV is simply a sales tool, and you are the product. Sounds obvious, doesn't it, but many employers receive CVs which are not only poorly presented, but show little thought on the part of the applicants. Preparing a captivating CV involves:

* hard work

* creativity

* plenty of time

     A key point to keep in mind is that you must put yourself in the shoes of the shortlister. While many shortlisters are interviewers are untrained for the task, other are very organised. They will be using a checklist, ‘marking’ what you say on your CV against the job requirements.

Become the ideal candidate

     So try to imagine what he or she would consider the ideal candidate and shape your CV to meet that ideal. There are plenty of clues to help you:

* the job advertisement

* the job description

* the person specification (if one is supplied)

* knowledge you have obtained about the organisation or the work

     By the way, a Job Description describes the job to be done (ie the skills needed) and the Person Specification described the sort of person who can do the job (personal qualities)

Writing ‘on spec’

     If there are no jobs available, consider writing to organisation on spec; that is on the off chance that there is a job available that has not been advertised. This can be surprisingly successful. Some companies keep a file of people who have written in this way and when a vacancy occurs they contact them rather than advertise. As long as you know the type of work you want to do, you can treat an on spec application much as any other. But you'll have to try to work out for yourself what the Job Description and Person Specification may say and proceed from there. You may be able to find this information by looking at what other organisations advertising similar jobs require.

     Always find out the name of the person you should write to - a call to their office is usually enough. And if you are writing speculatively, you should definitely say the type of work you are looking for and why you want to work for this particular organisation. Flattery may get you every where! Follow up your letter with a phone call two or three days later a this shows enthusiasm and may tell you if you're wasting your time.


Here are six simple steps to make producing the perfect CV more manageable:

1.     Layout and practical matters

     There is no ‘correct’ way to set out a CV, but there are important guidelines. Whatever style you use, present your information consistently for easy reading, so don’t for example mix 3 March 2010 with 3.3.10. Don’t use too many fonts either - preferably not more than three.

     Most people use a Chronological CV presenting information in the order shown below. But remember, that is only a guideline.

2.     Personal statement

     It’s a good idea to write a brief statement under your contact details ‘selling’ yourself. This precedes the remainder of your factual details. This personal statement can include aspects of your personality as well as your skills, so when you write it remember the requirement information in the Person Specification. You may need to call on what you've learnt in work shadowing or part-time work to write this.

3.     Education

     If you have very relevant skills for the job in question, you may choose to put the education section below your ‘career to date' details - the choice is yours. By the way, if you have any additional training, for example when doing a summer job, make this title ‘Education and Training’. Even a one-day course may be of interest to a prospective employer. At your age, the employers will be interested in your grades as well as the type of qualifications you gained.

4.     Career to date (or ‘Work Experience’)

     List your information here in a way that demonstrates your skills. Try, as much as possible, to match these to the skills shown in the Job Description, Advertisement and Person Specification. Ideally, present them in the same order. Using bullet points makes it easy for the shortlister to check your information and allows you to present it in a limited amount of space.

5.     Interests (or ‘Additional Information’)

     Many people hate this section because they feel all they do is watch television or go out with their mates, so they're at a loss as to what to write. This is when you wish you'd listened to all those adults telling you to join something or do something. Most employers are looking for people who are ‘rounded’. A rounded person is one who likes being with others but who can also work alone. They have good communication skills. So make the most of what you’ve got. If you have done any voluntary work or belonged to any clubs or groups, mention them.

     If however, you have been a bit of a couch potato, you can still say something like ‘I enjoy watching science fiction films.’ Going out with your mates becomes ‘I enjoy socialising and get on well with people.’ Messing about on a computer becomes ‘I am enthusiastic about computers and skilled on several software packages.’

     Naturally this is your chance to boast about any special responsibilities, such as committee membership, being a prefect, etc. Note that you can use ‘I’ language here rather than simply list your interests. Make yourself come alive as a person. And remember, everyone likes people who are happy and enthusiastic!

6.     Covering letter

     Always send a letter with your CV. It should be not more than one side of A4 and on good quality paper. It’s your chance to add any information that didn't naturally fit onto the CV, or to re-emphasise your strong points. Say why you are interested in this job with this organisation. If you haven’t put your referees on your CV, your could include that information here. Do check with referees beforehand that they are willing to write a reference for you.

Making interview nerves a thing of the past

(Cambridge Evening News)

Most people look forward to a job interview with as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist. Unfortunately, this feeling of dread can affect performance so that even brilliant candidates let themselves down.

     However, according to training consultant Patricia McBride, proper planning can minimise your tension and significantly increase your chances of success. She recommends:

*     Proper preparation - work out, by studying the details of the job and your own skills, all the questions you are likely to be asked. Write them down and then plan your answers.

*      Arrive unrushed - being late for an interview will not impress. Plan your route. If necessary try it a day or two beforehand. Do so at the same time of day as your interview to check traffic flow. Then allow extra time for the unexpected.

*     Use relaxation techniques - deep breathing is an obvious example here. Most people breathe shallowly when stressed and can even hyperventilate. However, you can train yourself to feel calm in interviews. For example, try visualisation:

*     have a clear vision in your mind of yourself at the interview. If you find interviews difficult,  you will probably immediately begin to feel tense and breathe more shallowly. Keeping that vision in your mind, gradually change it until you see yourself performing really well, handling the interview confidently and really impressing the interviewer with your skills. As you visualise this, change your body language to a confident, relaxed posture. Breathe calmly and easily. Say to yourself, 'I am confident and relaxed in interviews.' As you leave your visualisation touch your wrist.

     Practice this technique several times until you associate touching your wrist (a very natural gesture) with feeling relaxed. Then, the next time you feel tense in an interview, simply rest one hand on the other wrist and let the confident feelings flood over you.

     One final tip. Remember the interviewer wants you to be good. If you've got as far as the interview you have real potential from the company's point of view. Show them you're the right choice!

Patricia McBride is the author of Excel at Interview and CVs and Applications.