Although there is no set format for a job interview, and every interviewer is different, there are some key things to remember to ensure you are well prepared and give your best performance on the day.
• Review your CV before your interview. Decide what your main strengths are, but similarly, identify some weaknesses and have a phrase ready for countering them in a positive way. It’s always useful to take along some project examples or examples of your written work to accompany your CV as it creates a good talking point (around schemes you know inside out and are comfortable talking about). This will also give a practical example of your report writing skills, which is so important in planning roles.
• Research the organisation. The easiest place to start your research is on the internet, but other useful sources of information include reference libraries, company reports and marketing or publicity literature. Find out about the organisation’s services, locations, number of employees etc. Research current and past projects ready to mention in the interview to show you have done your research well.
• Think about the sector the role is in and the different challenges that would bring. For example, if you are making the transition from a local authority planning role to a consultancy-led role, think about how to best get across your strengths and transferable skills (such as your in-depth knowledge of the application process, managing a caseload of multiple applications or your knowledge of local policies and your contacts within the authority). But also think about areas that you may not be as experienced in that are important in consultancy roles (such as business development and acting on behalf of clients). Think about how you would apply yourself and your skills to these new areas.
• Look again at the job description. You will need to show that your experience can benefit the company and fits their requirements. This could relate to similar projects e.g. experience in residential schemes if the employer works with a number of housebuilders, or it could be experience of mentoring junior planners if you’re going for a team leader role.
• Write a list of questions you want to ask about the company or job and take it with you to the interview.
• Think about your image. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Decide what to wear in advance and make sure your clothes are clean and presentable.
• Plan your journey. Remember to allow time for traffic disruptions and parking.
• First and foremost, arrive on time. Ensure you know the name of the person you are seeing.
• When greeted by the interviewer, your handshake should be firm. Sit down when invited, be alert and enthusiastic. Sit upright but be relaxed and try not to fidget. Do not fold your arms across your chest; be open to the interviewer.
• Your smile should be natural and your voice should convey enthusiasm. Be wary of talking too much; as a general guide, you should be contributing about 50 per cent of the conversation. Similarly, try not to talk too quickly.
• Keep regular eye contact, but do not stare. Try not to look at your watch or out of the window as this will imply you are not interested and can be very distracting for the interviewer.
• Most importantly, be confident and positive.
• At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for their time and make your exit gracefully!
Ruth Allanson is associate director at recruitment consultancy Beach Baker.