Interview Preparation, as easy as One, Two, P

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The first working Monday in January dubbed “Divorce Day” by lawyers because of the spike in couples considering ending their marriages after the festive period. It’s also peak time for joining a gym for those seeking to shift the results of festive indulgence AND it sees many of us deciding to explore the job market and interview for a new role as the current one may look less appealing on a cold and rainy Monday in January.

Being a fully paid up member of the above triad of change, having started the last decade in the ruins of a previous long term relationship and ending it, celebrating a five year wedding anniversary, I can assure you that life will get better; how quickly will hinge upon ones willingness to persevere and prepare. If you find yourself in the latter of the trio and are about to launch into the job market, read on, you might just find it useful.

Whilst we focus on Non-Executive and C-suite roles at Forster Chase, preparation for interview does not change with level of seniority, only your answers based on your experience will change. Therefore whether you are interviewing for CEO or Chief Dishwasher, where I started my career, the principles herewith are universal. Mindful that we are not able to help everyone directly you may find this process makes you feel more prepared and in turn more confident at your next interview.

The Army have a saying, “Proper Preparation Prevents P**s Poor Performance” otherwise known as the six Ps. This is very apt in this instance as the first mistake many people make is not setting aside ample time to prepare or indeed failing to do any preparation. The next challenge is figuring out what to prepare, but how can you possibly prepare when you don’t know what you are going to be asked? This can lead long pauses before answering questions, or irrelevant waffling that doesn’t answer the question at all, neither of which makes a good first impression.

Whilst there are an infinite number of questions you could be asked at interview (after analysing feedback from interviews from the last decade of my career), I have come to the unscientific conclusion that around 90% of what you will be asked will fall into three main groups. The number three is important, it is a divine number in many religions and every story has a beginning, middle and an end. More importantly in this case, it’s an easy amount of topics to remember.

So my three Ps of interview preparation are, past, people and personal, but more on these shortly. The next thing to think about is what your preparation looks like. The human brain is great for storing information but without structure it can be hard to access /remember, it also stores information in pictures and colour. This is what the phrase “in my mind’s eye” means.

The example Interview preparation aid below uses colour and shapes deliberately as you are more likely to remember it as opposed to words alone. To make it even more effective you should draw it from scratch on a blank piece of paper as this physical act helps imprint the information in your mind; so the next time you have an interview you can use the following process:


1. Draw three large over lapping circles on a piece of paper, two at the top and one below. Write the words previous experience (past), people 360″ and personal attributes, in different circles and the numbers one to six in each.

2. Next to each number write a specific example, no more than four words, that demonstrates your ability in that area. Six examples will give you enough range to vary your answers.

Previous experience should include examples of your achievements, qualifications and responsibilities that are relevant to the role, sector or organisation you are applying to.

People should include examples of how you influence and build relationships with all stakeholders, superiors, peers, subordinates, internal customers or external stakeholders. Include some difficult situations in this section.

Personal attributes should include the things that make you unique; what are your values, qualities and drivers, and reasons they should hire you? Again, have specific examples that demonstrate these.

3. Now that you have 18 examples in total, structure them in your mind using S.T.A.R.

Situation: where and who with?
Task: what did you have to do?
Action: what specific actions did you take over what time?
Result: What were the qualitative and quantitative results?

The S.T.A.R. structure helps you give a complete answer that is detailed enough to answer the question fully whilst but also being concise enough to prevent becoming verbose.

4. Now research the company and the person(s) you are meeting, what is their position, do you have anything in common or mutual connections.

The interviewer’s position and level of seniority will influence what is important to them when asking questions.

Information is easy obtain so there is no excuse not to know about the company. Look at their website, news stories, and financial accounts, the LinkedIn profiles of who you are meeting and other employees and company history. Look at their company and values if published and check that some of your examples demonstrate these.

5. Prepare questions for them, again I would have at least six, if some are answered in the course of the interview you will still have more to ask. Use open questions that relate to strategy, challenges and culture. Avoid asking about salary and benefits as this can be done outside of the interview process.

6. Finally you should practise, use someone you trust to ask you questions and give you honest feedback on delivery, confidence, body language and eye contact.

Don’t smoke in the hours before an interview or wear very a strong scent, everyone you meet is interviewing you so be pleasant to the receptionist or anyone you meet before the interviewer, ask them polite questions, they will voice their opinion later on you and you might be surprised on the useful information you find out.

Once you have done all of the above, you will be able to picture 18 examples that can be used to answer a variety of questions, this will make you feel more confident as it cuts down thinking time and silence gaps in the interview; five seconds is a long time when someone is staring at you waiting for an answer.

When asked a question all you have to do is decide whether the question is predominantly related to your previous experience, influencing people or your personal attributes. You will visualise the diagram, pick an example and start talking in less than two seconds.

This covers 90% of what you may be asked, if you are asked more random questions about what animal you would be, just go with what comes to mind. If you are interviewing for a role that requires a particular ability e.g. analytical, creativity or sales, then you may be asked to solve a problem or come up with an idea that demonstrated these. Try to speak with someone that works in the company or your recruitment consultant, if you are using one, to find out what style of interview that interviewer may use so you can prepare.

Of course this structure is not exhaustive and is always being updated. If you have any feedback I’d love to hear from you, please reach me on the contact details below.

I wish you great success with all your endeavors in this new decade.

Mark Beacom
Managing Partner
Forster Chase


Mobile: +44 (0) 7399 150 490