How to interview - and get the job
You've been invited for interview so how do you make sure you get the job? Here’s some practical advice from Kathryn Tomlinson, BBC Media Action’s Asia Regional Director.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
There are three key areas of preparation: about us, about them and about you.
- Prepare to talk about us. Read our website – and not just the specific area you’re interested in. It’s also a good idea to talk to other people who work in the organisation – it gives you inside information, and even if it doesn’t, you’ll be able to show in an interview that you’ve done some homework. However, once you’ve got an interview, don’t contact the people on the interview panel - that’s fine before the shortlist, but not after.
- Prepare to talk about the sector. If you’re new to working in media, find out more about public service broadcasting and the BBC (ever heard of the BBC Editorial Guidelines? No? Find them.) Think about what the BBC stands for, and what that means working for an international charity that's part of the BBC. If you’re new to development, read up on this: what are the MDGs, what is an NGO, what does the UN do? And if you’re new to media development and communication for development (C4D), do your reading too. Checking out our peers and competitors in the “media development” and “communication for development” fields is a good plan as it gives you a broader view of the sector.
- Prepare to talk about yourself. Re-read the job description, and think of examples of how you fulfil the essential skills and experience. Try to have at least three examples for each essential requirement, and ideally the same for any desirable skills, so that you’re not scrabbling around in your head for examples in the interview.
Be on time
This is so ridiculously obvious that it shouldn’t need saying, but it does.
The same is true for telephone interviews. If we can’t get through to you the first time we call, it doesn’t leave a good first impression. Make sure you’re in a place where you have good reception, and no-one else is on the line to you at the time we’re going to call.
…but don’t worry if we’re not on time
Interviews overrun – because the telephones don’t work, because the last person talked too much, because we overestimated the number of questions we could ask in the time available. We won’t have forgotten you. If perhaps it’s 15 minutes late, then maybe contact BBC recruitment and check that there isn’t a problem on your end (like we’ve got the wrong telephone number for you). But don’t panic.
Telephone interviews are fine
As an international development organisation we regularly have “meetings” on the telephone. It’s a completely normal way of working for us, and the same goes for interviews. Of course we would like to see you, but that's often not possible or good value for money. I was appointed after two telephone interviews; I have appointed lots of people after telephone interviews, including the last two country directors I recruited. One striking candidate had to suffer the line cutting out after 74 seconds, six times. She got the job, perhaps in part because she showed incredible composure in both getting through that, and finding an alternative phone line.
Don’t tell us (too much) about us
It is always impressive when a candidate weaves evidence that they have looked into what we do into an answer. But there’s a balance to be struck between you showing you’ve done your research and telling me what I already know. Don’t tell me that “you run a very successful programme in X, that does Y, reaching Z, and it has been running since W…” I know. I set it up.
Listen to the question
You’re nervous. But listen, give yourself a few seconds to digest the question, before launching into your answer. It may not be the question you expect. And do this for every question – the first one may lull you into a false sense of security! I’ve just done 11 interviews for the same post, and not one candidate actually answered the second question; they all answered what they thought the second question asked.
Be honest if you don’t know
We sometimes use scenario-based questions to find out how people think about problems, and to see what principles guide their thinking. If the scenario we pose is far outside your experience, and you know it is an area that you would need to develop, say as much. It is far more impressive for you to be self-reflective and open to learning, and then have a stab at answering, than to flounder defensively. We’ll recognise if you don’t know something; we’ll be far more interested in you if you to recognise that too.
If you’re asked for a specific example, give us a specific example
The only way we can tell whether you’ve got the experience you claim to have is if you give us specific examples of the things you have done. If we ask “tell us about a time when” or “give me an example of”, do exactly that. Don’t describe what you would do in a situation or give generalisations.
Think in STARs
When you’re giving an example, it’s good practice to make it a 'STAR'. Start with a very brief description of the Situation, and a similarly brief description of the Task you took on. We want to hear far more about the Action you took, and what happened as a Result.
Ideally, you have an example with a positive result, but if it all went horribly wrong, tell us that too – and why, and what you have learnt, and what you are now doing differently. That’s better than an example of an action that hasn’t yet finished – as you can’t tell us what the results were.
How long to talk
The STAR approach also helps you frame your answer and not talk for too long or too short a time. You need to give us enough information to understand what a great job you did in that particular situation, but not give us lots of details that we don’t need to know, and won’t care to remember.
There’s still no 'I' in team
In your answers, be as specific as possible about what you, individually, have done. I want to know what you've done, not what “we” have done.
If you’re asked in interview ‘What did you find difficult about X?’, ‘What would you find most difficult about the job?’ or ‘Tell us about a time you have made a professional mistake’, don’t try to make out that you’re perfect. These questions are not designed to trip you up, they’re designed to help us understand how well you can examine and reflect on your own performance.
What are your salary expectations?
You’re likely to be asked what you’d like to earn. It’s a difficult question to answer but do your research online about BBC salary bands, and don’t undersell yourself as you won’t have much of a chance to re-address your salary once you’re in the job.
Make us laugh
Or at least smile. We want to enjoy working with you. This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to be funny, but it does mean trying to be relaxed, and as natural as you can be.
Ask questions of us
At the end of the interview, most interviewers will give you a chance to ask questions. You’re highly unlikely to be marked on these, and you don’t have to ask any, but having questions to ask implies that you're interested, you have thought about the job, you want to know more because you see yourself doing it. So have one or two up your sleeve to ask at the end. It’s fine to ask what happens next in the interview process if we haven’t told you, but have something more interesting to ask too.
Always ask for feedback. Whether or not you get the job, ask for any comments or advice on how the interview went. In the BBC we're committed to providing personal feedback by phone, so if you get the interview result in a different way, still ask for someone to call you.