In Part 1 of the job interview series we looked at how to prepare for the interview, focusing on the research you need to carry out and making sure you are one step ahead of the other candidates. In Part two we will look at the kind of questions you may get asked in your interview and tips on how to respond.
The day of the interview
On the day of the interview make sure you dress appropriately. This will vary according to the type of practice or firm you are being interviewed by, but it is always better to overdress than underdress. Personally I am not a fan of the formal suit look, and being a creative industry I think it is more acceptable to be a little more casual. However, if you aren’t sure, go smart. There is nothing wrong with giving a professional first impression and showing your potential employers that you are taking the interview seriously.
Make sure that you are on time for your interview. Pretty obvious, but it is incredibly annoying when people are late – and it gives a poor impression if you are late for an interview. Don’t arrive too early though, as this can be equally frustrating if the employer has a busy schedule and is aware that you are sitting in reception tapping your fingers waiting for them!
Shake hands, be polite. Look people in the eye, not down at the ground. Try not to fidget!
Questions you may be asked
Prepare yourself for the questions you may be asked. Take a look at some of the following answers and think about how you might answer them. It is always good to pick out some of your key strengths to integrate into your answers. By practising how you might respond to the questions you will save a lot of ‘ums and errs’ while you sit in the interview trying to rack your brain for a response.
Tell me about yourself
Prepare a short statement about yourself that you can use if asked this question. Don’t sound to rehearsed, but talk about jobs you have done and perhaps how they may relate to the position you are interviewing for. If you are fresh out of college or university, perhaps talk about your key skills, and key achievements during your course.
This is where your preparation will be useful. If you know more about the practice, you will have more of an idea of the kind of thing they work on, and what they will be interested to hear about from your working background. Obviously, don’t make stuff up – if you don’t have experience directly relevant to what they work on, try and pick out elements that tie in in some way.
Likewise, you can use your portfolio to tell a story. The portfolio gives you an opportunity to take the interviewer step by step through your experience. Preparing your portfolio, and introductory statement about yourself will really pay off in the interview.
Why did you leave your last job?
It is most likely you are leaving a job for negative reasons – dissatisfied with pay, poor hours, colleagues etc. Although these may be the reasons it is probably best to bend the truth a little on this. Don’t be negative about a previous employer, this is really unprofessional. It is usually best to focus on the positives, for example: “while I have really enjoyed working on planning applications and gained a thorough knowledge of the process, I am keen to expand this knowledge. I have always been very interested in working on educational projects, and the position you advertise working on construction drawings for schools would be an exciting opportunity for me.”
What do you know about the practice?
This one should be pretty easy if you have done your research, but I also talk a little about this question on part 1 of this series.
Why do you want to work at this company?
Generally this question should be easy – unless you are just looking for any old job, anyone who will have you! Try to flatter the company, and again show them that you know something about them. Whether it is their reputation for high end design, a specific sector they work in that interests you, or even their reputation as great employers.
What is your best skill?
Be positive, things like problem solving, working well to deadlines, working well under pressure all come across well. Think about the software you use, are you a whiz with ArchiCAD or can you mock up a visual in a matter of hours. If possible try to mention something that the interviewer would be looking for.
What are your salary expectations? or What salary do you need?
This is a tricky question, so be prepared to tread carefully. If the role has been advertised with a salary bracket, that helps. However, if you don’t know what they are offering, perhaps counter the question with something like “thats a tough question, can you tell me the range for this position?”. The interviewer may or may not disclose a range. If they don’t, give a wide range, saying that it is dependent on the requirements and details of the job.
Don’t forget that if the job is offered to you, it is always possible to negotiate the salary after the offer. Don’t think that just because you have been offered the job, you have to take the first salary offer they give you.
What are your weaknesses?
I hate this question. I think most people do. Whilst you don’t want to say anything that would put the potential employer off – you also don’t want to sound too cheesy. Something like “I’m a workaholic” or “I love architecture too much” is a little embarrassing. Perhaps think back to when you have made a mistake (a small one!), and mention that, and how you have rectified it or what you have learnt from it.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
If you dream of starting your own practice, I would probably not use this as an opportunity to share your goals. Your interviewer is looking for long term commitment, so would probably be put off if they know you want to go it alone in the near future.
Instead I would focus on goals you would like to achieve whilst working with them. For example, gaining your part 3 qualification, becoming a chartered member of CIAT, perhaps becoming the lead architect in a project, gain a greater knowledge in a particular area – and so on.
Other questions you may be asked:
What motivates you?
Tell me about your ability to work under pressure
What has been your biggest professional achievement
Describe your work ethic
Tell me about your experience
Are you applying for other jobs?
Are you a team player?
Questions you should ask
It is likely towards the end of the interview, your interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Make sure you always have some questions prepared, just in case you can’t think of anything at the time. Some suggestions include:
What will my role be?
How big is the team I would be working with
What are my opportunities for advancement
Do you offer CPDs (continued professional development)
Do your employees tend to stay a long time with the company?
What are the hours?
Will I get the opportunity to visit site?
I am particularly interested in (a sector, hotels for example), would I get the opportunity to work within that sector?
The end of the interview
At the end of the interview, make sure you give them any copies of references you have bought in. Some people like to leave a mini portfolio as a reminder – a little booklet perhaps. This is up to you. Make sure you ask all the questions you want to ask. If possible ask if you can see the offices. Some employers will show you round while others won’t unless asked. It is important you get a sense of the place you may be working in. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
I always like to get an idea of when I will hear from them, or how they will contact me. It just saves you hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for a call.
Shake hands, be polite, and thank them for their time.
After the interview
Always take the time to contact the interviewer, and thank them for their time. Try to collect the email address of the person interviewing you, if you don’t have it already. Compliment the company, and tell them how much you would like to work for them. Keep it short and sweet. This just shows you are professional, and still keen on the role, it also keeps you fresh in their mind if they have interviewed a lot of people that day.
I hope this two part series has given you some tips and ideas to help you with your interviews. If you don’t get the job, don’t worry. Its all good experience and will mean the next interview will be that little bit easier.