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Put On Your Best Self: A MOOC to Improve your Interviewing Skills

The University of Sheffield Careers Service is hosting a free MOOC on developing good interviewing skills.

Nowadays, life expectancy is increasing  and many people are working for a longer proportion of their lives. Combine that with a fast-changing job market, and the result is that people are going to have to be interviewed for jobs more than ever, even if you find the job through personal connections. Are you good at interviews? You can take this pop quiz as a fun test.

For university students looking for an internship, graduates, career changers or those returning to work after a career break, there is a new resource that can help you hone your interviewing skills: the MOOC How to Succeed at: Interviews, starting March 9, offered by the University of Sheffield, on the Futurelearn platform.

Class Central spoke with two of the educators from the MOOC, Dr. Hilary Jones, Placement Officer, and Pamela Hafekost, Information Systems Manager at the University of Sheffield’s Careers Service. They describe their motivation behind offering the MOOC to the public:

We just want to make these courses available to people – not just graduates, but everyone who is in the business of improving their job application and interview techniques 

Teamwork at office

Over 20,000 participants from more than 130 countries,  signed up for the first run of the MOOC in November of 2014, and you can now sign up for the next session. Few professionals have their finger on the pulse of the latest trends in interviewing more than a careers service at a prestigious university. We asked Jones and Hafekost what some of the big trends in interviewing are:

· Competency-based (behavioural) interviews. Probably the biggest trend over the past decade has been for interviews to ask candidates about specific situations where they have demonstrated the desired traits or qualities. An example might be: “Tell me about a time when you faced a challenging team situation and how you handled it”. To prepare for these, you should already have thought of examples from your work, school, or extracurricular activities that you can draw upon to demonstrate the main skills the employer is looking for. Your examples should set up the situation, explain what you did, describe the result, and also comment on what you learned. The key is to explain enough of the context so that you draw the interviewer in with the story, while being succinct enough to require only a few minutes of time.

· Strengths-based interview questions. A newer trend that Jones describes is ‘strength-based interviews’. An example question could be: “Tell me what really inspired you this week.” The idea is that rather than focusing on a broad set of traits, it may be better to look for really outstanding qualities that a candidate can bring to the role. As Jones explains, “It is all about what skills and activities that the candidate enjoys…if they enjoy it they will perform better”. To prepare for this you should think about what you are passionate about and how some of those aspects might apply to the role you are applying for.

· Remote interviews. Companies are used to using more remote communication technologies, so you should be prepared to have remote (phone, video conference) interviews, even if you are applying to a local company (some interviewers may be away from the office). Later in this article, we’ll give Jones and Hafekost’s tips on remote interviews.

· Panel Interview formats. Another important working trend is that there is more collaborative and cross-functional working in teams. This is being reflected in interviews in the form of panels, where you will be talking with multiple interviewers at once. The key to these interviews is to make sure to include everyone in the conversation. Try to find out as much as you can about the panel members, and don’t make the mistake of only maintaining eye contact with the lead interviewer.

Things to Keep in Mind for Remote Interviews

Although technology has improved, remote interviews are not the same as in-person ones. Here are some things to keep in mind, from Dr. Jones:

· Make sure all of the technical logistics are in order. Try out any technologies ahead of time, if possible, and have backup contact information available.

· Pay attention to the image you are presenting. For example, in video conferences, make sure the background conveys the appropriate image. It is okay to do an interview from home, but that doesn’t mean you should be wearing a casual t-shirt and have old pizza boxes in the background of your webcam picture. The same probably applies to phone calls: make sure you are in a quiet environment with good cellular reception when you take the call.

· Speak clearly, as there are delays with electronic transmission. If you pause periodically you will give a chance for delayed responses to come across.

· Have more check-ins. Since you cannot see reactions as well as you would in person, to make up for this, you can periodically check-in explicitly with the interviewer, asking things like: “Did the examples I gave address your question?” Don’t do this too often, of course, as it can come across as lacking confidence.The best way to prepare for these is to practise. If you have anyone that you can practise mock interviews with, perhaps try some via video conference, and make sure that your best self comes across!

Four Big Interviewing Mistakes

Interview faux pas are always funny—unless you are the one making them! You ‘never get a second chance at a first impression’, as they say. In their role, Jones and Hafekost have seen lots and lots of interview mistakes. Here are four of the most common ones they have seen:

1. Not researching the job or company enough. With all of the information that is available on the web, there is an expectation that you have read about some of the major facts about the company or the job. Furthermore, if you know who will be interviewing you, see if you can find out more about them through social media such as LinkedIn. What might have been considered ‘stalking’ 5 years ago is now called ‘being prepared’. So do it.

2. Trotting out over-rehearsed lines. While you should practise your answers and stories, don’t just repeat pre-memorized lines like someone hitting play on a recording. Be genuine and in the moment, and draw upon your rehearsal for inspiration as you talk. Jones says “Employers actually want to have a conversation and see what really drives and motivates an individual”.

3. Not knowing how to deal with your nerves. The first thing to keep in mind is that it is perfectly natural to feel some level of anxiety in high-pressure environments. But you should figure out how to keep them from disrupting your behaviour. Take deep breaths, think of a funny joke, say a prayer—whatever works for you. If you show a little bit of nerves in the beginning but then get comfortable and hit your stride, the interviewer will quickly get comfortable and you’ll be in the flow of the interview.

4. Volunteering eyebrow-raising faults. When you are answering questions, you want to be authentic and genuine, but you still need to have some caution about what you are saying. Jones describes instances where people have answered the dreaded “What are your weaknesses?” question rather poorly. One interviewee answered that they had trouble getting up in the morning. Yikes. This is at odds with the image of a hardworking, efficient employee and is a red flag. How should you answer the ‘weaknesses’ question if you get it? Find out in the MOOC.

A MOOC to Help All Interviewees

The MOOC will cover all of these topics above and more. There will be discussions where participants can ask questions, discuss issues, and offer their thoughts to each other. The course staff will include some mentors who will answer some of the questions raised by participants.There are many resources, sites, and books to help you develop your interviewing skills. In terms of books, Jones and Hafekost recommend the Brilliant books series. You may also have a careers service if you are affiliated with a university (even as an alum). Additionally, many towns and cities have a local careers office and there are national careers services online. But thankfully, in addition to all of these, is the free three-week MOOC How to Succeed at: Interviews, starting on March 9, 2015. Sign up now and up your interviewing game!

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