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Preparing for an Interview

Date: Jun 26, 2014

Got an interview? You have only 8 minutes to make your mark...

Yes, of course you need to make sure you are dressed smartly but comfortably, have had a swig of mouthwash, arrive in good time, switch off your mobile and introduce yourself to the interviewer with a smile and a confident handshake. But what else can you do to make sure that the interview goes well? 

According to a recent survey conducted by insurance company AXA, potential employers reach a decision about candidates after just eight minutes of an interview so making a good first impression is important. Surprisingly, maintaining eye contact was the factor that was most highly rated as creating a positive impression, scoring slightly higher than even knowledge of the relevant subject.

In addition to heeding these survey findings there is plenty more that you can do to help make yourself the candidate who stands out - and you need to begin your preparations long before the big day dawns. Remember that simply being selected as a candidate for interview is a small success in itself and by preparing as suggested below you should arrive in a positive and relaxed frame of mind, confident and ready to shine.

Time spent on reconnaissance may not be chargeable but it is always very valuable

You need to find out all you can about your prospective employer. If it is an in-house position then the company's website is a great place to start but you should also conduct internet investigations to discover what the important issues are for them and in their business sector. Sometimes a company website may not mention some of the more sensitive issues and challenges it is facing so exercise caution before venturing on to such topics unless the interviewer raises them. If the company is a retailer or other business that interfaces with the public then take the opportunity to visit one of their outlets; if they are a manufacturer then make sure you familiarise yourself with their products. This familiarity with the commercial reality will be invaluable if during the interview you are asked a question where it is relevant.

If the position is in private practice firm then you should again find out all about the firm, its key clients and what makes it different from its competitors. Using your trusted personal contacts in the profession you may even be able to discover how current and former employees feel about their working lives there. If you can find out who is likely to be involved in the interview that will help you to prepare for their personal preferences and style.

Whether the role is in-house or in private practice try to find out if members of the team you hope to join are members of any committees or how else they engage with the wider profession.  See what articles existing staff have published or if they blog and find out what presentations they have made at conferences to learn about their personal passions. Search out any important IP cases that have been involved in during the last few years. These can all provide clues to the issues that the team sees as being important or where it feels it has particular expertise or experience. If they have supplied examiners or tutors for relevant professional bodies then your own participation in such activity or other training may play well with the interviewer.

Know thyself first

The recruitment consultant would not have proposed you for the position in the first place if they did not think you were well suited for it. They will have spent time getting to know you and you need to be clear in your own mind what it is that you are looking to achieve in the long term from your career and more immediately what you want from your next position as well as what you are able to offer your next employer in return.

Don’t be surprised to be confronted by several interviewers because it is quite common for an HR representative as well as the relevant partner or manager to be present and in some cases you may even be confronted by a panel of three or four people, each with their own perspective on the recruitment decision. Make a note of their names as they are introduced to you and try to address them by name when responding to their personal questions.

Be prepared for the predictable but vitally important questions.  One of these will be to find out why you want to work for them.  Another will be along the lines of ‘why should they employ you’ or ‘what can you bring to the role that other candidates cannot’. The employer will want to be sure that you can work effectively as part of a team so be prepared for a question about what makes a good team player or team leader – and however tempting it may be, try to resist criticising your existing manager or colleagues.  You should also watch out for a question along the lines of ‘Tell us about your weaknesses’ and have an answer ready, one that is not too damaging.

Such questions will be easier to answer if you have asked them of yourself in advance of the interview.  You will sound much more credible and convincing if you can demonstrate that you have thought carefully about whether you will be an ideal fit for the role and how you can add value for the organisation. It is also important that you have a clear plan for your personal career development and you are able to show how this job fits with that.

Then there are likely to be work-related questions, designed to check that you are keeping up to speed with key developments in the field and to establish the extent of your experience and competency. If you are not familiar with the recent high profile cases and the hot issues in the relevant sector of IP law then it is certainly worth refreshing your awareness of them.

Some of the questions are intended to test skills that may be required in the role so if negotiating settlements or business development are important elements you may be asked to try and convince the interviewer to do something unrelated to the job (‘I am terrified of needles - how would you convince me to become a blood donor?’) or you may be asked to try and sell them an everyday object that is in the room. Other posers may be designed to test your personal qualities and integrity.

You also need to be prepared for the unexpected questions, which is not as ridiculous a proposition as it may seem. Interviewers have their favourite ways of finding out if you can react well to an unforeseen event and think laterally or imaginatively.

You can find plenty of examples of popular interview questions on the internet and in some cases suggestions for what may be considered good answers. Your networking with those who have previously been through the interview process may even provide a clue to the sort of unlikely question that an individual or organisation likes to fire at candidates.  You may not be that fortunate but it helps if you are braced for a ‘curved ball’ to be pitched at you at some point in the interview because then you will not be panicked by it.  Listen carefully to what is being asked and take your time in answering. Admit that you had not been expecting to be asked such a thing and if necessary restate the question, to buy yourself a little time to work out what might lie behind it. Try not to be too flippant or cocky with your answer but a little humour or originality may be well received.

Sometimes the 'left field' questions may bear no relation to the employment, such as 'If you were a car, what make and model would you be' or ‘If Scotland votes for independence and decides the Saltire is tired and dated what sort of flag would you design for them?’.

It is also possible that you may be asked to complete a psychometric questionnaire, either in paper form or online.  An increasing number of companies and even some IP firms are using these to supplement traditional interviews although in some cases they are used at an earlier stage in the recruitment process to help whittle down the list of candidates who are to be called for interview. They help employers assess factors such as your personality and attitudes, what motivates you or how you make decisions. There is no need to be daunted by these and you should not try to guess the 'right' answers but instead respond to the questions honestly and in some cases you may have strict time limits for doing so.

These days you should also expect that potential employers will check you out using searches of the internet and social media.  Hopefully you will have been careful about what you have posted online in the past but if there is anything that may now embarrass you it is worth exploring whether it is possible to get it removed. Guidance on how to tackle this challenge is available online and may also be covered in the terms and conditions of the relevant site or media  operator. Anyone affected should also monitor developments following the recent decision by the Court of Justice of the EU in the case involving Google which recognises the right of individuals to approach the operators of search engines and seek removal of personal date relating to them from the list of results generated by a search conducted on the individual’s name.

Finally, don’t be surprised if you are asked to suggest ways in which your potential employer might improve itself or if there is anything that they are not yet doing that you think they might usefully consider. If you have been thorough in doing your homework you may well have a few ideas or have spotted potential opportunities. For example, some years ago we had a candidate for an in-house position who impressed the interviewer by mentioning that as well as looking at the corporate website he had also been familiarising himself with their trade mark portfolio using the UK IPO online search facility. He had noticed that the organisation had a number of single-class registrations of an important mark that would soon be due for renewal and which, under the current legislation, could have been merged into a single registration to significantly reduce the renewal fees.  This demonstrated initiative, creative thinking and an awareness of the importance employers place on raising ideas that may help to reduce costs or drive revenue, helping to make him stand out from other candidates.

Question the questioner

In most interviews you will be asked if there is anything that you would like to ask the interviewer, for example, about the about the role or the organisation. You should have thought about this carefully to ensure that you have at least one intelligent question to ask but take care to avoid anything that might be considered insensitive or which might cause embarrassment for the interviewer if they do not know the answer but feel they ought to!

Exit smoothly

At the end of the session thank the interviewers for considering you and do not prolong the discussions unnecessarily because there may be a tight timetable and other candidates to be seen. Afterwards you may think that perhaps you did not answer a particular question as well as you might or you may think of additional positive information that you wish you had mentioned but it is not a good idea to try to contact the interviewer and pass this on unless they specifically invite you to do so. Instead you should relax and remember the other candidates will feel the same and the interviewer will have taken account of ‘interview nerves’ and have been grateful for succinct answers, not lengthy learned opinions.

By Zoe Marlow


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