Lasting impressions

From first approach, to contract negotiation, a prospective employer will be evaluating you, so make every contact count. 

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A job interview can be nerve-racking, especially if it has been a while since your previous one. Applicants acquainting themselves with the contemporary selection process will see how much it has changed. Candidates are no longer expected to sell their technical skills to a panel, since these are easy to evidence in the form of certificates, qualifications and a well-written CV. Modern interviews are about “getting to know you” and checking for cultural fit. This shift in priorities places added weight on candidates’ etiquette and behaviour throughout the process, not just during the interview.

Safety and health is now a cultural discipline, one in which behaviour and soft skills are important. Skills such as stakeholder management, influencing and training are more sought after than personal protective equipment management. Being the right fit for the company is as important as having compatible technical know-how.

That assessment of how you would fit in starts with your first contact with the organisation. Small matters such as how you engage with reception and how you greet people on site visits have become more important.

Groundwork day

Evaluating-first-approach-who-will-interview-youResearch is key to success. It is almost guaranteed that you will at some point be asked what you know about the company or the role. Apart from building a general understanding of the organisation and its structure and market – what the ISO 45001 standard describes as its context – you may also want to research its OSH performance metrics or initiatives. These will give an understanding of what the company has in place and what it may be missing. If they are unavailable from public sources, it is reasonable to ask the employer to supply you with the data directly.

There are also some details you should find out about the interview:

  • Dress code. What would they like you to wear? This will also give you an idea about the formality of the business culture.
  • Who will you be meeting? Knowing this allows you to research the person and spot any common interests. It will also enable you to pitch yourself effectively; if you are meeting someone from HR you may want to speak less technically than if it is an OSH professional.
  • Style of interview – will it be informal or a more technical, competency-based assessment?
  • How many interview stages are there? You need to know whether to pace yourself and to plan those meetings.

In the room

It is safest to assume that the interview starts the moment you enter the organisation’s premises. However nervous you feel, try to be friendly to everyone you meet.

Interview formats vary, but whether you are in front of a panel or in a one-to-one chat over coffee or a site tour, treat them all the same: with enthusiasm, professionalism and preparedness. It is important to read body language and social cues to see how you are faring. You may need to adjust your approach or technique midway if you think you are not hitting the mark.

A formal meeting may involve questions about occasions when you solved a problem or used your professional skills to good effect, in which case it may help to use the STAR technique. This involves framing your answer using this format:

  • Situation – what you were faced with
  • Task – what you were tasked with
  • Action – what you did
  • Result – what you achieved.

If you are asked more general questions, back up your statements with anecdotes and examples of problem-solving and working well with colleagues. If you have any illustrations of collaborations with other functions in your previous employers, especially ones that have had a business impact such as reducing sickness absence or improving productivity, make sure you include them.

For the end of the interview, prepare good questions to ask and keep them varied. A mixture of role-specific and more general organisational information is ideal. You will want to know about the challenges the organisation faces, its culture and how safety is perceived by the workforce.

Talking back

Always follow up your interview with feedback. If you are dealing with a recruiter, call them after your meeting to discuss how it went. They will pass this information to the client. If you are dealing directly with the prospective employer, it is best to follow up a few hours after or early the next day.

If the feedback involves any criticism of your performance, accept it with good grace. Appreciate the fact you are receiving some structured reasoning and use it to make your next meeting more successful.

If everything has gone right, the next stage will be an offer of employment. Negotiation of the job package is a key part of the process; get it wrong and you run the risk of frustrating your future employer, which is not an ideal way to start a relationship. Get it right and both parties can move into the new role satisfied and eager to start.

Often this part of the process is dictated by the foundations you laid before the interview. If you were clear on your motivation and expectations for your new position, usually it is smooth sailing. If you receive an unsatisfactory offer you should negotiate, but carefully. Most of the time it will be a case of reminding your contact of your pre-interview stance, outlining your expectations. Try to negotiate calmly and objectively, and do not make it personal.

Never use an offer to leverage a better one elsewhere; it can have negative long-term repercussions.

Once you are happy with the offer, accept it and hand in your notice. It is possible that your current employer will not want you to leave, and even offer an enticement to stay. This is common practice. At this moment, the choice lies with you, but always remember why you were looking for a move in the first place.

Ultimately your experience will vary from company to company. The most important thing is to be prepared and to ask the right questions beforehand. Most of your process will be guided by what you knew before you started. If the job search lasts a little longer than expected, don’t be disheartened; eventually you will land the right role.


Jack Cornick was team leader, safety and construction, Allen & York. 

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