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Interviews in the International Development Sector

This article looks into how to prepare for, and perform in interviews for the international development sector. Discover the most common interview questions, top interview techniques, how to practive for an interview how to control your nerves and much more!

Interviews

You have made a great application and now you have been called for an interview. It’s common in the sector to have the first interview by phone and the second one face to face. Whether it’s a phone or personal meeting, the following will help.

First, you must act as if you already have the job; this means you are knowledgeable about the role and the organisation. The role is something you have possibly done before and there should be no major problems at the interview or test stages if you are competent at your job. The biggest challenge is learning about the organisation from the outside.

Do your Research

Find out as much as you can about the organisation prior to the interview. The key places to look are:

  • The organisation’s web site. You probably looked at this when you made your application. Now is the time to read everything and learn the relevant bits to the job or your work. Read the mission and values and start to think about how you can get these into your interview answers.
  • If they are a registered charity they will produce an annual report, if it’s not on their web site, phone and ask for a copy. Also, look at their details and accounts on the Charity Commission web site.
  • Most organisations produce News Pages or Letters; find them on the web site and learn about current news and updates.
  • Google them! Are there any publications or web sites that have articles about the organisation or key personnel? And if you know the names of the interviewers Google them too!

Common Interview Questions

Here are some common questions that apply to most jobs and industries:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • How would your current boss describe you?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Why should I offer this job to you?
  • What are the main strengths you’d bring to this job?
  • What’s your biggest weakness?
  • Why did you choose this career?
  • Show me how you use your communication skills in your current job
  • Why do you think you’re a good team player?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past 3 years?
  • Sell yourself to me.
  • What is the job about?
  • Why do you want to work in international development?
  • Why do you want to work for our organisation?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 year’s time?
  • What above all the other applicants can you bring to this job?
  • How do you deal with criticism and can you give examples?
  • What was your biggest achievement or something that you are proud of?
  • What support do you expect from your manager?
  • For technical jobs there will technical questions, so write down what you think they will ask and prepare your answers. If you need further help then search the internet for common interview questions, there are many sites offering both the questions and the answers.

Specific interview questions asked in NGO Programme Manager interviews include:

  • How do you deal with donors in general and how do you deal with different donors?
  • What do you do to ensure accountability towards the donor and beneficiaries?
  • Why have you had so many short-term contracts?
  • How did you integrate SPHERE Standards, ICRC code and HAP in your work?
  • What are the most important points in Project Management?
  • Explain what project cycle management / Log frame is?
  • How do you manage to link or deal with 2 organisations/bodies that have different priorities and need to work together?
  • How do you measure the impact of a project, which tools do you use?
  • How do you manage two field offices from a base?
  • How do you make sure that expenses are booked correctly in general and toward the right donor account?
  • How do you solve conflict?
  • How do you deal with fraud and did you have ever an experience of fraud?
  • How do you deal with different nationalities?
  • How do you cope with difficult work and a difficult and remote environment, you are the only expat and are only working with locals?
  • What measures do you take when your team has to go to a remote volatile area and how do you decide?

Interview Practice

You must practice your answers; a friend or coach could help you with this.

  • Write the common and technical questions on paper and write your responses.
  • Practice out aloud saying the question and giving your answer; your answers must include positive examples.
  • You might find the STAR principle helpful – Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s a short story to describe the situation, what the task was, what you did and what the result was. In an interview you must give details of outcomes and success.
  • Remember to smile and pause before answering a question – video recording yourself will give you some insight into facial expression and body movement.

Controlling Nerves

Many people feel nervous before an interview, but when you are nervous you are more likely to rush, mumble or even go brain dead! Among the common techniques to control nerves are visualization, positive affirmations and NLP anchoring, but the most common is simple breathing.

Take two deep breaths before you start, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try to breathe out for as long as possible and think of releasing tension with the out breath. This breathing technique will encourage you to slow down when you start to speak.

Telephone Interviews

Most of the advice offered here also applies to telephone interviews. For a telephone interview it is advisable that you prepare exactly the same as a face to face meeting, this will help with your mental preparation and presentation. Your voice needs to be calm and strong. Even though it’s a telephone interview you still need to smile and the interviewer will hear this in your voice. The key success elements: have private space for the call; have a notepad and your information – application/CV/job advert in front of you. Sit straight in the chair; behave as you are talking face to face and don't have drinks to hand or chew gum.

Create a Brilliant First Impression

Know where you are going and get there at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I suggest you go and visit the venue before the interview and find out how long it takes to get there.

It takes 1/10 of a second for someone to assess you when you meet for the first time. They will form an opinion about you based on your appearance, body language, manner and how you are dressed.

Make a confident entrance! You never know who is covering reception; you don’t know the importance of the person escorting you to the interview. Never assume they are low rank and not involved in the interview process. Stand tall, smile, make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake.

When entering the interview room, smile and pause very briefly in the doorway, measure up the room and who is there – this slight pause confidently announces your arrival.

When sitting make sure your bottom is fully in the chair, your back straight and against the chair back. Do not slouch; sit upright and alert. Use confident body language all the way through the interview.

The interview is a two way process. You are there to check them out, and they are there to check you against your application. Do not view it as an ‘interview’ but rather as an opportunity to meet and get to know someone. You might take your CV or application, as that is the document they will work from and of course feel free to make notes in your notepad (which has your pre-thought questions to ask them).

Speak Clearly and Confidently

When you speak, you want the interviewer to sit up and take notice of what you say. To do this it is very important that they hear every word. If some of your words are unclear, merge together, or are too fast they will soon lose interest.

Using pauses to control your pace – when you start to speak, briefly pause at the end of your first sentence this will help you to control your pace

The pause also gives you time to think and you will be less likely to lose track of what you are saying or for your mind to go blank.

Use Eye Contact

Don’t you hate it when people don’t look you in the eye? Eye contact helps maintain a confident style and it is important to maintain focused eye contact during the interview with everyone; the rule of thumb is to give around 3 seconds of eye contact at random to individuals on the panel. It’s long enough to engage with people without over-staring at any particular individual.

Interview Presentations

If you are required to do a presentation enquire if PowerPoint is available. Create your PowerPoint or paper presentation in the house style, exactly as you would do when in the job. Use the corporate house style for font and colours – you can find this from their web site or annual report.

Print sufficient paper copies or notes to give to your audience – perhaps in nice folders. Practice, learn and time the presentation before you give it – I know a case of someone who had a power cut in the middle of their presentation – and remember to look the audience in the eye!

Tips:

  • Stick rigidly to any guidelines you have been given, regarding content and timing.
  • Use the most professional presentation method you can.
  • Keep slides/pages short and to the point.
  • Keep information easy to understand.
  • Run thorough the presentation with an observer and consider their criticisms.
  • Each slide/page should have just a few points (4 maximum). Each item should be short and to the point, and spell/grammar check your material.
  • Try to involve the audience.
  • Bear in mind that all eyes will be on you! This brings us to personal presentation.

What to Wear?

My top tip for interviews is to prepare as you would for a hot date or other special occasion.

Plan your clothes days before, they need to be clean and pressed; if needed, get a haircut or manicure. Shower and wear your best underwear – nothing better for building confidence – and please shine your shoes! You have to look sharp and professional.

In some countries, the development sector is relaxed in its attitude to office attire and jeans and trainers often rule in the office (but not in multi lateral/government/finance agencies). The general interview rule is to dress up rather than down – aim for smart/smart casual. You could visit the organisation at lunch time and note what people are wearing as they enter and leave the building. If in doubt, go conservatively dressed rather than making a fashion statement. Obviously, if you are going for a senior position then formal suiting would be expected.

After the Interview

Always send an email to the interviewer(s) thanking them for their time and confirm (or decline) your interest in the job.

Top Tips

  • Know the job advert and know about the organisation.
  • Know and rehearse your interview questions and answers.
  • Be confident and relaxed; they are interested in you, otherwise they wouldn’t be talking to you.
  • Talk calmly.
  • Smile.
  • Turn off your phone and don’t chew gum.

This content of this article was written by Kevin Cusack for Jobs4Development.com. If you would you like to get personal help with your international development CV or applications and develop a career strategy then for further details visit www.kcoach.net. © Kevin Cusack All rights reserved 2011

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