Interview Skills

Contract Ecology Ltd

by Oonagh Nelson MCIEEM AssocRICS, Director of Contract Ecology Ltd, Preston, Lancashire., email:

Author Oonagh Nelson
Author Oonagh Nelson

I work in conservation and greenspace management for the private sector and, like all employers, my time is a valuable resource so I’ll get straight to the point: there is no art to a good interview.

The land based sector is a difficult industry to break into so if you’ve been selected for an interview then firstly that is an achievement in itself and you should take real encouragement from the fact that you’ve managed to get the employers attention thus far!

If you’ve had several unsuccessful job interviews already and you’re thinking of rolling out the same dialogue and answers at the next one, then you’re likely to be facing another imminent disappointment.

You are unique, much like the post you will have applied for and failing to acknowledge these two realities can quickly lead to interview rejection. 

I find that the most common mistake made by prospective employees when applying for roles at my company Contract Ecology Ltd is not researching the workload of the company and what the job role really entails.  Unsuccessful applicants will answer their interview questions with a pre-conceived idea of what they think the position entails or what the generic industry is about. Predictably, speculative CV’s sent by cold email tend to be the worst offender for this.

In this age of social media organisations who do not have a social media presence are few and far between so research the company - look at their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feed. It’s quick and easy to see what they’ve been doing this month; flick through the photos, check out the tasks, note the site conditions and observe the dress code of the staff and the equipment they are using. Other things to look out for are have the company been nominated for an award, are they a living wage employer or corporate sponsor of a charity?

Stakeholders can be varied (Oonagh Nelson)
Stakeholders can be varied (Oonagh Nelson)

This kind of information is gold when it comes to the interview as it will help you gain an understanding of what the company and job is really like.  It will help you identify how you might fit in and highlight any areas that you would like to ask the employer a question about during the interview.  It also importantly demonstrates that you have an interest in what goes on in the company and your future job role.  With such easy access and insight into to a company’s day to day activities, there is no excuse not to be prepared.

If this is your first attempt to break into your chosen industry then talk about any other job positions you’ve held.  Even if they seem far removed from the prospective job, have a think if any of your skills are transferable and how these can be of benefit in the new role.  There are few jobs which do not have stakeholders to which you will be answerable, whether that be funders, paying customers, land owners, or even your new colleagues. 

Looking presentable is still important  (Oonagh Nelson)
Looking presentable is still important (Oonagh Nelson)

It may not be clear initially how your part-time student job in hospitality or a call centre for example is relevant but both require people skills, patience and the ability to see a task through.  Did you work anti-social hours? Did you have to fill in time sheets or handle customers personal details?  Even practical land based tasks will require input to a risk assessment, collating of volunteer emergency contacts or answering a curious member of the public’s query as to what you are doing to their favourite dog walking route etc.

Think about what you are going to say both before the interview and during the interview before you answer each question.  Take a moment to think about the question and what your answer will be as this will help you to compose yourself and ultimately articulate your answer. Even in a hands-on job, clear communication is essential. 

Some of the team at Contract Ecology Ltd  (Oonagh Nelson)
Some of the team at Contract Ecology Ltd (Oonagh Nelson)

At Contract Ecology Ltd we like to use a fairly informal approach to interviews, unless you are applying for a managerial or principal role, however always be mindful to dress appropriately.  First impressions count at interview and looking presentable is still important.  Let the interviewer set the tone and guide the interview yet if the interview style evolves towards conversational be careful not to slip into too casual an approach.  The interviewer will still be assessing how you will come across when you represent the company and that you have the necessary capacity for professional conduct. 

Most importantly listen to the whole question and do not assume part way through that you know what the question is going to be.  If your answer will require several kinds of information, do not be afraid to ask for the question to be repeated so you can ensure a fully rounded response.

Some job advertisements will come with a roles and responsibilities and/or person specification.  It is important to read and understand these as they contain the information the employer is looking for from you.  Have you got the skills, experience, training and/or knowledge to fulfil this role? If not, can you demonstrate a willingness and ability to learn and become competent? Be honest about this.  A person specification should guide you to look for what the employer wants in your interview, informing you of the skills, abilities, experience and knowledge that are essential or desirable for the position.  It is good to have an example prepared for each that helps demonstrate your ability in this area, so that you can mitigate for ‘mind blankness’ and it is ok to take prompt cards in with you.

To summarise; do your research both on the company you are applying to and the industry within which they trade, be confident in the skills you possess including transferable skills from any and all previous employment and prepare yourself for the interview questions themselves.

First published in CJS Focus on Employability in association with Lantra on 19 November 2018

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Posted On: 19/09/2018

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