Presentations in Interviews
It is increasingly common to be asked to do a presentation as part of an interview. However, these presentations often have several important distinctions from others.
Fortunately, as long as you know what to expect, you can plan accordingly and make sure that your presentation is remembered for all the right reasons.
Forewarned is Forearmed
You have been invited to an interview for a job. The invitation to interview, however, has a paragraph at the bottom that says that, as part of the interview, you will be expected to present briefly (and a time limit is almost always given, usually five to ten minutes) on a given topic. You may be given a title, or asked to develop one.
There are a number of questions to which you may find it helpful to know the answers. For example:
- Will the presentation be in the same room as the interview?
- Will the interview happen first, or the presentation?
- Will you have access to a laptop and projector or similar?
- How many people will you present to?
You have a choice: do you phone up and ask, and risk looking a bit nervous, or do you just hope for the best?
The decision is really up to you. It is not unreasonable to ask if you will have access to a projector, and also if you can bring a handout for the interviewers. Other than that, you might have to play it by ear, and see if you feel able to ask more.
Who do you phone? It depends on who has invited you to the interview. If you have been invited by someone in the HR department, then it is not unreasonable to think of it as part of their job to deal with questions like that. If, on the other hand, you have been invited by someone quite senior, you might prefer to get in touch with their secretary or PA instead.
Developing the Content of your Presentation
It is reasonably common to ask you to present on something like the key challenges that you think you will face in your first month in the job, or how you plan to organise your induction into the new post.
Don’t panic! They don’t expect you to know what you’re doing before you’ve even started.
They do, however, expect you to have a reasonable idea of how to find out what you need to know.
Consider it your first test. Some good ways to approach information gathering include:
- Phone a friend – do you know anyone working in that company or in a similar organisation or area of work? Give them a call, take them out for lunch, and pick their brains about the problems and challenges facing the company, and the area in which you will be working in particular.
- Use the internet to do some research – as well as the company’s own website, have a look for news reports linked to the area in which you will be working and see what you can find out.
- Use the clues in the job description and person specification – do these include requirements for particular skills that may not normally be associated with that kind of job? That might be a clue to a particular issue in the organisation.
Planning your Presentation
However, it’s important to think about a few points specific to interview presentations too, particularly:
- You won’t be able to say everything that you’ve discovered in the space of five to ten minutes. Cut it down to the three main points that you want to make, and remember to emphasise that these are the three key areas.
- What kind of visual aid will you use? If you are permitted to provide a one-page handout, how will it support your presentation?
- How will you make your presentation stand out from among the crowd, in a good way? You may decide to do this by just being the best, or you could try starting by saying something memorable. Outrageous can work, but it can also be a bit risky, especially if you don’t know your interviewers. It depends a bit on the organisation and also the industry, so you will be best placed to decide what you can get away with.
Providing a Handout
Your one-page handout is what your interviewers will look at to remind them of your presentation. It therefore needs to showcase both the content of your presentation and your ability to summarise and show something in a brief visual form.
You could, of course, simply list your three key points, together with a few sentences about each one to summarise what you said. That will be perfectly acceptable.
But you could also produce something unique to you that showcases your thinking: a mind map, perhaps, or a visual summary of the situation, like a ‘rich picture’.
It does depend on how you think but, for more ideas, take a look at our page on Creative Thinking.
Ideally, you should use your handout as your notes for your presentation too, as it demonstrates that it really does capture your key points.
Handling Unusual Circumstances
You may well walk into your interview and find that something totally unforeseen has occurred.
For example, you have been told that you will be able to use PowerPoint, but there’s no laptop and projector because the interviewers have forgotten to organise it.
Don’t be thrown. Everyone else will be in the same situation.
Instead, use it as an opportunity to demonstrate that you are not put out by something unexpected since this is a valued skill. For example, have an alternative to slides, such as a one-page handout, or make a joke about technology always letting everyone down at crucial moments.
Your ability to handle problems in a good-humoured way will not go unnoticed.
Delivering your Presentation
You are unlikely to be expected to stand and deliver a presentation in an interview, because the room is likely to be very small.
However, it’s worth saying something like:
“I think I’ll sit, as it’s a bit formal to stand. Unless of course you’d prefer me in full presentation mode?”
They can then say if they want to see you do a formal presentation.
If you have been given a time limit for your presentation, do not go over it. You may have chosen not to practise fully, so as to be more spontaneous. However, be alert to how long your presentation is taking, and be ready to cut it short if necessary.
Do not rely on being able to see a clock in the room.
Instead, either take a clock that you can put on the table in front of you, or take off your watch, and place it where you can see it clearly at a glance.
It’s not a good idea to keep glancing at a watch on your wrist, as it is an off-putting piece of body language.
People are conditioned to read it as ‘I don’t really have time for you’, and this isn’t the impression that you want to give your interviewers, even inadvertently.
Remember to speak slowly and clearly, and check that your interviewers look like they have understood your points. Be alert for any body language that suggests lack of interest or disagreement, as you may want to develop those points further.
Make sure that you clearly conclude your presentation by summarising your key points, before inviting questions from the interview panel.
One Final Message…
Above all, remember that you will be at your best if you are relaxed and confident.
This is hard in any interview situation, but you are testing whether you want to work there as much as they are assessing you. Be yourself, as much in the presentation as in the interview itself. Focus on presenting you: your ideas, your plans. You will then have the best chance of getting the job if it is the right job for you.