Interview Prep: Keep calm and carry it off

As agricultural recruitment specialists, we at Merston Peters help employers to identify gaps in their business. Through a series of rational objectives, we work with our clients to create a description of the ideal person for the post and match potential candidates in terms of qualifications, experience and all-round suitability. We’re not your usual recruitment consultants – we’ll attend interviews to ensure consistency and, for candidates, we will not correct spelling mistakes on your CV (that’s your job – we won’t hide who you really are!)


For candidates, we share the benefit of our experience in terms of advice – above all, we recommend staying positive to ensure that the employer wants you; choice is power, differentiation is key and coming second is worth nothing. Below are a few tips for an effective interview:


Research the company

The first thing we’d recommend is gathering some background information on your new employer. Having secured your interview, you will have impressed our client already on paper –  however, you now need to impress in person.

The most obvious thing to do is to Google the business and look up both the company and key people within that business on LinkedIn. News articles and PR pieces will also give you good information on current products/services and actions that the company want their customers/colleagues, suppliers and their competition to know.

Knowing as much as you can will help you to answer questions, during the interview, such as “what do you know about our company?”, or even “why do you want to work here?” Review the company’s website and even ask the company to send you some literature that you can review.

Finally, digest the latest Farmers Weekly and other industry publications to ensure that you’re up with the latest news stories affecting the industry; it would be great to have some ad lib comments to make if the interview calls for it – always remembering that the employer may already know some, or all, of what you’re discussing and so try not to exaggerate or enhance a story and understand your subject matter.


Research the interview itself

If you can, find out from the company what type of interview you will be given:

Unstructured interview;

Competency-based interview (also known as structured or behavioural interview);

Find out whether your interview will be one-to-one, or whether there will be a panel and the names of your interviewers if possible;

One final thing to check before your interview is the dress requirement. As an example, you may be invited to take a tour of the site; it may be worth sticking wellies in the boot of your car if this is a possibility.


Prepare yourself

Whatever type of interview you are attending, there is a certain amount of preparation that you can do in advance in terms of questions that you’re likely to be asked. For example, most interviewers will ask you questions to ease you in such as “Tell me about yourself” or “Give me a brief overview of your CV”. For opening questions such as these we’d advise having a short, succinct and strong answer – ideally you’d begin with: “I’m an Agronomist with 20 years’ experience in the agricultural sector…” Beginning with a positive statement that includes the job title that you’re applying for (or similar), and your level of experience will give a good impression. You can then summarise your career chronologically and end with outside hobbies etc., to demonstrate other personality traits such as leadership, creativity etc., especially those traits that match the job you’re applying for.

With unstructured interviews, you are likely to be asked questions such as “Where do you see yourself in five years” or “How would your friends describe you”. The first question will give you an opportunity to talk about aims and goals and to relate these to training and development that the company may offer – our advice would be to match your answer with elements that you know the company or position includes.

Consider questions that you may be asked during an interview; questions about the reasons for leaving your last post may be asked. Consider answers that are as positive as possible; even if you left your last position under a cloud, work on providing answers that are positive, rather than negative and critical.

If you are being interviewed by a panel of people, it is important to direct your answer to the person asking the question; although it’s also important to engage with the panel as a whole.

Another key thing to prepare is a short list of questions to ask your new employer at the end of the interview; you’ll almost certainly be given the opportunity to find out more about the post or the business, so have one or two of these up your sleeve as it’s your chance to appear interested and engaged.

With structured or competency-based interviews, the employer will be asking questions that give them indicators as to your suitability for the job role, by analysing individual skills. In order to make competency-based interviews a little less daunting, it’s worth considering the STAR technique when answering:

the Situation

the Task needed as a result

the Action you took

the Result of that action


Questions will involve you giving examples of situations where you have demonstrated specific skills, for example:


Personal: looking at attributes such as decisiveness, independence, risk-taking and integrity – a typical question could be “Tell me about a time when an plan that you made was challenged”


Leadership: looking at your ability to manage other people – attributes such as empowerment, strategic thinking, project management and control. A typical question could be “Tell me about a group activity that you lead and how you judged its success”


Analytical: looking at your ability to make decisions, at your innovation, problem-solving and attention to detail. A typical question could be “Tell me about a time that you identified a new approach a problem”


Teamwork: looking at your ability to work as a member of a team, and to work collaboratively. A typical question could be “Tell me about a situation where you put a team of people together for a task”


Motivation: looking at the things that drive you – resilience, results-focus, quality, initiative. A typical question may be “Tell me when you believe you worked the hardest to achieve the best result”

 and finally…

… one of the the most important things about an interview is timing – being late really does start the interview off on the wrong foot so, as well as researching the company, the people and possible interview questions, it’s a great idea to research the location, parking and a local coffee shop; arriving half an hour early and allowing time for coffee before your interview means that you’ll arrive refreshed and ready for action. As many agricultural offices are based in rural locations, it’s even more important to do a trial run or ensure that you know how to reach them in plenty of time for your interview; relying on your sat nav or mobile network would be a mistake in this situation as coverage in the countryside does sometimes leave a lot to be desired.


For any other questions, or for help with finding your perfect position in agriculture, please get in touch.