An employer’s objective in an interview is to build a detailed picture of your skills, experience, competencies and personality in order to confirm whether you have the correct skill set and cultural fit for their business. You, meanwhile, are trying to establish whether they and their firm offer you the best next step in your career.
The fact you have got to this stage means you have already beaten a number of other candidates. Have faith in your abilities, be confident and sell yourself!
Preparing before your interview:
How to act during the interview:
- Giving a good first impression
- Discussing your CV
- Common interview questions you should expect
- Giving your answers: Use the STAR method
- Important considerations for technology based interviews
- Questions to ask the interviewer(s)
- The best ways to close out your interview
How to effectively prepare for your interview
Preparing for an interview is crucial; always find the time, you could end up regretting it for the rest of your life otherwise!
1. What exactly should you prepare?
Obviously the preparation will vary depending on the industry and type of role you are interviewing for. The key here is to gather as much information as possible about the interview format well in advance - if you haven’t had much from the hiring manager or person responsible for your application, speaking to your recruiter will give you invaluable insight into the typical interviews your prospective new employer conducts.
As a bare minimum, you should know: who you’re being interviewed by, whether or not you need to prepare for a test or presentation and whether there are multiple stages to the interview. Once you’ve found out this information, it’s down to you to do the research accordingly.
Read up on your interviewer, find out a bit about their career if you can - the more thorough you are, the better. It may seem obvious, but google the company in advance; they may be in the news for a variety of reasons and it will reflect badly on you if you have not taken the time to look into this. Take time to research and understand the history, cultural values and ethos of the business - if they match yours then tell the interviewer and explain why. It’s very powerful to show how your values align with theirs!
In most interviews there will be a discussion about your CV. Make sure you know it inside out, be prepared to explain any gaps in your employment history and be comfortable answering any questions about your past experience.
2. Minimising that pre-interview stressful feeling
It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous, stressed and anxious when you have an important interview looming over your head. Don’t overthink it. The more questions you ask yourself and the more you wind yourself up, the less likely you will be to come across relaxed and personable. There are a few ways you can ease the burden...
Start your preparation early so that you have plenty of time to do some thorough research and establish a few responses to common questions well in advance - looking up the company on your phone when travelling to the interview is not a good tactic!
Have your outfit all planned out and try it on the day beforehand to make sure you look presentable - remember, dress accordingly; corporate attire isn’t always necessary. If in doubt, ask your recruiter as they will have an idea of what the company likes and dislikes.
The day before your interview, try to get a good night’s sleep so that you are fully energised and don’t look tired.
On the morning of your interview, remember to eat breakfast. Sometimes nerves can make you lose your appetite but it’s important to remember that the morning meal provides your brain and body with fuel for the day.
Arrive early, about 30 minutes before you were told to get there. This offers you the perfect opportunity to compose yourself and settle in. Rushing, getting lost, and the fears of being late all provoke unnecessary anxiety and will probably negatively impact your performance.
Watch this video from Linda Raynier, a well-regarded Career Strategist, about how to make sure you are confident in your interview...
3. Pre-interview checklist - 7 key things to remember
- Make sure you know the company website inside out
- Read as much third party information as you can to familiarise yourself with the company’s past, present and future
- Speak to business associates you know who have worked at the organisation for their advice
- Utilise the knowledge your recruitment consultant has about their client to build a picture of previous successful interviewees, likely questions and interview structure
- Prepare rough outlines of what you will answer to commonly asked questions, but don’t memorise them to the exact word - it’s always obvious when an interviewee gives a rehearsed response
- Know the job description in its entirety - having a strong understanding of the duties and responsibilities will help you prepare and ask relevant questions
- Take the time to identify how your skills will fit to their needs and expectations
How to act during the interview
You’re well prepared and you’ve made your way to the interview ahead of schedule so you’ve had a chance to properly compose yourself. Now the time has come and you’ve been called through to the room where your interview is going to take place.
Note: If your interview is over video technology or on the phone, you may want to skip to the section about important considerations for virtual interviews.
1. First impressions are crucial
We have all heard the cliché that a first impression is generated within 7 seconds of meeting someone. Whilst each individual makes judgements in different ways, there is an element of truth to it. Your first encounter with your interviewer will likely set the tone for the whole interview and could potentially influence the outcome of whether you are successful or not.
Warmly greet them, make eye contact and crucially, remember to smile. Non-verbal cues are as important as verbal ones and are vital in how you come across. Whilst these may seem like small considerations, they can make an enormous difference and certainly should not be forgotten.
2. Discussing your CV with the interviewer
This won’t always be the first stage in your interview, but often interviewers want to hear you speak about your experience before they move on to the more structured competency-based questions. You need to be sensible about how you run through your CV - only focus on the aspects of it that are relevant to the role you are interviewing for.
Spend most of the time of this segment discussing your most recent role and mentally ticking off items on their wish list; which of your past tasks would bring benefits to this role and how could you apply your experience to improve the department or organisation as a whole?
3. The most common interview questions you can expect
There are a number of interview questions that are commonly asked and these will depend on the type of interview you are having.
- Tell me about yourself? This is an opportunity to talk about your main attributes, your qualifications, experience and the skills you possess, highlighting those that are most relevant to the position.
- What have been your major achievements? Try to use an achievement that is work-related and fairly recent. Talk about the skills involved and how this benefited the company - try to quantify the benefit to the organisation.
- Tell me about a difficult situation at work and how you dealt with it? Employers use this question to gauge what you view as a ‘difficult situation’ and if you are able to show a logical approach in how you go about solving problems. Choose a difficult situation that was not caused by you, remembering to: Define the problem, discuss the options available, give your final decision and reasons for your choice and the final outcome - always try to end on a positive note.
- What about this role interests you? They ask this question to explore whether the role suits you and fits in with both your medium and long-term goals.
- What do you like about your current role? Always try to relate your ‘likes’ to the skills that are needed for the position. Be aware of the balancing act required when answering this question; you need to be positive about your current job while making it clear why you are looking for a new role.
- What do you dislike about your current role? In your answer it is key that you get across to the interviewer that you are able to tackle problems and frustrations. You can also use this to demonstrate why you are interested in their role. For example, if one of your frustrations is a lack of management responsibility and they are offering a Manager role.
- What are your strengths? We recommend basing your answer around three or four key skills. You will probably be asked for examples of how you have demonstrated them, so try and think of a few in advance.
- What are your weaknesses? A common mistake is to say you don’t have one. There are two ways you can tackle this; either talk about a weakness that is not a key area for the job or a weakness that you have recognised in yourself and how you have worked to overcome it.
- What are the reasons behind your decision to leave your current employer? The golden rule when answering this question is not to be negative about your current employer as this can imply disloyalty – a trait few employers seek to inherit. Simply mention all the positive reasons why you want to move on, whether they are more responsibility, greater career prospects or a change in direction. Stay away from referring to money as the main reason for the move.
- Are you interviewing at other companies? You should always be prepared to answer the question and explain what stages you are at, but you do NOT need to divulge the company names.
4. Use the STAR method to respond
When responding to any questions, always remember to keep your responses concise and relevant. Make sure you sell yourself and your abilities using a variety of examples that reflect different aspects of your experience.
The best way to structure your responses is by using the STAR method:
S - Situation: This is your opportunity to give some context about a recent challenge or situation in which you found yourself.
T - Task: What is your remit and what were you required to achieve in that situation.
A - Action: What steps did you take to reach a successful outcome for yourself and the business.
R - Results: You should have chosen an example that has a positive outcome - this is when you outline the successes and link it back to business value.
5. Important things to consider for technology based interviews
If it has been arranged for your interview to be held virtually using technology, there are a number of considerations to ensure it runs smoothly.
A great way to get comfortable with a technology facilitated interview is to practice with a friend. Make sure you include logging on to the technology as part of the practice session to ensure the process is seamless. By answering some simple questions with a friend, you can gain valuable insight into how you come across on screen. Are you speaking too loudly or softly? Is your pace right considering potential time delays? Is the picture clear and does the room look acceptable?
A practice run provides you with an idea of how the technology works, but before the real interview commences you should remember to:
- Turn your phone off, inform others in the house to be quiet and find a private space that can be locked. The more comfortable and relaxed you are, the better you will perform in the interview.
- Look at the camera rather than the computer screen. This can be a little awkward as making eye contact means looking away from the person’s image on the screen. To help ensure you are focusing on the right point, stick a post-it note or a picture just next to the camera.
- Be aware that non-verbal listening cues become more prominent in web based interviews. Ensure you have good posture, respond by nodding your head regularly and try to be conscious of what your expressions are saying to the interviewer.
- Once initial introductions have taken place, take a moment to confirm that your voice and picture is coming through clearly. Listen for any sound delays so you can pace yourself accordingly. If there is a delay, pause before answering each question so you can be sure the interviewer has finished.
- To close the interview, summarise why you feel you are a good candidate for the position, thank the interviewers for their time and confirm your interest in the role.
6. Prepare some questions for the interviewer
Think of a minimum of 3 questions that you want to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. This is your opportunity to really get to grips with the details of the company, as well the job itself and the progression opportunities it presents – use the job description to cover off any questions you have around your daily duties.
- How has the company developed over the past few years?
- Who are the company’s main competitors?
- If I was offered this position what kind of training would be provided?
- What is the reporting structure in the department, and to whom will I report?
- How many people will I be working with in the department?
- If I were successful and assuming I proved myself in the position, what would be the progression opportunities for me in a few years time?
Salary can of course play a big part in accepting a role. However, the interview is not the best time to discuss salaries. Instead, you can find market salaries for your different positions and industries in our global salary guides.
7. The best way to close out your interview
You should always close the interview by asking if the interviewer has any reservations about you. This is a great opportunity to overcome any initial objections and demonstrates your confidence and interest in the role. When the interview comes to an end, thank the interviewer for their time before parting ways.
After the interview, it is essential that you call your recruitment consultant (if you are using a recruitment agency) and provide feedback. One of the most important learning aspects of interviewing is the feedback you receive from your recruitment consultant after they have spoken to your potential employer. Whether it is positive or negative, it is essential that you take it on board and consider it for future interviews.