Knowing you’re one step closer to landing that dream role is a great feeling, but it can also be a nervous time.
The interview is arguably the most important part of your job hunt. It’s your opportunity to sell yourself in a way that goes way beyond a CV and cover letter, so it’s understandable if you feel a sense of apprehension.
But by preparing properly, and following a few key principles during the interview itself, you can give yourself the best chance. Here are some of our tips.
The single most important thing you can do is to prepare properly. This means going back to some of the basics you did before applying.
Read the job specification again and highlight where your skills and experience match up. You’ll likely be asked questions around why you applied for the role and why you would be a good hire. Get ahead of the game by preparing answers on how well you fit with what they are looking for.
Don’t over rehearse, as this will end up sounding scripted, and there’s also a risk of you being thrown off if they ask something you didn’t plan for. Just jot down some key bullet points and use these as a trigger.
You’ll also be asked to provide examples of situations you’ve previously dealt with that relate to this role. Practise the STAR method. This is broken down in the following way:
Situation: Describe the scenario you found yourself in.
Task: Explain what your responsibility was.
Action: Describe the steps you took to achieve this
Result: Share what the eventual outcome was
There’s no way to know what type of situation you’ll be asked about, so it’s good to prepare a few different ones, based on the key duties you see in the job specification. On each aspect of the STAR method, avoid providing unnecessary minor details - this is meant to be a short and simple exercise. On the Action section, don’t use clichés such as “I worked hard” - be specific about what you actually did.
Make sure you’ve done a solid amount of research on the company itself. Have they been in the media recently? Have they won any big awards or clients? Pay particular attention to the department you’ll be working in. For example, if you’re applying for an Engineering role, take a look to see if they’ve recently completed a big project and what it entailed.
The same goes for your interviewer. It doesn’t hurt to look at their LinkedIn profile and/or company website bio, to get an idea of their background and what they do. If there’s something that stands out, mentioning it in the interview is a great way to connect with them.
Finally, if a recruiter has arranged this interview for you, speak to them for their tips and knowledge. This is their area of expertise, and they’ll also have a relationship with the interviewer, so can give you an insight into their personality.
Specific planning for specific interviews
Nowadays, there are many ways you could be interviewed. Some examples include – one-to-one’s, groups, panels, job trials, and informal. These can often take different forms such as, face-to-face, on the phone, or over a video call.
While the core elements of an interview will remain the same, there are some differences which you’ll need to plan for. If it’s in-person, make sure you’ve mapped out your journey beforehand and left plenty of time to account for delays. If it’s online, familiarise yourself with the platform they’ll use - for example, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Do a test with a family member or friend the day before, so you know everything is working. If the interview will be done over the phone, arrange a quiet place with no distractions.
Making first impressions count
If your interview is in person, arrive early and show you take care with your appearance. Everything from your hair to your clothes, to the way you carry your bag, can have an impact. Making a good impression on the people at reception is also important - you’d be surprised at how many times they’re asked for their opinion on a candidate.
In terms of dress code, match with the company. If they’re a formal company, then your outfit should be too. If they’re more casual, then you can dress down a bit, but don’t go too far. You should still be presentable. The same applies to online interviews - while you won’t be expected to wear a blazer if you’re in your living room, you should still look like you’ve made an effort.
Remember the earlier tips around body language during the interview? This kicks in from the moment the interview begins, which includes introductions. Be positive and friendly, with a firm handshake if you’re meeting in person.
Show that you want to be there, and you want this job. Don’t appear downbeat or disengaged - this can easily be picked up, even through a computer screen. The more enthusiastic you are with your tone of voice and body language, the more this will filter through to the interviewer.
Answer questions calmly
Earlier we gave examples of a couple of the questions you could be asked, and here we’ll list a few more. But it’s important not to get too flustered when answering them. Stay calm and avoid rambling. Always accept the offer of a glass of water, as it could come in handy. If you’re unsure about a question, it’s fine to take a minute to think. You can also ask to come back to it afterwards. Most interviewers will know that this can be a stressful situation.
Here are some of the other questions you could be asked:
What are your strengths?
As you will have done throughout the process - match your strengths up with what’s required in this particular job. Give examples of how your strengths were useful in previous jobs and try to quantify these if possible. Feel free to physically show some examples as well. Maybe you have a portfolio that showcases some of your best work, such as blueprints and project plans?
What are your weaknesses?
When answering this question, never feel tempted to say “nothing”, as this makes you seem overconfident. Choose just one weakness but ensure it’s something not relevant to the job and potentially reveals a strength. For example, you could say: “I have trouble saying no when asked to take on new projects”. Always finish this with something along the lines of: “However I’m working to overcome this.”
Why are you looking to leave your current job?
Avoid being negative about your current employer, or mentioning money as a reason, as these don’t reflect well on you. Talk in positive terms about the opportunity you feel this job offers you. Essentially, it’s less a case of you looking to leave your current role, and more a case of you being excited by this one. You can also mention that you’re constantly looking to stretch yourself and learn new things - most employers like people that have ambition and want to develop.
Where do you see yourself in X years’ time?
Keep this relevant to the job and industry you are applying for. It is okay to show ambition but avoid saying something flippant like “in your job.” Talk about how you would like to have grown your skillset and taken on increased responsibility within the company.
Ask your own questions
An interview should never be one-sided, so aim to ask almost as many questions as the interviewer. They will be expecting this - after all, they need to sell the role and company to you as much as you’re selling yourself. If you don’t ask many questions, then they’ll be left wondering how interested you actually are.
Use this opportunity to find out as much as possible – in particular, things which you can’t glean from a job advert.
Think about what’s important to you and ask questions related to this. Some good ones relating to the company and job itself include:
What are some of the key things you’ll measure my success against?
What would you like me to have achieved within my first 6-12 months?
How do you see me progressing?
What are your short, medium and long-term goals as a business?
Are there any challenges in this role I should be aware of?
Who are some of the key people I’d be working closely with?
These show you are genuinely curious about the role and want to succeed - you’re not just going through the motions.
Of course, a job isn’t just about what you’ll be doing. It’s somewhere you’ll spend a large amount of your time, so cultural fit is also important. Ask some questions about this. For example:
How would you describe the company culture?
How would you describe your ways of working - highly collaborative or autonomous?
What is your favourite thing about working here?
How is the rest of the team/department structured?
You may also want to finish off with a question like:
“Are there any reservations you have about hiring me?”
This is a brave approach, but it allows you to gauge their opinion immediately. It also means that you can reassure them over any reservations they might have - in other words, you can gently fight your corner and again position yourself as the right person for this role.
Remember that each vacancy is available because a company has a need or a problem. The fact that you’ve got to the interview stage - whatever type of interview it is - means they like you and think you can solve this for them. If your preparation is good and your attitude is positive, then you’ll have a great chance of succeeding.