A key part to any interview preparation is to research the company, becoming familiar with the organisation, their culture and values. With this you can then consider the interview and selection process itself.
The majority of the information you require may be obtainable from the letter inviting you to interview, for example:
- Interview format
- Interview length
- Information about the interviewer(s)
- Whether group exercises, tests or other methods of selection will be used
- Whether you will have to prepare anything specific for the interview (e.g. a presentation on a given topic.)
Things you should take with you:
- Your letter of invitation with details of the organisation, directions and the name(s) and job title(s) of the interviewer(s)
- Copy of your CV and/or application form
- Key points you wish to discuss/key questions
Remember the old adage: you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Making an impression
Dressing appropriately for an interview is absolutely key. Studies show that someone will have formed a judgement about you within four minutes of meeting and this will inform their subsequent impressions. Make the most of these first crucial minutes, with a confident smile and a firm handshake, to set a positive scene for the interview. It is worth bearing in mind that even before going into the interview, you may be under observation by reception staff, so be courteous to all you meet.
- Think about what you say and how you say it. Think about the non-verbal signals that you give off, and ensure that you are communicating as effectively as possible.
- Try to relax – much of an interview is about deciding whether you will fit into the company or organisation. Smile and establish a rapport with your interviewer – particularly if you are being considered for a client-facing role where you will have to establish relationships quickly with customers.
- Consider your seating position when you are invited to sit. Sit reasonably upright, but comfortably. It may help you to feel more relaxed if you sit at a very slight angle to the interviewer, rather than face on. Leaning forward a little conveys interest and engagement, but be careful not to go too far as this can be interpreted as an aggressive stance. Slouching or leaning too far back in the chair can give the impression that you are too casual or laid back. Crossing your arms and legs can make you appear defensive.
- Avoid any potentially irritating mannerisms such as fiddling with your clothing or jewellery. Moderate hand movements are perfectly acceptable as they can often bring a conversation to life.
- Eye contact is essential in conveying your interest in the job. Failing to look the interviewer in the eye could be regarded as insincere and untrustworthy, even though it may be from mere shyness. Making regular eye contact also enables you to gauge the interviewer’s reaction to what you have to say. If you encounter a panel of interviewers, eye contact becomes more difficult, but it is usual to look at the person asking each question, whilst acknowledging the others with a glance from time-to-time.
If you do not feel comfortable reciting scripted answers to yourself to prepare for an interview, try preparing a series of points in line with the job description and/or person specification, highlighting where your experience and skills match the role.
It is important that you also discuss your personal motivations and why you are interested in this role in particular, as well as covering the following areas:
Try to put yourself in the position of the interviewer – if you were interviewing individuals for this role what would you ask? Prepare responses to the following questions, and any others you can think of:
- Why do you want the job?
- Why are you the most suitable applicant?
- What have you gained from your employment/qualifications/extra-curricular activities?
- What prompted you to make the career decisions you have made?
- What was your worst or best decision?
- What did you learn about yourself when…?
- What would you identify as your main strengths/weaknesses?
- What were your main achievements in each role you have held?
- What was the biggest challenge you have overcome in each role you have held? How did you overcome them?
- What attracts you to this organisation?
- What kind of training would you like to pursue?
Organisational and occupational knowledge
Most organisations will expect you to display some understanding of their business.
Companies will not expect a candidate to have memorised their financial performance for the last year but they will expect some understanding of the size of the company and the service they provide or goods they produce. Information can be obtained from their website or through company literature sent to you with the invitation to interview letter. Make sure you can respond satisfactorily to the following:
- What does the organisation do?
- Who are their main customers/suppliers?
- How successful are they?
- What are their plans for the future?
- What is their history?
- What is their structure?
- What achievements, projects or research have you done that would be relevant to this organisation?
It is also important that you have an understanding of the type of role you are applying to. Quite an obvious statement but it might be applicable if you were applying to a non-profit or charitable organisation having only worked in a private sector, for-profit organisation. With an understanding of what the job entails it will be easier to demonstrate how your skills and experience will be relevant.
These questions look at your personal qualities:
- What are your strengths/weaknesses?
- What has been your greatest achievement?
- How well do you compare with your peers?
- What motivates you?
Some of the answers to these questions can be given by following a simple formula, based upon actual examples.
- First describe an action that you carried out.
- Then describe the skills required to undertake that action.
- Finally, describe the personal strengths you displayed that enabled you to complete the task successfully.
These include questions that look at the way you reason, prioritise and bring your own critical judgement to situations:
- Describe a situation where you encountered a difficult problem at work.
- Describe a situation where you had to influence a person or group of people.
- Describe a situation where you exercised efficiency and initiative.
- Describe a situation where you have managed well under pressure.
- Describe a situation where you worked as a member of a team on a specific project.
In your answers to these questions, the interviewer will be looking for:
- Context - A brief overview of the situation in order to understand its importance.
- Action - The task that had to be accomplished and what steps took place.
- Results - The positive results of your action and involvement – what impact did your action have for the organisation? What value did you contribute?
It is advisable to prepare two or three questions that you would ideally like answered during the course of the interview.
Questions that you ask are an important aspect of the interview. Distinctions between candidates are often made on the strength and relevancy of questions that they ask, as these can provide an impression and indication of your motivation and keenness to progress in the organisation.
What and what not to ask
- Do not ask questions that could be answered by researching the corporate information that is readily available and in the public domain.
- Do not ask about company pensions, holidays and benefits at a first interview, as these are likely to be considered inappropriate, and premature.
- Tailor your questions to the discipline of the interviewer. At the latter stages of an application you will have met different people from the department you may be employed in, human resources and perhaps senior individuals within general management, depending on the level of the position you applied for.
- Any knowledge that you have gained prior to the interview about the organisation and the situations it faces will provide a good source of questions.
Possible questions to consider:
- What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses compared to its competition?
- Could you explain the organisational structure?
- How will my responsibilities and performance be measured and by whom?
- What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for this position?
- What are the day-to-day responsibilities for this job?
- What will be the key projects I will be involved in?
- What is the short and long-term strategy for the company? How will this position fit into the strategy and where can I influence it?
- Could you describe the company’s culture and type of employee who fits well with it?
- What is the working atmosphere and culture of the company and team?
- What is the company’s policy on training?
- What particular computer systems and software do you use?
- How much opportunity will I have for decision-making?
- Can you describe an ideal employee?
- What is the policy on transferring overseas?
- Will you be the person I report to? If not, will I be able to meet him/her?
- How many people are there within the team that I would be working in?
- What would be my number one priority if I took the job?
- How does the company measure and review performance? An interview is a two-way process between you and the organisation to which you have applied.
Summary interview tips
- Thorough preparation is imperative - research the potential employer and role for which you are to be interviewed in detail. This will help you appreciate the personal and technical qualities that you will be expected to demonstrate in an interview. In addition, you should compile a set of questions, remembering that an interview is a two-way process.
- Do not overlook the basics - Obtain directions prior to the day of the interview, be sure to arrive in good time and ensure you are well presented.
- Look confident - your self-confidence will be enhanced if you have prepared thoroughly.
- Maintain control throughout the interview through eye contact, short and open-ended questions, listening and probing.
- Bear in mind that your interviewer may not be experienced/trained - there may well be an equal onus on you to put the interviewer at their ease, and ensure they get the best out of you.
- Always be conscious of the body language of the interviewer which, ideally, you should seek to reflect.
- Use key words and phrases that the interviewer uses - this will prove you are listening, and enhance your persuasiveness.
- Don't criticise your current employer - it creates a bad impression and you never know who the interviewer is friends with.
- Don't lie or exaggerate - again obvious, but that little white lie about being an ace at tennis could seriously backfire when the boss invites you to his club for a knockabout.
- Do not leave the interview without having gained a full understanding of the role - you should also have made clear why you are the most relevant candidate, and the specific benefits that you can bring to the company and the position.
- Endeavour to conclude the interview on a positive note - this will help leave a favourable impression in the interviewer’s mind.
- In the event of an interview being unsuccessful, absorb any relevant feedback on your performance from the interviewer either on the day or later, when discussing the interview with your consultant.
Learning from an interview
In the early stages of searching for a new job, it can be particularly useful to record your experiences of any interviews in order to identify areas for improvement in the future. Your consultant will gather comprehensive feedback about your performance so that you can learn and build on your interview experience.
Additional selection techniques
There may be some situations where an employer chooses to run some kind of selection process in addition to an interview.
These can take a number of different forms. If you are faced with an additional selection process, your consultant can advise you on how best to prepare. Don’t try and guess the type of person they are looking for or present yourself in a way that is not genuine. We have highlighted the most common forms of additional selection techniques below.
An assessment centre is an event which consists of a number of exercises which may include a series of interviews, group work and/or presentations in order to match the required competencies of the position. This section outlines these events and offers advice on how to approach them. Companies using assessment centres are likely to be very open and transparent in this practice as they will see them as an asset to their recruitment process. If you are invited to attend this type of event you will almost always receive full details of the timetable and what you should expect from the day.
Psychometric tests and assessments are validated measures of particular traits or aptitudes, which can be used in the selection or development of people. These measures are deemed to be more objective than conventional forms of interview and assessment, due to the built-in impartiality of the product. However, it should be noted that there are both good and bad testing products on the market. Good recruiters will not use the poorer products. The following overview provides you with details of the different assessments you may encounter and the type of things to look out for when being asked to undertake such tests.
Aptitude and ability tests
These assessments typically relate to job suitability and performance and usually fall into five main categories:
1. Verbal reasoning
Products that test your ability to:
- Understand ideas expressed in words.
- Clearly think and reason with words.
2. Numerical reasoning
Products that test your ability to:
- Understand ideas and concepts expressed in numbers.
- Clearly think and reason with numbers.
3. Abstract reasoning
Products that test your ability to:
- Understand ideas that are not expressed in words or numbers.
- Solve problems even when there are no words to guide you.
4. Mechanical reasoning
Products that test your ability to:
- Grasp the common principles of physics as you see them in everyday life.
- Understand the laws governing simple machinery, tools and bodies in motion.
5. Spatial awareness
Products that test your ability to:
- Visualise, or form mental pictures of, solid objects from looking at flat paper plans.
- Think in three dimensions.
Personality profiling questionnaires
There are no right or wrong answers here as they are a means of exploring aspects of an individual’s personality and style. This is achieved by comparing a candidate’s responses to a known set of questions, which will have been analysed and validated by professional Occupational Psychologists.
All of these elements are completed in a similar fashion, although some take longer than others. You are provided with a questionnaire booklet and an answer sheet. The general approach is to ask you to compare one statement with another, describe your preferences, or to simply agree or disagree with statements, all of which indirectly provide indicators of your personality type or style.
Many interview sessions or assessment centres use presentations to add further evidence of competence in required key areas. The type and format of the presentation can fall into several different categories, each being used for a different selection purpose.
Prior to presenting, make sure that you will have all the equipment necessary, such as a projector and laptop for a PowerPoint slideshow.