Preparing for an interview

Preparing for an interview

Being well prepared before the interview will ensure everything runs much more smoothly and will lessen the nerves!

Preparation – before the interview

So, what do you need to prepare?

  • Research: Hopefully you will have done some research prior to applying for the role in the first place, but is there anything else you can find out?  Who is interviewing you?  What is his/her position?  Is he/she mentioned on the company’s website or in any other publication or industry group’s website? How about, a professional networking site – more and more professionals have profiles here.  If it’s an informal chat, try to get an idea of what they are hoping the outcome of the meeting will be. For further information on competency based interviews, download our pdf here.
  • Personal presentation: What will you wear?  If practical, do a dummy run, partly to get an idea of how long the journey will take but also if you do this during working hours, you will know the dress code.  If the dress code is casual, dress up a bit to show you are taking the interview seriously.  If you won’t be able to find out, go full business attire as it’s always better to be overdressed.
  • What will you say? Prepare your answers to questions you think you might be asked but also make sure you have your own questions.  Even if the interview covers everything you wanted to know, get your list of questions out (yes, have a list – it helps you remember in what can be a very stressful situation) and check them off aloud, giving their answers back.  This demonstrates (a) that you were paying attention when they were talking; and (b) you are an intelligent person with a sensible agenda (in other words, ask about plans for the future, up and coming projects, training/development opportunities and NOT about how many days’ holiday you will get!)
  • Punctuality: Aim to be there a little early, say about 10-15 minutes.  This gives you a chance to look around, compose yourself and use the facilities to ensure you will be comfortable during the interview.

Arriving at the interview

Whether online or in person be early in case of travel or technical issues.  In person 10-15 minutes is plenty of time, any earlier and it could give the impression that you aren’t able to manage your time, so tread carefully here.

Meeting your interviewer

First impressions are crucial; people can change their minds but it’s a lot easier to leave someone with a good feeling about you if you started well than have to battle through a whole interview to change their perception.  Stand up, smile and look them in the eye while offering your hand.  Be careful to get the balance right between a firm handshake and a “bonecrusher”.  Keep your palm perpendicular to the floor or slightly palm-upwards.

The interview

Having sat yourself down, made yourself comfortable, try to direct your eye contact to your interviewer.  If you are being interviewed by panel, direct the majority of your eye contact to the person asking the question but remember to include other members of the panel too, even if they aren’t looking at you.  Don’t be afraid to take notes, especially when your interviewers are giving you information.  In fact, make sure you do take notes (after asking permission obviously) as it might be useful later in the interview.  Find a seating position where you are comfortable and so you don’t fidget too much.  This might be another part of your preparation – sit yourself down in front of a full-length mirror and see what looks right.  Body language can be a major factor. We speak through our actions. Defensive body language (arms crossed in front of the torso) gives off a negative impression, as does a posture that is a little too relaxed – you need to make it obvious you’re interested, so make sure you’re sat upright!) Find a happy medium. Nose and ear scratching and covering your mouth can be a sign of uncertainty or even lying – as can the direction you glance when thinking of an answer. This is a major and fascinating area though too big to get into in more detail here, but there’s a wealth of publications on the subject if you’re interested in reading more. If an online interview read our tips for a smooth online interview here.

Answering the questions

Some interviews will be very formal and obviously evidence/competence-based.  This ensures you answer each question with an example from your experience.  However, a less formal interview shouldn’t mean you don’t give that answer.  Which is the more powerful statement:

  1. I always ensure my work is to the highest standard by paying attention to detail
  2. In my last job, I was in a team working on a tender for a multi-million pound project; as the deadline was very tight, I had to ensure my sections of the tender were accurate and to the right standard.  We got the tender in on time and won the contract.

Also, it’s a lot easier to remember a story!

Other methods of assessment

  • You might be called upon to give a presentation; generally you will be forewarned about this, even if you are not able to prepare the presentation itself.  Remember, presentations are usually part of an interview process if your verbal communication skills are of paramount importance to the role.  This will usually mean therefore that it is less important how well you can use PowerPoint than it is to project yourself with clarity and confidence.
  • If you are asked to complete a psychometric test, remember there is no way of cheating.  You cannot anticipate what the “correct” answers are, because there aren’t any.  If you try to give answers based on what you think your interviewers want to hear, you will be found out.
  • Some companies ask you to take an occupational or IQ test, and these are usually timed.  If you think you might be asked to complete one of these tests, just have a practice beforehand.  Type “free IQ test” into your search engine and take your pick – there’s loads of them! Follow the instructions.

At the end of the interview

At the end of a business meeting, it is usual for the participants to agree the plan of action, and who will do what.  An interview is a business meeting also, so it is quite acceptable to ask:

  • What will happen next
  • Is there anything else they need from you
  • When can you expect to hear from them

You went there for a reason – to get a job! It is important to leave them with the certain knowledge that you are interested in their role. Plan beforehand a form of words you are comfortable with to tell them you are interested – tell them and maintain eye contact. For a sales-related role, you will be expected to “close”.

After the interview

If you have been offered the job, congratulations!

If you have not been successful, get some feedback.  Having gone through an interview, you need to know what you did right and what you could have done better.  If you were narrowly pipped to the post, write to your interviewer explaining how much you enjoyed the interview and how you are still very interested in the company.  After all, the first choice may not accept, or things may not work out right, or a further role may come up. There’s no harm in keeping your options open and we can give plenty of examples of when the second candidate has ended up in the role.

Good Luck!


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