The short time you spend at a job interview could have a dramatic effect on your
career prospects. It is therefore important that you perform well because no matter
how good your career record is to date, the employment interview remains an important
step towards fulfilment of your ambitions.
The secret of success lies in preparation so it's worth spending some time doing
your homework to make it a positive experience.
Good employers understand the pitfalls of interviewing, such as the tendency for
people to recruit in their own image, and the process is gradually becoming more
structured, sophisticated and fairer. In fact, in some sectors the interview has
been enhanced almost beyond recognition, where potential employers require jobseekers
to sing, dance or even cook in order to assess applicants better!
- The interviewer will want to know how keen you are joining their organization so
have at least five reasons ready, i.e. the size of the company, career opportunity,
reputation in the industry, etc
- Research the organisation and its business sector - both online and offline. Check
out the website, read the annual report, read at least one decent broadsheet newspaper
for comment each day, talk to anyone you know who has worked there
- Carry out some news research via search engines such as www.google.co.uk or individual
newspaper websites, e.g. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news
- Make sure you know the exact place and time of the interview and how long it will
take you to get there
- Check buses/trains/parking/petrol in the car
- Be ready to answer some typical standard questions
- Prepare a few questions for the interviewer, which show that you have done some research
about the organisation and its business.
- Do try and find out about the person/people interviewing you, their role, their personalities,
interview technique, etc.
- Make sure you know the interviewer's full name and can pronounce it
- Think about the different interviewer's motivations - an HR interviewer's main concern
will be to ensure that you fit the company culture, but they will not generally be
able to assess your ability to do the job; unlike the line manager, who will be able
to test your skills and will also be checking out your personality to see if you
will fit with the existing team
- Investigate the interview format in advance - e.g. will there be any personality
or skills tests?
- Dress appropriately - conservatively and preferably in darker colours even if the
company you are visiting is casual. Pay attention to all facets of your dress and
- Read through your CV and application letter
- Remind yourself about the facts and figures of your present/former employer - you
will be expected to know a lot about a company for whom you have worked
At the interview
- Aim to arrive 10 minutes early, so you're unlikely to be late. Be pleasant to everyone
you meet from the Receptionist onwards - you never know who might have a say in your
- When greeting the interviewer, make sure you shake hands firmly
- Sit upright in your chair and look alert and interested at all times. Be a good listener
as well as a good talker, smile and look your interviewer in the eye. If there is
more than one interviewer, spread your attention evenly
- Listen to the questions - if you don't understand the question then ask for clarification
- Maximise your research and mention some of the facts you have gleaned from the internet
and media, etc
- Find out as much as you can about the job - how else will you be able to decide if
they make you an offer? For example, you should want to know who the job reports
to and why it has become vacant
- Make sure you get your good points across to the interviewer in a factual, sincere
manner. Bear in mind that you alone can sell yourself to an interviewer - encourage
them to feel the need for you in their organization
- If the first interview is with a recruitment consultant, take the opportunity to
obtain as much information as possible about the organisation and the job
- Do stay alert - interviews, particularly more than one at a time, are tiring.
- Be late
- Sit down before being offered a seat
- Lie - answer questions as truthfully, frankly and to the point as possible
- Apologise constantly: if you're late, apologise once. If you don't know something,
don't apologise - answer by explaining how you would go about finding the answer
- Answer questions with a simple 'yes' or 'no'. Explain whenever possible and tell
those things about yourself which relate to the position
- Criticise present or former employers
- Answer a question with another question
- Over-answer questions - if the interviewer steers the conversation towards politics
or another tricky subject, answer the questions honestly without saying more than
- Talk too much - this is a difficult one, but the talking should be fairly even between
you and the interviewer
- Interrupt the interviewer - although they may interrupt you
- Give clichéd answers to questions ("I'm a great team player"), which you can't back
up with examples from the workplace
- Leave without finding out when you will hear if you have made it to the next round
of the recruitment process, and what that entails
- Ask about salary, holidays, bonuses at the initial interview - unless you are sure
the employer is interested in hiring you and raises the issue first (however, you
should know your market value and be prepared to specify your required salary or
range if asked)
Handling interview questions
Job interviews may be nerve-wracking enough without tricky questions to trip you
up. It's important to remember that the interviewing process is about evaluating
your ability to do the job. Challenging questions will allow the interviewer to see
how you think on your feet and cope with stress.
- When confronted by a difficult question, a brief contemplative pause before answering
is expected; take your time
- Seek the opportunity to turn the question around and sell yourself, focusing on the
company's needs and your abilities.
- Ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you don't understand it - try to determine
what the interviewer is seeking to find out
- Remember the interview is a two-way process - you are there to demonstrate your ability
by speaking out and also listening, but you are also there to assess if the job suits
- Try not to stray from the point - offer relevant and positive information to the
Examples of interviewers' favourite questions:
- Tell me about yourself?
This is a good chance to impress an employer, but it is a
deceptively simple question that can have a variety of answers. The employer is really
interested in how you would fit into the company, so keep your answers as pertinent
to the company and its work as possible.
- Why are you interested in this job?
The employer wants to know that you are genuinely
interested in the company and not just looking for something to fill the next few
months. Say that you view the position as your natural next step. Add that you like
the firm because… Show off your knowledge and make all that research you have done
- Why should we offer you this job?
You need to show how you can add new skills or
ideas to the job. You could try thinking about any weaknesses you perceive in the
company and how your past experience and unique abilities could benefit the company
- Why did you leave your last job/Why are you looking to leave? The interviewer may
want to know if there were/are any problems in your last/current job. If there weren't,
simply give a reason such as: it was a temporary job or you want a job better suited
to your particular skills. If there were problems, honesty is the best policy. Demonstrate
that you can accept responsibility and learn from any mistakes you made. Explain
any problems you had and don't be tempted to criticise the employer concerned. Show
it was a learning experience that will not affect your future work.
- What has been your biggest success at work?
The interviewer wants to see that you
can use your initiative. Talk about your own achievements rather than how you helped
someone else achieve. Perhaps you had a difficult goal you had to achieve? Think
about how you handled meeting that goal. It is a good idea to contemplate in advance
a few key points in past jobs that demonstrate how well you handle different situations
- Why did you choose this career path?
This question is particularly pertinent if you
are changing job or sector, in which case you will need to convince the interviewer
that you have a clear idea of the industry and your value. To make the employer understand
how you could fit in, talk about the transferable skills you have picked up over
the course of your career. Also stress what aspects of their industry are attractive
- Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Although it is difficult to predict
things far into the future, the employer will want to hire somebody with drive and
a sense of purpose. They will also want to know they can depend on you and figure
out if they can offer what you really want. Avoid choosing specific job titles you
aspire to; instead mention skills and responsibilities you see yourself taking on
- What is your current salary and what kind of package are you expecting?
talk about your current salary, include the whole package with any perks such as
car, pension, interest-free loans and bonuses. At no point suggest you are earning
more than you are - it is easy to check. Make sure you know the salary range for
similar jobs and professions by checking out job websites for salary checks, for
Also speak to recruitment agencies
and check other job adverts in specialist publications. You could try putting the
onus on the interviewer to make the first suggestion by asking how much they are
prepared to pay the best Candidate. You then have a negotiating point.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
We are all human and an interviewer can only
be suspicious or puzzled by someone who admits to no weaknesses, so consider a facet
of your character which can be viewed as a possible weakness but also as a strength,
e.g. being very detail-conscious, or a perfectionist.
When describing a strength,
try to strike an appropriate balance between clearly promoting your abilities and
being conceited. Choose something you can discuss with conviction, but also something
which enhances your ability to do the job in question
- Are you willing to relocate?
Ensure you have thought through how viable relocation
is for you and your family, both immediately and at points further in the future.
If possible, give an example of a previous relocation with positive outcomes
- What are your hobbies and interests?
Again, contemplate what kind of a person the
interviewer may be seeking and choose to discuss interests you have that support
this. If the position is a team role, mention activities you participate in which
show you are a team player. If it is a creative role, describe your artistic interests.
Don't invent hobbies for the sake of it, as you may get caught out; also avoid being
outrageous in order to impress. Be prepared to talk enthusiastically about these
activities as they are things you do purely by choice
- What books and newspapers do you read?
The newspaper you read habitually will say
something about you to your interviewer, as will the type of book you read. Avoid
claiming an interest in intellectual pursuits of any nature if you cannot back it
Competency Based Interview
The idea behind a competency is to make the interview objective. In this style of
interview you are required to discuss relevant examples of things that you have actually
done, rather than theorise about what you may do in a given situation.
One of the most important things to remember with this type of approach is that the
interviewer can only score you on what you verbalise. They cannot score you based
upon what they think that you know. The key here is not to be afraid to talk from
a very basic level up. Competency based questions tend to work in the following way:
- Situation and constraints
- What you did
- How you did it
- Why you did it that way
- Who else was involved
- What you achieved
With the detail that you need to get across you need to pick fairly large examples
so that you can drill down into detail. If a situation is very basic you will not
have much information to delve into. It is a good idea to have thought through your
examples before you go into the meeting. It is very common that people who haven't
prepared come out of the interview saying: "I wish I had talked about this example"
or "I wish I had given more detail".
Prepare some questions to ask during the interview. Remember that an interview is
a 'two-way street': the employer will try to determine through questioning if you
have the necessary qualifications to do the job and
similarly, you must determine through your questioning whether the company will give
you the opportunity for the growth and development you seek. Probing questions you
- A detailed description of the position?
- Reason the position is available?
- Culture of company?
- Anticipated induction and training programme?
- What types of people have done well in the company?
- What are they looking for in someone?
- What key skills/qualities do they feel are required to be successful in this role?
- Advanced training programmes available for those who demonstrate outstanding ability?
- Earnings of those successful people in their third to fifth year?
- Company growth plans?
- Best-selling products or services?
Closing the Interview
- If you are interested in the position, let the interviewer know. Ask for the next
interview if the situation demands. If he/she offers the position to you and you
want it, accept on the spot. If you wish some time to think it over, be courteous
and tactful in asking for that time. Set a definite date when you can provide an
- Don't be too discouraged if no definite offer is made or specific salary discussed.
The interviewer will probably want to communicate with his/her office first or interview
more applicants before making a decision
- If you get the impression that the interview is not going well and that you have
already been rejected, don't let your discouragement show. Once in a while an interviewer
who is genuinely interested in your possibilities may seem to discourage you in order
to test your reaction
- Thank the interviewer for his/her time and consideration of you. You have done all
you can if you have answered the two questions uppermost in his/her mind:
- Why are
you interested in the job and the company?
- What can you offer and can you do the
After the interview Do:
- Learn from your mistakes - make a list of the questions you answered well and those
you answered poorly. Think too about what you should have said for the latter
- Call the Consultant who referred you to the position immediately after the interview
and explain what happened. He/she will want to talk with you before the interviewer
calls him/her back. If you are interested in progressing further it will assist if
your feelings towards the position are known, together with your perception of what
the Client's reaction is likely to be
Good employers are increasingly geared up to provide interview feedback. However,
even reticent employers now have to hand over any notes taken during interviews to
applicants, thanks to a code of practice under the Data Protection Act introduced
in February 2002. Previous legislation meant that applicants could see their interview
notes only if they were making a complaint against the employer. Job applicants and
employees can write to the organisation holding the information, although sometimes
a £10 fee will be charged.