Interview Techniques & Preparation

Here are some tips and techniques to help you get the most out of your interviews.


Making a good first impression

People generally make a judgement about someone within the first 15 seconds of meeting them. So first impressions are more important than you might think.

So how can you make a good first impression?

Dress appropriately

Look smart and dress suitably. Having clean, tidy hair, a shave for men and discreet make-up for women, shows you've made an effort straight away. Many employers will expect you to wear a suit, plus a tie for men. This may depend on the type of job, so do your research on the workplace beforehand. Choose your outfit the night before so you don't have to rush before your interview.

Plan for practicalities in advance

Find out where your interview's going to be a day or two before. Don't be afraid to ring for directions and plan how to get there. You could even travel the route beforehand, so you know it for sure. Ask them any questions you have about the interview day or the job.

Check details about disabled access if needed and if it isn't mentioned in your invitation.

Make a good entrance

Arrive in plenty of time, it's OK to be five minutes early. When you meet your interviewer, smile and look them in the eye. A firm handshake shows confidence and is professional.

Body language

At your interview, how you look and act is as important as what you say.

Here are some tips on giving the right signals with your body language:

Do

  • Shake hands firmly - it's reassuring and polite
  • Smile - it makes you look friendly and positive
  • Sit up straight - it shows interest
  • Keep your hands in your lap - it stops you fidgeting
  • Look at the people you're talking to - it'll help you keep their attention
  • Talk to all of the people taking your interview - they'll feel involved

Don't

  • Slouch in your seat - it makes you look like you're not interested
  • Fidget, bite your nails or play with your hair - it makes you look nervous
  • Look down and avoid eye contact - it'll make you look shy
  • Talk to one person only - the others will feel ignored

Keep the nerves at bay

Don't be too concerned if you feel you're showing a few nerves - the interviewers expect job seekers to be a little nervous. The trick is to not let nerves affect your performance too much. The most important thing is to be yourself - that's who they want to meet.


Planning for your interview

Research the company and the job

Look through any information you were sent when you received the job description, often you'll be sent some company information too. Read it and make a note of any questions. You could research these for your preparation or ask about them at interview.

The internet might help you find out about the company - look at their own website and do a search on them. Make notes and answer the following questions:

  • What do they do?
  • How big are they?
  • What do you like about them?
  • Phone your interviewers and find out what kind of interview you'll have. Will there be a test?
  • Maybe you know someone who has done a similar job - ask them about it. What do they do?
  • What is a typical day like?
  • What do you need to know to do the job?
  • What do they like about their work?

Look at your skills and experience

Look through the person specification and match your skills and experience to each point using previous experience, training or voluntary work.

You can use the Life Skills Tool to help you to identify your:

  • skills
  • qualities
  • experience

This will help build up a picture of your selling points for a future employer. Remember hardly anyone will match the person specification exactly, so don't be put off if you have some of the requirements but don't think you're the perfect fit. If you've got this far, give the interviewer a chance to decide if you're the right person for the job. Use the person specification to help plan your replies to each question.

Plan for difficult questions

The best way to handle difficult questions is to plan for them. These might be:

Gaps in your CV

Many people have gaps in their CV, for example whilst caring for children or a relative or job-seeking. If you have a gap in your work history try to focus on other activities and interests that you were doing during that time. You could talk about the skills you used in your personal life such as communicating, organising or budgeting.

Talking about your weaknesses

If you're asked about weaknesses, don't list a whole lot - just mention one! Choose something small that isn't really important to the job. Try to show this in a positive way so that you can turn it into a strength, such as how you've improved on that weakness. For example, I've never been very good at foreign languages so I've decided to sign up for a course to help me learn. Remember nobody's perfect!

Areas where you think you've got less experience

You can talk about activities you do which use similar skills such as a hobby or a training course. You could also show your potential to do a job, for example, if you've been left in charge for a short space of time or given responsibilities on an informal basis.

It's important to be honest - don't lie about things you have done or achieved. If you need further advice on how to answer difficult questions relating to gaps in your CV, redundancy, health issues etc, please contact us.

Plan your own questions

At the end of the interview you usually get the chance to ask your own questions. You should always ask at least one question, to show your enthusiasm and interest in the job. If you're worried about forgetting them, there's nothing wrong with bringing them into your interview - it shows you're prepared.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask:

  • What training do you offer?
  • Ask about something you read about in your research - such as a new product or service
  • Who will I be working with?
  • What would I be doing in the first few weeks?
  • How do you see the role developing?
  • When will you let me know the outcome of the interview?

Here are some questions to avoid until you have been offered a job:

  • How much will I get paid?
  • How much holiday will I get?
  • What kind of pension scheme do you offer?
  • Is there a bonus scheme or any other perks?

Selling your strengths

It's not always easy to talk about yourself in a way that makes you look and feel positive. This section looks at the most common interview questions and how you can sell your strengths. Typical questions include:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What would your colleagues and friends say are your best qualities?
  • Why should we give you the job?

What the interviewer really wants to know is whether you can do the job. You need to know your skills and strengths and mention ones that are relevant to the job. It's important to talk about examples of when you've used them in practice. Here are some of the things most employers are looking for:

  • Communication - the ability to get on with a wide range of people
  • Team working - the ability to be an effective team leader or team member
  • IT skills - some jobs require IT skills
  • Good attitude - hard worker, honest, polite, co-operative
  • Problem solving - using your initiative to find answers
  • Enthusiasm - employers like someone positive
  • Quick learner - so you can take on new tasks
  • Determination - shows you are keen to succeed
  • Flexibility - doing a variety of tasks to achieve a common aim

The employer and the job

Typical questions:

  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What would you do in the first month?

The interviewer wants to know that you've done your homework and you know about their organisation and what they do. They want to know you've thought it through and chosen to apply for a good reason. This is your chance to show what you know by having some facts and figures at the ready, such as:

  • the size of the organisation
  • what the product or service is
  • who their main clients are
  • latest developments in the field
  • the history, goals, image and philosophy of the employer

Focus on what you can do for them, not on what they can do for you.

Your ambitions

Typical questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

The interviewer wants to know how ambitious you are. It's your chance to show how enthusiastic you are without sounding too aggressive. Try talking about your short-term and long-term aims and try to be realistic. The most important aim right now is to try and get the job!

Your work history

Typical questions:

  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What experience have you got from previous jobs?

When you talk about previous jobs, concentrate on the positive parts of them. Even if you think your previous job wasn't very interesting, note down your tasks and responsibilities. They will sound more impressive than you think. Focus on the skills and experience that are relevant to the job you're being interviewed for.

Don't bring up negative things like having a dispute with a colleague and don't criticise your previous employers.

Team working

Typical questions:

  • What makes a good team?
  • What makes a good team member?

Teamwork is important to employers. They want to know if you'll fit in and communicate well with the other staff you'll be working with, whatever your role will be.

Your personality and interests

Typical questions:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What do you do in your spare time?

By asking about your personality, the employer wants to know how well you know yourself - it means you'll know what you're good at and where you could improve.

When it comes to your interests, the employer wants to know if you're the type of person who tries to get the most out of life. If you're enthusiastic and motivated with your interests, you'll probably be like that at work.

Try to choose a mix of interests, for example, current affairs, sport, activities with friends and family.

What to do after your interview

Whether you get a job or not, one of the most useful things you can get from your interview is feedback on how you did. It might be the last thing you feel like doing but the best thing to help you understand what you did well and where you need to work on your skills, experience or interview technique.

You should always be able to have feedback after your interview. If you don't hear back after a few days, don't be afraid to call, email or write and find out.

You might find it useful to make a few notes while the interviewer is speaking to you or just after, so you can look at them at another time.

Remember, there are plenty of jobs out there, so don't let it put you off from applying for others. There's also nothing wrong with applying for more than one job at a time.