Interviews

Congratulations! - the work you've done preparing your CV and filling out application forms has paid off and you've been invited to an interview . . .
This means that the employer wants to find out more about your skills and qualities, as well as your personality and attitude.
 
An interview can be very scary, but if you prepare properly​ you can make things a lot easier for yourself. 
 
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
 
Make sure that you know what is going to happen during the interview
   •  Will there be any tests?
   •  How many people will interview you, who are they, and what are their positions within the
      company? This could give you a clue as to what sort of questions they might ask you.
   •  Will there be a tour of the organisation’s facilities? If not, can you arrange a visit
      beforehand? If you have not been provided with this information, ring up and ask.
 
Plan your journey to the interview
Turning up late to your interview would create the wrong impression before it even starts!
   •  Make sure you know where you are going and how to get there.
   •  Aim to arrive about 10 minutes before the interview time, with the name of the person you
      need to meet to hand.
   •  Make sure you have their telephone number with you, so that you can phone ahead if you
      are delayed.
 
Your appearance
   •  You need to look like you've made an effort, so your clothes should be simple and smart.
   •  They should make you feel comfortable and be appropriate to the organisation's image.
   •  Make sure you plan what to wear beforehand so you don’t have to worry about it on the day
      of the interview.
 
Prepare for the questions you’ll be asked
Interview questions can catch you off guard, especially if you have little or no previous experience of interviews, or have not done enough preparation. So it is vital that you think very carefully about what they are likely to ask you and the answers you are going to give.
 
The majority of the questions you will be asked can be predicted. For example, it’s obvious that if you’re applying for a job as a hotel receptionist that you will be asked how you would deal with an angry customer who refuses to pay her bill.
 
Don’t be short in response to initial pleasantries such as “How was your journey here?” Try to get a conversation going.  Probably the next thing you’ll be asked is “Can you tell us a little about yourself?” Ensure that you are always prepared for this question as it is incredibly important that you start selling yourself from the very start. Don’t start telling them your life story or you will lose their attention very quickly! Only tell them things about yourself that paint a picture of someone who fits the job you’re being interviewed for. Summarize your most relevant  experience and skills in such a way as to imply that what you’ve done up to now has led you to this precise moment and prepared you perfectly for this job!
 
Know your CV inside out!
You must be fully versed in the content of the CV or application form that got you this interview, so that you can now expand upon it. If, for example, you put on your CV that you are an excellent communicator make sure you can support this with examples of how you’ve done this successfully at a variety of levels.
Try to spot questions you might be asked as a result of what you put in your CV or form, such as:
   •  "What are (or were) your main responsibilities at your current / most recent
      employer?"
   •  "What did you enjoy the most in your previous role and why?"
   •  "What did you do during this period of unemployment?"

 

What's the employer looking for?

Employers use interviews to make sure that an applicant has the necessary skills and qualities to fit in to the organisation successfully.
 
They want you to show them that you understand and are interested in what they do and what the job entails.
 
Refer back to the information you collected about the job and the organisation prior to customizing the CV or filling in the application form that earned you the interview. Recheck the job description to ensure that you are familiar with it and the skills required. Carry out more research on them. You need to consider all the information you can find on the job and the organisation from the advert, job description, person specification, company brochures, details of products, services, projects, etc. on their website and any other sources, including newspapers. Also study the market in which they operate. [Refer to our page on Finding information on a company]. When you have gathered all the relevant information, it is a good idea  to make some notes to take along to the interview
 
There is no excuse for not doing your homework on the organisation and the industry. If you do not know enough about them, it will be obvious to the interviewers and make you appear uncommitted. Above all you will not be able to answer some of the questions you will be asked!
 
You must be able to talk about those aspects of the organisation  and the job that particularly appeal to you and to relate these to your strengths and experiences. You need to provide evidence that you possess the key skills required for the job, so you must have some examples and success stories ready. You should not be too general when replying to questions. Instead, you should describe specific situations, either at work or in other areas of your life, when you have actually demonstrated a particular skill. Explain why you made certain decisions, what actions you took, and what the results were.
 
To keep your answers focussed use the STAR system. First, describe the Situation that you were in and the Tasks that you needed to undertake. Set the scene, say what needed to be done, and why. Then describe the Actions you took - what you did and the skills you used to do it. These need to be skills that are on the employer’s ‘wish list’, as described in the job description. Finally, end your story by talking about the Results. What did you achieve? How did you improve the situation? In what ways did it help the company or organisation? How were they measured? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?
 
Here are some questions which you may be asked in one form or another. Practise answering them out loud rather than in your head.
   •  "Why do you want to work for this company / organisation?" 
   •  "What do you know about this organisation?" 
   •  "What interests you about our products and services?"
   •  "What do you know about our industry?"
   •  "Who do you see as our main competitors?"
   •  "Where do you see this company going in the future and how can you contribute?"
   •  "What do you know about the position you've applied for?"
   •  "What duties do you think this job entails and why do you think you are suitable?"
   •  "What qualities can you bring to the role? What qualities do you think this job requires?"
   •  "Which parts of the job do you think you would be particularly good at?"
   •  "Which parts of the job might you find difficult to handle at first? How would you deal with
      this?"
   •  "What training do you think you might need if we offer you this job?"
 

                                                   

Questions about difficult situations
   •  "Can you be depended upon in a crisis?"
   •  "Can you give an example of when you had to work under a lot of pressure? Tell me what
      happened, who was involved and what you did to help."
   •  "Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and were required to prioritise   
      your tasks."
   •  "Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation or person at work?"
   •  "Have you had to deal with a difficult customer recently? What happened?"
   •  "Have you ever experienced poor customer service? What would you do differently?"
 
Difficult questions
Some questions are not just about difficult situations, they can also be particularly difficult to answer:
   •  "When have you made a mistake at work?" - Be careful if you are asked about
      mistakes or weak points – especially if they could make a difference to your ability to do   
      the job you’ve applied for. Everyone has weaknesses and has made mistakes. The point is
      that you must be able to say what you are doing about them in order to improve. This shows
      personal self-awareness and self-direction, two qualities that employers value highly. Make
      some notes on a specific situation where you have turned a weakness into a strength. How
      was the situation put right and what did you learn?
   •  "How did you get on with your previous managers/colleagues?" Note - You must 
      never criticise your employers, managers or colleagues.
   •  "What other sorts of job are you considering at the moment?" - This is a tricky
      question as it might be best not to mention jobs in other unrelated areas of business or
      industry, as this might imply that you are not sufficiently interested in this particular kind of
      position.
   •  "Where do you see yourself in five years' time?" - The interviewers will be trying to find
      out if you are ambitious and have set yourself goals and if you are committed to the
      company and the industry to which you are applying.
 
 
Prepare some questions of your own
At the end of the interview you will be asked if you have any questions - so prepare some in advance. Some of these will come from your research on the company, some will build on what’s already been said during the interview.
 
Remember – failure to ask any questions will be seen as a lack of enthusiasm. The aim is to paint a picture in the interviewer’s mind of you in the job, getting involved and getting on with it.

Some questions you might ask the interviewers:
   •  "Is there anything more I could tell you about my background that would help you
       understand my suitability for this role?" or, "Do you have any concerns about my ability to
       do the job?"
   •  "Can you describe a typical working day?"
   •  "What training opportunities are there?"
   •  "During my research on your company I found plans for… Can you tell me more about this?"
   •  "How many staff are there in the department in which I would be working, and how does the
       role for which I’m applying fit in?"
   •  "How do you see this organisation developing over the next two to three years?"
   •  "Is there anything more I could tell you about my background that would help you
       understand my suitability for this role?" or, "Do you have any concerns about my ability to
       do the job?"
 
Questions you shouldn’t ask!
Asking about pay and benefits, and questioning management or business decisions will leave your potential employer with a bad impression of you.           
 
Practise makes perfect!
Ask a colleague or friend or adviser to listen to your practice interview answers. It is always good to get a second opinion on your answers, since things that are obvious to you may not be obvious to other people.

They can also make you aware of any nervous habits you may have, such as saying ‘err’ too many times, talking too quickly or quietly, or repeating yourself.
 
 
DURING THE INTERVIEW
 
Here are some tips to help you during the interview:
   •  Make sure you are polite to everyone you meet at the organisation, since they are your
      potential colleagues and may be asked for their impression of you.
   •  Switch off your mobile phone before you step into the room!
   •  Smile and shake hands firmly. Show that you are glad to meet the interviewer(s).
   •  Don’t mutter – speak clearly.
   •  Make good eye contact with the interviewers throughout the interview.  If you look away
      when speaking to someone you may be viewed as lacking confidence or interest.
   •  Be aware of your body language! Words express only a small proportion of what you
      actually communicate; facial expressions and body movements convey the rest. According
      to some research, only 7% of the employer’s opinion is based on what you say, the rest
      depends on how you look, act and sound!
   •  Sit still and don’t fidget. Avoid nervous tics like fiddling with a pen top or touching your
      face.  
   •  Don't cross your arms in a defensive manner, hold your hands gently in your lap.
   •  Lean forward slightly to convey your interest and enthusiasm.
   •  Ask for an explanation if you don’t understand a question. Be honest and consistent in your
      answers
   •  Try to engage in real conversation with your interviewers. Avoid ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. 
   •  Always answer the questions in full and, as suggested above, try to use examples and
      success stories to justify all your points.
   •  If you think you will be quite nervous, prepare some notes and take them into the interview
      (not for reading out word for word, but for prompts).
   •  Make sure you leave the interview having conveyed a strong desire to work for that
      company or organisation. A common reason for not being offered a job is the failure to show
      the energy, excitement and sense of urgency that the organisation is looking for.
   •  Thank the interviewers for their time.
 
 
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
 
At the end of the interview you should be told when you will hear if you have got the job. If you haven’t heard anything after a while, give them a call.
Consider writing a letter to thank the interviewer(s) for their time and to express your interest in working for them again.
 
Unfortunately, you might not be offered the job – but there are always things you can do to improve your chances next time:
   •  Did you prepare well enough?
   •  Did you talk too much, or too little?
   •  Did you display nervousness and lack of confidence?
   •  Did you use your best examples of how your skills and qualities could benefit the
      company?
   •  At the end of the day, did you sell yourself? Most people are not practised at selling
      themselves and this is a common reason why they are not offered the job. You must give
      the interviewer enough reasons to want to 'buy' you for the job rather than another 
      contender.
   •  Whatever questions the interviewers ask, the underlying question is always "Why should
      we employ you?" All the answers and examples that you give during the course of your
      interview must contribute to answering this key question.
   •  Practise talking about your skills and achievements so that you will be more confident next
      time. 
   •  Were there questions that caused you difficulty? After an interview, you should always write
      down the questions you were asked, so that you can practise answering them and be better
      prepared next time when, as likely as not, you will be asked similar questions.
   •  Learn from the experience, be positive and keep trying!