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Preparing for an Interview

Job interview techniques general hints and guidelines

Preparing, Doing the interview, Reflecting and Learning

Think about yourself

It is important before a job interview to think about all the reasons why you are attending it and what you have to offer the organisation. Be ready to discuss both short- and long-term career goals in general terms.


This does depend on what the company does. For example, if you are being interviewed as a plumber on a building site then a suit and tie might not be needed or even desired. In general, and definitely for office jobs go for Smart, Groomed and Formal. Don’t go out and spend a fortune on a designer suit (unless you are planning to work for a famous suit designer) but instead go for a suit i.e. both jacket and trouser match and that fits properly, is a safe colour i.e. navy, black with a safe colour shirt (white, cream) and non-offensive tie with a small pattern – no cartoons or large pictures. MAKE SURE YOUR SHOES ARE POLISHED. If you are a woman go for a skirt and jacket suit or trouser suit (but be careful as some traditional companies still don’t like these). Don’t wear any short skirts or risky necklines or really long skirts that you will fall over. Make sure a blouse or shirt is ironed. Detail is very important. If you can look at the website of the company first or stand outside its office a leaving off time to see the kind of dress that is “normal.” This will give you the best knowledge as to how far you can go and what is accepted in this work settings. Word of warnings Fridays are often dress down days in offices so don’t go by Fridays. Hair: Make sure whatever it is like it is tidy and the interviewer can see your face. If long tie it back. Nails: Make sure your nails are clean and short.

Getting There: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Make sure you look at the route and listen to any news about train disruptions, roads etc the night before. Make sure you allow more time than you need ideally about 20-30 mins extra than the journey time so you know you are going to make it. If possible and going to a difficult place, try a dummy run before the interview day to see the time it will take. Watch parking – this can take time or there may be none so check this beforehand and come up with a plan. Take the map with you. Pack any bag or case the night before. Put in copies of your application, CV, money and mobile phone. MAKE SURE YOUR PHONE IS CHARGED. Put in your mobile phone the number of the employer you are attending. That way you can ring them if you are late and apologise and give a new estimated time of arrival. This will allow them to plan and reorganise the interview times if need be.

Mental prep on the journey

  • Go over any examples you may use in the interview
  • Be positive – say this job I can get – give yourself some praise
  • Remember the interviewers are only human like you so make sure you keep the whole process in perspective.
  • Don’t calm nerves by drinking alcohol or smoking excessively otherwise this will show when you turn up.

Few Moments

The first few moments of an interview can be difficult so if you are told to wait try to look relaxed and friendly. If you are waiting with other candidates smile and make short conversation about general matters i.e. travelling –don’t talk about the interview or about the company or any other interviews you might have coming up! Try on initially meeting the interviewer on the way to the interview if appropriate make light conversation and engage lightly with them. Don’t talk non-stop but again offer a rapport by being interested in what they say. Rules for the interview – Never ever say negative things about the company or previous employers – this will back fire!

In the interview itself

No 1: Listen to what the question is? Listen to what the interviewer is saying carefully. Seem obvious but most candidates don’t do this and then answer the question they think they have been asked. Take time to think about the words used and what the interviewer really wants to know.

No 2: Look enthusiastic but don’t get emotional. Think about the question in a detached way – focus on what the person is saying not on your response even if the question is a bit difficult or has upset you in some way.

No 3: Don’t get distracted – focus on the interviewer asking the question and then look down if you need to think before looking up again at the interviewer when answering the question.

No 4: What to do if you get stuck. If you missed the question ask for it to be said again. If you don’t understand the question say “I’m not sure I’ve quite followed the question do you mean…..” This will enable the interviewer to clarify the question for you. If you have gone down the wrong track and then realize half-way through be prepared to stop and say “Oh I’m sorry I think I didn’t answer the question quite right – what I think I need to say is..” No 5: Look like you are enjoying the interview but don’t crack wise jokes or act ridiculously. Try to seem real, honest and true in your answers and expression.

No 5: Non-Verbal Communication This is very important in interviews as a lot of what we “assume” about a person comes from what they do – the non-verbal signals they give out and not what they say.

No 6: Don’t accept any drinks before an interview – this is bound to go wrong. Always shake the interviewers hand or the hand of each of the panel members and ask to be seated . Always sit back in the chair with your bottom at the back of the chair and place your hands on your knees to lean slightly forward – do not slouch. Don’t fiddle with your hands. Place them on your knees and press down if you find yourself tempted to wave them in the air or other movements. Smile and look interested. Try to look at the person asking the question –good pointer is to look at one of their ears – this will give the impression you are looking at them without staring. Relax your shoulders and take a deep breath before answer any questions this will help you think and relax into the interview.

No 7: Body Posture: Don’t cross your legs as this can be restrictive and cause other balance problems. If under pressure don’t back off or start to fidget instead smile nicely and take your time to answer. If you need to ask for a minute to think about the answer. Don’t fold your arms if you are feeling under pressure, keep them on your lap. Before the interview if you have time go to the toilet and jump up and down for a few seconds (not minutes you don’t want to get sweaty) This increases blood flow to the brain and increases motivation. Always thank the interviewer before you leave

No 8: Questions Gaps in CVs: You will also need to explain gaps in employment. If you worked in a temporary capacity but didn’t put it on your CV, know the details of which companies you worked with, what you did for them and the length of the assignments. If you did not work but did search for a job give some examples of the research you did regarding job opportunities and the process you went through to find the position.

No 9: Reasons for leaving: Prepare to discuss the reasons you left your previous jobs. If it was for a better opportunity, explain why it was better. If you left involuntarily, present the reason in the most positive light you can. Make sure your responses are honest and be positive. Research the job: Before attending any job interview it is a good idea to research the organisation and familiarise yourself with the following: Size of organisation, number of employees. History, how long have they been operating – do they have any affiliated organisations or belong to an umbrella group? General information about their services/products/aims etc. Major competitors or other organisations operating in the same field. Job description – understand the skills required for the position. Relationship between the open position and other members of staff – have a sense for the department. Have some well-thought-out questions that would help further your understanding of the organisation e.g. How will the organisation be affected by the new legislation on xyz… or How do you see the organisation developing over the next year/three years?

No 10: Feedback and analysis post interview: Feedback to your consultant how you thought the interview went if you are with an agency or getting advice for a career’s adviser. Also, you should note down what you felt went well and what didn’t immediately after the interview. You can use this to help you develop for next time or in the future.

No 11: What is the employer looking for? Employers use interviews to confirm that an applicant has the required knowledge, skills and willingness to contribute and fit into the organisation’s culture. They also want to see if your career goals are in line with opportunities available with their organisation. They are looking for the potential in prospective employees to become valued, trusted, productive team members of their organisation. You must try to consider how you can display your skills and experience in a good and honest light and provide employers with the evidence that you are the right person for the job. Here are some brief points to consider: Are you a self-starter, able to work without constant supervision? Can you be depended upon in critical situations and follow work through to completion? Are you enthusiastic and easy to work with? Can you work under pressure? Recruiters need to know what drives you to want the job and why you want to work for the organisation in particular. Can you manage your time effectively? How do you structure your day’s work? How did you handle sudden unplanned work or crisis? Can you handle constructive criticism in a productive manner? Are you objective in evaluating yourself and others? Can you work well with a variety of people? What would you do to help a team of people work together better? Recruiters look for an objective analysis of your abilities. For strengths, recruiters want to know why you think it is strength and where it has been demonstrated. For weaknesses they want to know what steps you could take to improve.

No 12: Points to consider throughout the interview Be prepared with answers to the traditional job interview questions. Rehearse your answers with a friend who will give you honest feedback about the content of your answer and body language. Aim for clarity, brevity and above all, honesty. Give honest answers with a positive tone. Concentrate on the employer’s needs, not yours. Emphasise how you can help the organisation achieve its goals. Describe your past responsibilities and accomplishments. Explain why you approached projects in a certain way. Explain how the skills you bring will benefit the organisation. Don’t downplay your accomplishments or attribute them to luck. Be specific in your answers. Give examples of key skills and abilities you have. Prepare these beforehand so they are in your memory bank to pull up when you need them. Ask for clarification if you are unsure of the question. Take responsibility for communicating your strengths. Don’t rely on the interviewer to pull it out of you. Explain your past successes, the more you can clearly describe the experience, the people involved, the challenge and the solutions, the more you’ll stand out in the interviewer’s mind.

Types of job interview

There are several different types or styles of job interview that you may come across. It is important that to remember that no two job interviews are the same and that you can always improve your interview style and preparation. The traditional job interview – sample questions Job interviews may follow a more traditional format. The following is a list of typical job interview questions which may arise in one form or another. It is a good idea to reflect on the sort of answer you might give before a job interview, but it is unwise to memorise answers as you risk coming across as unnatural and not genuine. It is a good idea to back your answers up with examples taken from your own work experience.

Some typical open questions. Open Questions often start with Why, How, When, What

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What qualities do you think this job requires?
  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?
  • What have you got to contribute?
  • What can we offer you that your previous organisation cannot offer?
  • How long have you been looking for a new job?
  • What do you know about this organisation?
  • What interests you about this organisation?
  • What are you looking for in a new job?
  • How did you make a difference to your last organisation?
  • What was your greatest success and how did you achieve it?
  • What has been your biggest failure?
  • How do you work with others?

The behavioural/competency job interview Questions

The interviewer asks specific questions seeking information about a candidate’s skills, character and preferences based on examples of past behaviour. During the behavioural job interview, questions are directed toward specific experiences.

Some examples follow: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult person at a work.”

“What proactive steps have you taken to make your workplace more efficient and productive? Specifically describe a policy, project or system you created or initiated.”

“Describe a high-pressure situation you had to handle at work. Tell me what happened, who was involved and what you did in terms of problem solving.”

USING STAR for Competency based questions:

To help answer competency-based questions STAR is very useful this stands for:

Situation – you briefly describe the situation

Task – you say what the aim was – what were you going to do

Action – What you did in first person terms I phone the police, I phoned the supervisor

Result – This is what happened as a result of your action. Remember it isn’t so much just about the result it is also about what you learnt from the experience.

At the end of your interview

Always make sure you thank the interviewees for seeing you. Go out on a positive note whatever the situation is, whether you think you did well or not. Then when you get to your car or are back at home write down what you felt went well, what didn’t. If you do this straight away, you will be able to remember much more accurately and you can use this along with feedback the employer gives you to improve if you need to! You may of course get offered the job but it is nice to feel you have gained extra knowledge.

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