INTERVIEWS / OCT. 24, 2016
version 31, draft 31

The Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for a Job Interview

job interview preparation

Job interviews can be tough. They are stressful; annoying and a terrible thing for anyone to go through. But despite the fact that most introverted people don’t like them, they can actually be a good thing. Most of the time, they are the only way to get a job, and since you can’t do anything to avoid them, you might as well do your best.

Any job interview is a two-way process. It’s not all about you and it’s not designed to make you feel bad, anxious or uncomfortable. It’s simply the process of choosing an employer and getting chosen by one. They bring you and the employer together and give you the opportunity to prove your worth. But for that to happen, there is usually some preparation involved.

Let’s say you get invited in for an interview. Now, what? This guide can help you prepare for it by giving out crucial advice and tips on how to make a good impression on employers. It gets you through each stage of preparation to help you increase your chances of landing a job.

Find out What to Expect on the Day

investigate job interview

About 93 percent of employers expect you to do some preparation before the interview. Employers will be able to tell if you haven’t done any research and this could seriously affect their hiring decision. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to risk that. The first step to preparation is figuring out what kind of interview it is this going to be.

Most employers give some information regarding the meeting beforehand to let you know what to expect. If you have been told nothing, it means that you are likely to have a one-to-one or panel interview, which are the most common types.

There are many types of interviews, and they are all conducted in different ways. Your goal is to make sure that you perform well under any circumstances. Each employer has their own recruiting process, but this is roughly what you should expect in each situation:

Phone Interviews – the employer phones you up to seal the initial ‘meeting’. This gives them a chance to learn a few things about who you are before you get to the next phase. If you are successful and the employers learns what they want from you, you will get invited to a one-to-one interview.

On the phone, employers judge you from the tone of your voice and want to be able to ‘hear’ the excitement you feel about the position. Your ability to transmit this over the phone is vital. The best way to nail a phone interview  is to keep a smile on your face. Even though they can’t see you, it makes a huge difference on the overall result of the way you talk. With these, you also need to make sure you to do your homework on the company so that you don’t get caught off guard.

Video Interviews – used in the initial screening and can be carried out using Skype, FaceTime or YouTube. This one is becoming more popular as more jobseekers are applying for jobs at remote locations. Graduates are more likely to go through a video interview when applying for creative roles or in the media industry.

They are trickier than the others because they require a different sort of preparation. Choosing the best place to have the interview, getting the technical equipment ready e.g. camera and mic, getting dressed appropriately and keeping your eyes on the camera while you are ‘on the set’ are some of the things that you need to remember.

One-to-One Interviews – this is the most common one and it’s usually a one-off thing though you may have to attend a couple of one-to-ones with different people until the employer makes a decision. In most cases, this is conducted at the employer’s office and it’s a formal event, or sometimes it can take place over lunch.

Panel Interviews – this is similar to the one-to-one with the only difference that there is more than one person (up to five) firing questions at you. If you are anxious about talking in front of a group of people, it might be a good idea to practice with a couple of friends first and get those public speaking skills sharpened. The best way to ace a panel interview is to stay positive and control your nerves. Show that you are paying attention to what’s being said and give priority to the person who is speaking to you.

Group Interviews – in this situation you are being interviewed along with other candidates who have applied for the same position. Here, you get asked questions in turn and discuss certain topics within the rest of the group. Employers choose to conduct a group meeting either because they hope to hire all of the participants or are struggling with time restrictions. Some employers do it simply because they want to test out your social skills. If that’s the case, you would be expected to take initiative whenever possible, be cooperative with the rest of the group, respect others and communicate with them effectively.

Group interviews have both a disadvantage and advantage. It gives employers the chance to compare you with other people ‘on the spot’ and decide who the best fit for the job is, but at the same time, it also gives you the chance to stand out.

Assessment Centres – these are intended for entry-level positions and where there are many people applying for the same job. This is a common technique that is used for university students and graduates when they are applying for a job at a large company or popular recruiter. Just like group interviews, assessment centres help employers check out your skills but focus more on your ability to work with other people – teamwork, as well as other skills such as flexibility, analytical thinking, communication, creativity, decision-making, leadership, negotiation, persuasion, time management, and planning.

Assessment centres may last from a day or up to three days and they are often the final stage of the selection process. They include a range of activities and tasks that you are required to complete. The most common are:

  • Case study exercise
  • Group discussions
  • Ice-breaker exercises
  • One-to-one interviews
  • In-tray exercises
  • Presentations
  • Psychometric tests
  • Role-play exercises
  • Social events

Most applicants dislike assessment centres because they don’t know what to expect. If you are not given any guidelines or a timetable for it, you can ask the employer for more information to help you prepare for it. You can also research the company and the job sector, prepare questions and come up with ways to share your views and ideas.

Alternatively, practice potential exercises with a careers advisor, family members and friends. Ask someone else who’s done it before for advice and work on the material you have been asked to prepare. Succeeding at an assessment centre isn’t hard work and you might as well have fun while you are at it.

Research the Employer

 

If you know nothing about the employer, it is important to do your research to find out who they are and what they do before the meeting. In fact, you will need to do your research before you send your cover letter and CV. Employers would expect you to know why you want to work for them and what they are currently working on. Besides how else would you be able to answer ‘what can you offer to the company that others can’t?’

Conducting research on the employer has many benefits. Apart from getting to know the company and the people behind it, you also get to learn what the employer needs and how to market yourself better on your CV and interview. Essentially, this can make it easier to connect with employers.

If you want to find out more about an employer, you can:

  1. Check their official website: go the About Us section, find out who they are, what they do and what they are most proud of.
  2. Get on social media: visit the employer’s LinkedIn page and other online accounts and find out what’s trending or what their latest products and services are.
  3. Get employer reviews: Use Glassdoor to find out more about the employer or ask friends who have previously applied at the company or get inside information from someone you know who works at that company.

In terms of preparing for the interview, you can gain access to information like where the company headquarters or international offices are and find out where you need to go. I would recommend that you also plan out how to get there in advance by driving there the day before. It’s also a good idea to look for a parking space around the area while you are there. Not every company has their own parking space, and you may struggle to find one on the day of the interview.

If you don’t want to risk getting there late and abandoning all hope of landing the job, be there at the approximate time of your meeting the next day. This should help you get more familiar with the area, figure out how busy it is at that specific time of the day and how much time you need to find parking. Note how to get there (e.g. by car, train or bus) and how long it takes you to get there. On the day of the interview, give yourself some extra time and arrive 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled time.

Choose the Right Outfit

interview outfit

Did you know that employers decide whether they want to hire you in just a few minutes? A recent study from Monster.co.uk showed that first impressions count and employers are heavily influenced by what they see – from physical looks to body language and behaviour. To be exact, 6 minutes and 25 seconds is the average time employers need to make a decision, and within that time, you need to make sure that you make a good impression.

Physical looks are the first thing interviewers notice. The same study shows that 73 percent of employers agree that personal appearance could make or break their first impression. So, if you want to make the most of the job interview you have to get your best outfit out of the closet. If you are not sure what you should be wearing follow our guide on dressing for interview success

Why is it so important?

Whether you like it or not, your appearance is part of your identity. It means that wearing ripped jeans and having a messy haircut might indicate that you are sloppy – or lazy.  Taking time to focus not only on preparing for your answers but also on your appearance shows the interviewer how much you care about successfully getting the job. Forming the right look is essential for three main reasons:

  • It presents a strong personal image that can influence an employer’s perception positively in terms of your capabilities.
  • It shows employers how you are likely to approach work and how professional you are going to be.
  • It helps the interviewer visualise you as part of the team and think off you as a good fit.

Putting an outfit together isn’t difficult and once you get it right once, you will get it right every time. Before you decide which outfit to choose, just think about the company culture of the employer you are targeting. Consider the industry, the trends and the way each employer works. Are they strict and operating in a traditional way? Then, conventional is the way to go. Are they more modern and flexible? Smart casual will work just fine.

 

Practise Common Questions

practice interview questions

Perhaps the most important thing about interviews is preparing some good answers. While every situation is different, and every employer might ask different things, there are a few questions that are common and you definitely need to prepare for. As such, it’s also a good idea to get to know the different types of questions and their significance. This should help you understand what kind of information the employer is trying to get from you.

Straightforward Questions

Some questions are just as plain easy. So, if an interviewer wants to know why you think you are good fit for the job, he will most probably ask you one of these questions.

Examples:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • What was your biggest failure?
  • What can you offer that other candidates can’t?

Getting these questions right means that you are going to have to learn how to ‘sell your skills’. Having the ability to talk about yourself effectively is a great asset since it can enhance your interviewing skills. This should give you enough information to justify why you think you are fit to the job and how you stand out from other candidates.

Behavioural Questions

These questions focus on the past to help uncover some of your achievements or sometimes – your mistakes and learning potential. Usually, they describe situations where you had to deal with a problem and seek to measure your behavior as a predictor of results and future success. Also, they seek to find information about your personality and what drives you to behave in a certain way. They ask whether you fit the culture of the organisation and if you are the type of person who can do the job.

Examples:

  • Describe a situation where you had to lead a team.
  • Tell us about the project you are most proud of and what your contribution was.
  • Describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult customer.
  • Tell us about a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it.
  • Tell us about a time when you set a goal for yourself. How did you manage to meet your objective?
  • Tells us about your proudest professional achievement.
  • Give an example of a time when you experienced conflict and how you resolved it.
  • Give an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.

To get behavioural questions right, you will need to respond with real-life examples of how you handled certain situations either in the workplace, at university, placement year or any other work setting. It’s important to show the steps you have taken to solve the problem – whatever it was, you can use the S.T.A.R. (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique to help you out. Also, make sure to focus on the skills or the abilities that are being tested e.g. teamwork, organisational skills, communication skills, initiative, and leadership.

Brain-Teasers

Brain teaser questions can be tricky, and you can easily get caught off guard during the interview if you aren’t familiar with them. They aren’t ordinary interview questions. Instead, they are similar to riddles, puzzles or problems that are hard to answer and require some thought and creativity.

Employers use them to identify your thought process and get evidence of skills such as problem-solving, analytical thinking, attentiveness, stress management, logic and math. There are many different examples of brain teasers and it’s wise to practise a few beforehand.

Examples:

  • How many telephones are in the UK?
  • How heavy is the Big Ben?
  • How many elephants fit into a bus?
  • How does the internet work?

Strengths Based Questions

Apart from your skills and abilities, employers will also need to learn who you are as a person. As such, they are more likely to ask questions that can help them get to know you better. These questions can bring out your strongest or weakest personal qualities and values.

Examples:

  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you love doing in your free time?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • What do your friends say about you?
  • Do you consider yourself successful?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How could you improve yourself?
  • How do you deal with criticism?
  • Can you work under pressure?


For these questions you need to be 100 percent honest with yourself. If you think that you are going to be more comfortable rehearsing some responses before the interview, I would strongly advise you to do it. It can be easy to mess up with these ones and if you aren’t good at improvising answers, you could lose your chances.

While working on these, you can prepare examples that bring out your strongest qualities, but you don’t have to hide your weaknesses. This is crucial because it shows that you are human. Besides, everyone has their weak spots. What matters is that you are aware of them and that you are taking some steps to improve them. Trying to cover up previous mistakes or lying about it will only get you into trouble. Just do yourself a favour and cut to the chase by telling the truth. If you have made a mistake, it’s best to admit it and focus on how you are planning to do things better.

Technical Questions

Technical questions are designed to test the technical knowledge that you need for a job. These seek to find evidence of your hard skills. They are often specific to a job or an industry and usually, you are expected to show some knowledge or at least be familiar with the general theme or the theory behind them. If you don’t know the answer to a technical question, you need to be prepared to admit it. Employers will be able to tell if you are lying and most of the time they just want to figure out your thought process.

Here are some examples for the tech industry to help you understand what technical questions are.

  • What are your IT strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your technical certifications?
  • What development tools have you used so far?
  • Describe your production deployment process.
  • What is ETL and when should it be used?

Competency-Based Questions

Competency questions are the most common ones, but they are also the ones that need the most preparation. They aim to bring out the abilities and skills the employer needs you to possess for the job and match these with the ‘person specification’ criteria. As such, they allow employers to learn more about your existing knowledge and experience but also test your understanding on those skills and how self-aware you are. They are often confused with behavioural questions because sometimes they are worded in a similar way.

 Examples:

  • What makes a good leader?
  • Why do you think time management is important?
  • How have you demonstrated organisational skills?
  • Would you describe yourself as a responsible person?
  • Describe a situation which required you to adopt multiple points of view.
  • Describe a situation which required you to be sensitive to the needs of fellow co-workers.
  • Tell me about a decision you had to make objectively, despite your own personal bias.

When you get this type of question, you also get the chance to talk about the skills that are relevant to the job. Make sure to study the job description and become familiar with the skills that you have listed on your CV.

Goal-Setting Questions

Employers want to know what you are planning to do with your career. They want to learn everything that has to do with your career goals. If these are getting in the way of doing your job - once hired - then that could be a major issue. Employers only choose to invest in candidates they can share a future with. As such, they will want to find out how you can benefit them in the long run. These questions can test your suitability for the position in terms of your needs, requirements and what you are looking for in a job.

Examples:

  • What salary are you seeking?
  • What are your goals for the next 10 years?
  • How do you plan to achieve these goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
  • What are you looking for in your next job?

Becoming familiar with these questions can help you improve your chances of getting the job. As you can see, there are some obvious differences in terms of what each question seeks to find, but your job would be to decide what approach to take. If you are struggling to come up with a good answer, you can practice with your career advisor through a ‘mock interview’.

Control Your Nerves

 

When faced with the prospect of attending a job interview, it’s natural to get anxious. It is not a walk in the park and can be difficult to handle, especially when you are unprepared.

Getting nervous shows that you want the job and this is a good sign because it helps you stay alert. But, if this gets out of control – and it often does, you need to come up with ways to manage it and preferably do so before you get there. If you are a person who gets nervous easily and expect this to happen, it’s a good idea to do some preparation in this area as well.

Luckily there are many stress management techniques that you can practice and can help you improve your self-confidence, thus becoming more assertive. Here are some:

  • Practice power poses: science proves that your body language determines your success and improving your posture can make you look and feel more confident.
  • Give credit to yourself: when self-doubt kicks in, remind yourself that you made the final cut and got invited to the interview. This must count for something, right?
  • Think like a winner: ‘getting into the role’ of the position you are applying for helps you understand the demands of the profession. Visualising that you have passed the interview successfully will allow you to relax.
  • Schedule the meeting in the morning: this way you will get done with it early in the day and won’t spend much time worrying about it.
  • Try some relaxation techniques: if the stress gets too much to handle help yourself calm down by taking slow and deep breaths. Everything will work out fine.

Staying calm is all about perspective and it’s important to do so if you want to make the most out of it. The secret to success here is doing your best. Remind yourself that the interviewers are people just like you and me. Even though they are evaluating you, in real life they are no different than you.

Get to Know Your CV Inside Out

cv

Employers could ask you to ‘walk them through your CV’ and if you have no idea of what’s in there, you won’t be able to convince them that you are the person they need. As such, it’s important to get to know what you have included on your CV – not only in terms of content but also getting familiar with the order in which you are presenting the facts.

The ‘walk-me-through-your-CV’ technique is just another trick employers use to get to know who you are and find out what you are going for. It’s often an excellent way to start the interview and works as the ultimate icebreaker. Apart from that, it also helps them find out what is important to you since you are likely to start the conversation on what matters to you the most. For you, this is just another question you need to prepare for.

Your CV is the marketing tool that helps you advertise the ‘product’ that you are selling and in this case it’s you. If you don’t know how to promote what you are offering effectively, interviewers won’t realise how desperately they need it. So, getting this question right depends on your ability to talk about yourself.

Before the interview, spend some time working on a good sales pitch otherwise known as ‘the elevator pitch’. This is a speech that is less than a minute long and explains the three Ws:

  1. Who you are.
  2. What do you want to do?
  3. Why do you want to do it?

To help you out, take a look at your CV and write a few sentences based on the information you have there. Check your career summary, work history, and education and make sure you follow the order in which each section is written. Your words should follow a logical order so that you avoid confusing the interviewer who’s probably trying to make some sense out of your CV.

Obviously, the main subject here is you, but you need to make sure that you choose an area to talk about that you feel comfortable with. It’s usually a good idea to start from the most recent events in your life and then try to explain your situation.

If you are a recent graduate with limited work experience, you can talk about your studies:

Example 1

‘As you can see on the CV, I have just finished university and obtained a degree in [Area of Your Studies]. During my studies, I have gained an insight into how different applications work within the field through the subjects I have been taught on the course including [Your Core Course Modules]. I also had the opportunity to take on a work placement with [Company You Worked With] and worked extensively on [Areas of Expertise] for [How Long] months/year. Now, I am ready to offer my services and apply my knowledge in the position of [Title of the Position] in an organisation that allows me to exploit my potential in the best way possible.’

If you are already an established professional applying for the same field, you can go with example 2:

Example 2

‘As you can see on the CV, I have been working in this sector for 10 years. Throughout this time I have worked for a number of companies in a variety of settings and gained valuable experience in [Areas of Your Expertise]. I have seen how different organisations operate, what works and what doesn’t and learnt how the industry developed. I am ready to share this knowledge with an employer who wants the best for his company and employees.’

If you are changing careers, you can come up with something that works along these lines:

Example 3

‘As you can see on the CV, I have been working as a [Name of Position] for the past five years. But that was before I realised I wanted to contribute to the world in a different way. That’s why three years after that I found myself working in [Field of Your Interest]. In that position, I felt more like myself and could help the company I was working for in a more meaningful way. Since the only way to succeed is to move forward, I am hoping to get a position where I can challenge myself to become better and be able to help the company I work for achieve their goals.’

All three examples give you a few pointers regarding how to start a conversation and answer any variation of the question ‘Tell us about yourself’. Without going into too much detail, you offer interviewers plenty of information about who you are and what your current situation is.

Getting to know your CV inside out also helps you make sure that you are ‘sticking to the plan’ and playing it safe. So ideally, the real-life examples you give to back up your skills should align with the ones that you have included on your CV. The key to getting it right here is to take a careful look at the CV before sending it out and being honest about what you can or can’t do.

Come Up With Good Questions

A strong candidate knows that interview success isn’t only about answering questions. It’s also about asking the right questions. Preparing some good ones to ask interviewers is essential if you want to be considered for the job. When you do so, you show that you are willing to go the extra mile and it’s a sign of appreciation towards employers for the time they offered you.

Why Ask Questions?

There are four main reasons why you should spend some time coming up with your own questions. It can help you a) express your interest in the job, b) get to know the employer better e.g. in terms of how the company works, c) understand the requirements of the position and d) clarify the next steps with an employer.

However, it’s not enough to prepare questions. You should aim to get a list of four to five really good ones. While there isn’t a guide that says which ones are good or bad, the goal is to avoid the ones that are easy to find the answer to or could make employers feel uncomfortable.

To help you out, these are some examples of good questions to ask:

  • How do you measure success?
  • What’s a typical day on the job like?
  • What are the most important qualities of your best employee?
  • How would you describe your company culture?
  • What are the opportunities for training?
  • What is the company’s management style?
  • What are the prospects for growth and development?

These are some examples of questions to avoid at all costs:

  • What does your company do?
  • When can I take a vacation?
  • Will I have to work long hours?
  • How much will I get paid?
  • What could get me fired?
  • Did I get the job?
  • How did I do?

Your ability to ask good questions shows how clever you are, how serious you are about the job and helps employers realise how you can be of use to them. They can also tell employers a lot about your skills, personal values and how well-educated you are.

Get in the Right Mindset

Whether you like it or not, you have an interview to attend to. So the best way to go is to get your best smile out and be happy about it. Chances are that if you are in a good mood you are going to transmit that energy to the interviewer. Being pleasant isn’t difficult, although few people manage to master ‘the art’. Some might argue that it has to do with personality, but most it comes down to your attitude.

When you train yourself to see the good in every situation you will see the interview as an opportunity rather a threat. If you succeed, you get a job. If you fail, you get to learn from your mistakes and gain valuable experience. It’s important to be positive and a single smile can help you cast away any sign of worry. If you are anxious about the meeting and feel like you can’t do anything about it, a smile can go a long way. The same works with thinking positively. Showing that you are a pleasant individual can be a great icebreaker and be seen as a sign of self-confidence.

In case of uncertainty, try small talk because small talk can get you a job. A study by the Resurgo Trust, a charity that helps disadvantaged young people get into work, found that employers judge people on the quality of their small talk. In fact, small talk is so important that researchers say the first 12 words you say can make or break your chances of getting the job. If you learn how to do it right, it can give you an edge over other candidates.

Take all the Essentials

job interview essentials

If you are new to interviewing, you may be wondering what you should take with you on the day. But honestly, this is the last thing you should be worried about. Usually, if there is anything that you need to bring with you, employers will ask you to bring it. However, make sure that you always keep a copy of your CV with you. Apart from that, you might also consider taking with you the following:

  • A bottle of water.
  • A map or at least the postcode from the address of the organisation.
  • The details of the person you must ask for upon arrival.
  • Your exam certificates and examples of your work.
  • Some money (in the case of emergency).
  • A pen and a notepad (in case you need to take notes).
  • A photo ID (passport or driving license).
  • The job description and person specification (to practice on the go).
  • Your mobile phone.

These are all the essentials you need, so before you go out of the door, get in your car and drive to the location, make sure that you have them with you! Whatever the case, don’t take the lunch box your mum has prepared for you. Just like for any interview, you should eat lightly an hour or two before the meeting and not present your meal during the interview.

There are many things you need to consider before going to a job interview. Just make sure that you prepare in advance and don’t leave anything on chance. Don’t forget that success is all about what you make of the opportunities that are presented to you. Just like Confucius once said, ‘success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.’

What you are you planning? How are you going to prepare for your next interview? Let us know in the comments section below!

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