The Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for a Job Interview

Illustration of a man holding an enlarged magnifying glass over a manual titled 'The Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for a Job Interview'

Job interviews can be tough. However, they are usually an unavoidable part of jobhunting. They bring you and the employer together and allow you to prove your worth. But for that to happen, there is usually some preparation involved.

We’ve all made interview mistakes in the past, but with some practice, you can ace your upcoming interview. 

Our comprehensive guide will walk you through the most important aspects of the interview process and provide you with the necessary tips to guarantee your success. 

The purpose of a job interview

Interviews are not set up to trick you or make you feel anxious. They are simply a means for an employer to pick the best candidate for the job. 

If you’ve been selected for an interview, then you have demonstrated, on paper, that you are eligible for the role. The interview is an opportunity for the employer to further understand your skills, experience and achievements. It is also a way for them to understand whether you are a good fit for the team and company culture.

That said, interviews are a two-way street. Not only is the employer evaluating you, but you are also forming an opinion of their company and whether you want to work there. 

Based on the interview, the employer will decide whether to proceed with the recruitment process. This could mean inviting you to a second interview, checking your references or immediately offering you the role. 

Types of interviews

Your interview invitation will inform you on what to expect, including the interview format, which you will be meeting, the date and the location. 

There are several types of interviews, each with its own nuances:

1. Traditional/In-person interview

In-person interviews are the most common type of interviews. They are usually conducted at the company’s offices and could last from 30 minutes to an hour. You will likely be interviewed by one person, either an HR officer or your prospective line manager. 

2. Telephone interview

Phone interviews are often held at the early stages to shortlist a larger pool of candidates. During this interview, it’s important to speak loud and clear and ensure that you are in a quiet place. 

3. Video interview

Video interviews are becoming increasingly common. The employer will set this up and provide you with the details to access the online interview room. Before a video interview, make sure to choose a quiet location with good lighting and ensure your camera and microphone are working. 

4. Panel interview

Panel interviews are similar to the traditional interview, but there will be more than one person asking you questions. This may seem intimidating, but this interview type ensures objectivity and prevents bias during the interview process.

5. Group interview

In this scenario, you will be interviewed or assessed at the same time as other candidates. This is common in graduate recruitment processes or roles requiring high degrees of teamwork or customer service. 

Group interviews commonly involve responding to a case study, performing a practical task as a group, or delivering a group presentation. It is important to get the right balance between standing out but not dominating others.

6. Working interview

A working interview essentially gives you and the employer a chance to work together. For an agreed period, usually ranging from two hours to two days, you will carry out specific job tasks. At the end of the agreed period, you may be offered permanent employment.

One word of caution about working interviews – you need to establish clear expectations with the employer upfront about remuneration, the work you will be doing and the period. You should expect to be paid for the work you are doing, and if they do not plan to pay you, you need to decide if you are comfortable with that.

7. Lunch/Dinner interview

This is an interview that takes place over lunch or dinner. It might happen in the latter stages of the recruitment process, and you would likely be interviewed by one or two people. However, it is sometimes used in graduate recruitment processes as a group dinner. The important thing is to prepare yourself as you would any interview and pay extra attention to your table manners. 

Common interview questions

Interviews can be a series of structured, pre-agreed questions or unstructured free-flowing conversation. According to research, structured interviews are usually more accurate predictors of which applicants will make suitable employees. They are also fairer because free-flowing conversations, instead of structured interview questions, leave more room for bias. 

While you will not know the structure and questions used in an interview beforehand, it’s wise to prepare answers to different interview questions.

1. General questions

These questions are designed to demonstrate your greatest skills, abilities and achievements. They are also an opportunity for the employer to get a glimpse into your personality, motivations. 

By preparing answers to these questions in advance, you will make a good first impression and set the tone for the rest of the interview.

Examples of general questions include:

  • Can you tell me about yourself?
  • What would your friends say about you?
  • Why do you want this role?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What has been your greatest achievement to date?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What other roles are you applying for?

3. Behavioural questions

Behavioural questions help interviewers understand how you think as an individual and how you approach your work. 

How you answer this type of questions could help your potential employers determine your fitness for the role and their company. Consequently, your answers must highlight your self-awareness, work ethic and growth to present yourself most positively. 

Examples of behavioural interview questions include:

  • How do you work effectively under pressure?
  • Name one aspect of your current job that you really enjoy doing or look forward to each morning.
  • What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in the workplace?
  • Can you give me an example of how you set your goals?
  • How do you stay motivated when a job requires you to perform repetitive tasks?
  • Have you ever disagreed with your manager’s leadership style?
  • Can you tell me about a time that you failed?
  • How do you approach problems when they arise?
  • Do you prefer working within a team or alone?
  • What do you do when you disagree with a teammate? 

4. Competency-based questions

Similarly to behavioural interview questions, competency-based questions help recruiters better understand your abilities and fitness for the role. However, these questions will require you to incorporate examples of different workplace situations you have dealt with in the past.  

The key here is to look at the selection criteria and the skills required for the role and think of specific examples of where you have used these skills in the past, using the STAR framework (situation, task, action, result).

  • Can you tell me about a time that you had to collaborate with a difficult team member?
  • How have you handled a challenging situation at the workplace?
  • Have you ever been asked to do a job you’ve never done before?
  • Can you tell me about a time that you had to get creative to solve a problem?
  • Have you ever handled an angry customer?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. What did you do to correct it?
  • Can you describe a situation where you were put in charge?
  • Can you share an example of how you were able to motivate your peers or your team?
  • Have you ever had to resolve a customer complaint? Tell me how you went about it.
  • Describe a time when you had to explain something complex to a colleague. How did you go about it?

5. Situational questions

A situational interview question is also a competency-based question. The main difference is that you are asked about a hypothetical workplace scenario and asked how you would handle it. They are commonly used in graduate or entry-level positions, where candidates have less prior experience to draw upon. 

Examples of situational interview questions include:

  • What would you do if you made a mistake that no one else noticed?
  • What would you do if you were asked to perform a task that you had never done before?
  • What would you do if you were assigned to work closely with a colleague on a project, but the two of you were having difficulties working together?
  • How would you handle negative criticism from your manager?
  • How would you handle it if an employee wasn’t meeting your expectations?
  • You’re working towards an urgent deadline when your manager asks you to work on something else urgently. What would you do?
  • How would you handle an aggressive customer?
  • How would you explain something complex to a team member?
  • How would you handle it if your team opposed a new idea that you introduced?
  • What would you do if you were unsatisfied with any aspect of your job?

6. Technical questions

A technical interview question focuses on your technical knowledge and skills for the job. They are most common in the STEM and IT industries and other roles that require specific knowledge, such as nursing. 

Here are a few examples from different industries:

  • What coding languages do you work with?
  • What HR software are you familiar with?
  • What social media tools do you use to plan your campaigns?
  • What development tools do you use?
  • What is a SAN, and how do you use it?
  • What criteria do you use when carrying out quality control checks?
  • What project management tools do you use and why?
  • What is the law of thermodynamics?
  • What is the risk assessment process?
  • Do you experience with ERP systems?

7. Curveball questions

Curveball questions are designed to test your ability to think on your feet. Employers also use them to gauge your personality, values and creativity. The important thing with curveball questions is to stay calm and avoid getting flustered. 

While they are impossible to predict, they generally fit into one of three categories:

Personal/whimsical questions

  • Is life a comedy or a tragedy?
  • If you were an animal, which animal would you be, and why?
  • What’s your favourite website, and why?
  • Tell me something that’s not on your résumé).

Role-specific questions

  • What has been the lowest point of your career so far?
  • What would we be crazy not to do in the next quarter?
  • What do you dislike most about this industry?

 Brainteasers

  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • How many golf balls can you fit inside an aeroplane?
  • What is 70% of seven?

Before the interview

Preparing for your interview in advance gives you confidence and helps calm your nerves – this is key to interview success. However, practising your answers to common interview questions is not the only way to be proactive before the big day. 

Here’re the things you need to do in the lead up to an interview:

1. Confirm your availability

The first thing you need to do is accept the interview appointment with the employer. You should respond to their email invitation or telephone call promptly. If for some reason, you cannot make the requested time or need to reschedule afterwards, then you need to let them know as soon as possible.

2. Research the role and company

Prepare for the interview by reading back over the job description, the selection criteria and your application. Reflect again on what makes you the best fit for the role and think of experiences in your life that you can draw from to demonstrate. 

You should also read up on the company; look over the employer’s website, particularly the ‘About Us’ section and their latest press releases. LinkedIn is also a good place to look for the employer’s most recent news.

3. Dress for success

Plan your outfit and have everything ready the night before. Dressing the part will boost your confidence, so get clued up on appropriate interview wear for that industry and company. 

If in doubt, you can always play it safe by going with a formal ensemble. (Better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.)

4. Arrive on time

Make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the interview and plan your route beforehand.

Arriving at the employer’s office early will help you make a positive first impression. The rule of thumb is to arrive 10 minutes early.

5. Bring important items

Before your interview, check if you need to bring any documents with you, such as your passport, degree certificates or portfolio of work. Some employers may also require a print copy of your CV, so make sure to have one on hand. 

During the interview

1. Make a good start

It’s important to make a positive first impression from the moment you walk through the door. To do so, be polite to the person that welcomes you in and shake the interviewer’s hand firmly when they introduce themselves to you. 

2. Mind your body language

Body language plays a key role in how we communicate with others. In an interview, you need to avoid things like crossing your arms to your chest and fidgeting. Instead, maintain a good posture and avoid slouching. 

Also, make eye contact with the interviewer – you will come across as more trustworthy and interested in what is being said. 

The most important thing is to remember to smile. This will convey your enthusiasm for the role and show the employer that you will make a friendly addition to the team. Smiling also releases feel-good endorphins that will help you to relax.

3. Use the STAR method

When the interviewer is talking, you must listen actively to understand each question’s objective and formulate a fitting answer. 

The STAR method will help you give constructive answers that incorporate your previous experience and skills:

  • Situation: Give the context of the situation.
  • Task: Explain what the objective was.
  • Action: Describe the steps you took to complete the task.
  • Result: Share the final outcome. 

4. Stay calm

If you feel nervous, take a deep breath and pause for five seconds before answering a question. This will help you slow down, reflect on what the interviewer is asking and come up with your best answer.

Another tip to help you calm your nerves is to accept the glass of water offered to you – when the employer asks you a difficult question, take a sip, think about your response, put the glass down and then answer clearly and concisely. 

5. Ask questions of your own

At the end of the interview, make sure to ask questions. This will further demonstrate to the employer your interest in the role and allow you to ask anything that hasn’t already been covered. 

After the interview

Once the interview is over, you can take a breather! However, you are not finished just yet. The hardest part may be over but there are still a few things you must do to be proactive during this process.

1. Reflect

Spend a little bit of time reflecting on the interview, what went well and what questions you found difficult. However, don’t dwell on it too much. If you made a mistake, learn from it and move on. There will be plenty more opportunities in the future.

2. Send a thank you email

Send an email the next day thanking the interviewer for their time and reiterating your enthusiasm for the role. This further demonstrates your enthusiasm and interest in the company and the job. You can also take this opportunity to expand further on some key points that were made during the interview.

3. Connect with the interviewer on social media

This shows that you are proactive about your career and growing your professional network. It also means you have a way of staying in touch with the employer if you don’t get offered the job and keeping an eye out for future openings.

4. Be patient

It can take time for employers to make a decision. In the meantime, continue with your job search and try not to think about the interview too much. If you have taken the steps above, then all there is left for you to do is wait.

5. Ask for feedback

If you are unsuccessful, then it is important to ask for feedback. This demonstrates that you are professional and willing to learn, which is important if you narrowly missed out on the opportunity and another role comes up. It may also help you improve your technique for the next interview.  

Interviews can be a challenging obstacle in your job search journey. However, by preparing in advance, you could be giving yourself a necessary head start from other candidates.  

What’s the best piece of interview advice you’ve been given? Share it with us in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 24 October 2016.