Winning Your Interview
Thinking before you speak
Questions to ask your interviewer
It is difficult to over-stress the importance of preparation for your interview. It is easy for interviewers to spot a candidate who has failed to prepare properly and, in the interview room, your confidence will soon drain away. You should dedicate as much time and effort to preparation as you can spare.
Thorough preparation will help reduce pre-interview stress. The more you research the company, practice answering interview questions and prepare for the day of the interview, the calmer and more confident you will feel.
Researching the company and the role you’re applying for is a clear demonstration of your willingness to undertake the job. The interviewer is almost certainly going to ask you why you want to work for them, so make sure you’ve given the matter some serious thought.
A prospective employer will expect you to know something about the company, and that you to know why you will fit in well there. Knowing as much as possible about the company's past performance and future plans will also help you better explain how you can add value to the company, and the more information you have, the more comfortable you’ll feel when talking to your interviewer.
Spend a few hours learning everything you can about the company—from as many sources as you can:
- Read everything about your prospective employer that’s available to you
- Start by reading the company’s blog and Facebook page to get a sense of company culture and image
- Twitter can also be an excellent resource because you can see what the company and its employees are talking about
- Visit their website and read current news releases
- Spend some time researching on Google. By doing so, you’ll get the larger picture about the company, along with any negative press
- If you are faced with a technical interview, start preparing as early as possible
- Check out Glassdoor.co.uk for company reviews from current and previous employees but take them as a guide, rather than fact
- Reanalyse the job description, focusing on the essential requirements and responsibilities
- Revisit your CV and cover letter to review how you pitched yourself in the first place
- Research potential interview questions specific to the position and the industry
- Talk to friends and contacts
Research your interviewer on social media and the company website and try to find out enough about them to make a reasonable supposition about which of your stories will resonate with them. Reflect on your career to date and recall specific examples from your work experience, such as major accomplishments, challenges or milestones that will resonate with the interviewer. When you know your story inside out, it’s much easier to apply examples to just about any interview question and strengthen your chances of success. Be creative, make it meaningful, funny or emotional but don’t forget to make it relevant and interesting.
Interview questions predominantly revolve around you, your past experience, and why you are suitable for the job on offer. This may sound simple but a surprising number of people don’t answer these questions as eloquently as they could. The more you practice, the more self-assured you will feel walking into the interview. Your answers will feel natural, and interviewers will be impressed by your confidence. Practising your answers will help prevent mind blanks or nervous ramblings. Ask a friend or family member to pose as an interviewer, so you can get used to answering questions in real time but don’t forget to also book a one-to-one interview practice with me
It’s also a good idea to have some questions prepared for the interview which you can either ask throughout the conversation as they naturally crop up, or at the end when the interviewer will no doubt ask you if you have any. This will help you to be perceived as eager for the job, and engaged in the interview.
Visit the venue beforehand
If possible, make an appointment to meet the boss and the existing postholder prior to interview day. This will allow you to get a feel for the place and to use the opportunity to make a positive first impression. It will also help you decide whether you’d actually like to work there.
If this is not possible, you may you know someone who works at the organisation or who can put you in touch with a current or former employee. In this case you’ll be able to gather information that can give you an advantage over the other applicants.
The day before
- Plan your journey
- Clean your car
- Ensure your outfit is ready (see next section)
- Shine your shoes
- Prepare examples of your work to be taken to the interview if requested. This is more common in creative industries
- Prepare an interview kit for your bag or briefcase. It should be large enough to hold your everyday essentials plus items for the interview, such as extra CVs and a notepad and pens, as well as a small stock of items that you might need in an unexpected situation, for example tissues and breath mints
- Clean out your bag. It wouldn’t look good if you had to dig past sweet wrappers and old receipts to find your CV
- Get a good night’s sleep
The first impression that you make is very important, and what you wear is a big part of that first impression. You should therefore ensure that you look professional and are dressed appropriately for the work environment.
It’s important that you are comfortable in your interview outfit: if you feel good, you’ll come across in a confident manner and, no doubt, improve your job interview performance.
In general, for formal business interviews, men tend to wear a dark suit and tie, and women often wear a dark suit or a blouse with dark trousers or a skirt. It’s best to avoid anything in loud colours or busy patterns. If you’re likely to sweat, choose a white top. You should also limit accessories and ensure that you are well groomed and your shoes are shined.
You’ll be able to dress more informally for a job with a casual work environment. A company’s website will often give clues about its job dress code, and neat and tidy business casual is a good option when you know that a suit isn’t going to be appropriate. For interview you should aim to dress one notch smarter than the usual workforce. Never wear jeans, t-shirts or trainers.
Make sure you get your outfit cleaned and/or pressed, check for loose hems, and make sure your fingernails look manicured and clean. Looking your best helps you feel at your best. If that means you need a facial, haircut, razor shave or even a new interview outfit, then by all means do it. Feeling good about yourself will boost your confidence.
Arrive about ten minutes before the stated time. Arriving too early just builds up the nerves but arriving too late marks you down straightaway
There are very few (if any) excuses that will redeem a late arrival. If you’re running late you’ll be stressed, and that’s no way to start an interview for what could be your new job. Do whatever you need to do to get there ten minutes in advance of your interview time, whether it’s setting five alarms, asking a friend to give you a wake-up call or leaving extra early to avoid potential transport delays.
Running late not only suggests poor time management skills but can also be construed as a lack of respect for the company, the position and your interviewer.
Silence your phone before you arrive, and put it in your bag.
Remember that you’re on interview from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, so try to be polite and gracious to everyone you meet: these people could be your future colleagues, so try to make the best impression that you can.
Make sure you know the interviewer's name and use it when you meet them. Walk in with a smile on your face, use eye contact and offer a firm handshake.
Pay attention at all times during the interview. If you feel your attention slipping away, maintain eye contact, lean forward slightly when talking to your interviewer and make an active effort to listen effectively.
Don’t talk too much. Keep your answers succinct and focused, and don't get side-tracked and start talking about your personal life. No matter how warm, welcoming or genial your interviewer may be, an interview is a professional situation and not a personal one.
Don't make making disparaging comments about your current boss or colleagues: it's a small world and you don't know who your interviewer might socialise with. You also don't want to give the impression that you might speak that way about this company when you eventually leave.
Use nonverbal communication to impress your potential employer. Sit forwards if you can, and try to look alert. The best candidates will sit upright with good posture, but still at ease.
You’re facing an important interview and of course you want to do your best. If you’re nervous, visit the bathroom before your interview but remember to thoroughly dry your hands so they’re not sweaty.
You are sure to dry up at some point, so always accept an offer of a drink of water during the interview. Take some deep breaths, and remind yourself that you’ve prepared as well as you can: it’s really not the end of the world if the interview goes wrong.
Remember that the interviewers want you to succeed and are looking to see you at your very best. They don’t usually try to catch you out or trip you up – and who would want to work with somebody like that anyway?
"Just be genuine, show passion for your work, own your flaws, show initiative for improvement and you’ll do fine."
Fully expect to feel increased anxiety and, instead of reacting against the feeling, recognise it as a sign that your body and brain are getting ready to perform. Your anxiety will reduce when you accept these natural thoughts and feelings.
Many people need several opportunities before they succeed, and even some of the most famous people in the world were rejected at some point along the way. Keep in mind that this will not be your one and only opportunity, and remind yourself to breathe!
Thinking before you speak
If you're not sure about a question, check for clarification and remember that it is perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to frame your responses so you can be sure to fully answer the question.
Don’t blurt out the first thing that enters your head. Nerves can cause you to want to convey as much information about yourself as possible in the shortest available time. However, speaking too quickly will make you look rushed, flustered or anxious. Make a conscious effort to slow down and speak calmly and clearly.
A well thought-out answer is always better than a rushed one. Of course you don’t want to sit there in silence for several minutes while you come up with an answer but it is acceptable to take several seconds to think before you speak.
To play for time, either ask them to repeat the question or, better still, repeat it back to them. For example, if the interviewer asks you to name the capital of Peru, instead of going quiet and scratching the back of your head, slowly respond that “the capital of Peru is…” and by the time you reach that point the word “Lima” will hopefully have charged along a few synapses to the front of your mind.
Although you should be willing and able to promote yourself, make sure you don’t come across as arrogant or self-important. No matter how good you are at your job, you’re going to run into countless obstacles if you lack the emotional intelligence to get along with managers, colleagues or clients.
Don’t waffle. Interviewers are often easily bored, so answer the question and move on
Summarise your answer by repeating the question once more. That way they’ll know you’ve finished.
Anyone can nod and smile but how many people actually listen? Interviews are especially tricky because you do need to listen carefully to your interviewer’s question while mentally preparing your answer. If you don’t listen well, you might miss the entire point of the question and, as a result, your answer will fall flat.
If there is more than one interviewer, ensure you hear each person’s name at the outset. Establish eye contact with each of them in turn as you introduce yourself, this will help to break the ice and establish a connection with each individual.
Modify your communication style. In an individual interview, you would respond to questions by answering the person directly. HoweverBut, in a panel interview, you will need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the panel while making your comments. Make eye contact with the person asking the question and begin by answering directly to them, and then look at the other panel members as you finish the rest of your comments, so each person feels included in the conversation.
As the interview progresses, see if you can make connections and demonstrate your active listening skills by bringing together and developing things that different panellists have said.
You may find yourself in an interview alongside several other candidates who are vying for the same position at the same time. All candidates in the group are assessed simultaneously, often in a group discussion or task.
In some industry sectors a prospective employer will take a candidate out for a meal to evaluate their social skills and to see how they handle themselves under pressure.
Questions to ask your interviewer
There will inevitably be a time towards the end of the meeting when you are asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer.
There is one twee, slightly embarrassing question that you can use at this point that currently has a 100% success rate in winning the job.
Don’t underestimate the importance of saying ‘thank you’. When your interview concludes, you should thank your interviewers for their time and for the opportunity to learn more about the position. It is also good practice to follow up with a thank you email to confirm that you are really interested in the position.
Before you leave the room find out what happens next – will they call or email you? Will they notify everybody about the outcome, or just the successful candidate? How long does the process normally take? You need to be clear in your mind to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
While you’re awaiting the interviewer’s decision, take some time to reflect upon your experiences. Try to be as objective as possible when considering your interview performance, and review the experience without engaging extreme emotions.
What went well, what could have been better, and what will you improve for next time? You may find it useful to write this information down or enter it onto your phone.