Interview Preparation & Tips

Very few of us enjoy job interviews. The nervous tension, the utter desperation to impress, the sudden realisation – and panic – that you don’t know the answer to that all-important question.

It doesn’t matter how ‘big’ or successful we get, many people find it difficult to conquer nerves and truly excel at the job interview.

And interviews can seem particularly daunting if you haven’t faced one in a long while. There are a number of simple things to consider which will help you to secure the position of your dreams.

Prepare

Preparation is key – we have interviewed thousands of people in the past and it doesn’t matter what position – it is amazing how few people properly prepare for the interview – they think they’ll be able to “wing it”. Don’t just visit the company’s website and take a few vague notes; visit their social media profiles and external websites to build up as much prior knowledge as possible. Complete a SWOT Analysis and identify how the organisation will benefit from employing you.  Think aboutexamples to demonstrate your achievements.

  • Firstly, contextualise the interview – is the job for you? Do you actually want this job, or do you just want to leave your current job?
  • Find out as much about the company, the market they operate in, and their competitors – read company reports, google news, and the company’s own website
  • Interrogate the job spec, so you can ask valid and worthwhile questions about the role
  • Ensure you are familiar with your c.v. (you would be surprised how many people are not)
  • Run through likely questions in order to consider them and formulate your response (see checklist)
  • Confirm where you need to be, and at what time, and plan your route
  • On the day itself, common sense rules supreme:
  • Allow yourself sufficient time to arrive in the area early, and turn up at the office five minutes before the scheduled start time – this way you will be more relaxed and composed than if you have been battling through traffic to arrive on time
  • Similarly, wear clothes that you feel relaxed wearing. If you are wearing something new for the interview, be sure to wear it once or twice beforehand so you feel at home.
  • Dress smartly – it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. Even if you are interviewing at the ‘coolest’ advertising agency, still dress smartly. Whatever you wear, make sure it is immaculate – no stains, missing buttons etc. Ask your consultant for advice on what you should wear if you are unsure
  • Research shows that for both men and women, darker clothes present a more professional impression.

Look the part

First impressions count enormously. Prepare in advance what you will wear to ensure that your outfit is clean…and still fits you! Even the colours you choose to wear can make a difference. That crisp white shirt and black suit can drain you rather than give you a healthy glow!

And do make sure you get a good nights sleep!

Remember that research shows that over 50% of an initial impression is made through what we are wearing, how we carry ourselves and our composure. Furthermore, whilst ‘what’ we say is important, how we say it is equally important.

  • First impressions count – enter the room with your head held high, make good eye contact with everyone you meet, and shake their hands firmly
  • Sit with your head held high, do not fold your arms, and be conscious of hand gesticulations.
  • Do not fiddle with your hair, tie, pen etc.
  • Maintain eye contact with interviewers. When addressing them, focus on their eyes for a split second, and then let the focus soften so you do not ‘stare them out’. Practice this with a friend to get it right
  • Primarily address your responses to the person who asked the question, yet do also engage any other interviewers with eye contact whilst responding
  • Feel free to smile and nod, yet do not do either excessively, or out of turn
  • Often more professional interviewers will have the main interviewer in front of you, with another to the side of you whose main job is to observe you. Do not feel intimidated by this, and remember to allocate some of your eye contact to them – and, again, do not feel intimidated or upset if they do not reciprocate with a smile!
  • A word of warning for those tempted to ‘fib’ a little in interviews – often interviewers are trained in reading eye contact, and there are instinctive eye movements most humans cannot avoid making when they are lying or making something up. The company have chosen to see you for interview – don’t mess it up by telling a fib!
  • Try to avoid looking down during the interview – this can be seen as a sign of insecurity, doubt or representing a lack of confidence. Maybe take note of where your eyes go in day-to-day interactions and you will see how many times they flick downwards – become aware of this and endeavour to avoid it.

Be on time

Obvious, maybe. But it’s amazing how many people fall foul to last minute ‘hitches’ (getting lost) to scupper their chances of landing the job before the interview’s begun. If the interview is in an area you don’t know very well, ensure that you are well prepared with maps and directions or, ideally, visit prior to the interview so you know exactly where you’re going.

Make sure that you arrive about 10 minutes early, giving yourself time to check your appearance and get into a composed and confident frame of mind.

The Interview Itself

Remember that the interview is a 2-way thing. It is your opportunity to discover if you would like to work there. It’s not about “selling” yourself – it is about succinctly giving the interviewers the facts about how you can benefit the organisation with your knowledge / experience / skills / attitude – so that they can make an informed choice.

Your very presence at the interview suggests that you want this job. So show the interviewer this.

No one likes to be with people that are not interested or interesting, so convey interest at every opportunity. Research the organisation so that you can share your interest in them and their industry.  

However don’t be desperate. Think about any needy people you know – it can be quite off-putting. Focus on how you will benefit them rather than the other way round. Believe that they need you!

  • Take a moment to consider any question before answering
  • Keep your answers concise and anchored into the question – you can always ask ‘would you like some more examples?’ rather than presuming that the interviewers do
  • Do feel free to use anecdotes/stories to illustrate your points, yet try to keep these to no longer than a minute. Again, practice such anecdotes with reference to possible questions before the interview in order to ensure you include all of the key points
  • If you do not understand a question, or exactly what the interviewer is looking for, ask them to repeat or explain. As well as showing that you are conscientious and diligent, this also demonstrates confidence
  • Make all of your answers as positive as possible. Do not use ‘I don’t like my manager’ or ‘They are making us work longer hours’ as reasons for wanting the job you are interviewing for. Even if these are true, the interviewers want to hear positive, enthusiastic reasons about their role and their company
  • Use knowledge wisely and humbly – nobody knows a business better than those who work in it, so do not try to impress the interviewers with facts and figures about their business. Feel free to drop in nuggets of information such as ‘I seem to remember reading that your European sales had doubled in five years’ which shows that you are on the ball, yet in a humble, qualified way
  • Focus on ‘I did’ rather than ‘we did’. Even if you work in a team which shares tasks around, be prepared to specify your exact involvement in any task or project mentioned on your c.v.
  • Avoid ‘I was responsible for’ – dig deeper and be able to state what you actually did whilst you were responsible for a particular area – developed, increased, maintained, implemented, achieved are the sort of verbs you should be using
  • Use jargon only when there is no other option – ‘There were a few redundancies as a result of the recession so I had to look at ways of getting the job done with less members on the team’ sounds so much better than ‘As a result of the global economic crisis, powers above decided to drop the headcount in my business unit so I had to assess how best to refocus and consolidate using the resources available to me.’

Relax

Above all, remember that you’ve got this far. By being invited to interview, you know that the prospective employer wants to find out more about you. The interviewers are human. They are potentially your future colleagues.  Of course you want to impress and get across just how suitable for the position you are, but you also want them to be able to see your human side. A friendly face and a smile go a long way to help with this, as well as settling your nerves.

So relax, breathe and focus on them. You really cannot focus on you and them at the same time!