Getting past the first stage of the recruitment process, i.e. getting an interview, is continuing to be more difficult. Interview preparation is therefore essential so that you can give your best performance when you do get the chance, and are more likely to receive a job offer.
Here’s a list of items you should think about in order to make the most out of every interview opportunity. Some of these may seem obvious, but are frequently overlooked.
Make the following preparations a couple of days in advance:
There are a number of common interview questions which most employers will use, and you should take some time well before the interview to think about how you might answer these. Think about how you would respond to questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Talk me through your CV.” Your opening conversation will set the scene for the rest of the interview so make sure your introduction is positive.
Review your CV
Of course you know the answers to these questions – it was you that experienced your working life since you left school! Just as with your CV, try to keep it short and relevant to the job. Remember it is OK to take a copy of your CV with you into the interview, but use it as a useful reference to remind you of key words, figures and dates, don’t just read it out from start to finish.
Read more: How to write a winning CV?
Tell them only what you are comfortable with
If you don’t have a career history, or there are large gaps between jobs or aspects you would rather not discuss then don’t refer to them unless you are asked specifically about it or you have a way of talking about it without being defensive. The interview is an opportunity for you to sell yourself in a good light, not highlight the issues you would rather avoid discussing. Your CV or application form lists your career history and if the interviewer has any questions they can ask.
Refer to the Job Description and Job Profile
If your CV has been selected for interview then you have probably written this out well with reference to the job and person specification, acknowledging where your experience directly match the job role. Take some time in advance of the interview to refresh your memory about the job description so that you can practice including some key words in answers to common questions.
Understand the interview format
If the invitation to the interview has not clearly identified the individual(s) who will be in the interview, including their job role, the format of interview and how long it will last, and whether you need to take anything with you (usually photographic ID and proof of your NI number) then find out. Contact the company and ask for the additional information so that you know what to expect and what to take with you. It may be a standard one-to-one interview but will it be with HR or the line manager? Will you be asked to undertake a short word processing or till test? Or a short presentation is common for management positions. Is there anything you need to bring with you? How long should you allow for the interview.
It is unlikely that you will have to prepare differently in each situation, but at least you’ll know what to expect when you walk through the door.
Research the company
You have probably done some basic research into the company when you sent your application, but now you may be working for them you should do further research. See if you can find news stories, their website and plans for the future etc. If you don’t know anyone who has worked for them before, look on forums to talk to people about what it’s like to work there or what the interview experience was like and what sort of questions were asked.
Now you have a good understanding of the company and what sort of person they are looking for, and you are still keen to work for them, it’s time to think about answering the trickier questions. You may have an idea of the questions they are likely to ask and so prepare for these first, as well as:
Where would you like to be in five years time?What are your weaknesses?
What can you bring to this company?
Why should we employ you?
Why do you want to work for us?
The day before the interview
Get your interview outfit ready. Make sure your shirt is ironed and your shoes are clean. If you make an effort with what you wear this will have an impact on your first impression, and it is proven that dressing well and feeling comfortable can boost your confidence.
Make sure you know exactly where you’re going, how long it will take you, and what your transport options are. If you are travelling somewhere you have never been before then either make a visit a few days before the interview so you know exactly where to go, or leave a lot of extra time to get there and find a coffee shop to wait in if you arrive early.
If you’re going on the bus, make sure you have the cash with you. If you’re travelling by car, ensure you have petrol in the car and some change for parking when you get there.
What to take with you?
You may have been asked to bring certain items with you, so make sure these are ready and in a pile or a briefcase beforehand so you are not frantically searching for them in the morning.
Even if you haven’t been asked to do so, take some photographic ID (such as driving licence or passport) with you.
Definitely take at least one copy, and ideally a few copies, of your CV with you in a neat folder. It would also be useful to have a copy of the job description and person description. You can refer to all of these items during the interview, and leave a further copy of your CV with the interviewer in case they have not got a copy to hand. If you appear well organised and in control this can only be an advantage!
During the interview
Try to stay calm
You are not being interrogated, this is an interview and the worst that can happen is that you don’t get the job. You have spent a lot of time focusing on the things you will say and how you will respond to questions so you are prepared. Try to stay calm during the interview and be as relaxed as possible, and don’t forget to smile!
Notice your environment
Don’t just think about you, it will probably come naturally but try to notice how your answers are being received, what the atmosphere is within the room and tailor your responses and activity to match.
Take your time
It’s OK to take a pause to think about your answer. There doesn’t have to be a constant back and forth of conversation and a few moments of silence while you prepare yourself is acceptable. Most people speak too quickly when they are nervous so try to slow yourself down and take a breath.
Ask the interviewer a question
It is usual that at the end of an interview there will be an opportunity for you to ask questions. If you have asked questions during the interview then it is OK not to have any questions to ask, but it is always positive and shows you have an interest in the job if you ask a question about the company or the role, such as:
How long have you worked here?
What type of clients do you have here?
When would the job role start?
After the interview
Ensure that you know what the next steps are after the interview. When do they expect to make a decision and how long will it be before you hear from them? Sometimes the decision is delayed so you can agree during the interview when it would be OK to follow up, say something like, “If I don’t hear from you by Friday is it OK to drop you a line?”
Read more: Shall I send a follow up cover letter?
Once you have got home after the interview, take some time to write down the questions that you were asked, and rate how you answered them thinking about how the interviewers responded. You can use this experience to improve your performance in future interviews (if necessary).
Thank you for interview letter
Use your judgement of the interview and the company to decide whether it is appropriate to write a letter or quick email to the employer thanking them for the opportunity for an interview and asking them for feedback.
If you have not heard from them…
If you have agreed a timescale for contact then make a phone call to see how the selection process is going, if you have not agreed a date then it is reasonable to assume you would have heard something within 2 weeks of the interview and contact the interviewer then.
The company may have a no-feedback from interviews policy, but this has probably been written by a policy maker and your interviewer may be happy to provide feedback on an individual basis. Whether or not you have been successful, try to get some feedback about your interview so that you can improve in the future.