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Interview tips: How to prepare for an interview

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Essential advice on getting ready for a job interview, polishing your technique and calming your interview nerves...

What do I need to do before an interview?

Give yourself plenty of time to:

  • research the role and the organisation;
  • think about how well your experience, interests and skills fit the job and the organisation;
  • research current affairs and trends in your job sector;
  • find out what the prospective employer is actually looking for;
  • anticipate questions you might be asked, then prepare answers to these questions;
  • find out what form the interview will take, e.g. single, panel, group etc.

You should also:

  • plan the day of the interview, especially your journey with an aim to arrive ten minutes early. Take money in case you need to take a taxi or bus unexpectedly; carry an A-Z street map or put the postcode of the organisation into Google maps on your mobile to prevent getting lost;
  • decide what you will wear and set it out the night before. Suits and business wear are the best option with comfortable, polished shoes;
  • get an early night - we all perform better when fully awake.

How do I make a good impression at a job interview?

Stand out for all the right reasons by ensuring you:

  • arrive on time or better still early;
  • are organised. Take your application letter, CV and examples of work (if appropriate) with you;
  • listen carefully to questions and answer them concisely;
  • highlight your best attributes in the interview. Before you go, think about what you want the interviewer to know about you (in relation to the job) during the interviewing process;
  • pay attention to the way you communicate. There's evidence to suggest that non-verbal communication overpowers verbal communication so if you describe yourself as confident and outgoing but speak inaudibly and avoid eye contact, the interviewer will read the latter as indicating a lack of confidence and disregard what you said about being confident;
  • practise anything you're concerned about. This could be saying your answers aloud, which builds confidence in hearing yourself speak, or having a trial run of the journey to the interview.

What techniques can I use to control my nerves?

In interviews, nerves can make you forget to do simple things such as smile and listen, which can result in being thought of as unfriendly or inattentive. You're more likely to be nervous if you're inadequately prepared so as well as following our advice above, you should:

  • give yourself time to think about what unique qualities you will bring to the job/organisation;
  • think of practical examples to demonstrate what you have achieved and draw upon all aspects of your working, educational and social life;
  • write notes and take these along to the interview;
  • use cues in your notes to highlight examples that you want to draw upon, such as 'cricket team', 'course representative', 'sales job';
  • be aware of the structure of the interview. Interviews often begin with topics that are easier to answer because you need less time to think, such as 'tell us about your studies at university';
  • pause before answering a difficult question in order to give yourself time to think;
  • use positive language, as interviewers will be assessing your motivation and enthusiasm;
  • ask for clarification if, at first, you're unsure of what the question means;
  • breathe.

Where can I practise my interview skills?

Your university careers and employability service is likely to provide practice interview sessions.

Alternatively, you could:

  • practise your answers (to anticipated questions) with someone you trust and seek feedback but don't be overly self-critical;
  • use non-job interviews as opportunities to practise and monitor your interview skills, e.g. discussions with your tutor, doctor etc.;
  • ask for feedback and advice after unsuccessful interviews and take it as an opportunity to learn and improve;
  • pay a private company to provide interview practice.

Plan your answers to common interview questions.

What should I take to a job interview?

  • In general you will not need more than your own letter of application and CV, the job specification/description and your own notes.
  • Your invitation to interview should detail everything you need to bring. Often employers request examination certificates, which can take time to locate, so make sure you check what you need in plenty of time.
  • You might wish to impress by reading up on the organisation's literature, e.g. a business plan or corporate social responsibility strategy, but make sure you have read it in depth and be prepared to share your views and ideas.
  • A pen and notebook are always worth carrying with you and, if giving a presentation, take a copy on a data stick even if you have emailed it beforehand, along with copies of the slides to use as handouts for the interview panel.
  • If you take a mobile phone, make sure it is switched to silent or off before entering the organisation.

What is a competency-based interview?

This type of interview is one where the interviewer seeks evidence that you have the skills and experience required to do the job. 

Interviews that take this form involve questions developed around the job and person specifications, so think carefully about examples from your own experience that match or complement these specifications.
 
Remember that you can use examples from contexts other than work, for example, you may never have worked in a team in the same type of organisation but you have participated in teams elsewhere.

It's important to show an ability or interest in being able to learn new skills; if you are asked about something that is outside your experience, describe a situation where you learned something new and suggest you can do so again.

How do I prepare for a phone interview?

Phone interviews are most often used as a preliminary screen. When preparing for the interview it's important to consider:

  • tone of voice - ensure you're enthusiastic and use positive language;
  • battery life - if using your mobile charge it fully before the interview;
  • location - find a quiet place for the interview, where you will be undisturbed by noise or others.

Phone interviews are often recorded so you may want to find out whether yours will be. It's important to pay particular attention to getting your key messages across quickly - write key attributes down and have this available during the phone call. Be willing to repeat these with the use of examples.

More recently, there has been an increase in Skype or video interviews. This is particularly likely if applying for jobs overseas or where key staff are located overseas.

Remember to dress as you would for a face-to-face interview and check what else will be in the shot with you before the interview begins.

How do I prepare for a second interview?

A second interview means you have made it through the initial screening and the interviewer is now looking for:

  • evidence that you have the skills, abilities and interest to carry out the job;
  • confirmation that you are able to bring something of value to the organisation.

It's likely that questioning will focus on gathering a deeper understanding of you and your motivations and how these fit with the role, existing team of staff and organisational ethos. Therefore, in order to prepare:

  • find out as much as you can about the challenges that face the organisation, its priorities, its markets, its competitors, any existing or new legislative arrangements, etc.;
  • think about what you could bring to the organisation and prepare examples of how you have achieved (or learned) something of relevance;
  • find ways to demonstrate enthusiasm for the goals of the organisation.
 

Further information

A typical interview often involves more than a conversation with your future employer. Find out what tests and exercises to expect and how to prepare for them:

 

 
 
Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
Date: 
June 2013
 

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