Interview tips: How to prepare for an interview
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Discover our advice on job interview preparation, polishing your technique and calming your nerves…
What to expect
There are several different types of interview.
- Telephone - Initial employer call that eliminates candidates based on essential criteria. Successful applicants are usually invited to the one-to-one stage.
- Video - Whether through Skype, FaceTime or YouTube, this type of interview is increasingly popular for graduate roles in sales, media and marketing. They're usually held during the initial screening process.
- One-to-one - Face-to-face encounter with one interviewer, after the organisation decides that you've got what it's looking for. They're usually formal, but can also take place over lunch. You could also be interviewed by different people at different times.
- Panel - Similar to one-to-one interviews, except two or more people – often from different parts of the organisation – will be assessing you at the same time.
- Group - Multiple candidates are interviewed together. They're asked questions in turn, or discuss certain topics.
- Assessment centres - These involve tasks including presentations, written tests, and group, role-play and in-tray exercises. They're used to assess a candidate's performance in a range of situations, and last between one and three days. You'll appear alongside several other candidates.
Contact the recruiter if you’re unsure who'll be interviewing you, what form your interview will take or what tasks you'll be given.
Before the interview
Interviews require much research and planning. Generally, you should do the following when preparing for interview.
- anticipate potential questions and prepare answers accordingly;
- consider how you'll explain problematic aspects of your CV, such as leaving an employer;
- contact your references, alerting them that you'll be interviewing and that they may receive a call;
- fully understand the role that you're applying for by revisiting the job description, identifying what skills, interests and experiences the employer is looking for;
- prepare questions to ask the interviewer;
- read the organisation's website, social media profiles and key literature (e.g. business plan, financial reports and corporate social responsibility strategy), ensuring that you're prepared to share your views and ideas;
- research the news, trends, competitors, history and opportunities of the organisation and its job sector;
- review your CV and application form.
Choose your outfit the night before, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Plan your journey, aiming to arrive ten minutes early. Completing a 'dry run', if possible, also combats nerves. On the day, eat a good, healthy breakfast and avoid too much caffeine.
What to take
Your interview invitation should detail everything that you need, but generally you should take:
- a bottle of water;
- an A-Z street map, or at least the postcode of the organisation so that you can search Google Maps on your mobile phone;
- details of the person that you must ask for upon arrival;
- exam certificates, examples of your work, and any further evidence of your past successes;
- pen and notepad;
- photo ID (e.g. passport or driving licence);
- the job description and person specification;
- your CV, letter of application and interview invitation;
- your mobile phone.
How to make a good impression
Generally, you should:
- answer questions clearly and concisely;
- ask relevant, thought-provoking questions at appropriate moments, as this can show that you're genuinely interested in the role and really listening to the interviewer;
- avoid talking about any personal problems;
- be as enthusiastic as possible;
- be well-mannered with any staff that you meet before the interview;
- display positive body language, speaking clearly, smiling frequently and retaining eye-contact;
- don't badmouth any previous employers;
- give a firm handshake to your interviewer(s) before and after;
- highlight your best attributes, experiences and achievements, based around the skills that you've identified as important to the organisation, and evidencing them with practical examples;
- inform your interviewer(s) that you're available to answer any follow-up questions;
- let your personality shine;
- relax and sit naturally, but without slouching in your chair or leaning on the desk;
- show your hands, as this is a sign of honesty;
- wear smart business attire with comfortable, polished shoes.
Tips for controlling your nerves
Nerves can make you forget to do things as simple as listen. This can result in you being thought of as unfriendly or inattentive. Some ideas for combating nerves include:
- being aware of the interview's structure, and the fact that they often begin with easier questions such as 'tell us about your time at university';
- exercising before your interview, as this burns off negative energy and creates feelings of wellbeing;
- pausing before answering a difficult question to give yourself thinking time, or asking for clarification if, at first, you're unsure what the question means;
- putting everything into perspective, reminding yourself that the worst thing that can happen is you not getting the job;
- taking a toilet break before the interview;
- taking deep breaths and not speaking too quickly;
- taking notes with you, writing down cues to highlight examples that you want to draw upon;
- thinking about positive and happy experiences before the interview starts, and visualising yourself in complete control during the interview.
Practice job interviews
Your university careers and employability service is likely to provide practice job interview sessions. Alternatively, you could:
- ask for advice and feedback after unsuccessful interviews;
- practise and monitor your skills by treating interview-like scenarios such as discussions with your tutor as genuine interviews;
- record yourself in a mock interview, playing it back to check how you did;
- review the different types of possible questions, writing down your responses, taking notes and creating flash cards;
- script and practise answers to anticipated questions with someone that you trust.
Explore more about planning your answers to common interview questions.
These are usually used for cost-efficient preliminary screening before the first one-to-one interview. They're often recorded and vary in length, but average around 20-30 minutes. You should prepare for a phone interview just as you would for a regular interview and generally should:
- direct the interviewer to your web portfolio or LinkedIn profile if possible, to demonstrate your work in practice;
- find a quiet place for the interview where you'll be undisturbed;
- fully charge your mobile before the interview, and turn call waiting off;
- get your main messages across quickly, by writing down your key attributes and having these at hand during the call;
- have a glass of water available;
- have a pen and notepad within reach;
- have internet access;
- keep your CV, application and job description in clear view;
- not interrupt the interviewer;
- not smoke, chew gum or eat;
- smile, as this projects a positive image and changes your tone of voice;
- speak slowly and clearly;
- take time to collect your thoughts, and give relatively short answers.
Video interviews are increasingly common, especially if you're applying for overseas jobs. Remember to dress as you would for a face-to-face interview, and check your background before the interview begins. Finally, ensure that your body language is positive; look directly into the camera and make eye contact, as this'll make you appear calm and confident.
A second interview means that you've made it through the initial screening and the interviewer is now looking for evidence of: your value to the organisation; your fit in the role, existing team and organisation; what separates you from other candidates; and what you can do for them. Generally, you should:
- ask the company for any feedback beforehand, reviewing your performance from the first interview by noting and addressing any questions or situations that caused you difficulty;
- find out as much as possible about the organisation's challenges, priorities, markets and competitors, researching the company in even more detail than for the first interview;
- find out what the agenda will be and whom you'll interview with;
- find ways to demonstrate enthusiasm for the organisation's goals;
- give answers that are consistent with what the recruiter has previously heard;
- prepare examples of how your achievements can apply to the organisation;
- talk with industry insiders and ensure that you're up to date with recent developments by reviewing trade publications.
Written by Editor, Prospects