Interview basics and essentials.
Know your CV.
The employer is likely to have your CV in front of them. As part of their research they will have read through your CV and potentially marked questions or areas where they want more information and would like to discuss further.
Ensure that you have read it thoroughly and recently. Think about any gaps in employment and how you are going to explain these in a positive way.
Know your CV back to front and know how you are going to explain your reasons for leaving each role. The employer may be interested in your reasons for leaving jobs and the reasons behind them. Think about the skills you acquired in these roles, any project work that you excelled in, your responsibilities and what you enjoyed or disliked in these roles.
It is important to explain your decisions in education also. Talk through the reasons why you chose the course and how that fits with your plans for your future career. Expand on elements of the course that you particularly enjoyed and any experiences that you can share, which would fit well with the role you are applying for. If you need help updating your CV we're here to help.
Know the employer.
Any employer will want to know that you have researched into their company/organisation and what they have to offer potential new hires. If you show poor lack of knowledge you will be sending a clear message to the employer that you are not particularly interested where you work and you are unprepared.
You can find out about the employer on their company website. Have a look at the ‘about us’ tab as well as looking at a ‘media/news’ tab to see if there are any recent and topical articles that you could discuss. Try looking at the careers section or ‘work for us’ tab to see how they market their company, you may be able to find out useful information like their company values. You could also try Googling the company and checking out the ‘news’ tab to see whether there have been any recent stories in the news or awards won, mentions in reports etc. Try and find out as much as you can about the people you will be seeing too, from looking on LinkedIn and finding out about their background.
Know what makes you special and stand out from the other candidates who may be interviewing for the same role. It can be difficult to do this, and you don’t want to come across as big headed, but it might help to think about awards, praise or recognition you have received in the past; sporting achievements; promotion/progression in your previous roles; processes in the workplace that you put in place and have been useful to others; any volunteering roles you’ve held recently; what involvement you had at University or within group projects whilst studying etc. Think about how you supported others and what results you achieved.
Know the interview process.
Try to find out how many interview stages there might be, whether any involve a skills or testing so that you can prepare, ask if any of it is likely to be practical and don’t forget to try and find out when you might get some feedback to help improve and how many other candidates are interviewing. Get more info on the top interview questions and answers.
Know the job specification.
It can be difficult to get a full job specification, but try to get as much information as possible. It’s recommended you ask for a written job specification, look through it thoroughly and try to make a note of any experience/examples from your history where you have been responsible for something similar or can relate to. Also, make a note of any areas where you are unsure of the meaning or where you definitely don’t have experience. This way you can prepare yourself for any difficult questions and don’t get thrown off balance! You can try to work these into an area of development for when they ask about weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have which may not be written in the job specification.
Commonly asked interview questions, and how to answer them.
Tell me about yourself:
This will often be the first question that an interviewer will ask you. It sounds simple, but you have to think about how you will answer this. It is a very broad question so practice what you will say; don’t start talking about your last holiday and your pets - keep it relevant!
What do you know about the company/organisation?
Let them know what you have found out. Rather than just reiterating facts and figures that you found out about in the ‘about us’ tab, try to mention something that you are genuinely interested in - perhaps a news article, award, or report that you have seen. This will come across as more natural and get across your genuine interest.
What are your key strengths/skills?
Try to focus on what you know they are looking for in the job spec both in terms of skills but also the personal specification they are asking for, so softer skills as well.
What are your weaknesses?
This is a tricky question and hard to get the balance between giving a generic weakness i.e. “I’ve been told I work too hard” and being honest and selling yourself out of the job! Try to pick areas where you could do with some training but that are not detrimental to the job. It may be useful to look at the job specification where they may have put a list of ‘desirable’ skills and mention you want want further development in these areas, or even look to see if they have put some information about where this role may progress in the future and choose one aspect of this as a development area.
Why did you leave your last position?
Try to keep it positive and upbeat even if the circumstances were difficult
Why do you think we should offer you this position?
Think back to the preparation that you did regarding the job specification and highlighting areas/experience that you have already had. Think about how you would add value in this role.
What are your salary expectations?
Always be prepared for this question - look at what the salary band is on the advert before you go, think about what you want. Be confident in your answer, but there may be some negotiation in this.
What are your career goals?
Often the company will be checking that you will be staying for the duration of the contract or permanent role. Reassure them that this position fits your career plans and feel free to talk to them about any further aspirations in your 5-year plan.
Interview questions for you to ask.
There comes a point in every interview when you are asked ‘Do you have any questions?’ The worst response you can give is ‘No’! It pays to think of some questions you may like to ask. The best questions are the ones you think of, because they are important to you.
Use a notepad to write down your questions and take this along with you to the interview - nerves can often make you forget what you would like to ask. Prepare a minimum of six questions covering the job, the people and the company.
Here are some examples to get you started:
About the job and your suitability for it
- Can you describe your ideal candidate to me?
- What do you consider to be my major strengths for this position? Are there any drawbacks in your view?
- If you recruited me, how would I know what you thought of my progress and development in the role?
About the people
- Would you mind telling me about your career to date with the company?
- What can you tell me about the people I will be working with?
- How would you describe the management style of the company?
About the company
Generally avoid questions you should have been able to answer with a little prior research.
- Have there been any major organisational changes recently? Are there any planned?
- Are there any major acquisitions now being planned?
- What are the company’s profit and turnover projections over the next few years?
You may be asked to complete a test in the interview. If this is the case try to see if you can find a sample test - often you can find some example ones through a quick google search.
If you know you will be given a test, ask what company they use to do the test as there are various tests out there and different companies tests are different e.e. some are timed, some aren’t, some are multiple choice and some are free text answers. SHL is the biggest interview testing company and if you go to their website they allow you to do a range of different practice tests and then give you a score - we highly recommend that you give these a go.
Incredible as it may seem, an impressive 56% of the overall impression you will give an interviewer will come across through your body language, opposed to what you actually say and how you say it! Therefore, it is imperative that you give this some thought. Understandably you may be nervous going into an interview but try to come across as confident (but not overly).
Make sure you practice your handshake as this is the first point of contact you will have and is important - get family and friend’s opinion. Avoid crossing your arms and legs where possible. It can help to position yourself so that your feet are both on the floor and arms in your lap or on the table. Ensure that you are making eye contact with the employer, this will show that you are interested. Try to avoid distractions outside of the room and remember to smile! If you are slightly nervous, a relaxed and neutral body posture will actually relax you!
Dress code and physical appearance
- No matter how ‘informal’ the interview is pitched, unless you have been categorically told to wear casual dress, always wear a suit. Men should wear a tie and jacket, ladies should wear a suit jacket/blazer rather than a cardigan
- Ensure you are showered, clean shaven and that your shoes and clothing are clean.
- Avoid strong odours - including body odour, coffee, cigarette smoke but also avoid overkill with aftershave/perfume.
- Do not chew gum in your interview.
Timing and getting there.
- Make sure you know the time of the interview and have allowed enough time for the interview to take place.
- Try to arrive 10-15 minutes early, not much more, Allow extra time for your journey so that you are not late.
- If you have to pay for parking, ensure that you have change and pay for enough time on the parking meter.
- If you have a sat nav then that is fine but we advise that you also print off and take a map with you in case the sat nav tries to take you the wrong way round any one way streets or in case you need to avoid road works.
- If you have time, you might want to do a practise journey and ask the company about nearest car parks so that you do not get held up.
Always take a drink of water if they offer you one. If they don’t offer, then ask for one. Taking a sip of water can give you a chance to think about an answer to the questions - those 5 seconds can make a difference! Also, if the going gets tough and you find yourself a bit hot under the collar, a cold drink will help.
Closing the interview.
There are various ways of doing this, but it is vital that you close the interview on a strong and positive note. If you feel confident enough you can ask them directly what they think of you compared to other candidates and whether they will be asking you back or offering you the role. If, like most people, you don’t feel that this is appropriate, then you could finish by thanking them for their time, reiterate any interest in the role and a good idea is to ask them whether you have answered all of their questions in enough details, do they have any reservations or anything they’d like you to clarify before you leave - i.e. is there anything else you could add to help them make their decisions.
Competency based interview questions and how to tackle them!
These questions require a different approach and often focus on your in-built skills rather than skills you’ve been taught. The basic premise of these questions is to get an idea of evidence that you hold a certain capability or have dealt with certain key situations.
Each job role will require specific and different competencies and below you will find a list of general competencies that crop up most often in interviews. We advise that you check the job specification to find out specifically what type of competencies you could be questioned on.
Leadership ability, commercial awareness, business acumen, entrepreneurial, drive, emotional intelligence, reliability, hard-working, motivated, communication, adaptability, creativity and innovation, conflict management, decisiveness, delegation, independent thinking, flexibility, ability to influence and persuade, resilience and tenacity and team working.
How to prepare for and answer competency based interview questions
Preparation is key with these questions. You will probably need to think of and prepare examples for your work or personal history that you can talk about. It is often useful to think about key projects you have worked on or key events in life that will allow you to demonstrate a variety of competencies, then you don’t have to prepare numerous different examples. DO NOT MAKE THESE UP - Employers will often ask lots of probing questions so it will be impossible for you to keep answering honestly if you have made up the situation in the first place!
Using the STAR technique.
A commonly used technique for answering these questions is to use the STAR technique
Situation - As these questions will almost always be situational you should start by explaining the situation that you were in at the time - explain who was involved, when it was and what you were doing.
Task - This is where you can add more information to the ‘Situation’ and explain exactly what you were trying to achieve - what the outcome/result should have been
Action/s - This is where you need to describe what actions you took and the responsibilities you had in order to achieve the ‘Task’. This could also involve what actions you didn’t take!
Result and Reflection - Finish by explaining the outcome. Ideally, there will have been a favorable outcome but, regardless, ensure that you include here any key learns you had, whether you would do anything differently with hindsight and how you benefited from it.
Following this technique will ensure that you give a full, precise and comprehensive answer to their question!
Full example of using STAR
Competency: Ability to cope under pressure
Q: Can you describe a time when you have been under significant pressure at work and how you managed that to achieve a successful outcome?
Situation: I was working in a restaurant as a shift manager, and two people called in sick on a mothers day weekend only a couple of hours before the lunch shifts were due to start. This meant we were understaffed on one of our busiest weekends.
Task: As Shift manager, it is my responsibility to ensure the restaurant has sufficient staff in at any time to meet the needs of the customers. I had to manage the team we had in to enable the restaurant to run smoothly with the volume of customers and that they were happy with the service they were getting. I also had to arrange cover for the people off so that the restaurant could cope with the volume we were expecting later that day.
Action: First of all, I spoke to our waiting team to let them know the situation. By managing their expectations early on, they knew to expect a higher volume than they usually experience. This ensured the team was putting in the work to ensure a smooth shift. I then got in contact with members of the team who weren’t working that day to arrange the cover. After phoning through a few people, I managed to speak to a couple of staff who were available and would come in for the shift.
Result: The result was that, despite an under-manned start, the team was sufficient for the demand after the first hour. The day was very successful, and customers were still very satisfied with the service we were providing for them that day. In order to ensure that we are not left in a similar situation for the future, I implemented an ‘on-call’ system where staff members would indicate if and when they would be available for cover during busy periods so that we had a larger team available for the company without being at a large cost for the business.
In summary, it is best to be yourself at interview and feel comfortable that the interviewer just wants to get to know the real you. Ensure that you are fully prepared to do this by knowing your CV, knowing the company/organisation and being aware of the full interview process. It is important for you to ask questions as well, you are choosing them as they are choosing you so sell yourself!