Preparing for an interview

03rd Jan 2021

If you have got an interview – congratulations - you have succeeded at a very tough time in convincing the employer that they want to "meet” you (in person or online) and find out more.  Having got this far it is worth taking time out to prepare.  Here are our top 10 tips to help you get underway. 

1. Re-read the interview email/letter

Highlight key information including date, time and exact location of the interview. 

Flag up any key items to bring with you (or have ready to share online); some HR teams do an ID check at interview so you might need passport or driving licence and some recruiters want to see a physical portfolio of work. 

The tone of the invitation also gives you further clues about the employer and can help you get your tone right in response; notice whether they use traditional business language or modern informal.

 2. Research

What any interview panel wants from a jobseeker is:

To see that you are enthusiastic about the prospect of joining their organisation

To understand what unique selling point you have that makes you better than other candidates

To hear concise and well-prepared examples of your skills and experience

To meet these requirements, your starting point is research:

Demonstrate your enthusiasm by signing up to any email newsletters they send out, tuning in to their online events and following them on social media

Look for real time updates that you can use in your interview to show that you understand their successes and challenges; news about product launches, awards they have won (or been nominated for), new campaigns or interesting events and mention these in your interview

Researching the employer also gives you clues on branding, language and tone.  If you are moving to a different sector it is especially important to try and familiarise yourself with any jargon before attending the interview. Immerse yourself in their world and you will be able to answer their questions more confidently and creatively… 

Q: "Why do you particularly want to work for us and not company X”? 

A: "Yesterday I saw on your Twitter the link to your blog about the new solar panel launch and I am excited to have the chance to join a team using the very latest technology…”

3. Network

Review your network to see if you have any connections at the new employer - even a short chat with someone who already works there could give you a real insight into the workplace culture and current priorities.  The interview process is not necessarily the employer seeing if you are similar to them (quite often they need someone different with different skills) but if you would fit into the team.  The more you know about the culture and the team, the easier it is to demonstrate that you will be a good fit.

4. Prepare for their questions

Although you don’t know exactly what questions they are going to ask you, the job description and person specification give you some hints.  Look out for:

Open questions: "Tell us about yourself” – imagine this is a film trailer and the rest of the interview is the film. Prepare a 2-3 minute answer which highlights your previous experience as relevant to the role you are applying for. Be genuine, enthusiastic and show what you could add to their team.  Practice saying this out loud at home to make sure it sounds authentic and to help you memorise it.

Example questions: "Give us an example of a time when you dealt with an angry customer”.  To prepare for this type of question go through the job description/person specification and pick out the 5 most important skills they are looking for and prepare a short example of when you have demonstrated this skill.  Many people use the STAR model as a framework for their answer (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or think of it as telling a short story: Firstly, introduce the situation or problem, then describe how you responded – options you considered and actions you took.  It should be an example that highlights what you personally did rather than what the team/company did.  Finally, explain the outcome e.g. this action resulted in a 33% reduction in complaints

Tricky questions: "What are your weaknesses” or "How do you deal with failure” – these questions will always crop up so take some time to craft a strong answer and remember, much of your preparation for this interview will be useful for future interviews too so it is worth the investment.

Practice out loud before the interview to ensure you remember all the key points and can deliver them in an engaging style. Ideally you want to draw examples from several different jobs throughout your career and the best examples will be highly relevant to the job you are applying for, making it is easy for the recruiter to see where you might fit into their team.

5. Presentations

Research their style and branding and echo that in your presentation – if you are being interviewed for a job with an emergency charity which uses a lot of red on its website, incorporate red into your presentation.  Their website will also give you clues on their language – do they use pupil or student? client or customer?  Try and match their language so that they feel you would fit in. 

Make sure you stick to the time limit because that is part of the assessment process.  

Go for 3 bullet points per slide then expand on the themes, rather than just reading off the slide

High quality images can break up the text and help to illustrate an idea. 

6. Managing nerves/anxiety

It is normal to feel some anxiety going into an interview and the chemicals our body produces when nervous remind us that this is an important moment, like stepping out onto a stage for a performance.

We feel nervous if we don’t feel well prepared, so scheduling time to prepare your answers is crucial

Keep your mind focused in the 30 minutes before the interview – highlight key points in your notes, rehearse your answers out loud or watch a short video about the employer

Take a deep breath before each answer; this helps to keep you calm and provides those vital extra seconds to think

7. Logistics

Don’t leave it until the last minute to find out which of the employers’ sites you should report to and how best to get there. Take your phone for directions but always have a printed map as a backup in case of no signal or a dead battery. For an online interview, tidy your workspace and have everything you need close to hand including a glass of water.

8. Technology

Practice any technology you are using.  If it helps you feel more confident have a practice zoom call with a friend to check your camera and sound on the day of the interview.  Have the landline and mobile number of your contact at the employer handy so that you can get in touch if the technology fails or you get delayed.  Be prepared for technology problems and make sure that you can talk through your presentation without the slides (this is where a basic script comes in handy)

9. Dress code

Wear something smart (but comfortable) to demonstrate that you are taking the interview seriously and to send a message to your mind and body that this is an important event.  Knowing and feeling this helps you adopt the right tone and body language and can give your confidence a boost.  For online interviews it is even more important to smarten up because being at home can make it harder to create a work atmosphere.  If you don’t have an uncluttered workspace, consider blurring your background so that the panel are not distracted.

10. Ask questions

Often at the end of the interview when you are feeling tired, it can be tempting to rush through this part of the interview to get to the end.  Don’t. This is the time to show that you have done your research and to allow them the chance to enthuse about their work. 

Demonstrate that you understand their pressures and deadlines with a question about urgency "in the first 3 months what are the priority tasks you would like to see delivered”? 

Show that you really want to work for them by asking about a recent campaign/event/product they launched. 

Ask about the key performance indicators for the role and how they fit in with wider organisational targets. 

And finally, demonstrate your commitment to continuing professional development by asking about their training provision both in house and externally.

Good Luck with your interview!