How to prepare for an interview
Top tips for overcoming interview nerves and performing to your best
Going for a job interview can be a nerve-wracking experience for even the most confident individual. Interviews can vary vastly in format, from one-on-ones to panel interviews, a casual chat over coffee to gruelling technical questioning.
The following advice is applicable to the vast majority of scenarios, and originates from feedback from both hiring managers and interviewees themselves. It is designed to help you get the most from your interview experience, and maximise your chances of securing your ideal job. So, here are five key things to remember when you are working out how to prepare for an interview...
'Fail to prepare; prepare to fail'
As clichéd as this saying may seem, it could not be more true in the context of interview preparation. Research the company thoroughly: visit the website, familiarise yourself with the team structure, and search for any news articles. Understanding the company's history, present situation and values will allow you to adjust your answers to fit with this picture.
For example, if you know the organisation is currently undergoing a restructure, you could talk about your experience of managing change in a previous role. You may also ask whether your job role will change as time goes by. Making an effort to explore the company demonstrates to the interviewer that you are genuinely interested in the organisation, and have thought about what it will be like to work for them, both now and in the future.
A good recruitment consultant should provide a wealth of knowledge about the employer.
Read the job description
You will find the job description on the advert you applied to, or, if not, your recruitment consultant should be able to provide one for you. Identify the tasks you have had experience in and be ready to talk about them in as much detail as possible. Be honest about the areas you have not come across and display your willingness to learn, perhaps by referring to a new skill you had to pick up in a previous role.
Also be aware of other desirable traits that the manager may be looking for, such as similar industry experience, systems knowledge or personal characteristics, and ensure you can both demonstrate these and explain how these will benefit the company.
Answer the question you're asked
It is sometimes difficult to stay on track when answering questions in an interview. Many people have a tendency to 'ramble' when nervous or end up speaking about something else entirely if they have not understood the original question.
When asked a question, take a deep breath and give yourself a few seconds to frame an answer in your mind. Don't be afraid to do this. It is far better to take a short pause to collect your thoughts than launch into an ill-prepared answer. If you are unsure what the question is, ask the interviewer to clarify or rephrase. This does not make you look silly, but prevents you from bluffing through the answer and leaving the interviewer as confused as you.
Accentuate the positives
It is really important to leave the interviewer with a positive impression of yourself and your work history. This can be difficult when discussing your reasons for leaving previous jobs or explaining employment gaps in your CV. Make an effort to be diplomatic yet honest. It is not appropriate to speak about past managers in a negative tone, so try to put a positive spin on your reasons for moving on. For example, rather than saying your old boss was difficult to deal with and set in his ways, perhaps discuss how you wanted a role where you could suggest improvements and take on more wide-reaching responsibility. Rather than saying you were overworked and underpaid, say you were keen to pursue a career which offered a better work/life balance.
Increasingly people who have worked consistently for years are faced with redundancies or periods of unemployment. Again, try to focus on what you gained from your time away from the workplace, such as the opportunity to attain a professional qualification, the experience of visiting other countries and cultures, or simply the chance to consider what you really wanted from your next career move.
Finally, be creative
As the job market has toughened in recent years, employers have increased the stringency of their recruitment processes. New questioning techniques have been designed to test and separate suitable candidates from remarkable ones. Questions such as 'What would you do if you won the lottery?' or 'If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item could you not live without?' are designed to give you the opportunity to be creative and stand out from the crowd. Be innovative with your answers, and - to really get the most from this kind of opportunity - try to demonstrate in your response the kind of qualities employers are looking for. 'Quit my job' might be the first thing on your mind if you won the lottery, but it's probably not what employers are looking to hear! Get your creative juices flowing, and give the interviewer something to remember you by - just make sure it's positive!
For more advice, tips and techniques before you head off for your next interview have a read through the articles below: