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Job Interview Advice

Unfortunately, securing an interview, though it is great news, does not mean that the hard work is over, in fact it is merely the beginning. Everything you’ve done up to this point, choosing your career, organising your job search, perfecting your CV, crafting covering letters, navigating application forms, all of it has merely been to get you in front on an interviewer.

It is how you perform in this final test that will decide on whether you land the job or not. There is, however, no need to be intimidated. As long as you are aware of the steps you can take to ensure you give the best account of yourself possible, you should positively look forward to being interviewed.

As with all the other aspects of your job search, the key to giving a great interview performance is making sure you’ve made adequate preparations.

Before we get into the business of preparing your answers to questions, let’s look at some more practical considerations you’ll need to make on the day itself.

Getting There

As we’ll see later, making a good first impression is vital. If you start on the wrong foot, it can be very hard to recover. Therefore, if you are late you will practically write off your chances of winning favour with your interviewer, all before you have even said a word…

For this reason you need to make sure you know exactly how long your journey to the interview should take, and ensure that you will have enough time to get there. It is advisable to leave yourself a safety margin of at least half an hour to compensate for any unforeseeable hold ups that may delay you.

If you are making an especially long journey or using public transport, it may be wise to play it extra safe and leave yourself a whole hour to spare. Quite aside these considerations, you want to arrive at least 15 minutes early.

This will not only send the positive message that you are a punctual individual, it will also give you time to get used to your surroundings and settle yourself a little before the interview gets underway. After all, you don’t want to be rushing into the interview all dishevelled, having just arrived.

You can use online maps to plan your route, and it can be a good idea to have a back up plan if for some reason your preferred method of getting there becomes untenable.

It is well worth practising the journey to make sure the estimates you have received regarding the time it takes are accurate. For example, anyone living in London will tell you that journey time estimates given by the Transport For London journey planning service need to be taken with a pinch of salt! The same is probably true of many on line sources for directions.

Remember, the devil is in the detail. Make sure before hand you know exactly where you are going. It’s no good turning up quarter on an hour early if it then takes you half an hour to locate the room your supposed to be waiting outside of! Knowing the name of your interviewer before hand, can often help you find where it is your supposed to go. If in any doubt, ask a receptionist, but try and avoid having to do so by getting clear instructions in advance.

Make sure you find out about arrangements such as where you can park, and how long the walk from the car park (or station if you are using public transport) to the building takes. Make sure you factor this into your estimated journey time.

Finally, remember that, from the moment you enter the premises you are on display. So, make sure you are just as polite and professional in front of anyone you meet, from cleaners to receptionists, you never know how the impression you make on them will affect your case. Often, other staff well feedback to HR with their opinions of candidates.

Your Appearance

Your appearance alone will never entice any serious employer to hire you, but, that said, if you don’t look your best on interview day, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot.

It should go without saying that you’ll be well rested, washed and groomed, but on top of this you need to make sure you are tuned out in suitably professional attire.

Men are advised that, when it comes to suits, if you have the option, it is better to go with a grey or navy option, rather than a black number. In addition, it is a good idea to pair this with a coloured shirt rather than a white one. This will help you stick in the interviewers mind.

Avoid wearing more than one pattern. For example if your suit has a strip, never put on a checked shirt. You need to ensure your shoes are polished and in good condition.

Finally, make sure not to ruin your appearance by missing trivial details. Avoid novelty socks or cuff links, carry a brief case rather than stuffing your pockets, carry an attractive fountain pen, never a cheap biro and be sure to have a haircut and a shave. Studies have found most employers consider short hair more professional, and data suggests that, clean shaven men earn 25% more on average than those with facial hair.

Women are advised to always wear tights irrespective of the weather, and to carry a spare pair, just in case. It’s a good idea to keep jewellery to a minimum and wear your hair up in a trendy style. Make up is a must. Again, statistics seem to back this up. Women who don’t wear make up earn, on average 25% less than their peers, according to studies.

Both sexes should make every effort to avoid turning up in a damaged or stained garment. Always take a look in a full length mirror before leaving the house.

Though it may seem patronising to be given advice about being punctual and dressing properly, the fact that many candidates are rejected for either tardiness or a shabby outfit makes these tips vitally important!

Preparing Answers

Most interviews will consist largely, or even entirely, of variations on a set of highly predictable stock questions (though there may very well be a few curve balls thrown in.) On the one hand, this makes it easier to prepare your answers, on the other, it also means you will be expected to prepare. Therefore, your answers have to be well structured and thorough.

However, before considering in detail any of the specific questions your prospective employer may have for you, there is one, overriding question you need to answer first;

What is it the interview designed to find out?

Whilst there are a huge number of questions that can potentially come up in an interview, the most common of which we’ll look at in detail later, there are three key questions which fundamentally underlie anything you are likely to be asked. If you can give each one an affirmative answer you will be in with a very strong chance of receiving a job offer. These questions are;

Can You Do The Job?

To make sure you tick this box you need to give answers that demonstrate a detailed understanding of what the job actually entails on a day to day basis. On top of this, you’ll be expected to have a view on how this fits in with the company’s work as a whole, within the context of the wider industry.

When you talk about your skills and attributes, you need to do so in a way that draws attention to how you would tackle the specific tasks that would fall under your remit.

Do You Want The Job?

Merely turning up at an interview is not adequate proof that you really want the job. Employers will want to see detailed proof of your reasons for wanting to take up the role on offer, and to know why you want to do so at their company in particular.

An employer is not interested in hiring someone who is taking the job as a compromise. Their ideal candidate would suit the position so well, they’d choose to do it, even if presented with a choice of any job. You need to demonstrate that you are not merely applying because you saw there was a post open and you needed a job.

Will You Fit In?

To get a thumbs up here you need to be able to show that your own personal character is compatible with the company’s overall ethos. This is where diligent research and selective applying really pay off.

You should now have a good idea of what you are looking to get across in your answers. Armed with this knowledge, you should set about drafting responses to questions that you think could potentially come up.

Here are some of the most common interview questions to get you started;

  • Tell me about your relevant past work experience.
  • Why did you apply for this job?
  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • Why makes you want to work here?
  • What are your biggest strengths?
  • What are your main weaknesses?
  • What is your greatest achievement to date?
  • What do you think would you bring to this role?
  • Where do see yourself being in 5/10 years time?
  • Do you have any questions for us?
  • You want to prepare full and detailed answers to all of these questions. When you are satisfied with what you have, be sure to practice delivering them out loud. If you’ve taken then time to prepare a great answer, it only makes sense to ensure you are used to delivering it.

    Remember, when drafting your responses to use personal anecdotes wherever relevant. These will help ensure your answers are unique. Obviously, these anecdotes will be intended to demonstrate that the skills you claim to have had tangible results in the past. Make sure you make your achievements as quantifiable as possible. To this end, be sure to drop in a few choice numbers, fact and figures. These stick in the mind easier and are more impressive than general assertions.

    Having these anecdotes fresh in your mind will be especially useful if your interviewer users the tactic of ‘funneling’. This is where a very general question is asked at first, and is then followed by increasingly specific questions thereafter. ‘Can you give me an example?’ is the archetypal ‘funneling’ question. Therefore, when looking over your prepared answers pick out any claims you make, such as ‘I have a naturally propensity for diplomacy’, and try and think of a concrete example of a time you used to skill to resolve a conflict.

    Try and condense these anecdotes, facts and figures into ‘sound bites’, which you can then have at the ready to drop in to the conversation at the opportune moment. Sound bites are a good idea for interviews as, unfortunately, many interviewers aren’t particularly great listeners. They know what they’d like to hear and, even if what you say amounts to the same thing, if you express in a too tangential or long winded way, you run the risk they won’t pick up on the point you are making.

    Don’t just practise alone. Run through mock interviews with a friend or family member, to make sure you are used to actually communicating your answer to somebody sat in front of you. You will be surprised at how much having an interviewer in front of you changes things!

    Another good tip is to tape your practice sessions. This will help you spot verbal ticks such as ‘umms’ and ‘agghs’ that spoil your flow and create the impression of disconnected thinking or indecisiveness. One thing you definitely need to avoid is raising your voice at the end of a sentence, as if you were asking a question. This can be very grating.

    When doing these run-throughs it can be very useful to find out the name of your interviewer and, if possible, even what they look like. This will allow you to really visualise your performance before hand, something all top athletes ahead of a big contest.

    Interview Techniques

    Of course, an interview is a real time, two way conversation. You cannot just go in and deliver a prepared answer, as if reading from a script. You need to be able to respond your interviewer and there observations as they arise. These techniques can help you do just that;

    Listen

    The danger of focusing so intently on what it is they want to say in an interview can lead candidates to forget to listen! You need to make sure you are staying alert to the precise question your interviewer is asking, and picking up on key words that he or she might use when phrasing their queries.

    Leaving a brief pause before answering is always a good idea, as it gives your interviewer’s words a chance to really sink in. Having a sip of water before answering can be a good way to avoid opening your mouth before you’ve really thought about what the question is really driving at.

    Know When to Stop

    As you know by now, the art of concision is central to cover letting and CV writing. Similarly, in an interview you don’t want to talk the other party’s ears off and risk losing their attention with long winded answers.

    Many candidates fall into the trap of rambling on because they feel uneasy with the idea of simply stopping once they’ve made their point. In fairness, in normal conversation, the other party will normally jump in when they want to start talking, but in an interview you should not wait until the interviewer is forced to interrupt before you stop talking!

    Nor should you talk merely to fill silence. This will not help your cause. Be aware that some interviewers will deliberately stay silent, enticing you into saying more than you intended. This rather aggressive interview technique is actually a tactic borrowed from police interrogations! Though its use is unusual, don’t feel pressured into unnecessarily expanding on a point if you feel you’ve said enough it.

    Never Criticise

    Regardless of the topic, always avoid being negative or critical if at all possible. On a basic level, achieving this is down to your choice of words. Describing something as a “challenge” rather than a “problem” might seem like splitting hairs, but it really does effect how you’ll come across, in terms of the attitude you present.

    Even more important is never criticising any of your former colleagues or employers. Regardless of how terrible they may have been, bad mouthing them will make you look unprofessional, or worse, petty. Besides, when hearing someone come under fire, if they are not there to defend themselves, our natural instinct is to take up the other side of the argument on their behalf.

    This will be even more true for your employer, who, being used to pressures of someone in a position of responsibility, will likely feel more of an affinity for you old boss than they do for you!

    Never Lie

    As with any other stage in a job search, lying in an interview is not only unethical, it’s stupid. You are very likely be found out, in which case the interview will in effect be over. Even if your lie is not discovered immediately, if it comes to light latter, you will still suffer for it. Even if you get hired, you can be sacked retrospectively for gross misconduct if you were untruthful in your attempts to impress.

    Have Questions of Your Own

    Many interviews end with the question “do you have anything you’d like to ask us?” You should, naturally, as a result of your desire to work there have plenty of questions you want to ask, but of you don’t make sure to formulate. You could take a look at the company’s annual report and ask how the aims for the future would affect your role, for example. Don’t, under any circumstances, use this as an opportunity to negotiate pay or any other formal arrangements.

    Body Language

    What you say only accounts for 35% of what you communicate. The other 65% is comprised of your body language and your tone of voice. If you get these elements of your performance wrong, you could completely undermine your answers, even if, on paper, they were perfect.

    You need to make eye contact upon greeting, smile and use a good firm handshake.

    You must endeavour not to fidget, as this portrays restlessness or even boredom. Finally, make sure you don’t cross your arms, as this can appear defensive.

    Studies show the best thing you can do with your hands, is to place them in front of you, with your fingers interlocking. Many experts will encourage you to practice the technique of mirroring your interviewer’s body language. This does seem to work, but make sure you are subtle in doing it, otherwise you will make you interviewer feel very uncomfortable!

    Types of Interview

    As well as the classic competency question based, one-on-one model, there are a number of other forms your interview may take. All the tips we’ve given still apply, but there may be a few extra things you need to keep in mind, depending on the type of interview you’re having.

    Panel

    The only real difference with this type of interview is that you’ll be facing questions from various members of the organization you’re hoping to join. Therefore, you need to remember to give an equal amount of eye contact to everyone on the panel, and address the whole room when you answer a question.

    When leaving, be sure to give the entire panel a parting handshake and a word of thanks.

    Psychometric/ Personality Tests

    If such a test is presented as part of your interview don’t worry, all you need to do is answer as honestly as possible. If you attempt to put what you assume to be the right answer, even though it doesn’t reflect your true nature, the contradiction will be obvious in the results. Besides, if you don’t feel you can answer honestly, that may well be a strong indication that you wouldn’t enjoy the job any way.

    Group Interviews

    Group interviews are a very different affair to your standard one-on-one. In this scenario, you’ll be judged along with a number of other candidates. There will normally be questions and discussion as with a normal interview, but this is often carried out in conjunction with group activities that you and your fellow competitors have to engage in together.

    The key thing to remember when performing these competency based tasks is to collaborate, rather than compete with the other candidates. After all, you are often being judged on your ability to handle people and work in a team. If you are constantly shouting people down and otherwise dominating proceedings in an attempt to show yourself to be the “strongest” candidate, you are unlikely to be successful.

    Put a bit of thought into what you role would require. If you’d need to be a motivator, a creative thinker, or a leader, act accordingly. If you find this an effort, you’ll probably find that the job isn’t for you.

    Written Exercises

    You’d normally know well in advance if you were facing a written test. You’d also expect to receive pretty detailed instructions on how to prepare. Aside from this, the key piece of advice to keep in mind is to pace yourself appropriately. Check how long you have to complete in task and stick to that limit, otherwise you’ll have to rush some other part of the test.

    Presentations

    You may be asked to deliver a presentation as part of your interview. Normally, you’d be told in advance and given a clear subject matter and time limit to stick to.

    It is important to stay calm and deliver your talk in a collected professional way, using arm gestures and variations in your tone to engage your audience. You may want to think about any appropriate visual props you might want to make use of, including cue cards for yourself, or a power point presentation for your audience, if possible.

    Remember that your audience have probably heard a great deal of similar presentations already, so try and look for opportunities to offer something a bit different.

    It has been known for interviewers to ask candidates to improvise a presentation without giving them any prior warning. If this happens to you, remember, the exercise is designed more to test your ability to stay composed under pressure, than your ability to give an expert presentation off the top of your head.

    Assessment Days

    These are popular amongst big firms recruiting a high number of candidates at once, usually for graduate schemes. Other than that they are quite rare. These days will normally consist of a mixture of group activities, one on one interviews and written exercises, all of which we’ve covered above.

    Phone Interview

    Often, as a precursor to a face to face interview, you may be contacted for a phone interview. This also a tactic used by recruitment agencies to screen candidates before putting them in front of their client.

    Normally, after making first contact, they will arrange a time to call back and conduct the interview, giving you some time to prepare. However, they may want to conduct the interview straightaway. If so, don’t panic. They are fully aware their call has come out of the blue and will be judging you accordingly.

    Your approach should essentially be the same as with a regular interview, except that you need to put more effort into keeping the tone of your voice engaging, especially as you are unable to use body language to your advantage.

    If your interview is of the pre-arranged variety, it can be a very good idea to prepare for it by dressing as you would for a face to interview. This may sound ridiculous, but you are 100% more likely to get into ‘the zone’ wearing your suit, sat at your desk, than if you take the call slumped on the couch in you dressing gown!

    Social Interviews

    A social interview is essentially any interview that takes place outside of a formal setting. Sometimes this type of interview is used when the company are happy that you could do the job, but want to see how well you’d fit into their existing team.

    Whilst the atmosphere will be very relaxed compared to the average interview, it is important not to get carried away. Be sociable, but not over familiar, inappropriate or unprofessional in any way. Answer any interview style questions as thoroughly as you would normally.

    When it comes to alcohol, it is generally best to take your lead form the rest of the group. You certainly don’t want to have more than one ‘hard’ drink.

    Dealing With a Bad Interviewer

    It would be nice if we didn’t have to write this section, but sadly, there are occasions were the standard of the interviewer is not quite up to that of the candidates. However, if you find yourself up against a bad interviewer all is not lost, there are still steps you can take to make the best of the situation.

    Here’s a look at some scenarios that can occur and how best to handle them;

    An Overly Aggressive Interviewer

    We have already looked at some moderately aggressive techniques that can be used by interviewers, such as ‘funneling’ and holding back from speaking. However, on occasion you may come up against an interviewer who goes further and is actively confrontational, or even hostile in their approach.

    They may for example, rather than passing judgement on you answers silently in their own mind and moving on to the next question, openly criticise your answers, challenge your opinions and pick holes in your arguments.

    All you need to do is keep calm and carry on, defending your statements, but using a detached sense of objectivity. Do not lose your cool or get drawn into squabbling. Often the interviewer will know exactly what they are doing, and want to see how well you cope with the situation.

    Of course, sometimes they will simply be an aggressive character. Remember the interview is a two way exchange. You are there to judge whether you want to work for them, just as much as you are there to be assessed yourself. It is worth considering if you want to work for someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.

    An Interviewer Who Talks Too Much

    We’ve looked at how to handle interviewers you seem reluctant to speak, but what if the opposite occurs? If you have an interviewer who is so forthcoming that you can barley get a word in, it can be just as harmful to your chances of making an impression as with a stony faced silent type.

    Often, when an interviewer talks at length about themselves you may feel that you’ve built a great rapport and that things are going well, but no matter what, you can’t allow yourself to become a passenger in your own interview, or you simply won’t be able to give enough of a case to get yourself hired. In fact, sometimes interviewers will deliberately avoid inviting you to speak, simply to test how assertive you are.

    An Interviewer Who Seems Distracted

    This is one of the worst scenarios you can face. You come in after all your preparation, only to find an interviewer who clearly has something else on their mind, is poorly organised or keeps getting interrupted by other members of the organisation.

    There are various reasons as to why this might happen. It could be a personal issue, or, more likely, if the interviewer is not a dedicated member of a HR department, but takes on the duty of interviewing people in addition to their regular tasks, they may have some pressing business to attend to that is dividing their attention.

    If you get a very strong impression that this is the case, it is best to ask if the interview can be rescheduled. Just be sure to phrase the request in a way that make it clear you are simply trying to be considerate towards the interviewer’s other commitments. Be sure not to betray irritation at them.

    Inappropriate Questions

    There are certain questions it is inappropriate for an interviewer to ask. For example, if they ask if you’re planning on starting a family, it is reasonable to assume that they will factor your answer into their decision, even though to do so is basically illegal.

    The best thing to do is offer to answer the question, but point out that you aren’t sure how it is relevant to the interview, thus offering the interviewer a chance to backtrack. Even though you are in the right, it is not in your interest to back your interviewer into a corner, embarrass them or make them feel awkward.

    Even if they really go too far and say something offensive, always stay calm and act in a dignified manner. Don’t cause a scene, simply get through the interview and, if you feel it necessary, make a complaint in a formal manner.

    Quirky Questions

    Sometimes interviewers might throw a few left of field questions at you, from riddles to logical paradoxes. When it comes to an off kilter question, don’t become overly concerned with arriving at the ‘right’ answer. Normally, it’ll be a trick question anyway. The most important thing is to explain your answer and show that you are able to go about solving problems in a rational way.

    Following Up

    It is often said that you should always follow up an interview by sending a letter to thank your interviewer for their time and restate a few of your key selling points. Many experts doubt the effectiveness of follow up letters, but, whilst in fairness they probably won’t win you the job, they certainly don’t hurt and, when you’re looking to land your dream job, it’s always best to go the extra mile.

    Next article: Scams aimed at jobseekers.