How to Prepare for your Interview
Congratulations! Your potential new employer clearly likes what they’ve seen on your CV and you’ve made it past the first hurdle in nailing your dream job. Next up, it’s the interview. This is the chance for your new company to find out more about you as an individual, and see how you might fit in with the team. Likewise, it’s a chance for you to learn more about the people you’ll be working with. Remember, an interview is always a two way street.
Interviews can understandably be very nerve-wracking, but they don’t have to be. We’ve put together some helpful tips that will put you in the best position to stand out for your new employer. The less you’re worrying about little things like what shoes you should be wearing, the more you can focus on what matters: showcasing your strengths as a future employee.
The Preparation Stage
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Proper interview preparation will not only impress your future employer, but also help you to learn more about the role and whether it’s right for you.
Learn as much as you can about the company
Chances are, one of the interview questions you’ll get asked is, “So what drew you to our organisation?” Do some thorough research into the company, so your answer can be more than simply, “Well, the office is in a great location!”
Have a thorough read-through of the company website. Here are a few key things to look out for:
- Values: These are the core principles of any company, and should be mirrored by all employees. Try to match these values against your own experience, so you can draw upon them in the interview. For example, if one of the company values is innovation, try to give an example of when you’ve demonstrated innovation within your current role
- Business sectors: Know the main sectors in which the organisation operates (banking, technology, security, construction etc). It’s always useful to see how the company divides its people and resources, and also gives you some insight into the kind of areas you’ll be working in. You can also do some wider research into these sectors, for example what the current trends and challenges are
- Strategy/vision: As well as looking into what the company is doing now, you’ll want to know what they’re planning for the future. Are they going through a period of growth and investment? Is that why they’re hiring for new roles? Demonstrating an interest in where the company is headed shows you’re fully invested in being a part of that change.
While this research will prove to the employer that you’ve done your homework, it also gives you a better idea of whether it’s the kind of organisation you can see yourself working for.
It’s also worth putting some research into the people who are interviewing you. Take a look at their LinkedIn profile to see how long they’ve been with the company, and what experience they have. Some of them may have started off in the role you’re applying for, so it could be useful to ask them what their experience has been like, and how they’ve progressed.
Map your experience against the job description
This is the classic “why are you right for the job?” question. Go through each point of the job description, and come up with evidence and experience for each of the required skills. A good rule of thumb is to structure your experience as a STAR response:
Situation: What was the challenge you were facing?
Task: What specifically did you need to achieve?
Action: What did you do to achieve this?
Result: What was the outcome?
Even if you don’t end up referencing all of these points, having them in your head as you’re describing your experience will give a much clearer picture of your achievements to the people interviewing you. Remember, even though some things may seem obvious to you, this is the interviewers’ first time hearing about them, so you want to give them all the context they need to demonstrate your successes.
It’s also worth preparing a brief paragraph about each of the items on your CV, and your main achievements throughout your work experience. The more specific you can be, the better.
Practice your answers (and your questions)
When we’re feeling nervous in an interview, it’s easy to stumble over our words or lose our point half way through an answer. The more you practice discussing your experience and your strengths, the more comfortable you’ll be talking about them with your interviewer. Practice with a friend, or even to yourself.
This can help you iron out any nervous language, such as using ‘like’ a lot in each sentence. Another thing that’s really common when talking about your achievements at work, is to say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. This interview isn’t about how great all your colleagues are, it’s about you! Sometimes it can take a few practice runs before you’re able to talk confidently about yourself, and although it can feel awkward at first, it will put you in a much better position for the interview itself.
At the end of the interview, you’re almost guaranteed to be asked, “do you have any questions for us?” so it’s always good to have something up your sleeve. Something generic or self-focused (such as, ‘What are the promotion opportunities?’ or ‘How quickly does salary get reviewed?’) probably won’t score you many points. Instead, focus on questions specific to the role and the team you’ll be working with. Where do you see the direction of the company going in the next few years? What is culture of the team like? How have you found your experience of working with the company? All of these show a genuine commitment to and interest in the team and the organisation.
You’ve done your homework, you know the job description inside out, now it’s time for the interview.
First impressions make a big difference in an interview. 33% of interviewers said they knew whether or not they would hire someone within the first 90 seconds of meeting them. Here are a few things to consider to make sure all your hard work and preparation doesn’t get ignored because of a scruffy appearance:
- Always assume you’re on display: Your interview starts from the moment you walk into the office and meet the receptionist. So make sure you’re polite to everyone you meet (even if they’re not the people interviewing you), firm handshakes all round, and walk with confidence
- Clothing: If in doubt, dress smart. Take a look at the company website to get a feel for the dress code and culture of the office – it could be smart and corporate, or more relaxed and casual. If you’re applying via a recruitment company, they may be able to give some insight into the dress code. Keep colours neutral where possible – you want the interviewer to remember you for what you had to say, not the bright pink tie you wore while you were saying it
- Body language: Only 7% of our messages are in the actual words we speak. The remaining 93% come from the way we say them and our body language while we’re speaking. Make sure not to slouch or cross your arms – both of these can make you seem unconfident and closed off, but the interview is about getting to know you! Sit up straight and relax your shoulders
- Fidgeting: One thing we often see in interviews is nervous gestures, such as playing with your hair, touching your face, or fiddling with your clothing. We’re all prone to fidgeting, so we suggest keeping your hands in your lap, and only use your hands / arms to emphasise the story you’re telling. This has the added benefit of making you appear more confident and composed
- Eye Contact: When you’re nervous, it’s easy to dart your eyes around the room or end up just looking at your hands. However, maintaining eye contact with your interviewer is a really important way to help build trust, as well as helping you appear more engaging
- Smile: While an interview is designed to learn more about your qualifications, it’s also a way for your hiring manager to see if they can work with you. So by all means be professional, but be friendly too! These are hopefully going to be your future colleagues, so they’ll want to know that they can get on with you, and smiling shows that you’re open and approachable. On the flip side, smiling too much might make you appear nervous or not serious about the job, so try to be friendly without feeling forced.
Each interview, interviewer, and candidate is different. While we recommend these tips for body language and presentation, the biggest tip we can give you is to trust your instincts. The fact that you’ve made it this far shows that you have something to offer, so take a breath, calm your nerves, and treat the interview like you would any other professional conversation. The more relaxed, calm and composed you are, the better you will perform, whether that means smiling once at the start, or laughing along with your interviewer through the whole process.
Be on Time!
It seems obvious, but good time management makes all the difference. Not only does it help you set a good first impression, but it also give you some time to collect your thoughts and calm your nerves ahead of the interview. You’ll want to be there at least 10-15 minutes early, to give yourself time to get signed in at reception and give the interviewer time to prepare the room.
Leave yourself plenty of time for your journey, to eliminate the risk of getting stuck in traffic or lost on your way to finding the office. While it’s great to be 10-15 minutes early, any earlier than that could be disruptive to other people’s schedules in the office. If you do find yourself getting to the interview ahead of time, take a few walks around the block or find a coffee shop to wait in. This means you can still get your head into the interview zone, without being an encumbrance on your interviewer.
Your interview will largely be based on two documents: your CV and the job description, so make sure to bring copies of each of these for yourself. It ensures that you are both on the same page when talking about your experience, and means you won’t make any nervous mistakes about the dates or positions for your previous roles.
Many organisations will require you to bring ID in order to sign in or get a visitor’s badge, so make sure you bring this as well. If you’re in doubt about what information or documents you need to provide (for example, some interviewers may want copies of your pervious work), then make sure to check this in advance, either with your recruitment company, or with whoever you’ve been liaising with for the role so far.
What happens after the interview?
Congratulations! It’s over! Remember, you’re still ‘on display’ until you walk out of the building, so keep it cool and confident as you say your goodbyes to the interviewer. Remember the firm handshake, and thank them for their time and consideration.
Give yourself some time to debrief after the interview - you’ll probably be on a bit of an adrenaline high! If you’ve applied for the role via a recruitment company, they’ll want to know how it went. They can also give you some guidance on when you can expect to hear back.
If you haven’t applied for the role via a recruitment company, ask the organisation’s hiring manager what the next steps of the process are. This isn’t pushy, it just means you know what to expect and if you need to follow up on anything.
We hope these tips and tricks have been useful, and put you at ease ahead of the big day. However, the most important piece of advice we can give you is to be yourself. We know it sounds cliché, but that’s for a reason! If you do get the job, you’re going to be working with these people every day, so there’s no point pretending to be a completely different person. Trust in yourself and your abilities, and be confident in your experience and what you can bring to the role. There’s a reason they asked you in for an interview in the first place, so don’t doubt yourself. Good luck!
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