Interview Skills

Interview Skills

First, the good news. The fact that you have an interview means you are almost there. You may be feeling anxious and nervous. It's only natural. But the important things to keep in mind are:
  • Interviewers do not waste their time. An interviewer's time is expensive. You deserve to be on the shortlist. You have a realistic chance of getting the job.
  • By being on the shortlist the odds of winning the job have been significantly reduced in your favour.
  • An interview is a golden opportunity to illustrate your enthusiasm and passion for the role.
  • Be positive!
Second, be prepared. A world-class sportsman once said: 'The more I practice, the luckier I get'.

This is also true of interviews. Candidates are more or less prepared – and it can make a difference. The following section provides guidelines on key aspects of the interview process, including:
Research has shown that over 80% of interviewees do little or no preparation before an interview. That's good news for you. Using these notes has already put you in the top 20% and significantly increased your chances of success.

Research the firm
  • Check out its website. This will often provide good information. Many sites list recent press releases, but you can also conduct a wider search to get the bigger picture on specialist areas or other information.
  • Contact the firm's marketing department for up-to-date literature.
  • Use your network to get a behind-the-scenes view.
Know your CV

Know your CV inside out. Be ready to expand on any decisions you've made on study and previous career moves. Be confident about talking about your key achievements.

Prepare some questions and answers
  • Take time to consider questions you might be asked and practice your responses.
  • Prepare a brief career overview in response to that popular kick-off question 'tell me something about yourself'. Be ready with plenty of examples to illustrate your skills and how you could contribute to the company.
  • Think about questions you'd like to ask. Those which invite thought and comment are more memorable to the interviewer than those which request specific detail. This is also an excellent opportunity to illustrate your understanding of the firm.
Research the interview process

Find out the format of the interview process:
  • How many interviews will there be?
  • Does the firm carry out psychometric testing?
  • Who will be conducting the interviews?
The day of the interview

Make sure you know where the interview is taking place and allow yourself plenty of time to get there. If you're going to be late, call the firm and let them know. Make sure you know roughly how long the interview will last. You don't want to be fretting about your next meeting.

Arrive a little early for the interview. Ten minutes spent in the reception will give you time to collect your thoughts and a chance to read the firm's brochures and study recent press releases. Listening to the receptionists and watching the comings and goings can provide a valuable insight into the type of firm you might be joining.
Communication is said to be 93% non-verbal; 55% of that figure is visual. Ask yourself 'Do I look the part?' Always dress to impress. And always shine your shoes. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get a second opinion and check that your choice of interview wear creates the right impact. Be conservative rather than trendy.

Look in the mirror and check your posture. Relaxed shoulders present an open and confident manner. A strong but not over-bearing handshake and a natural smile complete the positive picture.
Just think, you've hardly said a word and your interviewer is already thinking, 'Great, looks good…confident…I could see this candidate fitting in round here'.

The interview is the forum within which you will need to answer three questions:
  • Do you have the technical skills and experience to do the job?
  • Will you have the right attitude and commitment to do the job?
  • Will you fit in?
Skills and experience

The fact that you've been asked for interview shows your potential employer believes the answer to this question is 'yes'. However, the majority of the interview will probably be spent confirming this. Avoid monosyllabic responses and volunteer supporting information whenever possible.

Attitude and commitment

It's all very well having the technical ability, but this is meaningless unless matched with application and the drive and desire to succeed in the role. Give practical examples of how you have shown commitment and motivation in the past.

Will you fit in?

Companies differ. One person's dynamic and exciting environment may seem competitive and back-biting to another.

It's your opinion that matters. A company's literature and your interviewer will provide clues on how to convey the impression that you'll fit in. But bear in mind that before accepting a position you must believe that you really will fit in. If the firm's culture is very different from your own, it's unlikely you'll be successful.

Other useful tips
  • Be clear and concise. Always use positive language. You're in control of what you want your interviewer to know, so take responsibility for answering the three key questions from the start.
  • If you tend to fidget, keep your hands apart and don't hold a pen or copy of your CV.
  • Practise a comfortable sitting position beforehand that feels natural.
  • Be aware of your voice. Pace, tone and intonation all contribute to your success in an interview. If the role demands energy and enthusiasm, show some!
  • If you are being interviewed by more than one person, engage the whole panel when responding.
  • Although you've thought about the salary side of things, always allow your interviewer to initiate discussions. This often won't occur during the first interview. Negotiate as late as possible: you will have most influence when the recruiter wants you.
  • Even if doubts are setting in, always remain positive throughout the interview. There will be time to discuss concerns later. You want to be able to make the final decision.
  • At the end of the interview, always be positive if asked about your interest in the job. It's worth making notes immediately afterwards on what you thought went well, what didn't and what you'd do differently next time. Experience always enhances performance, so make the most of the meeting.
  • Finally, follow up with a brief thank you letter, reiterating your interest in the position. If you have any additional information which might help the company make a decision in your favour, offer it here. Send a letter rather than an email which can be easily deleted.

Frequently asked interview questions

  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • What brings you to the job market at this point in your career?
  • Why would you like to work for this company in particular?
  • What attracts you to this role?
  • What are your key strengths and weaknesses?
  • Describe two major achievements in your career.
  • If you could change anything about your career so far, what would it be?
  • How would members of your team describe you?
  • What important points came out of your last appraisal?
  • Describe your management style.
  • What do you look for in a manager?
  • Describe your toughest client.
  • What do you want from your next role?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • What are the key things that drive or motivate you?
  • What really winds you up in the workplace?
  • Describe your greatest challenge so far.
  • Describe a difficult work scenario and how you managed it.
  • Where do you see yourself in two to five year's time?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • What would you say about your current and last employers?
  • Describe your preferred company culture.
  • If you could have your time again, what career would you choose?

Questions to ask the interviewer

  • How has this vacancy arisen?
  • How would you describe the firm/company culture?
  • What do you see as the key challenges of this role?
  • How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?
  • What are the organisation's major business objectives in the coming year?
  • How are employees measured in terms of performance?
  • What processes exist to support employees in their career development?
  • How would you describe the firm/company's values?
  • What key issues currently face the organisation?
  • What can I expect to be involved in during my first six months of joining?
  • What are the department's priorities during the next six months?
Practice Questions to help you get started.  Please remember to answer all questions in a positive manner.
What are your Strengths and Weaknesses?
Why are you applying to this role?
What do you know about the role?
Why do you want to work for us?
What do you know about us?
Why do you think you are the best person for the job?
Team work

Can you describe a time when you were part of a team who co-operated to improve team performance?
What needed to be improved?
What did the team decide to do about it?
How was it implemented?
What did you personally do?
What was the result?

Customer service | can do attitude

Tell me about a time when you went beyond the expectations of a customer.
What service went beyond the initial request?
Why did you go beyond?
What was the outcome?
Communication | verbal - on the telephone

Tell me about a time when you had to explain facts about a fairly complex service, or product, to a customer on the telephone.
What was the situation?
Walk me through the process you used
What kind of feedback did you get?

Communication | verbal - face to face

Can you describe a situation where you had to 'win' someone over - someone who wasn't being
very responsive to you?
What was the situation?
Walk me through the process you used
How successful were you?

Communication | listening

Can you describe a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer?
What did you say?
What were the customer’s objections?
How did you respond to these? What was the outcome?
Adaptability and flexibility

Can you give me an example of when you have had to adjust quickly in response to changes made
within an organisation?
What was the impact of the changes on you?
What did you do by way of 'adjusting' to them?
What was the result?
How did you feel about these changes?

Tell me about a situation where you had to deal with conflicting orders from different people.
What did you do?
What was the result of your actions?
What was the feedback from the people who gave you the orders?
Attention to detail

Give me a specific example of a time when you were working on something very important. How did you
ensure that nothing was overlooked?
What steps did you take?
What was the result?
Problem solving

Can you give me a specific example of a time when you were give the task of finding out some information
but you found it difficult?
What was the task?
What information did you have to find out?
Why was it difficult?
What did you do?
What was the outcome?