Job interview preparation and tips for success
There are many different types of interviews, ranging from conversations lasting a few minutes to several formal meetings, sometimes with more than one interviewer. The interview process allows you to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job.
Do your research
The better prepared you are, the more relaxed and comfortable you will be when the questions begin. The following offers a few interview tips and suggestions on ways to refine your interview technique.
Before the interview, it is a good idea to gather information about the organisation that has the position vacant and try to relate your experience to the specific duties of the job opportunity available. You can search for the organisation online for more information, and view their website for more detailed news and insight into its culture. Websites such as Glassdoor can also provide further information about an organisation.
You can also use social media to gain greater insights that will help you prepare for your interview. But don’t be tempted to send a LinkedIn connection or Facebook friend request to your interviewer. Instead, it is perfectly acceptable to research your interviewer on social media, provided you focus on:
- Determining how her or his role relates to the role you have applied for – this can give you a better idea of how to focus your answers, for example on the technical aspects or on the implementation process.
- The culture of the organisation – you can get a feel for the type of person who is likely to excel in the organisation.
- Projects and clients – you can go into your interview understanding the type of projects or clients the organisation works on and with.
- 1st degree connections in common – you can check if you have any former work colleagues in common. If you do, ask if they can tell you anything more about the company.
- Published blogs or articles – read any published blogs or articles written by your interviewer. It’ll give you an insight into his or her point of view on current industry trends.
- Comments – you can comment on one or two of her or his industry-related blog posts. If you make an insightful comment your interviewer may recognise your name when it comes time for your interview, but don’t overdo it.
Well before the interview you should also:
- Practice interviewing. Enlist a friend (better yet, a group of friends and colleagues) to ask you sample questions. Practice making eye contact.
- Video record your practice sessions. Pay attention to body language and verbal presentation. Eliminate verbal fillers, like “uh,” and “um.” Practice using positive body language to signal confidence, even when you’re not feeling it.
- Handle logistics early. Have your clothes, resume, and directions to the interview site ready ahead of time, to avoid any extra stress.
- Make sure you’ll look the part. Look, act and dress professionally. Ideally, a business suit should be worn. Clean shoes, clean finger nails and clean well groomed hair are important. If wearing a black or very dark suit, make sure there is no dandruff or specks of fluff on the shoulder.
Understand behavioural interviewing
To get to the motivations and working style of a potential employee, interviewers often turn to behavioural interviewing, an interviewing style that aims to establishing your core competencies relevant to the role, such as teamwork, creativity and innovation, decision making ability, business awareness or conflict resolution. The interviewer will be looking for examples of past behaviour that demonstrate these competencies.
Sample behavioural interview questions include:
- Describe a situation in which you didn’t meet your stated goal. How did you handle it?
- Tell us about a situation in which you encountered resistance from key people. How did you convince the person or people to do what you wanted?
- Describe a situation in which you took the initiative to change a process or system and make it better. How did you identify the problem? How did you go about instituting change?
Before the interview ask your recruiter or go through the job description to understand the core competencies relevant to the role. For each, memorise one or two examples from your most recent roles that demonstrate your abilities and successes in each area. We provide more guidance on how to answer behavioural interview questions here
During the interview
To be on the safe side, bring a spare copy of your resume to the interview. We advise arriving at least ten minutes early as interviewers are unimpressed by lateness and will rarely accept excuses from prospective employees.
A firm (but not bone crunching) handshake with a big smile will do wonders when you first meet your interviewer. Some small chit chat from the reception area to the interview room will also help. These are the vital seconds (not minutes) in making your first impression.
Body language and other forms of non-verbal communication are important elements in the way an interviewee performs. Appearing relaxed and trying to act naturally is easier said than done but good appearance is mostly a matter of assuming a position that you are comfortable with.
We suggest sitting up straight, leaning forward slightly and always maintaining good eye contact with the interviewer or panel. Looking disinterested will limit your options.
If offered a drink this can help and can be used as a prop to perhaps give you some time to answer a difficult question. By accepting a drink it does show that you are fairly confident and reasonably relaxed.
Always treat the interview as a two way discussion and answer questions honestly, directly and keep to the point. Everyone present will be focusing their attention on you, so clouding your answer with jargon or evading the issue will be more obvious than you think. If you are not certain about a particular question, do not be afraid to ask if it can be rephrased. Listen, never interrupt and answer only what is asked.
There are common questions which arise in most job interviews, and while you should be prepared, try not to rehearse answers that are too precise. We suggest a better approach is to work on broad subject areas that are likely to come up during the interview.
Some of these areas include:
General background – Often the first question is a request for a summary of your background. People applying for their first job should focus on extra curricular activities, education, and qualifications. It is quite acceptable to repeat major points you have outlined in your resume or letter of application.
Qualifications – A specific question often asked is “Why do you think you are qualified for this position?” Qualifications, in this context, mean all qualifications which could make you suitable for the position including educational, employment-related and personal. In most cases, this may be the question that will win or lose you the job, so your answer needs to be clear and memorable.
Experience – Here is where your research pays off. Your answer should include details about relevant employment, community or educational experience and a discussion of the nature of the industry, the organisation and the position itself.
Reasons for applying – If you are applying for your first, or one of your first jobs, your answer should describe what you find appealing about the position, how you prepared yourself for a career in the organisation and how you believe your present job equips you for the position in question.
Career objectives – Be ready to discuss your long-term aspirations. Your best approach is one that indicates you have thought about your career in these terms and have taken some action towards realising your ambitions.
Crisis management – In some organisations, employers give candidates questions designed to test their ability in situations or crises. You should try to find out the most common type of dilemma for employees in the job you are seeking and formulate an intelligent response.
Other sample interview questions
- What job would you like if you had a completely free choice?
- Why are you seeking a position with our company?
- Why do you want to be a *****
- How do you cope with pressure situations? Be ready to give an example.
- Have you come across a situation like this? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
- What are your greatest achievements to date?
- What objectives did you set yourself at the beginning of your career or study?
- Have you achieved those objectives?
- What interests you most/least about this job?
- Describe your own personality.
- Describe a situation where you have… (as mentioned earlier, this is the style of questioning used in behavioural interviewing, so have relevant examples at the ready.)
- What salary are you looking for? (Do your homework beforehand!)
To answer questions, the following tips might help:
- Review your research about the company and the position.
- Make a list of key attributes required.
- Memorise examples from your recent roles that demonstrate your strength in each of these key attributes.
- The STAR technique (Situation – Task – Action – Result) can help you do this:
Situation – Describe a situation you were in. For example, a colleague was struggling with performance.
Task – Tell them what you decided to do. For example, I sat down with my colleague to discuss how I could help.
Action – Describe what you actually did. For example, I gave my colleague examples of how I improved my own performance.
Result – Tell them what happened as a result of your actions. For example, his/her performance improved dramatically.
- Practice using these examples so that you are very familiar with them.
‘Do you have any questions for us?’
Towards the end of the interview, you will usually be asked if you have any questions of your own. Be confident when asking your questions and use them to score additional points in your favour.
- Why is the position available?
- What training and induction will be given?
- What prospects are there for personal and professional development?
- What are the company plans for the future?
- When can I expect to hear from you?
- What skills and attributes do successful people at your company usually have?
- What do you like best about working at the company?
- What results are expected from me?
- What specific problems are you hoping to solve during the first six months?
- What communication style do you prefer?
- What are your goals for the department?
End of the interview
At the end of your interview, smile and thank the people involved for their time. While decisions and job offers are usually made some time after the interview(s), should an offer of employment be made at the conclusion of any interview you attend, ask whether the offer will be confirmed in writing. Also, it is not unreasonable to request a short period of time to consider the offer before formally accepting.