The recruitment or selection interview represents an opportunity to present yourself to a potential employer as someone who has the skills, experience and knowledge to do the job and make a significant contribution to the organisation. Many people face interviews with fear, but good interview skills can help you to make a good impression and secure the job or the promotion you seek. Whatever type of interview you face, careful preparation is essential and will be a key factor in how you perform on the day and the impression you create.
Interviews are formal face to face meetings between existing or potential employers and existing or potential employees. Some job interviews are conducted by telephone or video conference and it is becoming more common for employers to carry out telephone interviews to screen candidates before deciding who to invite to the face-to-face interviews This checklist focuses on selection interviews which aim to assess (or partly assess) an individual’s suitability for a job whether inside or outside their current organisation.
Clarify your objectives
Always decide in advance what you want from the interview. In most cases this will be a job offer but you may have subsidiary objectives, for example to obtain more information on the job and the organisation, an opportunity to meet the decision makers and so on. If your objectives are unclear, this will be obvious to the interviewers. Bear in mind that these people could have a significant role to play in your future.
Do your research
Find out as much as you can about the job, the interview, the interviewers and the organisation. This will involve significant research, especially with regard to the organisation. However, you should be able to find useful information on the internet. This might include the company’s own website, company databases, business information sites and social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
Make sure you know:
- how to get there, e.g. the address, car parking details, public transport details, etc
- who will interview you – once you have this information you will be able to research their background on the internet
- what format the interview will take (group, one to one, tests, presentations).
If, for example, you are asked to take a psychometric test of some type, you may wish to find out what will be required and consider doing some practice tests. The British Psychological Society (see Additional Resources below) provides information on this topic.
If, on the other hand, you are required to deliver a brief presentation on a pre-arranged topic, this will involve additional preparation – researching the topic, deciding what needs to be included, planning and rehearsing the presentation rehearsing. Read the brief you are given carefully, and be sure to comply with it, particularly in regard to length and format.
A careful review of any documentation you have been sent, such as copies of the job description and the person specification should help you to establish:
- the extent of duties and reporting relationships
- the history and background to the appointment
- the employer’s expectations of the appointee
- the conditions of employment and location of work.
Discover as much as you can about:
- history, ownership and products or services
- size, structure and location of sites
- stability, prosperity and financial strength
- reputation, strengths and weaknesses
You need to make an impression that will bring attention to you as the candidate for the job rather than just another runner. Review your personal experience, skills, strengths and weaknesses and evaluate how they match the position you are being interviewed for. Consider how you will convey these messages to the interviewer. Think of real practical examples from your own experience which will reinforce what you say.
Prepare yourself for success
Fear of failure can paralyse interview candidates. Focusing predominantly on your shortcomings and on potential difficulties will lead to negative feelings which can adversely affect how you present yourself. But ignoring your own weaknesses can also be detrimental when responding to critical questions. The key is to focus on your weaknesses as well as your strengths but also on strategies for overcoming the weaknesses.
Careful preparation can help you to think positively and create a good impression. Compare the thoughts: “I’m just here to make up the numbers.” with “I’ve been chosen from a large number of other candidates“. It is quite possible that the interviewer or interviewers are just as nervous as you are. Think about past experiences and what has made them successful or otherwise and apply the lessons learned to the upcoming interview. Take yourself mentally through the possible course of the interview, make extensive notes and then review them shortly before the interview. Explore techniques to help you relax mentally and physically and use whichever you find most helpful before the interview begins.
Give attention to your appearance and manner
First impressions count and often have a lasting effect. An impression will already have been made before you open your mouth to respond to any questions, so think how you make your entrance and greet the interviewers. Be friendly and polite and do your best to appear confident but not over-confident or cocky.
Ensure that your appearance is professional and smart.
- appropriate clothes are essential – if in doubt err on the side of smartness
- avoid extremes of colour or pattern in clothes – dark or neutral colours are usually appropriate, although this may depend on the culture of the organisation
- finer points including hair, nails and shoes should not be overlooked
- avoid too much scent or after-shave
- avoid smoking or eating spicy foods directly prior to the interview.
Prepare for questioning
Using the research you have gathered (see section 2 above), think about the questions you may be asked, and prepare appropriate answers. Some very general questions such as “Tell me a bit about yourself.” can be difficult to handle. When responding to such questions, bear in mind that the interviewer is not interested in your life history as such, but is trying to assess whether you are suitable for the job in question and whether you are able to communicate clearly and effectively. Your answers should be focused and include real-world examples. However be careful that they do not sound over rehearsed.
Typical questions may include:
- Self-assessment: What can you do for us that someone else can’t? Why should we appoint you? What are your strengths and what limits you? How would you describe your own personality? How do you react to pressure and deal with deadlines?
- Work history and experience: Tell me a little about yourself. Why are you leaving your present position? What have been your successes? What were your failures?
- Organisation: How much do you know about our organisation? How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our organisation? What would that contribution be? What important trends do you see in our industry?
- Job: Why do you want to work for us? What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems least attractive to you? What do you look for in a job? How do you see your professional future?
- Management style: What is your management style? Are you a good manager and why? What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager? If I spoke to your former boss, what would they say were your strengths and weaknesses?
- General interests and knowledge: What was the last book you read, film you saw, sporting event you attended? What do you do to relax?
At the interview
Before the interview begins, there are certain steps to take which will help you succeed:
- arrive at your interview with sufficient time to enable you to relax a little beforehand
- when meeting the interviewer(s), smile and use good eye contact
- use good body language (sit upright and lean slightly forward) to convey your interest and alertness
- avoid nervous mannerisms which will be irritating and distracting, e.g. fidgeting with your hands, repeatedly crossing and uncrossing your legs etc.
Bear in mind that interview questions are designed to find out about you and your suitability for the post. Listen attentively and answer succinctly. If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification.
- keep to the point
- structure your answer so that it is logical and easily understood
- maintain good, but not excessive, eye contact
- speak out with confidence and ensure you can be heard clearly
- look prepared and have appropriate information to hand
- project interest in the organisation and job, and be interesting in your replies and questions
- be honest: be honest about your limitations, and do not exaggerate accomplishments.
Answer the questions in a way which demonstrates your qualities. Use statements which:
- are assertive
- begin “I am…” Avoid the trap of saying “We…” rather than “I…“
- show that you are proud of your achievements.
Prepare your own questions
Remember that you are interviewing the employer at the same time as they are interviewing you. The interview is an opportunity for you to discover if this is a job you would enjoy and/or an organisation at which you would feel comfortable working.
Again, based on the information you have gathered, prepare some questions of your own in advance, relating to the job or the organisation. This helps to demonstrate your interest. Your questions should not relate exclusively to money or conditions of employment.
Deal positively with the closing moments of the interview
Last impressions are important. Thank the interviewers for their time, re-affirm your interest in the position and state that you look forward to hearing from them in the near future.
Acknowledgement: CMI Management Direct