You filled in the application form, polished your resume and wrote an excellent cover letter. It was all worth it because you’ve been invited to an interview. This is fabulous news, but once the initial excitement has worn off, it’s quite natural to feel a bit anxious, especially if this is your first interview or if you are returning to work after a career break. Interviews are daunting but a bit of preparation can make all the difference.
Here are our top tips for interview success:
1. Dress to Impress
This is one of the first questions you’ll ask yourself. It’s an important one because first impressions count, but there’s no need to worry.
Aim for an outfit that shows you’ve made an effort; avoid very casual items such as jeans or trainers. Think about what you would wear to work in an office (even if you are applying for a job on a building site!) and be prepared to buy or borrow if necessary.
One good idea is to have a ‘wardrobe rehearsal’. Try on your whole outfit, check that it’s all clean and that it fits. Then ask someone else to take a look, preferably someone who has done some hiring themselves.
Don’t over do the make-up or perfume, as your interviewers’ taste may not match yours. Make sure you choose a hairstyle that will stay smart all day and have a shave if necessary.
2. What to Bring
Nerves can make you forget things so prepare the day before. Our interview checklist will help you think through what to take:
a) Interview paperwork – instructions, directions, job description and any forms that you’ve been asked to complete
b) Certificates and qualifications – these might only be needed if the employer stipulates but it pays to bring them along in-case. Some employers will only accept original documents
c) Pen and notebook
d) Travel tickets, timetables, routes, money for emergency taxis or transport
e) A mobile phone (on silent) in case of delays or emergencies and be sure to add any relevant contact numbers for the interview before you leave home
f) Handkerchief or tissue
g) Spare tights, hair fasteners or other necessary items if you need to fix yourself in a hurry
Of course you don't want to be weighed down with things like a pack horse so try to conceal everything and take into the interview only what you need.
Finding out more about a company before your interview is important for two reasons. Firstly you need to be sure that it’s the type of company you would like to work for. Secondly it’s much easier to demonstrate the required skills if you know a bit more about the company.
You don’t need to know every detail but here are a few useful ideas:
a) The names of key company staff
b) Company locations
c) Recent company innovations/expansions
d) Company values (i.e. the principles that guide company decisions)
The best place to start with this will be the company website, if this doesn’t give you enough information consider social media (especially LinkedIn ) and newspaper stories. If you are given the opportunity to visit an organisation before your interview, take this up. It will give you confidence and demonstrate a high level of interest in the job.
4. Nerves of Steel
It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous about interviews. Remember that your interviewers will understand what it feels like to be in your position. Don’t aim to get rid of nerves altogether, in small doses they can enhance performance; the tips below might help you to minimise them instead:
a) Be prepared – being organised will calm you
b) Think positive thoughts – this gives the impression of confidence
c) Find out online what your interviewers look like – they’re just people
d) Ask someone to give you a mock interview – rehearsing your responses will reduce nerves
Don’t be tempted to calm your nerves with alcohol or too much caffeine. Neither of these will enhance your performance in the way that you want them to.
5. Plan for Perfection
Whatever your interview location, it’s a good idea to think through your travel plans a few days before the interview. This will hopefully prevent problems on the day.
If you can, rehearse your travel. If you’re driving, attempt the drive at a similar time of day and check out parking spots (you could also ask the company for information about this). If you are travelling on public transport, check the distances you might have to walk at the other end or the availability of taxis. If you are travelling a long way for your interview, consider arriving the night before and staying in budget accommodation.
6. Body Language
Make sure you respond to everybody you meet with a smile and a friendly comment or handshake if applicable.
Chat with the other candidates; you might gain useful information and the ability to initiate conversations is a key skill. Try not to think about them as the ‘opposition’, you’re in the same position and may be able to support each other.
Make sure that your non-verbal clues are positive. Smile, sit straight in your chair, don’t appear too tense and make an appropriate amount of eye contact.
7. Answer with Aplomb
Most people find that once they start answering interview questions they actually enjoy the experience.
First listen carefully to the question without interrupting. Nod or smile to demonstrate your interest while the question is being asked. If you don’t quite understand the question, be honest, an interviewer would rather explain than receive an irrelevant reply. You should be equally honest if you don’t know the answer to a question.
Concentrate while you’re giving your answer, it’s easy to lose your thread if you’re nervous. An answer that is too long it will sound like you’re trying to fill a gap, one that is too short will sound like you don’t know much about the subject. Try to sound as natural as possible.
During your answers, try to get some key positive messages across using phrases like those below:
“I would thrive on the challenge of…”
“One of my key strengths is…”
Interview questions can be varied, but certain key questions are often asked. Preparing answers for these will ensure that you sound confident.
a) "Tell us a bit about yourself"
This is traditionally the first thing an interviewer says. It helps to measure your confidence level. Focus on aspects of your life that show you to the best advantage.
b) "What do you know about our company?"
This is a classic test, designed to separate the ‘prepared’ from the ‘unprepared’ make sure you’ve done enough research to put you in the first category.
c) "Where do you see yourself five years from now?"
Another classic and it’s asked to check that you’re sure about your career path. Don’t let it sound that you are planning to move on too soon.
d) "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
This often comes towards the end of an interview. Strengths shouldn’t be too difficult because we all have them, but be careful with weaknesses. Prepare a couple beforehand that could also be seen as strengths; for example, “I sometimes struggle to delegate tasks,” could also mean that you’re a hard worker.
8. Questions You Should Ask
You’ll usually be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. This isn’t compulsory but it gives a much better impression if you’ve prepared some in advance. Avoid asking questions that have already been answered and don’t ask at this point about salary, lunch breaks or days off.
Questions based on your company research are particularly impressive. Some useful question topics include:
a) Staff training and development
b) Future company plans
c) How specific world/local events have impacted the company
d) With whom you would be working should you be successful
9. Follow Up
Show your appreciation after an interview. Thank your interviewers for the opportunity and tell them you’ve enjoyed learning about their company.
Whatever the outcome, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. If you weren’t successful, this will help you next time. If you were, the feedback will give you a greater understanding of what the employer is expecting to see when you start work.
If you’re not successful it’s okay to admit disappointment but make it clear that you understand the interviewers’ decision. Now you have more information, think carefully about whether or not you and the company are a good match. They will be advertising for other posts so keep an eye out if you’re interested.
We hope these interview tips lead to a confident and successful interview. Well done if you get an employment offer! If you don’t get one this time, don’t be too disappointed, learn from your experience and move forwards. Make some notes about what you might do differently next time. If you know who the successful candidate was, think about what they wore, how they spoke and the general impression they gave. Treat all interviews as good practice and sooner or later you’ll land that dream job.
If you're just starting out on your job hunt, it may be a good idea to scrub up your resume with these tips
And if you really want to focus on nailing the first impression, here are some hand hints on how to do that here
Are you ready to take the plunge into pursuing your dream career? Check out our comprehensive guide to landing your dream job, self-motivation required!