Interviews – dos and don’ts
An interview is a discussion between you and an employer to find out if you can do the job. It’s your chance to make a good impression. However, there are certain rules you should follow in interviews.
What to do:
- Dress smartly, look bright and attentive, and speak clearly and confidently. Don’t forget that in the first few minutes only 7% of the interviewer’s opinion of you is formed by what you say – the rest is judged on how you look, act and sound
- Find out where the venue is beforehand, how to get there and how long it takes
- Get your outfit ready the night before
- Find out what kind of interview it will be so you can prepare
- Examine the person specification and your CV/application form, and think about what type of questions they will ask you
- Prepare answers for the main questions – for example, why do you want the job, what are your strengths and weaknesses, what are the main tasks in this job?
- Make about three or four points in each answer
- Quote real examples of when you’ve used certain skills – just saying you’ve got a skill isn’t enough
- Take your time when answering the questions: make sure you understand the question and take your time if you need to think
- Sell yourself: no one else is going to! Be positive about yourself and your experiences
- Prepare some questions to ask at the end of the interview – use it as an opportunity to find out more about the role and the company. (Don’t ask about money or perks just yet!)
- when discussing salary, know your market worth and start by quoting a little higher than this
- Get feedback on your performance, whether you were successful or not
- Turn off your mobile phone: treat the interviewers with respect and give them your undivided attention
- Keep your answers focused on what you can do for the employer, not what they can do for you
What not to do:
- Don’t be late
- Don’t swear or use slang words
- Don’t slouch in your seat or do anything that makes you look uninterested
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t lie: the interviewer may see through you. Even if you get the job, your employer can dismiss you if they find out that you have not been honest
- Don’t let your nerves show too much; a few nerves are normal but extreme nerves will affect your performance. Use breathing techniques and try to remember that it’s not a life and death situation – there are plenty of jobs out there!
- Don’t be arrogant and assume you’ve got the job. Nothing turns off employers more than someone who is disrespectful and over-confident
- Don’t discuss controversial topics such as religion, politics and gender relations
- Don’t read from notes or your CV — you should be familiar enough with your own history to be able to talk about it unprompted
- Don’t criticise former employers or colleagues. Interviewers may mark you down as a troublemaker and a gossip
- Don’t argue with the interviewer, no matter what. Remember to keep things positive!
These rules apply for most jobs. However, employers in some industries can use more relaxed and informal interviewing techniques. In some creative fields (design and media for example) it may be expected that you turn up for the interview in casual clothes, as that is the dress code in the office. However, smart casual is better than very casual. If you’re in any doubt, do some research on typical interview techniques in your line of work.
Above all, preparation is the key to performing well in interviews. Research the role and organisation, and prepare evidence and examples of your skills and competencies. These rules apply for most jobs.
However, employers in some industries can use more relaxed and informal interviewing techniques. In some creative fields (design and media for example) it may be expected that you turn up for the interview in casual clothes, as that is the dress code in the office. However, smart casual is better than very casual. If you’re in any doubt, do some research on typical interview techniques in your line of work.
Typical questions an interviewer might ask:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?
- What would your colleagues and friends consider as your best qualities?
- Why should we hire you?
- What the interviewer really wants to know: can you do the job?
Know your strengths, and mention ones that are relevant to the job you’re being interviewed for. It’s important to quote examples of when you used the skills; it’s not enough to just say you have the skills.
Typical strengths employers look for are:
- Communication – the ability to get on with a wide range of people
- Team working – the ability to be an effective team leader or team member
- IT skills – most jobs these days need some IT skills
- Good attitude – hard worker, honest, polite, co-operative
- Problem solving – using your initiative to identify solutions
- Enthusiasm – employers like someone positive
- Quick learner – so you can take on new tasks
- Determination – shows you are focused on achieving goals
- Flexibility – doing a variety of tasks to achieve a common goal.
If you’re asked about weaknesses, don’t list many – only mention one! Choose a minor flaw that isn’t essential to the job. Turn it into a positive, such as how you’ve worked on the weakness. Or you could present it as an opportunity for development.
Strengths: ‘I’m a good organiser, and I plan everything in detail. I showed this when I was given a new project, and I had to get it up and running from scratch.’
Weaknesses: ‘Sometimes I’m too enthusiastic when working on a new project. But I’ve learned to adjust to everyone else’s pace, and not go charging ahead.’
- What are your goals?
- Where do you see yourself in five years time?
- What the interviewer really wants to know: How ambitious are you?
This is your chance to show how enthusiastic you are to get on. (You should avoid sounding too aggressive and over-ambitious: ‘I want to become managing director in three years’.) Avoid sounding unenthusiastic and passive: ‘I’m not sure – I’ll see how it goes’. To avoid this, you could talk in terms of short-term and long-term goals. Remember you are at the interview for that particular job – so your short-term goal should be to get that job for the time being. Then you can start talking about moving on higher.
‘My immediate aim is to get a trainee chef position, then to work through NVQs level 2 and 3 to become a qualified chef.’
- What makes a good team?
- What makes a good team member?
- What makes a good team leader?
What the interviewer really wants to know: Can you operate effectively in a team? Employers value team-working very highly. They want to know you can work effectively in a team, whatever your role within it is.
‘A good team needs to have clear objectives and goals, and procedures to work towards these. Each person needs to be clear what their role is, and what is expected of them. There needs to be openness and trust, and clear communication.’
Which questions should I ask at the end of the interview?
At the end of the interview you usually get the opportunity to ask your own questions. You should always ask at least one question, to show your enthusiasm and interest in the job.
Here are some examples:
- Can you describe a typical day?
- What training do you offer?
- Ask about something you read about in your research – such as a new product or service
- Who will I be working with?
- Who will my manager be?
- Where do I fit into the organisational structure?
- How much of my time will be spent on this task?
- How do you see the role developing?
- When will you let me know the outcome of the interview?
What types of interview are there?
If you’ve not had an interview for a while, it’s worth knowing that organisations use different types of interview for different types of job. Some of the most common are:
These focus on the skills and attributes needed. You’ll have to relate your skills and experience to the job in question.
These are for technical positions such as IT or engineering jobs. You will probably be asked to display your technical knowledge of a certain process or skill. They may ask you to do this by talking about your previous experience or by asking you hypothetical questions, such as “what would you do if you were working on this project?”
The interviewer meets with the candidate in person.
Some organisations use these as the first stage of screening. You may be warned in advance or contacted out of the blue. First impressions count, so you should prepare for a telephone interview just as much as you would for a face-to-face interview. Unless it takes place on a videophone, you won’t need to worry about what you are wearing at the time.
This is when more than one person interviews you. Usually, one person chairs the interview and panel members take it in turns to ask you different questions. You should direct your answer mainly towards the panel member that asked the question.
Checklist – Have you…
- …worked out how to get there and how long your journey will take?
Why not do a trial run a few days before?
- …found out what format the interview will take?
One-to-one, a panel interview or a group interview.
- …found out what resources are available?
If you’ve been asked to do a written test or a presentation, you’ll need to call ahead to find out what facilities are available.
- …prepared answers to some of the typical interview questions?
Check again on responding to the Top 10 interview questions.
- …researched the organisation?
You will impress the interviewer with your knowledge of their organisation.
- …printed out the CV or form you sent in application for the job?
Taking a copy with you is useful for any specific questions about your application and your work history.
- …prepared examples of when you’ve used skills relevant to the job?
You can identify the kind of skills you will need by reading through the person specification or by checking out our Job Profiles.
- …prepared two or three questions for the end of the interview?
This is your chance to impress — ask questions that show you understand the organisation and the role you could have.
If you’d like to discuss your interview with a member of the team in more detail do not hesitate to contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss it further with you.