Interview tips and techniques – including common questions and answers

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Congratulations!  You’ve made it to the interview stage of a job.

So you need to make the most of the opportunity.

Work starts a long time before you sit down in front of the interviewer, because if you want to succeed preparation is everything.

1. Before the interview

You will feel more confident and less anxious if you have prepared thoroughly for your interview, and this be noticed by your prospective employers.

Review your application

In reality, you may have made a number of job applications, but to arrive without a clear idea of what the role is and what information you have included in your application is unprofessional and will not help to convince the employer that you are committed to them and the role.

Make sure you know what the role entails, what skills and experience were asked for in the initial advertisement and job description, and work out how your previous roles, qualifications and experience help you to fulfil these requirements.

Research the company

Have a look at the company’s website to familiarise yourself with what they actually do and how they have developed.  Try to find information on their goals and the challenges they face. LinkedIn profiles can also give useful and sometimes slightly different information, as can looking for news articles involving the company.

Find their mission statement – it will give you a sense of the company culture and the core values they look for.

Research the Industry sector and their main competitors.

Find out more information about the interviewers/hiring managers-for example; on LinkedIn or the company website so you know who you will be dealing with.

Practice your interview questions

Preparation and practice allow you to feel more confident and reduce the risk of you becoming flustered or anxious.  If you’re struggling to answer an unexpected question you will not be highlighting your skills or showing yourself in the best possible light.

Competency based questions are common and give you an opportunity to showcase exactly why you are good fit for the role.  Review the job description and work out exactly what experience and abilities (competencies) the employer is looking for.  Make a list of examples to demonstrate exactly how you fulfil the requirement, outlined in the following format:-

Situation: Describe the background or context.

Task: Describe the task or challenge you were faced with.

Action: Explain the action you took, and how and why you did it.

Result: Describe how it ended, what you accomplished and what you learned from the situation.

Relate the skill or ability you’re illustrating back to the vacancy you’re applying for and explain why it’s useful. Keep it concise, be positive – these are challenges – not problems, and avoid making negative comments about previous colleagues or employers.

We have included a list of the most common types of interview question and tips on how to deal with them at the end of the document.

Plan your journey

Being late for an interview is never acceptable and will get things off to the worst possible start.  Make sure you know where you’re going, how to get there and then leave plenty of time to make the trip. Aim to arrive slightly early.

If something goes wrong keep the employer informed if you may be late.

Online Interviews

Check that you have been sent the correct link for the interview and make sure in advance that you know how to log in.

Dial in early to give yourself a chance of resolving any technical problems prior to the start time, keep a contact phone number handy so you can call if there are problems.

What to wear

Look professional but make sure you are comfortable, so nothing distracts you from the interview itself and you feel confident and well presented.  Make your decision in advance, don’t panic and make the wrong decision on the day of the interview because something wasn’t clean or ironed and you ran out of time.

2. At the Interview

Make a good first impression

Be positive- your thorough preparation will help you to feel more confident. Good body language helps to reinforce this.  Smile and make eye contact with all interviewers.  Don’t slouch or fidget. Keep your expression interested and your posture confident.

Be honest

Any untruths or exaggeration will be uncovered once references are contacted.

If you claim to have a skill or experience in a specific area, provide evidence of examples of how you acquired it.

Be concise

Avoid rambling – keep answers to about 1-2 minutes focusing on the most important points you want to get across.  If the interviewer wants more information, they will ask for it.

Make sure you have some well-planned questions for the interviewer.  This is often the last question asked and it is important to leave the interviewer with a good impression.  Don’t forget to ask about the next steps in the process and when you can expect to hear, whether or not you have been successful.

3. After the Interview

Send a follow up email

Your email should be sent within 24 hours and should be short and to the point. It is polite, but also keeps you at the forefront of the interviewer’s mind.

Ideally the email should thank the interviewer for taking the time to see you, reiterate your interest in the role and include any further information you promised to pass on.

If you are applying through an agency they will follow up after this and manage the process for you.

However, if you are applying without the support of an agency, follow up again with a brief email requesting an update if you have heard nothing further 2-3 days after the deadline.

Learn from the experience.

Think about your overall performance, what went well and what could have been better?

For example: – were you punctual, were you confident and professional, did you successfully market your strengths, did you answer all questions well, or did you find some more difficult than others?

Ask for feedback whether or not you were successful, as this will help you improve your performance in the future.

This will help you to focus your preparation for your next interview.

4. Common interview questions

1. Tell me about yourself

This is probably the most common interview question and often the first to be asked.  Answer this question in terms of the skills and experience required for the position.  Start with a brief summary of your career history then a short overview of how your career has developed, focusing more on what you’ve learnt or achieved.  Remember to speak slowly and clearly and project your voice, because it’ll give the impression that you’re confident and composed.

Keep to 1-2 minutes and follow up by asking if there is anything else the interviewer needs to know.

2. What do you know about the organisation?

The employer will expect you to know about their industry/sector, goals, key challenges, culture and values and main competitors.

They also want to find out if you’re enthusiastic about the prospect of working for them.

3. Why do you want to work for us?

Thorough research will allow you to explain why you want to join this company specifically and it’s not just one of many jobs you are applying for.  Don’t simply repeat the contents of the business’s website, or the company description in the job advert.

Show your knowledge of the company by mentioning something specific about the job that really interests you or mention your long-term career prospects with them.

Avoid saying negative things about your current employer or discussing salary at this stage.

4. What value can you bring to the company?

Before the interview, study the job advert and decide on the employer’s five most sought-after skills and competencies.

Think critically about your work history and education. For each skill, come up with a brief example that explains how you acquired or developed that skill, and how your possession of it benefited your employer at the time.

5. What are your weaknesses?

Think carefully about a suitable weakness- not something which would limit your ability to fulfil the requirements of the role – and a realistic and achievable approach for overcoming it.

Discuss your current professional development, and how you are addressing this- improving skills in a particular area, taking courses, or showing how you control your own learning agenda.

6. What are your strengths?

Check the job advert and pick out the key skills and competencies needed for the role. Highlight your strengths in these areas.  When researching the company, also keep a lookout for any information that shows what experience they look for in their candidates. Give examples.

7. What challenges are you looking for?

Base your response in terms of the employer’s key challenges and how you can help resolve them.  This is where your research in the company is essential because it allows you to highlight the skills you have that are most relevant to that specific role.

Describe challenges that fit the position that you’re applying for and your own skill set.  They should be the right balance between stretching and achievable.

8. What would an excellent performance look like in this role?

The employer is trying to determine your general work ethic, how committed you would be to the role and what impact you might make.

Think how the company defines measures of excellence and success – reputation management or avoiding criticism, winning awards, market recognition, extended or renewed contracts, and describe the actions you’ll take to help the employer achieve those measures giving relevant examples from your current role.

Don’t damage your credibility by overpromising.

9. What achievement are you most proud of?

Describe a challenge that shows resilience, such as completing an enduring fitness challenge or a charitable accomplishment that demonstrates a strong social and ethical conscience, listing academic or obvious work achievements are not always the best answers.

10. Why should we hire you?

Whatever you do, don’t say “I don’t know.”

It could be you have combination of technical or behavioural skills or have done a similar role. Provide facts with examples- avoid bragging.

Don’t be negative about the employer you’re interviewing for, such as pointing out lots of their flaws. Avoid being negative about your current employer, too.

11. What would you do in the first month in the job?

This question allows you to demonstrate that you understand what would be required of you if you are successful in getting the role, and how you’d contribute to the organisation.

Make your answer specific to the job you’ve applied for. Show you understand the scope and nature of the role and industry and to reassure the interviewer that you’re up for the challenge.

Don’t make up something on the spot.  Prepare examples in advance and keep them realistic.

12. What’s your dream job?

Try to talk about the type of role you aspire to, rather than name a specific role, e.g. working as part of a high-performing team or with a progressive company.  Think about what’s important to you and describe how your dream job aligns with this.

Spell out how the role you’re applying for will help you grow in ways that’ll support your chosen career path.

13. What motivates you?

It is important to get across that your skills, experience and personality match the role.

A good approach is to describe the goals you’d target in the role you’re interviewing for.

Avoid mentioning financial motivations like salary or other perks of the job.

Unless the interviewer brings it up, you should avoid getting into salary negotiations in the interview, as it’s best discussed at the point of a job offer, but ensure you have a salary number in mind.

To determine the right number, research the average rate for this type of role within the particular industry. Don’t under or overestimate what you’re worth.

14. If you were an animal what would you be?

This type of question may be thrown in to assess how a candidate handles pressure, their levels of initiative, and how they respond to being put outside their comfort zone.

The worst response is to say nothing or fail to take the question seriously.

Don’t give an answer that suggests you have negative personality traits.

15. Do you have any questions for us?

Below are a few broad categories of questions that are appropriate to ask.

Questions about the role as this is a great opportunity to learn more about what you’ll do if it hasn’t already been thoroughly covered in the earlier part of the interview; Can you share more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this role? What would you want me to achieve in my first two months?  What mechanisms are in place for performance reviews and when would I receive my first formal evaluation?  Questions about the Company will help give you a sense of company culture and how the company is performing; How would you describe the management style of the organization? What are the company’s goals for the upcoming year?

Open-ended questions are better than ones that require yes or no answers.

Questions about your new team, goals of the company or department, the future direction of the company and its biggest challenges, organisational culture or why the role has become available would all be suitable.

Don’t ask questions around salary or benefits at this stage, or non-work activities such as holidays or childcare.

But don’t ask too many.

For further information, contact Emily Stewart

T: 07593 447 384