Interview tips

Handling the hot seat can be one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of the job hunting process. But there are plenty of ways to calm those interview nerves, be prepared and get ready to make the right impression.

Types of interview

The interview is a core part of the recruitment process for all organizations and is a two-way exchange between you and each interviewer. Interviewers assess your suitability for the role by asking questions which give you the opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and personality. In turn you can ask questions of your interviewers and assess whether the organization and job is the right match for you.

Interview format

Informal interviews are often used as the first part of a multi-stage recruitment process. For less senior jobs this may be the only selection method used. The format tends to be a general chat about you and your interests. Be aware that it is still an assessment of you. In structured interviews, all candidates are asked the same set of questions in a structured format. Typically they begin with a brief chronological review of your overall career to date.

  • Competency/criteria-based interviews - these are structured to reflect the competencies or qualities required by the job. The interviewers are looking for evidence of your skills and abilities and expect you to support your answers with examples of your experience from your life to date.
  • Technical interviews - if you have applied for a job that requires technical knowledge, it is likely that you will be asked technical questions or have a separate technical interview. Questions may focus on your final year project or on real or hypothetical technical problems. Don’t worry if you don’t know the exact answer - interviewers are interested in your thought process and logic.
  • Portfolio-based interviews - if the role is within the creative, media or communications sectors, you may be asked to bring a portfolio of your work to the interview and to have an in-depth discussion about the pieces you have chosen to include.
  • Case study interviews - in these you may be presented with a hypothetical or real business problem. You will be evaluated on your analysis of the problem, how you identify the key issues, how you pursue a particular line of thinking and how you organize your thought

Specific types of interview

Some recruiters use a single interview to decide whether to hire you. Many will use a sequence of interviews to inform their decision. In sequential interviews you will be interviewed by a number of different interviewers or panels in turn. You may find that the questions asked get more difficult each time. Alternatively you may be interviewed by a more senior member of the organisation each time or be asked about a different set of competencies. Answer every question fully even if you feel you have been asked it previously.

  • Face-to-face interviews - this is the most common method. One interviewer or two or a panel of interviewers will conduct the interview. The one-to-one method is the least preferred due to ethical issues around equality and transparency but is sometimes used for informal pre-screening interviews as part of a multi-stage recruitment process. Two person interviews ideally have an interviewer of each gender. Panel interviews generally contain a spread of gender and expertise and are often chaired by the person to whom you will report, should you get the job.
  • Group interviews - several candidates are present and will be asked questions in turn by two or more interviewers. A group discussion around a specific topic may be encouraged and you may be invited to put questions to the other candidates and/or to the panel.
  • Telephone interviews - telephone interviews are increasingly used by companies as part of the recruitment process, often at an early stage of selection, especially by overseas recruiters. Prepare in the same way that you would for a face-to-face interview. Make sure you choose a suitable time and date, in a place where you will be free to chat in a quiet place without any interruptions. Make sure your mobile is charged if you are using it. Remember to keep any necessary documents, like your CV and the job advert, to hand throughout the phone call.

Professionalism

Employers are noting your level of professionalism at each stage of the recruitment process. Use a formal style for every communication whether it’s an email, letter or telephone call. It is courteous to respond in a timely manner to offers of an interview and job offers, even if you have decided not to accept. Even more importantly, demonstrating total professionalism leaves the employer with a good memory of you - essential should you decide to apply for any future position with them.

Preparing yourself

Before the interview find out:

  • Where will it be held?
  • How long will it last?
  • What format will it take?
  • Will there be any tests or group exercises?
  • Do I need to bring or prepare anything specific?

The interview invitation is likely to provide you with the above information. If not then call the organization and ask for it.

Ensure that you check the date and time of your interview. Figure out how you will get to the venue and how long the journey takes, especially if you are using public transport. Check for any planned disruptions to road or public transport services and aim to arrive early, rather than rushing in late. This is especially important for assessment centers, where the day runs to a tight schedule.

What to take

On the day, make sure you have the interview invitation letter and a copy of your CV, cover letter and application form if you used one. You will need notes of the key points you want to make and the questions you want to ask during the interview. Take some cash in case you need to get a taxi at the last minute or some other unforeseen expenditure.

What to wear

Decide on your outfit well in advance; ideally it should be a suit or equivalent business wear. Ensure it is ironed and ready to wear. Have a second outfit as a back-up and ensure your shoes are clean. Personal grooming is essential and you should avoid wearing overpowering fragrance. It is probably best to avoid alcohol the night before the interview and smokers should resist the temptation to have a cigarette on the way to or while waiting for an interview.

Personal safety

Give someone all the details of where you are going and when you expect to return. In the unlikely event that you are invited to a private residence bring someone with you and have them wait for you outside the venue.

Knowledge about yourself

If you are being interviewed for a job that was advertised, use the job description as a guideline as to what you’ll be asked about in terms of your personality, skills, work experience and qualifications. Other candidates may have similar abilities, employment and academic experience to you. Think about how you might distinguish yourself. It is possible to highlight all of your strengths without sounding over-confident or aggressive.

Knowledge about the job

Know everything you can about the job on offer including the job and/or person specification. Search the web for profiles of employees who hold the same or similar roles and read the relevant occupational profiles in types of jobs.

Knowledge about the organization

Research your prospective employer organization. Employers will expect that you will have at least researched their website, their recruitment information and their annual report(s). Do more than this - search for media articles about it and consult Job sectors for an overview of a range of employment sectors.

Psychological preparation

Remember that the interviewer wants every candidate to be a great one. Remember also these key points:

  • get a good night’s sleep the night before;
  • eat properly and drink plenty of water on the day;
  • practice breathing deeply;
  • Think positive thoughts;
  • Remember that, if properly harnessed, nerves can sharpen your performance.

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