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Interview Techniques ::

Being invited for interview means you have overcome the first hurdle. Your application was good enough to make it beyond the bin. However, there's a long way still to go!

Before you go

Preparation is essential to performing well in an interview. You may or may not be the world's best at selling yourself and thinking on your feet, but good preparation will always help you. There are various vital things you need to prepare before you go for an interview.

Know yourself

Of course you took a copy of your application form or your covering letter! This is the time to re-read what you wrote. Try to think about it from the employer's point of view. What are your strong and your weak points? What areas might need clarification? Is there anything not on the form that you think they need to know?

Everything you put in your application is fair game for an interview question, so be prepared to expand on any of the information you have given.

Know the job

Re-read the job description. Talk to people doing the same type of job. List the skills and qualities needed and think about the evidence you can draw from your experience to demonstrate that you have them.

The more you can demonstrate that you know about the job, the more likely it is that the employer will believe you when you say you are well suited to it.

Know the organisation

Find out as much as you can about the employer. Try the employer information files in the Careers Service. If you can get the annual report, read it. If there is a video, watch it. Companies often have mission/vision statements or key principles: try to think of situations in your own life which demonstrate those principles.

Keep your eyes on the news for any stories about the organisation or about their sector. Make a note of the facts and try to form opinions.

Many organisations hold presentations. As well as being a useful source of information, these events can be an opportunity to meet some of the people whom you might be working with if you are successful.

Know the details

Check the time of the interview, the date, the location (it may not be at the employer's offices) and the name and job title of the interviewer. It is probably best to take the letter inviting you to interview along with you. Have their phone number available in case anything goes wrong.

Make sure you know how to get there and how long it will take. Make sure that you have the right clothes washed and ironed and that you've set the alarm clock! Try to get a good night's sleep.

On the day

Interviewers are not just concerned about what answers you give to their questions. There are many factors which they will be taking into consideration, from how you dress to how you cope with the killer question.

First impressions

Always arrive on time (preferably early - give yourself time to calm down, go to the toilet, etc.). Dress appropriately (as if you already worked for them). Watch your body language (firm handshakes, smile, make eye-contact, be attentive, don't fidget). Remember, first impressions matter.

Their questions

Employers may ask you a variety of questions, but in essence they only want to know three things, and these are the questions you need to answer with evidence:
  • Can you do the job? - Do you have the appropriate qualifications, knowledge, skills and experience to do what they want you to?
  • Will you do the job? - Do you have the right motivation and enthusiasm? Are you really keen on this job or would you rather be doing something else? If you enjoy the job, you will work hard and they will get value for money.
  • Will you fit in? - Do you fit in with the people who work there? Would people enjoy working with you or would you seriously damage morale by being around?
Some typical questions are given below.

Your answers

  • Try to relax and be yourself. Breathing slowly and deeply before you go in can help. As you sit down, get yourself into a comfortable but alert position.
  • Pay careful attention to the interviewer - answer the question they ask, not the one you wish they'd asked.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Give yourself time to think
  • Don't give 'yes' or 'no' answers. Volunteer relevant information about yourself. Your responses should be long enough to answer the question, but not too long.
  • Always watch the body language of the interviewer: this can often tell you whether you need to expand on something or shut up.
  • Avoid going off at a tangent or becoming involved in unnecessarily detailed explanations.
  • Be truthful but positive. Even if you have to present negative information (e.g. a failure or a weakness), say how you learned from it or overcame it.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for clarification if you don't understand the question. You may also ask for a little time to think (but not too often).
  • Do be enthusiastic, interesting, animated, or whatever else comes naturally to you (with reasonable caution). Don't be an interview robot.

Your questions

Don't ask anything you should already know from the brochure, or about salary, holidays, etc. Good topics to ask about are: training, career development, working conditions, the organisation, what happens next, etc. If they have answered all your questions, just say so.


What you do

  • Think about what you've learned and your impressions of the employer. The interview is your opportunity to decide if you want to work for them.
  • Reflect on the interview. Make a note of the questions they asked. Were you satisfied with your answers, or could you do better next time?
  • If they don't contact you when they said they would, or if it has been a long time since the interview (more than two weeks), try ringing to check the situation.
  • If you are rejected, try ringing to ask if they could tell you the main reasons. They can only say no!

What they do

They should let you know how long it will be until you hear from them. Their next communication (if it's not a rejection) could be a job offer or an invitation to a second interview or assessment centre. Make sure you know what to expect.

Types of question

About your application

  • Tell me about your course/project.
  • Why did you choose that particular course/university?
  • What did your vacation work involve?
  • I see you are interested in the theatre: what was the last play you saw?
  • Are your A-level results a fair reflection of your ability?

About the job

  • Why do you want to be an accountant/journalist/etc?
  • What makes you think you would be good at the job?
  • How would you define marketing/librarianship/etc?
  • How do you see your career developing over the next five years?
  • What other jobs/employers have you applied to?

About you

  • Describe a situation in which you have had to make quick decisions/deal with difficult people/etc.
  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  • What have you done to prepare for this interview?
  • What qualities do you see in others that you wish you had yourself?
  • One of the principles of this company is integrity. Can you give me an example of a difficult situation in which you have shown integrity?

What ifs

  • If you were a consultant, which of our competitors would you recommend we take over?
(Don't worry about finding the perfect answer. The employer is testing your powers of reasoning and seeing if you can explain your decisions clearly and persuasively.)

General knowledge

  • What will the Chancellor put in his next budget?
(Try to have an awareness of what is in the news. Have opinions and be prepared to defend them politely.)

Different interview situations

Interviews can come at any stage in the selection process and can take many forms. You may be interviewed on a one-to-one basis by a personnel manager, someone from the relevant department, or even a psychologist. You may face more than one interviewer. You may be interviewed at the employer's premises, at your college, in a hotel, or possibly over the telephone.

The important thing to remember is that the basic principles mentioned above apply to any situation.

Panel interviews

Interview panels of seven or more have been known. You can't talk to all of them at once. Concentrate on giving your answer to the person who asked you the question, but include the others with an occasional glance.

Stress interviews

The interviewer(s) try to test how you react under pressure by firing rapid questions at you, or being aggressive or offensive. This does not happen as often as rumour would lead us to believe. Keep cool and try not to take it personally.

Criterion-based interviews

Some recruiters try to give every candidate the same chance by asking them all the same questions. Whilst you must always answer the questions asked, be ready to volunteer extra relevant information.

Telephone interviews

Some organisations have started using these as a recruitment method. In some cases you might have to undergo a telephone interview to check your qualifications and experience before you can obtain an application form. A possible development in the future could be interviews over a video-conferencing link.

Further information

  • The Virtual Job Interview
  • Applications and Interviews, AGCAS booklet
  • 'Why Ask Me That?', AGCAS video
  • Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, Martin John Yate
  • The Perfect Interview, Max Eggert


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