Interview advice and preparation

You only get one chance to impress. The three most important elements of planning an interview are preparation, preparation and preparation.

Many people feel nervous at interviews, but by being well prepared you will be better able to deal with the situation. It is important when preparing your responses that you do two things:

  • Always back up any statement you make with factual examples.
  • Always make sure your responses answer the requirements of the position.

The interviewers are looking for a great deal of information in a short space of time - present your replies clearly and concisely.

How to prepare

Research the organisation

You need to find out as much about the organisation as you can. Company websites are a major source of information and can provide you with corporate history, company size/culture, press releases, downloadable reports and reviews. You can also visit the archive files of newspaper websites or use search engines to find out further information.

Make sure you read the material thoroughly, as a popular question at the interview is: "What do you know about the company?"

Make sure you know about:

  • Brief company history - mergers, takeovers, growth etc
  • Products and services
  • Company size/locations
  • Any recent press reporting or speculation (eg new product launches, joint ventures,
  • new advertising)
  • The company’s main competitors

Research the position

Find out as much as you can about the actual position you are being interviewed for. Ideally you will need to find out the duties and responsibilities of the position, the essential skills in order to be successful in the role and the future prospects. Make sure you are aware of your interviewer's name, job title and whether the role reports directly to them. Armed with this information you can start to plan for the interview in more detail.

Attending the interview

Before attending any interview, make sure you check the location and parking facilities before you set off. Some companies will have pay and display carparks, other won’t have any parking facilities at all. If you’re using public transport, check the route and make sure
you allow plenty of time.

First impressions

This is your chance to make a good impression. How you present yourself will have a big impact on the interviewer so don’t forget the basics: dress professionally (ideally in a suit), clean shoes, minimal jewellery and good personal hygiene.

Body language

Your behaviour will be watched the minute you walk in to the building: act courteously at all times, demonstrate an interest by reading company literature in the foyer, be friendly to the receptionist, offer a firm handshake and maintain regular eye contact. Accept a drink -
taking a sip can provide you with a little thinking time before you answer difficult questions and can help if nervousness gives you a dry mouth.

Think about what you say

Always try to listen to the questions - it sounds obvious but interviewees so often answer the question they wish had been asked. If you don’t understand the question, asked for it to be repeated and be honest if you truly don’t know the answer. Use every question to
demonstrate your ability to do the job and make extra effort never to criticise your previous employers, however bad you may feel about them.

Try to predict the questions you may be asked

If you have researched the company in sufficient depth, you should be able to answer most of the questions in this area. Any other questions are likely to be about you so you should revisit your CV at this point and think about the information you have provided. It is likely that the interviewer will probe deeper into your CV so make sure you have additional information about these on the tip of your tongue!

Questions likely to be asked

Fortunately there are standard questions that will be asked at the majority of interviews. Listed below are a few common areas often discussed along with possible responses. Remember these responses are only suggestions, do not use them if you feel

Q. Tell me about yourself?
A. Describe your relevant qualifications, career history and your range of skills, emphasising those skills relevant to the job on offer.

Q. Why did you choose this particular industry/career?
A. Describe your reasons for choosing your career, be brief.

Q. What is it about our company/role that has attracted you?
A. This is where all the preparation comes into play, so be specific. Make sure that your ideas correspond to the skills required by the company/role.

Q. What did you enjoy most about your degree course?
A. Talk about relevant modules and anything else you enjoyed as part of your course.

Q. What do you enjoy most about a particular job role?
A. Be positive, describe the job as interesting and diverse but do not overdo it – after all, you left it/moved on.

Q. What do you dislike about a particular job role?
A. The interviewer wants to ascertain whether the aspects you disliked are also present in the position in question. The best approach is to highlight an aspect of your previous/current company which differs from the company you are talking to.

Q. Why do you want to leave your job?
A. Never be negative about a current employer but demonstrate a desire to achieve other goals. It is best not to refer to salary as being a contributory factor unless you are being paid significantly less than the market rate.

Q. What career would you like to pursue?
A. Talk about the careers you are interested in and relate them to the job you are being
interviewed for.

Q. What are your strengths?
A. Choose 3 or 4 strengths and provide relevant examples. Strengths to consider are the ability to learn quickly, positive attitude, technical ability and determination to succeed.

Q. What are your weaknesses?
A. Do not say "None". Use a weakness such as lack of experience (not ability) on your part in an area that is not vital to the job. You could describe a weakness that could be considered a strength. Sometimes you are too demanding or perhaps you set yourself high targets.

Other questions to be prepared for
  • Why do you want to join us?
  • How much do you know about the role?
  • What skills and experience do you have that make you suitable for the position?
  • How do you cope under pressure?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Which part of this role is least attractive to you?
  • What has been your biggest achievement?
  • What is the biggest mistake you have made?
  • What are your long term goals?
  • Why should I employ you?
  • What skills can you bring to the company?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • Do you prefer to work as a team or an individual?
Also, be prepared to answer questions on:
  • gaps in your CV
  • why you’ve made those particular choices/career moves
  • what you would have done differently with hindsight
  • motivations
  • long-term career plan
  • problem-solving

It’s often a good idea to write all your thoughts and examples down on paper – this will help you to clarify any grey areas and give you more confidence in preparing for the interview.

Useful questions for you to ask at the interview

Always prepare several questions in case one or two of them get answered unintentionally in the interview prior to your opportunity to ‘ask any questions’. If this is the case, make sure that you don’t ask these questions as you will give the impression that you have not
listened in the interview.

  • Could you possibly provide more detailed information about the position?
  • Why are you recruiting for this position?
  • What is the company's induction and training programme?
  • What do you expect me to do in the first 6 months?
  • What are the company's growth plans?
  • What criteria is the company using to choose the successful individual?
  • When can I expect to hear some sort of feedback from your company?
  • What will be my responsibilities?
  • Where will I fit into the overall organisational structure?
  • Who will I report to?
  • What are the chances of advance/promotion in this position?
  • Do you provide assistance towards any professional qualifications?


Pick up on comments throughout the interview about which you can later ask questions, for example: ”You mentioned earlier that a new Environmental Manager has recently been appointed…how has this impacted on the rest of the team?”

Look on the company’s website for any ‘latest news’. This can form a great basis for asking
topical questions and also demonstrates that you have kept an eye on any recent company
developments, for example: “I notice that you’ve just opened a new office in Manchester, is
this part of a wider expansion campaign?”

Ask questions that display your enthusiasm, willingness and ability:

  • Can I meet the team?
  • Can I look around?
  • How soon do you want an employee in place?
  • What are the immediate improvements or priorities that need to be applied to this role?

Unless the interviewer specifically brings up money, questions about salary, benefits and holiday entitlements are not appropriate at the first interview.

Post-interview tips

After each interview, try and obtain as much feedback as possible about your performance.

  • Ask the interviewer how you performed and how you could perform better in the future.
  • Also ask what reservations they might have about your application and what impression you gave.
  • Keep a note of any feedback so that you can refer to it when preparing for future interviews.

A successful interview

If you have been successful in the interview process, you are likely to start feeling quite anxious in the weeks leading up to joining the new company. These feelings are quite normal as you naturally want to make a good impression and fit in with the team. The
following tips should ensure that your first few weeks go according to plan:

  • Arrive at work on time and stick to your lunch hour. If your team are busy, offering to help out will demonstrate your willingness to be a strong team player
  • Dress appropriately, according to how others are dressed in the office
  • Be part of a team – a team will lend support and help you feel less exposed, as well as providing a great learning ground
  • Learn your job – try not to demonstrate a ‘know it all’ attitude in your first few weeks as this can often put people off. Instead show that you are eager to learn and willing to listen to the advice others offer
  • Find a mentor – sometimes your supervisor may not be the best person.
  • Always stick to project deadlines

An unsuccessful interview

If you are unsuccessful in the recruitment process, don’t take it personally and try not to dwell on it. The best thing to do is to send another application out straight away to keep the ball rolling.

However, depending on which stage of the process you were rejected, you should address:

  • Your CV – Was it tailored to the specific job? Is the format correct?
  • Your interview techniques – Did you do enough preparation? Were there particular questions on which you struggled?

The important thing is not to become too disheartened, but treat it as a learning curve. Make sure that you get as much feedback as possible from the client to understand where you may have gone wrong.

Always try to remain optimistic and focused on your career search as throughout the process your interview skills and techniques will only get better!