Your complete interview guide

woman on mobile phone with glasses on completing a phone interview

Do you have a big interview coming up? The below expert end-to-end overview of the whole interview process gives insight into the best ways to prepare, how to handle key questions you might be asked and how to close the interview in a way that makes you stand out to a hiring manager so you land your dream job. 


Preparation, preparation, preparation

The better prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. As soon as you know your interview date, start working on your research:

  • Research the company. Research its history, mission, financials and competitors. Check out its social media presence and employee reviews. Don’t forget to look at latest news, services and product reviews too.
  • Review your current employment. Don’t forget to think back over your current and previous companies and review your key achievements at each.
  • Prepare questions to ask. You might want to ask about career development and training opportunities. Ask about the company’s plans, and about any topical issues that could affect its performance or its future.  

One of the most common things people get wrong when asked what they know about the company is to recite facts and figures from the company website. What employers are really looking for is someone who demonstrates they’ve put in extra research by discussing something relevant, unique and interesting about the company.

Opening the interview

Making a strong start gives you the best chance of interview success. Make sure you’re listening to the questions and tailoring your answers – you can prepare but you need to understand the nuances of the person interviewing you

  • Don’t be late! Arrive 10 minutes beforehand, make yourself known at reception, and sit and wait patiently. 
  • Look at your body language – are you tense and nervous or relaxed and poised? Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and make sure your muscles aren’t clenched.
  • Enter confidently. Shake hands firmly and sit down when asked. Find a relaxed position in your chair, but make sure you stay focused and alert at all times.
  • Show off your interpersonal skills. Make eye contact, and don’t forget to smile. Use non-verbal cues such as nodding to show that you are listening actively to what your interviewer is saying. Respond to questions with full answers, and don’t be afraid, when appropriate, to steer the conversation towards the key points you want to make.

Overfamiliarity is something that really puts hiring managers off of candidates. You should always let the interviewer lead the tone of the interview and not behave or speak informally unless the interviewer does so.

Common questions

There are some interview questions that you can almost guarantee will come up, in one form or another. Make sure you’ve got some good answers at the ready…

  • ‘So how was your journey?’: The interviewer may initiate some small talk, with a question like this to help put you at ease. They’re looking to test your interpersonal skills too, so just relax and answer naturally. Avoid one-word answers, and don’t be afraid to ask a relevant question or two back.
  • ‘Tell me about yourself’: What your interviewer is really asking here is, ‘What would you be like to work with – and what difference could you make to the organisation?’ So it’s vital to convey enthusiasm, dynamism and flexibility. Keep your answer to no longer than five minutes and avoid waffle – give a summary of your CV, not a detailed recap. Highlight why your skills would be important in the new role, and try to pick up examples that show how your skill set matches the requirements of the job description.  
  • ‘Why do you want to work for us?’: Look beyond the obvious points such as the size of the company or its current bottom line. Say something different that shows you have really done your research. For example, you could point to a new product or CSR initiative or a staff project presented on its social media pages. Show how the things you mention about the company align with your own personal values too.
  • ‘Tell us about your strengths’: Answering this question well is all about showing your ability to do the job, your commitment to work, and your ability to function effectively as part of a team. Choose three qualities that focus on how your strengths will benefit this specific role, and try to include a combination of hard and soft skills.   
  • ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ Think realistically about where this job can take you and how that fits with your career plans. You want to come across as ambitious, but not impatient or ruthless. Ideally you’ll find a way to show how your goals and ambitions align with those of the company.
  • ‘Tell us about your hobbies and interests’: This is a good chance to show another side of yourself and to hopefully build rapport with the interviewer. Look to surface something surprising or unexpected that will provoke curiosity and help you to stand out in the interviewer’s mind.   

Make sure you’re listening to the questions and tailoring your answers – you can prepare but you need to understand the nuances of the person interviewing you. You may have great intentions of what you plan to say in the interview but don’t force it if it’s not natural.

Competency-based questions

This is the part of the interview where you’ll be asked detailed questions about your experience. This could involve scenario-based questions, where you’ll be asked to give actual examples of work situations you’ve found yourself in. Always let the interviewer lead the tone of the interview and not behave or speak informally unless the interviewer does so.

  • Give specific examples, for instance showing how you were flexible, adaptable under pressure, and prepared to go the extra mile to get the job done.
  • Finish strong but don’t cover up difficulties. Your story will have more credibility if you don’t shy away from the challenges and setbacks you encountered. But make sure you conclude with a positive outcome that emerged as a result of your efforts, such as a satisfied client, an improved way of working, or a proven commercial benefit.  
  • Don’t panic if your mind goes blank. Take a deep breath, clear your throat, and have a sip of water. Take a pause and gather yourself before you begin again.
  • Don’t worry if the interviewer probes your answer. It shows they’re interested in your story, and want you to make it even better.

Closing the interview

The final impressions you make are almost as important as your first ones…

  • Take the opportunity to ask questions. When invited, ask two or three insightful questions that underline your interest in the role and the company. Avoid questions about salary and bonus – look instead to ask questions that reveal a motivation to add value to the company.
  • Be ready to flex. You may want to tweak or swap the questions you ask, depending on how the interview has gone or what you discussed. So be ready to think on your feet.
  • Stay polite and professional. There may be some more small talk towards the end of the conversation. Don’t get too relaxed – this is still part of the interview, and you want to leave a last positive impression. Shake hands firmly, maintain eye contact, and project a professional image as you head off to your next commitment.
  • Don’t forget the follow-up. Always send a brief, prompt email thanking the interviewer for their time, and alerting them to any changes in your movements or contact details should they wish to come back to you.  

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