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Interview tips

We’ve been in business for over 30 years so we know a thing or two about what it takes to nail a job interview. Drawing on the knowledge of our expert recruiters we’ve developed this comprehensive guide, designed to help you conduct successful interviews and therefore outshine the competition. Regardless of your level, this guide will help you to perfect your interview skills.

Download the Complete Interview Guide or read the chapter highlights below.

Interviews can be nerve-wracking even without any unforeseen hiccups such as getting stuck in traffic or spilling coffee on your brand new suit. These can easily throw you off your A-game, causing you to lose concentration and give a bad first impression to your new potential employer.

 

How can I make a great first impression in an interview?

First impressions can have a lasting impact on peoples' feeling about you as an employee, so the first 30 seconds of an interview are arguably the most important. The list of dos and don’ts for an interview can be tedious and never ending. As a leading recruitment specialist for thousands of UK market leading clients, we recommend the following tips to ensure you give a great first impression.

Dress to impress

Many hiring managers will form an opinion instantly from your appearance and how you carry yourself. How you appear to your interviewer is how you’ll be viewed by their clients too, so making sure you are dressed smart and professionally is the first step towards making your first impression count and winning your interviewer around. 

Consider looking into the company’s HR webpage to understand more about the type of business they run to give you an idea of what to wear. Not every employer is the same, so knowing what type of culture they have in the organisation will give you a step ahead of others in the running. 

Be on time

There is nothing worse than turning up to an interview late and without reasonable explanation. Being late shows the employer your lack of organisation and respect for others. This can be a reflection on your approach to the new opportunity in hand and can effectively jeopardise your chances of being invited back or even being interviewed at all. Avoid being late by setting alarms and arriving 15 minutes before the interview start time. First impressions can have a lasting impact on peoples' feeling about you as an employee, so the first 30 seconds of an interview are arguably the most important

Prepare for questions

Every job interview will vary, sales interview questions will not necessarily be the same as someone going for a job in finance, so you can’t prepare for all potential questions and some may catch you off guard. 

However there are some questions that are very popular among employers when screening potential candidates. By preparing confident answers to some of the more common interview questions you can really impress the interviewer as well as give yourself an advantage over other candidates. Learn about the seven most common killer interview questions asked here

Do your research 

Reinforce a good first impression by being prepared for the interview. Have a backlog of knowledge about the company including any recent press or news coverage to really emphasise your professionalism and interest in working for this company. Have questions ready to ask and impress them with areas of key interest to you. 

Being prepared is vital to give a good first impression, however, pitfalls can often be unavoidable, so being prepared for the worst is also important. The ability to move on and do your best despite anything unexpected can also show the potential employer your perseverance and dedication. By following the above tips you can achieve a great first interview impression.

The first few moments of your interview can have a decisive impact on how well the rest of it goes. Here’s how to start strong – together with some cautionary tales of what not to do from real interviewers…

 

What should I avoid doing in an interview?

 

1. The interview starts immediately

The interview starts long before you shake hands and sit down around the table. You never know who you might bump into as you make your way to the interview – for all you know, your interviewer could be in the same coffee-bar queue as you. So make sure you project a friendly, confident, professional air from the moment you set off.

Doubtless you’ll have made sure you arrive early. Give yourself time to have a comfort break and make sure you’re hydrated. Make conversation with the receptionist, switch off your phone and take in your surroundings – you might notice something that will make a useful small-talk topic later. Don’t try and cram in any last-minute facts – you want to come across as calm and organised, not flustered and under-prepared. 

What not to do:

‘I once heard someone standing outside our building, smoking furiously and complaining loudly on their phone about the early start time of their meeting and wondering aloud why they were even there. When I got to my next interview, I realised to my dismay the noisy moaner was my next candidate! Not a great start…’  

2. Create a strong first impression

First impressions count, and non-verbal cues matter even more than verbal ones. So in those first few minutes, it’s all about smiling confidently, shaking hands firmly, making eye contact and generally looking as if you’re glad to be there and you want the job. In everything you do, project an attitude of energy, enthusiasm and interest. 

Clothes-wise, try to match your dress style to that of the company you’re meeting. You should be able to get a good idea of the company’s typical dress code through its website and social media output, especially any content about its working culture, and your recruiter can advise you too. You want to project some personality and charisma, but you also want to come across as a good fit, so if in doubt always err on the formal side.

What not to do:

‘One candidate I interviewed asked for a glass of water while they waited. It was icy-cold and they must have spilled it just before we met, so my first impression was a very damp, chilly handshake. So always hold your drink in your left hand!’ 

3. Be ready for the small talk

Getting the small talk right (or wrong) can have big consequences. It’s a way for people to build rapport and affinity, and start to generate that elusive, intangible quality of ‘chemistry’ that characterises all effective business relationships.

So as part of your interview preparation, it’s a good idea to think ahead to some likely topics that might come up, so as to help keep the conversation flowing smoothly. The key is to come up with topics where you have a shared interest, so that you’re able to both ask and answer credible questions.  

For example, if you see a picture of your interviewer’s family, perhaps you could ask about them – and be ready with a family anecdote of your own. Or if you’re a sports fan and you spot signs that your interviewer is too, perhaps you could ask a suitable question that you’ve also got an interesting answer to (‘Do you ever get to the matches?’ ‘So who’s going to win the Cup this year?’ etc).

Think, too, about topical themes. For example, has your potential employer been in the news recently? In each case, make sure you have an interesting thought of your own to contribute too.  

What not to do:

‘One candidate I interviewed recently asked me a non-stop string of questions about my family, the job, the company, things in the news – all sorts of things. But he didn’t really have much to say himself and he didn’t really wait to hear my answer before asking the next question, so he just came across as rather anxious and scattered.’

4. Be on message from the outset

Politicians coached in handling the media are always advised to have a maximum of three key messages to get across, which they should stick to and repeat throughout any interview. The first few moments of your interview can have a decisive impact on how well the rest of it goes

Similarly, it’s a good idea to have two or three key points that you want to make about what you have to offer and what you’re looking for – for example, ‘I’m ready for the challenge of managing a team’, ‘I combine compliance experience with technical expertise’, ‘in my career, I’ve developed an extensive digital transformation skillset’.

These are the three key points that you want your interviewer to remember about you. So try and work them in naturally whenever you can, even in the first few minutes. It’s also important to have a ready answer for some of the most common questions that come up early on – such as ‘Tell me why you want this job’ and ‘What’s your understanding of what this job involves?’

What not to do:

‘I always start by asking people to explain what our business does. This deceptively simple question floors lots of people – it’s amazing how many people struggle with it, perhaps because they’re attending several interviews in a row and haven’t made the time to do much research. But if you don’t come across as having a firm grasp of the company and why it’s hiring, the interviewer can only conclude that you’re not really that bothered about the job.’ 

5. First impressions count

Survey after survey highlights the importance of getting the first few seconds and minutes of your job interview right…

  • 6 in ten managers say an interviewee’s dress sense has a big impact on their employability (source: monster.co.uk survey)
  • 33 per cent of bosses say they know within 90 seconds whether they will hire someone (source: Classes and Careers)
  • It can take someone about a 1/10 of a second to form an impression of your trustworthiness – and that impression rarely changes later (source: Psychological Science)
  • Looking your interlocutor in the eye can help to raise their perception of your intelligence (source: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin)
  • More conservative colours such as blue and black are a safer bet in interviews, according to one survey of over 2000 hiring professionals. Orange is the worst! (source: CareerBuilder)
 
For more information on preparing for an interview see seven killer interview questions you can prepare for. 

 

 

How can I prepare for and answer common interview questions?

While no two job interviews will follow the exact same format, there are some questions that are very popular among employers when screening potential candidates.

By preparing confident answers to some of the more common interview questions, you can give yourself the edge over other potential candidates.

Here we explore some of the more common interview questions, how best to answer them and how you can prepare your responses most effectively.

 

What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

An interviewer will be impressed if you have considered your short-term and long-term goals. Talk about the kind of job you'd eventually like to do and the various steps you will take to get there.

Show that you have the ambition and determination to make the most of every job you have held to get where you want to be.

Always relate this back to the position you're interviewing for and be realistic in terms of your aspirations. Avoid telling the interviewer that you want their job.

What are your strengths/weaknesses?

This question is often seen as challenging by many candidates, even those with significant experience. However, if approached correctly it is easily possible to avoid 'bragging' when discussing your strengths or seeming excessively negative when talking about your perceived weaknesses.

Strengths

Based on the job description, choose three examples of traits the employer is looking for and give examples of how you have used these strengths in a work situation. Ideally, include a mixture of tangible skills, such as technical or linguistic abilities, and intangible skills, such as management experience.  

Weaknesses 

The best approach here is to pick a trait that you have already made positive steps to address.

"Consider how you have approached your perceived weaknesses in the past and what you have done to address them," commented Habiba Khatoon, director at Robert Walters.

"If your IT ability is not at the level it could be, state this as a weakness before telling the interviewer about training courses or time spent outside work hours you have used to improve your skills."

Why should I hire you?

Focus on your assets - what makes you different and where do your major strengths lie? Outline what you can offer in terms of experience, personality and enthusiasm.

"The job description should give you a good indication of what they are looking for," added Habiba Khatoon. 

"Make sure you address the particular qualities the employer has stated they are looking for and provide specific examples of what you have done so far in your career that demonstrates how you are particularly suited for the role." 

Tell me about yourself / your work experience

This is usually the opening question for most interviews and can be one of the most important. First impressions are key, so keep it brief – know your CV inside out and focus on delivering a one to two minute advertisement for yourself, highlighting the key achievements in your employment history. Know what you want to say and how you are going to say it beforehand.

"Begin your answer with an overview of your highest qualification then run through the jobs you've held so far in your career," added Habiba Khatoon.

"You can follow the same structure as your CV, giving examples of achievements and the skills you've picked up along the way. Don't go into too much detail - your interviewer will ask you to expand on any areas where they'd like more information."

Why do you want this job?

Do your research - this gives you the chance to discuss all you know about the job and the company and why you are a good match for them. The interviewer is listening for an answer that indicates you've given this some thought, so do your homework properly.

"You should have a good inside knowledge of the company's values, mission statement, development plans and products. Describe how your goals and ambition match the company ethos and how you would relish the opportunity to work for them," advised Habiba Khatoon.

What are your salary expectations?

While you should never mention salary unless asked or prompted, it's important to understand the value of someone with your skills. Be flexible - indicate that you are willing to negotiate for the right opportunity and confirm that you value the position strongly.

"All too often, problems arise from pricing yourself out of the position or stating a figure less than the company is willing to pay. If a guideline salary has been provided with the job description, you could mention this and say it's around the amount you're looking for," Habiba Khatoon continued. 

What skills or experience do you offer that will help you succeed in this role? 

You should use the interview as an opportunity to say something interesting about your skills and experiences that relate back to the role at hand. Remember that interviewers will be looking for you to demonstrate key skills, so prepare examples in advance that you can call on when required.

Examples of the key attributes employers look for include:

  • Project management skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Demonstrating sound technical knowledge, backed up by good business understanding
  • Delivering on targets or goals

 

Do your research

Above all, it is vital that you do your research. Make sure you have a look at the company website and understand as much as you can about their business and how they operate, as well as the products or services they provide. It is also important to go prepared with questions to ask them – after all, the interview is a two-way process. Don’t be afraid to write questions down ahead and take them with you.

First impressions are key, so keep it brief – know your CV inside out and focus on delivering a one to two minute advertisement of yourself.

Web-based interviews are on the rise, making it more important than ever for candidates to interview comfortably over the web. 

Hiring managers from the world's leading businesses continue to stress how important it is for candidates to perform well during a virtual interview, and share the same key tips to getting it right. 

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen not only an increase in the frequency of Skype interviews but a preference from some of our clients to use them,” comments James Franklin, Associate Director at Robert Walters.

“While they can set some limitations, candidates who can prepare well for these types of interviews will increase their chances of impressing their interviewer over someone else in the process”

 

Six top tips for successful Skype interviews

 

1. Dress for success

Dressing in the same way as you would a face-to-face interview will put you in the right frame of mind for your interview, plus it will negate any embarrassment if you need to move mid-interview. Dark colours are typically best, and avoid stark white as well as overly busy patterns. High gloss lips and glittery jewellery can also be distracting.

2. Remain engaged with your interviewer

Looking into the camera, rather than your image on the screen will help you look as engaged as possible, giving the impression that you are looking into the interviewer’s eyes. While you’ll want to keep your posture straight, leaning forward toward the camera slightly can increase eye contact and allow the interviewer better read your facial expressions.

3. Consider the setting for your interview

Make sure your interview space is distraction free and mirrors a business setting, keeping to a blank or neutral background. Before you start, test the angle of your lighting to avoid being shrouded in shadow and to make sure it’s flattering on your skin tone.

4. Be careful reading from notes

Notes can be particularly handy in a Skype interview, but if you use them, you’ll need to make sure your reference to them is extremely subtle. Reading notes or sounding too rehearsed will disrupt the natural flow of conversation, making you look under-prepared.

5. Anticipate technical issues

If you experience a technical glitch like a weak connection or interference, always ask the interviewer to repeat the question. If the problem continues, politely mention it and reconnect to avoid missing any crucial information. Monitoring the speed and tone of your speech will also prepare you for any delays in communication, while making acknowledgement sounds like ‘hmm’ or ‘yes’ will reassure the interviewer that you can hear them.

Remember to test your equipment well in advance as well as immediately before the interview begins.

6. Finish on the right note

As with any face-to-face interview, you’ll need to find the opportunity to summarise your main points as well as to thank the interviewer for his or her time, while making sure you confirm any next steps.

Other things to consider;

  • Your username – think about what kind of first impression this will create. Does it position you as a professional?
  • Body language – centring yourself a medium distance away from the camera, keeping the upper halves of your arms showing as well as allowing for some free space above your head will allow the interviewer to best read your body language.
  • Interruptions – inform those around you of the interview so you are not disturbed.
  • Documents – have a printed version of your CV handy as well as any other necessary documentation. Keeping your email account open is also a good idea in case you need to share any documents with your interviewer.
  • Headphones – can be typically more reliable than speakers and are far less likely to create feedback. If you use them, make sure they are subtle in appearance so as to not distract the interviewer.

 

An interview isn't just a chance for your potential employer to learn about you.

It’s your opportunity to establish whether joining a particular company will benefit your career and ultimately, whether there is a suitable fit between the two.

Asking the interviewer questions about the role shows that you are engaged and interested in the company and demonstrates your initiative.
 

What questions should you ask the interviewer at interview?

 

1.  Why has this position become available?

Understanding why a position has become available is important - the previous incumbent may have left or the role could be newly created. If so, why was created? This will inform you about the management and growth expectations of the company.

Depending on the answer you may want highlight particular areas where you have strong skills.

If the role is newly created focus on your ability to innovate and take initiative, while if you are replacing a former member of staff consider times where you have been able to develop and refine existing processes. 

2. How will my success be measured in this role?

Understanding how success in your role will be measured is key, particularly when providing examples of past experience where you have excelled at a task. 

This is useful to know as each business operates differently. It will show what type of approach the company takes with its employees and is useful for you to think about whether the approach suits you as a person.

3. What can I expect in terms of development and support?

This question will show that you are keen on growing, learning and staying with the company. It will also allow you to find out more whether the role offers what you are looking for in the long-term.

Employers are increasingly coming to recognise the importance candidates place on career development and progression and the majority are keen to support their staff in doing so.

By outlining your career goals and seeking to understand how your potential can help you achieve them you can demonstrate your reliability and commitment, assuring the employer that you are a viable long-term investment.

4. Where does the job fit into the team structure?

Understanding the way you will support and interact with the rest of the team will be important to your success in any role, and showing an interest in this early on shows your employer that you recognise the importance of collaboration at work. 

This line of questioning will provide you with the chance to see how you can progress within the team and give you an opportunity to understand the team you will be a part off.

5.  What do you like about working for this company?

Gaining an insight into someone that is already part of the company will help you to find out more about whether the cultural fit is what you are looking for as the interviewer is likely to step out of a corporate role.

You should aim to demonstrate that you have thought about the role beyond what may be have been covered over the course of the interview.

Showing an interest in what the interviewer thinks of the working culture of the company effectively demonstrates that you are considering aspects of the role beyond the job description.

6. What is the next step after the interview?

Although it can be easily forgotten, this question is vital to ask. It shows the interviewer that you have thought about the next stages and provides you with an indication on whether you need to prepare more. 

The interview is not just about seeing whether you are the right fit for the organisation, but it’s also about making sure you feel confident about your ability to do the job and in turn, making sure you feel like the role would be a successful career move.

Job interviews can be stressful situations and it's easy to make mistakes, either due to nerves or a lack or preparation.

With employers placing a growing importance on soft skills across all professions, showing that you can conduct yourself well during an interview can be just as important as demonstrating strong technical abilities.

So what are some of the most common pitfalls to avoid?

It’s an all too common occurrence that we see extremely talented professionals let themselves down at their interview, either by not addressing their interviewer in the correct manner or failing to communicate their desire for the role effectively

 

What are some common interview pitfalls to avoid?

 

1. Showing off

When you’re in an unfamiliar environment and under pressure to impress, it can be easy to oversell yourself in a way that comes across as disingenuous. You will want to highlight your strengths to the interviewer but it's also extremely important to show that you are self aware and recognise the areas where you can improve. Showing your interviewer that you are taking steps to address areas where you have room for improvement can be a very effective way to communicate confidence and show initiative. 

2. Fabricating answers

If you’re hit with a curveball question, try to avoid diving straight in with an answer. Instead, take a moment to consider all elements of the question so that you can provide an honest and considered response. Often, rushing in with an answer can lead to unnecessary fabrication, even if this isn't your intention.

3. Forgetting your manners

Forgetting some of the basic social graces during an interview can steer it in the wrong direction, even from the first point of contact. We suggest that you;

  • Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early – arriving early will not only give you enough time to collect your thoughts, it will provide the breathing room you need to sign yourself in as well as navigate your way to the interview room
  • Stand up to meet your interviewer – if you’re already seated when the interviewer enters the room, make sure you stand up straight to greet them, keeping eye contact as you address them
  • Firm handshake – when you first engage with your interviewer, make sure to give them a firm handshake, looking into their eyes to show that you are enthusiastic to be there
  • Thank them for their time – before the interview comes to a complete close, make sure you take a moment to thank your interviewer for their time and for considering your application

4. Not asking questions

Posing questions before the end of your interview is a great way to demonstrate that you’ve fully considered the position as well as your potential fit within the business. This is a step which should not be missed. Likewise, asking questions at the correct times throughout the interview will stimulate a natural flow of conversation, demonstrating your ability to think critically as well as naturally engage with stakeholders.

Being called for an interview after you’ve applied for a job means you’re one step closer to your next career move. But you’re not quite there yet. How you perform in the interview is likely to mean the difference between getting the job and not being successful.

Make sure you avoid these five mistakes job seekers commonly make. 

 

What are common mistakes job seekers make?

 

1.  Not doing enough research

Researching a company you’re applying to will take time, but you must be prepared to invest the time needed if you want to perform well in the interview. In our experience, some job seekers don’t do this thoroughly enough. 

It’s really important that you can speak confidently and intelligently about what your potential employer does. You should know specific facts about the organisation, including:

It’s really important that you can speak confidently and intelligently about what your potential employer does.

  • Their history, financial position, mission and products/services
  • The market in which they operate
  • Their main competitors

2.  Not being specific in your answers

You’re almost certainly going to be asked why you want the role or why you want to work for the particular company or organisation. When you’re asked this, you should give a specific reply and not talk in vague terms about why you’d like any job in this sector or industry. If can’t explain clearly why you’d like this job, you will put off employers. 

Instead, you should be enthusiastic and speak specifically about the aspects of the organisation that appeal to you, such as its products or reputation, or the key responsibilities of the role.

3.  Not knowing your CV in detail

You don’t have to know every word of your CV off by heart, but you do have to be comfortable talking about what you’ve done, what you achieved and why you moved on. 

Don’t assume that just because the information is in your CV, interviewers won’t ask questions about your background, including your responsibilities in previous roles and educational results. 

So make sure you review your CV before your interview and practice how you will respond to any potential questions about the details you’ve provided. Most importantly, make sure that you can articulate how your accomplishments to date relate to the role you are applying for.

4.  Criticising previous employers or role

No matter how tempting it is, it’s not a good idea to make derogatory remarks about your current boss, previous boss, current employer or companies you’ve worked for in the past.  It’s fine to talk about that with your friends but not when you’re trying to persuade an employer to hire you. 

They won’t know the background to why you and your current or past employers don’t see eye to eye and you could also open yourself up to an uncomfortable line of questioning. 

Try to find the positive aspects of your employment history and focus on these instead.

5.  Being too relaxed in the interview

Don’t fall into the trap of being too familiar with your interviewer/s, no matter how relaxed you may feel.  An interview is one of the more formal work situations you’re likely to encounter and being familiar and joking around are unlikely to help you get the job. 

It’s important for you to be friendly and engaging and to demonstrate your interpersonal skills, but you must be professional at all times, even if you feel you have a good rapport with the interviewer.

With existing and upcoming regulatory pressures meaning that banks are under increasing scrutiny, banks are hiring more and more projects and change management professionals.

Pre-employment screening in the banking and financial services jobs market is stringent – especially for contract roles. If you make sure you’re prepared for what’s involved by reading what employers typically look for, you may be able to minimise the delays and speed up the process.

"Increasing numbers of banking and financial services organisations carry out pre-employment screening on new hires, whether on a permanent or contract basis," says Liz McKeever, Associate Director at Robert Walters.

"This ensures that they meet the legislative requirements enforced upon them and are sure that those who have access to their databases are qualified for the job," he adds.

 

Why should I prepare for pre-employment screening?

Increasing numbers of banking and financial services organisations carry out pre-employment screening on new hires, whether on a permanent or contract basis. 

The majority of firms require a full screening to be completed prior to a contract’s start date so you will not be able to start the job until it’s been finalised. Some of the documentation you’ll need might take time to get hold of, so we recommend that you pull all the information required together as soon as you can.

Key documentation required

The documentation you’ll need to provide does vary from one employer to another. To give an example of documentation that can be prepared beforehand, common requirements may include (but are not limited to):

  • Proof of right to work: for example, a passport or national identity document showing that you are a citizen of a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland, residence permit or permanent residence card
  • Proof of address (up to five years); such as an original bank statement or utility bill. This information may be cross-checked with the Electoral Register so make sure you register to vote if you’re eligible to do so
  • UK and international credit checks (up to six years): this is designed to find out if you have any county court judgments (CCJs) registered against you, if you’ve been declared bankrupt or entered into an individual voluntary arrangement, in the last six years. It can also be used to verify your past addresses for up to six years
  • Employment and education references (up to five years)
  • Proof of activity for gaps in employment (six weeks or more)
  • UK and international criminal record check

Be prepared so you can start your job quicker

Successful applicants will usually be informed of exact requirements at the time of hire, if not before. But if you address these issues before you are even asked, you’ll be able to start your job as normal.

As employers refine their recruitment processes to improve their ability to identify the best professionals, competency based questions are becoming increasingly popular in interviews. 

While these questions can be challenging, they also give professionals the opportunity to emphasise their accomplishments and valuable transferable skills at the interview stage. Ensuring that you effectively highlight your strengths is key to success.

 

Top tips for competency-based interview questions


1. Preparation

As with any interview, preparation is key. Prior to the interview identify examples of specific targets you’ve met or work you’ve done that relates to the job specification. The personal specification and key skills highlighted in the job description are good indicators of the type of questions that will be asked at the interview.

Many employers will want you to provide specific examples of past work and relate it to how you will transfer those skills and your experience into the new role.

"Employers want you to provide specific examples of past work and relate it to how you will transfer those skills and your experience into the new role," says Thomas Mullin, Associate Director at Robert Walters.

"Take the time to consider times you have excelled in previous roles and identify where you have demonstrated the skills the employer is looking for."

2. Rehearse your answers 

Answers to competency based questions need to be delivered in an articulate, detailed and structured way. Candidates must be able to talk the interviewer through their examples, explaining the process used to work through problems or hit targets.

“Many professional roles require excellent organisational and time management skills, along with the ability to handle multiple tasks efficiently and effectively," adds Thomas.

"Think through how your examples highlight these three things to the interviewer before the interview, if your examples don’t highlight this that you may need for the job, try and pick a different example that will.”

3. Pay attention to the interviewer 

Reading clues given by the interviewer as to what they are looking for is key in a competency based interview. As you explain your examples, take note of whether the interviewer’s body language or behaviour is generating a positive response.

The strongest candidates are those who can adapt their answers and behaviours to what they know the interviewer is looking for and present them in ways that influence the interviewer. Take your cues from their level of formality to show that you are paying attention to the situation and positioning yourself in a way to help in whatever way you can. 

4. Try to anticipate questions before they are asked 

Having a good idea of what the interviewer will ask you is a key part of the preparation process. If you have considered the likely competency-based questions beforehand, you are less likely to be caught off guard and more prepared to give a great answer. 

Common competency based questions at an interview include:

  • Describe a time that you had to work to a tight deadline, while still managing your normal workload 
  • Give an example of a complex project or task and how you made sure to see the task through to the end
  • Can you describe an instance where you developed a strategy to stay organised and ensure you get all your work done under pressure?
  • Describe a time you had multiple projects on – how did you manage your time effectively and prioritise your tasks?

5. Be yourself 

“Although part of a competency based interview is selling yourself, you don’t want to come off as fake or insincere. Professionals can tell when someone is trying too hard to give the “correct” answer rather than a genuine one,” Thomas continues.

Give relevant, honest and structured answers that showcase your experience while letting your personality shine through. Employers don’t want a textbook answer; they want to see the way that you interact and how you present your information. 

If you have a friend looking for a new job, why not be rewarded for recommending Robert Walters? Learn more about our excellent referral scheme and refer your friends today.

 

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When interviewing for a job, you'll likely meet with a number of key stakeholders, including representatives from the HR department and the line manager – but how do you best prepare for each of these different types of interview?

Research from Robert Walters shows that an HR representative is involved in two thirds of interviews, and they are often the early gatekeepers in the interview process. You need to ensure you are prepared for each interview in different ways.

While many job seekers focus on preparing for an interview with their prospective new line manager, who is usually a professional in their field, your interview with an HR manager will be very different. The HR manager and the line manager will likely be looking for different qualities and assessing you on different criteria, so you need to be prepared for both.

 

How to prepare for interviews with an HR manager vs. line manager

The HR manager

While your interview with the line manager is usually your ‘make or break’ interview, you will often have to first pass interviews with internal recruiters and the HR Manager.

HR professionals will typically delve deeper into the human elements of the role, your ability to satisfy these and where you will fit within the structure of the team. They will focus on your motivations and cultural fit, however they will also look at your fit within the team, including;

  1. Your leadership potential
  2. Your capacity to engage in team work
  3. How you might communicate and engage with people across the business
  4. Your ability to learn and mentor others

HR interviews will also gauge your commitment to joining the business. You will need to demonstrate a strong understanding of the company and its operations, where it currently fits within the market as well as what you consider may affect the business over the coming years.

Likewise, you should be prepared to discuss how you feel about your career progression to date, including where you feel your strengths lie and where you would like to continue your development.

The line manager

Line managers will expect you to be prepared for curve ball questions, as well as to demonstrate your technical capabilities and where you can bring real commercial value to the role. These interviews will likely cover all bases including:

  1. Technical questions
  2. The knowledge and technical skills you can bring from outside of the organisation
  3. A considered and unbiased summary of your strengths and limitations
  4. Your personal qualities, why you want the role and your fit within the organisation

Have you been asked to meet a senior stakeholder?

The HR manager and the line manager will likely be looking for different qualities and assessing you on different criteria, so you need to be prepared for both.

If you’re meeting a very senior interviewer who is outside of your direct team, you'll need to consider why they are there. What do they want to be assured of before you enter the business? Is it your capacity to lead? Your cultural fit? Your ability to partner with other areas of the business? This will be different for every position so make sure to think about this critically, trying to tick all of the final boxes.

These final opinions matter and they may just form the first impressions which will guide your onward progression.

Questions you may want to ask them include:

  • What is their experience of the department?
  • How might you improve the synergy within the team?
  • How does the organisation’s greater goals affect your future within the position? 

Pre-employment screening in the banking and financial services jobs market is stringent – especially for contract roles. If you make sure you’re prepared for what’s involved by reading what employers typically look for, you may be able to minimise the delays and speed up the process.

 

How can I prepare for pre-employment screenings?

Why should I prepare for pre-employment screening?

An ever increasing number of banking and financial services organisations carry out pre-employment screening on new hires, whether on a permanent or contract basis. As the majority of firms require full screening to be completed prior to start date, you will not be able to start the job until it’s finalised. Some of the documentation you’ll need might take time to get hold of so we recommend that you pull all the information required together as soon as you can.

An ever increasing number of banking and financial services organisations carry out pre-employment screening on new hires, whether on a permanent or contract basis. 

Key documentation required

Exactly what firms will ask for varies according to employer. To give an example of documentation that can be prepared beforehand, common requirements may include (but are not limited to):

  • Proof of right to work: for example, a passport or national identity document showing that you are a citizen of a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland, residence permit or permanent residence card

  • Proof of address (up to five years); such as an original bank statement or utility bill. This information may be cross checked with the Electoral Register so make sure you register to vote if you’re eligible to do so

  • UK and international credit checks (up to six years): this is designed to find out if you have any county court judgments (CCJs) registered against you, if you’ve been declared bankrupt or entered into an individual voluntary arrangement, in the last six years. It can also be used to verify your past addresses for up to six years

  • Employment and education references (up to five years)

  • Proof of activity for gaps in employment (six weeks or more)

  • UK and international criminal record check

Pre-empt these requirements and start your job quicker

Successful applicants will usually be informed of exact requirements at the time of hire, if not before. But if you address these issues before you are even asked, you’ll be able to start your job as normal.

More frequently, employers are looking outside of just a candidate's CV to choose their next employees, making the interview an integral part of the recruitment process. Additional knowledge of a company's values, how they operate and key stakeholders can give you a competitive advantage over other candidates. 

Preparing for an interview by researching more about the company can not only help you land your dream job but will give you the best possible insight for what to expect in the role and what the company is all about.

We discuss some best practice tips to help you gain further insight into a company and help you stand out in an interview:

 

How can I stand out in an interview?

Search the web wisely

The first destination when researching an organisation is often the company website. But you can't leave it there.

Start by doing a web search for the company, looking at news articles and social media networks to gain a wider perspective on the company’s positioning in the market, their products and practices as well as their organisational culture.

Before arriving at the interview, you’ll need a well-rounded opinion of the company as well as being confident discussing this when asked. Questions you’ll need to consider include; what is the company known for in the market? What is it’s strategy for the future? And, what are the organisation’s core values?


Keeping up to date with news stories involving or impacting the company will provide an instant talking point should you ever need it. 

Similarly, it can be useful to research leaders within the organisation, ascertaining where their remit lies and whether their background aligns with yours in any way. LinkedIn and other professional networking platforms are a great source of information, helping you consider the types of projects they might lead and why you would want to work with them. True business partnering skills are often a valuable asset and your interviewers will want to see that you take an active interest in a range of stakeholders within the business.

Remember to read the small print and request further information


When visiting the company website, make sure to review any financial or investor information available, requesting extra information if possible and signing up to company newsletters. Holding insight on the company’s performance indicates a genuine commitment to working with the company for the long term. Things to consider include; annual turnover or current share price, performance trends, the current economic outlook and how this may potentially affect your role.

Watch the news

Keeping up to date with news stories involving or impacting the company will provide an instant talking point should you ever need it. Make sure you remember where you first saw the story, who it was discussing and what potential impact this may have on the company. On the morning of the interview, make sure you’re abreast of any latest developments and be ready to discuss them should they arise.

If your interviewers have been quoted in news stories, consider what these quotes might reveal about them personally as well as their position within the company. Anticipating this in advance will allow you to adjust your behaviour to engage with them as best possible in the interview.  

Speak to your recruitment consultant


Remember that your recruitment consultant can provide a lot of guidance outside of what can be found in popular media. Often they have worked with the company for some time and will be able to prepare you for differences in interviewer personalities and styles, as well as where people may have potentially faltered in the past. Likewise, they will be able to tell you why the position has become available as well as advising you on what the interview process should involve.

Presentations are an increasingly common feature of the interview process. 

Employers may ask you to prepare a short presentation on a chosen topic, or let you pick your own, to gauge your strengths in areas such as creativity, organisation, project management or communication skills. 

Below are some quick tips to help you shine in an interview presentation and land that dream job.  

Structure counts

A clear structure helps ensure your presentation stands out from other applicants. Think hard about the areas the interviewer wants you to cover and make sure the presentation flows naturally between each of these topics.

Here's an example of an easy-to-follow presentation structure:

  • Basic opening – provide a brief overview of what the presentation is about
  • Explain – elaborate on the points you wish to convey, using bullet points or numbered slides to highlight each area
  • Summarise – offer a concise summary of the presentation

Think outside the box

PowerPoint, used by companies and individuals around the world, is the most widely recognised presentation tool. Indeed, some employers will specifically require you to demonstrate your PowerPoint skills.

If the company does not clarify this, however, consider using other formats to highlight your creativity and technical skills.

Prezi is a unique way to create presentations in a non-linear 3D format, allowing you to zoom in and out of different bullet points as you present. 

Haiku Deck is another useful option if you're looking to inject some imagination into your presentation, offering access to an extensive image library.

For something simple and effective, Google Presentations is another good alternative to PowerPoint.

Less is more

Keep your presentation concise to give time for follow-up questions. Restrict yourself to 4-5 slides for a 5 minute presentation or 7-8 for a 10 minute presentation.

Avoid text heavy slides. If your presentation requires more detail, this can be provided in a supporting hard copy handout.

Rehearse your presentation

Rehearsing is essential to feeling confident on the day. Work through everything you want to say, reminding yourself to take breaths and maintain good eye contact throughout. Familiarise yourself closely with the contents of the entire presentation to minimise nerves on the day.

Manage your time

Make sure your presentation fills the amount of time you have been given. Too short and it may appear you haven't put in enough effort; too long and you risk criticism of your organisational abilities. To get it right, run through several timed rehearsals of your finished presentation.

Expect questions

Even if you give the best possible presentation, most interviewers will still want to ask questions. Don’t be discouraged by this: it is not meant to reflect badly on you. In fact, this is your chance to impress the interviewer further.

Try and prepare yourself for questions, making sure your answers are honest and concise. 

Rehearsing is essential to feeling confident on the day. Work through everything you want to say, reminding yourself to take breaths and maintain good eye contact throughout.

 

What questions should I avoid asking at an interview?

During an interview, although the company are assessing whether you will be a good fit for the team, you are also making sure the company and role will suit you and your lifestyle. To gain as much as you need to during your interview, it’s important to have a back pocket of interview questions for your future employer. While most of your questions may be smart and well-considered, there are some questions that are red flags for interviewers. 

To make sure your winning interview doesn’t go south, here’s the questions you should avoid asking at all costs.

What does the person do in this role?

A detailed job description is usually always provided with any job application and should outline the key responsibilities required of the successful candidate. Asking this question suggests a lack of enthusiasm and interest in the role from not having read the job description properly. If you do have require additional information about the role, ask for this prior to the interview as you want to know what you’re signing up for.

What does the company do?

Rule number one of entering any job interview is having a good background knowledge of the company behind you. Not only will asking this question show that you haven’t spent the time to do any research, it could also make the interviewer question your capability to do the job.

Do you have any other positions apart from this one?

This question displays arrogance in your abilities to do any job. It also shows a lack of interest in the role at hand.

although the company are assessing whether you will be a good fit for the team, you are also making sure the company and role will suit you and your lifestyle.

Will I have long hours?

Although it is important to find out what your working hours will be, this question could make you come off as being lazy. Instead, ask the question ‘What are the working hours for this role?’ or ‘Is there a positive work-life balance?’

How much holiday do you offer?

Any benefits you receive with the job will be discussed once you receive a job offer and not discussed in the interview. Asking questions around what benefits you will receive can undermine the interest you have in the role and might make it look like you assume you have succeeded in landing the position.

What will my salary be?

Salaries are usually displayed on the job advert to give you a rough idea as to what you can expect. Any questions surrounding the salary should be discussed at the time of the job offer and not during the interview.

Do you have an interview approaching? Head to our career advice insights for essential tips and advice to help you stand out.

 

How can I prepare for managerial interviews?

Interviewing for senior or managerial positions is very different to mid-weight or junior roles. Not only are expectations higher, the process itself is often longer and more intensive.

Managerial interviews are typically conducted in multiple stages, with two, three or sometimes four rounds of interviews. You could meet a range of individuals, from line and hiring managers to senior stakeholders and even members of the team you hope to take on.

To help you prepare, we’ve asked some of our recruitment experts to share their insider knowledge in time for your next managerial interview.

1. Prepare for scenario-style questions

Your success in any interview process is based on your ability to offer detailed examples of the skills laid out in your CV.

Questions that require candidates to apply past experience to new situations are common when interviewing for a managerial post. These might touch upon your leadership skills, management style or even potential issues within your team or work environment, enabling the hiring manager to gauge your ability to adapt your current skillset to meet the requirements of the role. 

Louise Tallboy-Wood, associate director at Walters People London, advises: “As a recruiter, I would focus very particularly on the candidate’s CV, zooming in on certain projects they have led. This would help me assess their people management and conflict management skills and enable me to really understand the depth of their experience.

“A strong candidate should also have the ability to be specific when it comes to deliverables. They should be able to give detailed examples of what they were targeted on and how they achieved it.”

2. Own your mistakes

When interviewing, it’s natural to try to focus the discussion on your successes, talking up your most impressive achievements and skirting around those you are less proud of.

However, talking about the difficulties you’ve faced might actually make you a more desirable candidate than someone who appears to have had an easy ride.

Gary Darlington, associate director at Robert Walters Manchester, talks about how overselling yourself might cause interviewers to doubt your experience.

“I always like a candidate who has the confidence to acknowledge their previous mistakes or failures and talk about how they managed to bounce back from or overcome these setbacks,” he says.

“Resilience and a positive attitude are important in today’s disruptive market. A candidate who is forthcoming in showing his or her vulnerability and ability to survive in this fast-moving world would convince a hiring manager to hire them over someone who sells themselves as the perfect candidate.”

3. Have confidence in your managerial strategy

When hiring for a managerial post, interviewers are looking for someone who can lead as well as work well with others.

A desirable managerial candidate should be able to demonstrate a passion for people and a proven ability to lead and grow a team, bringing different experiences or a new approach that might add value to, or accelerate business operations.

Louise advises: “Expect questions around leadership style and be able to give examples, like how you might approach coming into a management role in a new business. Coming in as an external hire is quite a different experience from being hired from within the business, so put some thought into how you would manage that with a new team or with new stakeholders in a business".

“Another common question for managerial roles is what would you do in your first month, your first two months and your first three. That doesn’t have to be a really detailed strategy, but it’s good to be prepared. For example: ‘in the first month I would assess the team, see where the strengths and the downfalls are. In the second month I would delve further into that, meet with all the team etc’.”

4. Ask the right questions

While asking questions during an interview shows a healthy level of interest, there are some lines of questioning that cause a hiring manger to lose confidence in your motivation for the role.

Gary offers examples of good questions for candidates to ask, and some that might be seen as warning signs.

“Asking about the organisation’s culture, or whether the interviewer can describe a time when people from different departments worked together on a project or to solve an issue, demonstrates your interest in the company and the role that you’re applying for.

Meanwhile, questions about career progression in the organisation might demonstrate a progressive mindset. However, Gary warns: “Candidates should avoid focusing all their questions on employee benefits. These are things you can learn about later but should never be seen as a motivation in the interview process as it could indicate a lack of interest in the role.”

5. Don’t make it all about you

When presenting yourself as a desirable managerial candidate it is import to remember that while you’ll be keen to push the value of your own achievements, you mustn’t let this detract from your passion and ability as a leader.

Louise explains how a candidate’s use of language might let them down in an interview.

“One of the most important distinctions I look for in a managerial candidate compared with a lower-level team member, is the ability to be selfless in their achievements and this can be quite telling in the way they talk about their past successes.

“If a candidate continually uses ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ when discussing a project that was a team effort, this may indicate that the candidate is not a team player. A candidate who gives him/herself all the credit for group efforts will never be considered as a people-focused manager.”

6. Go the extra mile

One of the most significant differentiators of a managerial interview is having the time to present your ideas and offer new direction.

With so much competition for senior roles, it’s becoming increasingly important for candidates to go the extra mile in articulating and presenting how they might add value to the role.

“I once had a senior candidate who came prepared with presentation slides and put in a few key initiatives that might work for the organisation,” explains Gary.

“While not all ideas may be welcomed after interview stage, this level of preparation shows a high level of interest in the job. In particular, the critical thinking and creativity this candidate was able to share, along with relevant project experiences, the mistakes he’d learnt from and how he would use these experiences to ensure effective implementation in the future was most impressive in demonstrating his strategic approach to the role.”

 

How can I prepare for a video interview?

Some of you will already have experience with video interviewing software, while others may only be familiar with the more traditional face-to-face set up. One thing’s for certain though, videointerviewing is here to stay. So, now’s the time to embrace them! In fact, given the current climate, it’s more likely than ever that you’ll be asked to interview online. So, here’s a quick run-down to help ensure you’re putting your best foot forward when the time comes.

The Rise of Video Interviewing

First off, it’s worth understanding why video interviewing has become so popular. Video interviews are far more flexible than a typical on-site, face-to-face. There’s no travel involved and no time off work required. Plus, with our industry-leading platform, there’s no downloads, registrations, logins or passwords to contend with either. We’ll simply send you a link and you’re good to go. This means you can complete the video interview anywhere, anytime and on any device. Plus, in many cases, one video interview can be used for several opportunities. What’s not to love?!

Types of Video Interviewing

There are a couple of different types of video interviews you might be asked to do. The most common type is a live, two-way scenario. In this case, you’ll be sent a link from one of our recruiters that you’re working with which you simply click on to enter an online ‘interview room’. There you’ll come face-to-face with the interviewer(s) via a split-screen. The process of a live interview thereafter is exactly the same as it would be in person, only you’re face-to-face in the cloud instead.

Another less common but increasingly popular method of video interview is known on our platform as a Solo Interview. Solo interviews are also accessed via a link. But the difference this time is that instead of coming face-to-face with the interviewer(s) when you enter the virtual room, you’ll be taken on an easy journey through a set number of questions.

The interview questions will appear on screen for you to answer, one by one. You’ll be able to review the finished article before submitting it for the recruiter and client to watch back. When you get to the end, you can start over if you feel you didn’t give your best answers and your original video will be recorded over. Although we do recommend keeping the attempts to a minimum as the more versions you do, the less natural you’ll become. Avoid the temptation of writing all your answers out and reading them as no matter how many times you practice appearing natural, nothing beats the real thing. You would never attend a face-to-face interview and read off answers so don’t do it here either. 

Video interviewing was designed to make the screening process faster and less onerous for everyone involved. But don’t take shortcuts in your prep. The most successful video interviews are completed by people who treat them the same as an in-person interview. They are the same, after all, just completed using a different medium.

Preparing for a Video Interview

You should prepare for a video interview in exactly the same way you would for a face-to-face interview. Prepare answers for any and all eventualities, do background research on the company and compile some questions to ask the interviewer; all the usual stuff applies. On top, there are few additional considerations to factor in:

  • Set up – test that your microphone, speakers and camera are working.
  • Connection - check your internet connection, close-down unnecessary programs and web pages and make sure you aren’t downloading, installing or about to run updates.
  • Surroundings - be mindful of your backdrop in terms of what’s in the frame. Consider your position and check your lighting.
  • Where to look – look into your camera, rather than at the interviewer. This way it’ll appear like you are looking at them.
  • Do not disturb – unlike in a face-to-face interview, you’ll likely be at home or even on your lunch break at work. It seems an obvious one but make sure people around you know not to disturb you. Ideally, find a place where you feel completely at ease and where you can speak freely and comfortably without fear of interruptions or distractions.
  • Appearance - just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you don’t need to look the part. You should dress exactly as you would for an in-person interview. Psychologically, you’ll feel more ready too.
  • Stay focused – Because you’re not face-to-face, it can be easier to become distracted and do things you wouldn’t do in a face-to-face setting. Stay focused throughout.
  • Notes – avoid reading off notes. It’s okay to refer to notes but don’t try to be sneaky about it. Equally, avoid taking excessive notes. And definitely do not try to Google during the interview, no matter how subtle you think you’re being.
  • Smile and engage – a tendency on video versus face-to-face is that candidates are less focused on being engaging and less aware of ensuring their personality comes across. Avoid falling into this trap and bring as much to the video as you would if you were sitting across from the interviewer.

And Cut!

In summary, video interviews should be treated in the same way as any other interview, with a few additional considerations taken into account. You may find yourself to be a natural or it might be a little out of your comfort zone at first. But even if that is the case, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. The best advice we can give is don’t be complacent and to get some practice in. You can do this with friends or family and can even record yourself using your phone to give yourself some critique. As with anything else, the usual combination of research and advance prep will go a long way.

Good luck!

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