The Complete Interview Guide
How to blitz the interview and the competition
PREPARE for the interview
OK, you have secured an interview for a position that you would dearly love to get, that’s great! But before you go thinking you have the job in the bag, or, like most people are nervous about the prospect of undertaking an interview and/or talking about yourself – let’s consider a few things first:
On paper you look good and your referees have validated that you would be a good hire, otherwise you would not have been shortlisted for the interview;
You have been selected along with a number of other short-listed candidates and you don’t know whether this is 4 others or 12 others – if it’s the latter, that’s a fair number of other candidates you have to get past, but generally around 4 – 8 candidates are interviewed in the first round and it’s more often the lower numbers; and
All of these candidates will have the same skill-set as you and probably similar qualifications and similar experience – the interview panel knows that and you should too. So, essentially, because of this, what the interview panel will be looking for is how well you would fit in with the team you would be working with and the organisation overall.
Therefore, to stand out from the other candidates, you need to prepare for the interview well in advance of the scheduled date if possible. If you don’t have the luxury of a fair amount of advance notice, you should have already prepared your strategy as soon as you started sending out job applications (or before).
Preparing for an interview involves a number of key activities before you start submitting job applications including:
Contacting your referees and advising them that you are currently seeking new career opportunities and that they may be contacted by prospective hiring organisations;
Making sure that your online presence is not going to haunt you when you are applying for positions – that means going through your social media sites such as Facebook and deleting any posts and/or images that may make a hiring organisation re-consider calling you in for an interview; and
Maintaining good relationships with your current Boss and co-workers. This is very important as many people, having made up their mind to change jobs simply drop the ball at their current workplace and take the foot off the accelerator – if you do so, this will be remembered come the time your current or former boss is asked for a referee testimonial on not only your skills and abilities, but also how you contributed to a positive workplace environment.
PLAN for the interview
In planning for a specific interview (and every interview) do your homework on the organisation. This includes: viewing every page of the interviewing organisation’s website for starters to identify what their products/services are | what market sectors they service/provide products to | what their history is | what locations they operate from (national and/or international) | if they have them, their core values and their mission statement | their key personnel (such of which may be participating on the interview panel); and visiting their other online presence – this could include social media sites such as Facebook, product and/or service reviews, and even information on key personnel of the organisation such as is available via LinkedIn profiles as well as information on recently awarded or forthcoming projects.
You will need the above information to answer two common interview questions which are often asked: ‘what do you know about our organisation’ – and – ‘why should we hire you’ – both of these questions involve having knowledge of the organisation. The first question is obvious – they want to know that you have taken the time to research their organisation which evidences you are enthusiastic about joining the organisation. The second question can also be answered more readily if you have information about the organisation, i.e. ‘I’m sure that I would be a good fit for the organisational culture as I note from your website that the company is very customer-focused and so am I – in my current job for example, I always take the time to ensure every customer has received the best service experience possible and that I have provided them with the full information they required’. This is just one example, but you get the picture.
If you can’t answer these questions appropriately, it’s highly likely the interview panel will make up their mind there and then that you wouldn’t be a good organisational fit and that you appear to be looking for a ‘job’ rather than a career with their organisation. It’s important to remember that it costs hiring organisations a lot of time and money to onboard and upskill new hires and they therefore have to be convinced that it’s worth putting you in the advertised position.
You also need to work on your responses to common interview questions such as:
‘Tell me about yourself?’
‘What do you like best about your current job?’
‘What do you like least about your current job?’
‘What motivates you?’
‘Tell me about a time when you had a particularly difficult or challenging customer’
‘Tell me about a time you had difficulties with a team member or colleague’
‘Do you have any questions?’
We have provided example responses to all of these questions on our website BLOG.
PRACTICE for the interview
Prior to the interview (and not the night before) write down the information you have gathered about the hiring organisation so that you can review and remember this to questions such as ‘what do you know about our organisation?’
Write down your responses to the commonly asked interview questions – these should each take around 3 – 5 minutes to verbally communicate and sample responses are available on our website BLOG.
Practice your responses – either by reading them aloud in front of a mirror, or better still, with a live audience such as your partner or a friend. Get used to saying your responses, not necessarily in parrot fashion, but enough to be confident that you have positive responses for the interview.
Lights, Camera, ACTION - Interview Day
Dress for success – that doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie/suit and blouse and heels for every job interview, but if the position is office-based that would be recommended. If it is a production, manufacturing or warehousing role, dress smartly but less formally. Remember, scuffed or unpolished footwear is generally noticed before clothes and does not create a favourable impression. Don’t overload on heavy perfumes or after-shaves either as interviews are generally conducted in small rooms. Importantly, don’t come in reeking of cigarette smoke as most companies now have a ‘No Smoking’ policy and the interview could be over just based on that.
You should have already planned your route and travel method to the interview and factored in the time to arrive a little earlier than the scheduled time, i.e. if your appointment is scheduled for 10.30 am, arrive around 10.20 am – this gives you 10-minutes to collect yourself, take note of your surroundings, smile at the Receptionist, and complete any internal forms that may be required before the interview.
If the interview is taking place near a café, you could arrive there about half an hour before the scheduled interview which gives you the time to have a relaxing coffee and a last minute review of your interview question responses (remember you can’t place these on the interview table).
As mentioned previously, on paper you look good! You obviously have the skill-set and experience that is required for the advertised position – keep this in mind before and during the interview – the interview panel is seeking to identify your ‘fit’ with the team that you would be working with and the overall organisation.
Greeting the panel
Generally, each member of the interview panel will introduce themselves and shake your hand (not always, but generally). It can be difficult to remember each member’s first name, and particularly if they are not wearing name identifier tags or badges – but make an effort as it creates a great impression. Don’t take a seat until one is offered to you – even if the panel members are already seated on one side of the table and there is a single chair facing them.
Don’t slouch in your chair or rest your arms on the table for extended periods. By all means, use your hands when responding to questions as this evidences you are passionate about what you are talking about, but in doing so, be careful you are not swatting or impairing the vision of anyone sitting beside you. What to do with your hands when a member of the interview panel is talking to you? Generally keep them in your lap.
Well sure, we are going to include eye contact in this guide and how important it is that you consistently maintain eye contact rather than look at a point above the interview panel’s heads or out the window. Maintaining eye contact evidences that you are focused on the interview, you’re paying attention, and you are very keen to secure this position. It is hard to maintain constant eye contact with say four interviewers at the same time, so ideally, you should focus on the member of the interview panel who is asking questions at the time or conveying information about the organisation – and generally, all interview panel members will take turns at this.
Communicating with the interview panel
Don’t waffle on – the interview panel sets the pace and tone of the interview and there will be a scheduled time-frame – all of these people will have busy jobs and can’t afford for a scheduled interview time of say 30 – 45 minutes to exceed this.
The first question generally asked at most interviews is ‘tell me about yourself’. Why? Well, first of all, it’s an ice-breaker and starts the conversation and it gives the interviewing panel the opportunity to check out your: verbal/communication skills and how you convey information | the flow of your career path | your enthusiasm for the advertised position. It also gives the interviewing panel information to ask deeper questions relevant to the advertised position.
Respond to the questions that are being asked (as per our commonly asked interview questions guide on our website BLOG) – keep in mind, that the interview panel is not looking for monosyllable responses such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they are seeking the structured responses that you have prepared and practiced prior to the interview which should also include ‘demonstrated’ examples such as, ‘in my current role, I review loan applications, this involves validating applicants financial situation and employment details’. When you provide examples such as this, the interview panel may ask for more information, such as ‘how do you do this?’ or ‘what systems/applications do you use to do this?’
Speak at a tone that all the interview panel can hear and address them – not the table – if your head is bowed when you are talking, the table is going to hear what you are saying – not them.
If English is not your first language, speak at a slightly slower pace than you normally would in your first language.
The final question asked at most interviews is ‘do you have any questions?’ – never answer ‘No’ as this could cost you the interview despite how well you have done so far. See our response examples on our website BLOG.
Despite how well you thought the interview went or didn’t go, always thank the interview panel for the opportunity to participate in the interview and repeat your enthusiasm for joining the organisation.
If each of the interview panel members have handed you their business card, also send a quick email the same day if possible, along the lines ‘Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the interview and after hearing more first-hand information about (company abc) I would be thrilled to work for/develop my career with the organisation’.
Do not, under any circumstances ‘hound’ the panel, i.e. phone or email communications along the lines ‘have you made a decision yet?’ You should already have knowledge of when the interview panel will make a selection when you responded to ‘do you have any questions?’ as per our response examples on our website BLOG.
The final words
Prepare – Plan – Practice – remember, if you fail to plan – you plan to fail.
Be confident – on paper you look good.
Be patient – don’t hound the interview panel.