The National Careers Service has some good, clear advice on interviews. The webpage outlines the types of interviews that there are and what they might consist of as well as some tips and techniques.
What are interviews?
Organisations use interviews to find out if you would be a good fit for the job. You might have an initial phone call before an interview. The interview might be an informal chat or a longer formal process. You might have tests and activities to complete. The employer should let you know what to expect when they invite you to interview, so that you are best able to prepare.
How to prepare
If you have secured an interview – well done! Getting an interview is a massive achievement in itself. Even if you don’t get the job this time, you will have gained some very useful experience.
Make sure you research the company you are having the interview with. It’s likely they will ask you what you know about them and will want to hear that you have looked at their website and can show some understanding of what they do and how they do it.
Doing mock interviews can be incredibly helpful in preparing for interviews. Try our searchable directory to find an organisation to help or ask family or friends.
Plan how you are going to get to the interview and what to do if something goes wrong, especially if you are relying on public transport. Take the company’s contact details with you in case you need to ring them.
Do you need to bring anything with you on the day, such as certificates, a written piece of work, proof of ID? Will there be a test on the day that you could revise for, e.g. maths? You might also want to bring a pen, some money or a small snack, and maybe some mints or chewing gum – but be sure to remove it before you go in!
What to wear
What you wear will depend on the job you are going for, but generally wear something slightly smarter than you would imagine someone doing the job would wear – even if the job is very casual you want to look like you have made an effort. Simple things like making sure you look tidy and presentable create a favourable impression with employers – a good or bad first opinion can make a big difference on the likelihood of you being offered the job.
Give yourself time to get ready – both physically and mentally. Decide what you are going to wear; if you are going for a creative job, it is okay to be a bit more flexible with what you are wearing, but you still want to look smart. Many people look at a person’s shoes when they meet them – are they smart and clean?!
Arrive on time – ten minutes early is ok but anything more than that can make things difficult for the potential employer, two minutes late looks like you don’t really care. Greet anyone you meet in a friendly and open way and when you are led into the interview make sure you shake hands with the interview panel.
Body language and relaxation techniques
Your interview starts the second you walk through the front door. First impressions count, so remember to smile and, of course, be polite. Some companies will give you the chance to mingle with other staff – remember that they may very well be asked to report back, so treat this just the same as another part of the interview. The Wall Street Journal’s blog ‘The Receptionist Is Watching You’ begins with: “Want that job? Better be nice to the receptionist.”
Think about your body language when you sit down and try to be relaxed and open. Think about the position of your legs and arms, about how straight you are sitting and about your facial expression.
One way to help yourself feel relaxed before an interview which will help with your body language is to do some breathing techniques. There are several but the 7-11 is the simplest, where you breathe in to the count of 7 then out to the count of 11, focusing on the breath and allowing any worrying thoughts to just pass.
You are also more likely to feel more relaxed if you feel well prepared.
Tips on answering questions interview questions
Your answers will often be scored by the interview panel to make sure that the process is fair. Your job is to give them enough information for a high score, whilst keeping your answers concise and to the point. Throughout the interview you want to try to give examples of where you have relevant experience. One method to do this is called the STAR method.
- Situation – describe where you were, for example ‘I was working in my local shop’
- Task – describe what you were responsible for ‘serving on the till, when a difficult customer started being aggressive to me’
- Action – what did you do that made a difference ‘I spoke with her calmly, listened to her complaint and told her I would let my manager know’. Explaining the reasons for deciding on the action can be helpful too, to show your understanding.
- Result – what was the impact of what you did? – ‘she left the shop and my manager told me I had handled the conversation well’
Before your interview think of examples of when you handled a situation well and of when you made suggestions that were taken up and had a positive impact so that you feel prepared. Make the situations closely related to the type of skills this job will require wherever possible, an irrelevant one may suggest you have poor understanding of the role.
You want to help the interviewer imagine you doing the job, so telling them about what you have done before helps paint a picture of who you are. If you are asked about something you haven’t done, or can’t think of an example, try and turn the question around to something where you have experience.
Make sure you don’t say anything negative about previous employers and try to keep all answers, including those about your weaknesses, positive and upbeat.
If you get stumped by a question or are not sure of what they are looking for in a question, don’t panic. It’s OK to pause (“Do you mind if I just think about that for second?”), or to ask for clarification (“Can I just check that….?”).
Some employers will deliberately ask you unexpected questions to see how you cope under pressure. Most though are likely to ask fairly standard types of questions and so you can prepare some answers ahead of the interview.
Here are some typical interview questions:
- What do you know about this organisation?
- Why did you apply for this job?
- Why do you think you would be good in this position?
- What do you know about…..this would be a question specific to the area you are interviewing for, for example for working in a charity it would be about the area they specialise in (young people, geographical areas etc) in a shop it might be stock rotation or till work.
- Can you tell us about a time you….again this will be dependent on the job you are applying for.
- Do you prefer to work on your own or in a team?
- Can you tell us about a time that something went wrong and what you did to resolve this?
- Can you tell us about something you are proud about?
Further common interview questions can be found on this wiki page
In most interviews you will also be asked if you have questions for the employer. It’s really important that you have about two questions for them, focusing on what the job entails rather than pay or working arrangements, which can be discussed if you are offered the job. You might ask about training or career opportunities or something specific to the role.
When the interview finishes, thank the panel and shake hands again. If you aren’t successful it’s always worth asking for feedback so that you can learn and improve your technique.