Everything you need to know for your next job interview
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It doesn’t matter how many you attend, a job interview can be a daunting experience at any stage of your career.
In a very short space of time, you need to show your potential employer the very best version of yourself, impress them with your experience, and answer every question they throw at you with ease and flair.
Add this pressure to perform to the prospect of a tough interview panel, and it’s no wonder nerves can easily get the better of you.
Yet there’s no reason why an interview shouldn’t also be exciting.
After all, it’s just as much an opportunity for you to discover if the target company would be a good fit for you as it is for them. Your conversation will be a valuable chance for you both to shine – to show off your strengths, lay out achievements and set out what you hope the role can deliver.
At its best, it can be full of promise and potential for your career so be ready to grab the initiative if it presents itself.
Whether you’re getting ready for your very first job interview, need to prep for an imminent opening or simply want to brush up on your skills, we’ve put together our five top tips to help boost your confidence.
- Research, research, research
Start with the company website and dig through it until you’ve got a sound understanding of the business and are familiar with its values, key people and history.
You can then use this as a springboard for wider research into the relevant industry, and the challenges and opportunities you see within it. You should also try to find out as much background as possible around the role you’re applying for – for example if you’re aiming for a marketing role, check out its recent campaigns. Or if you’re seeking a switch to a job in sustainability, pore over its most recent Corporate Social Responsibility report.
As a rule of thumb, think about how you - as a newly hired employee - could help the company tackle its challenges. If possible, speak to employees you may already know at the organisation to find out specific details, and consider what your experience can bring to the role.
And if you know who’s going to be interviewing you, see if you can find out a little bit about them too.
What’s their position in the company, and what have they worked on that you could mention in your interview? If appropriate, you could also contact the hiring manager to see if you can arrange an informal chat to find out more about the role. Showing initiative like this could help set you apart from the other candidates, and help you to identify which aspects of your own experience are most relevant to talk about.
- Be true to yourself - and your experience
Be your authentic self in the interview – not the person you think your interviewer wants you to be. While a desire to impress will be key to success, it’s possible to get carried away and pretend to have a type of personality you believe they’re looking for, but that you don’t genuinely have.
It’s worth remembering a mix of personalities is often what makes a team or company thrive. Consider what’s unique about you, what you can bring to the role, and put plenty of focus on your core transferable skills – the abilities you’ve developed previously that can be beneficial in the role you’re applying for. The same principle of authenticity applies to your employment history. Nearly six in ten surveyed UK employers cited honesty as a top three factor in deciding whether to make a job offer. So make sure your application is truthful and accurate. If you claim to have skills or aptitudes you don’t possess, your interviewer could ask you about any or all of it and leave you with very difficult questions to face.
- Prepare your answers in advance and line up questions of your own
One of the best ways to calm nerves and give yourself the best chance of performing well is to prepare as much as you can.
Make a list of questions likely to crop up in the interview and draw up well thought-out answers.
According to jobs website Glassdoor, which surveyed interview data from thousands of candidates, the most commonly asked questions include:
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 – 10 years?
- What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
- Tell me about an accomplishment that you are most proud of
Rehearse your answers with a family or friend to help you feel more comfortable. Of course, your interviewer may also throw you a curveball question to see how you think on your feet. The best you can do is be alert to such a scenario so you’re not too taken aback if it happens, take a deep breath, and answer as best you can.
It’ll also help to think about how you structure your responses.
What’s known as the STAR method is a great place to start, offering a simple yet powerful way of staying calm when faced with tricky questions.
It stands for situation, task, action and result:
- When asked what you’d do in a certain situation, recall a project or an event in which you had a key involvement.
- Consider what the task in hand was and go into the details of your responsibilities.
- Next, explain the actions you took to make the project a success.
- Finally, explain the results of the action and how it was received by those involved.
This can be another good time to draw on your core transferable skills to inject extra relevance into your answers
As well as being ready with an arsenal of strong answers, compile a list of your own questions – this will show you’re dedicated, serious about the position and will help you understand if the role and the company are a decent fit for you. For example, you could ask about what your day-to-day responsibilities would involve, or what kind of career progression the company can offer you.
- Make a great first impression
How you conduct yourself in an interview can be just as important as the skills and experience you can bring to the table.
Be polite, make eye contact, smile, and make sure your body language is open and relaxed by sitting up straight, keeping your shoulders back and resisting the urge to cross your arms or legs.
Dress in smart clothing, unless the company has made clear otherwise, and consider what your clothes might be saying about you – are you dressed in a way that might be considered overly brash or even outlandish, for example?
If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution – at least for the first interview.
The same rules apply for interviews taking place remotely over video. If this is the case for you, remember to give the tech you’re using a practice run to check the sound and lighting are working properly, and set yourself up in an area that’s free from distractions.
When it comes to answering questions, keep your responses relevant and to the point, and try not to speak too quickly. It’s okay to pause for thought if you need to. A show of enthusiasm is also essential to making a good impression – in a YouGov survey, employers cited showing a lack of interest as one of the worst things a candidate can do in an interview.
Confidence is key, but make sure you strike the right balance between this and arrogance - being overly sure of yourself is a turn off for nearly two-thirds of employers.
So instead of talking loudly and reeling off a list of your achievements, speak clearly and calmly, and listen to your interviewer.
- Follow up the interview
Your interviewer may let you know a time frame for when you can expect to hear back. But if not, or if that time has passed, drop a polite email or phone call to find out if they’ve made a decision.
Even if you’re not offered that particular position, it’ll show that you’re interested in the company and this could stand you in better stead for other future openings. It’s also a great opportunity to ask for any feedback about your application.
While it can be disappointing not to receive a job offer, try to see the interview as a learning experience you can take with you for your future interviews.
If you’d like to pick up more useful tips on how to enhance your career prospects, check out our full range of LifeSkills guides, tools and resources where you can find helpful information on a wide range of topics including staying motivated, building a network and how to get ahead at work.
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