Interview tips

In today’s competitive market it’s not easy getting over the first application hurdle, so congratulate yourself on being invited for an interview! It is a testament to your skills and experience to date, coupled with a well-written and concise CV.

Now that you’re in the interview, you want to make sure that you do everything you can to ensure your success. These are our suggestions for getting the most out of your interview.

Preparation

  • Find out as much as you can about the job and the company. Information is everything and it’s everywhere. You do not need to go back decades but don’t undervalue the importance of doing your research. An employer will expect you to grasp what the job entails and how it fits into the overall company picture. They will be even more impressed if you have looked into what the company does, where it stands in their field, and any more information that can’t be gleaned simply by looking at their website. A candidate who overlooks this important stage of the process will come unstuck at the face-to-face stage – you want able to give a brilliant answer when asked “What do you know about the company and the role?”
  • You will be able to gain a great deal of information by using the internet and trade press etc., but make sure to distinguish facts from judgements. You will be able to find news releases, financial data from annual reports, and industry trends, as well as employee views on the company or shifts in management personnel – don’t listen to idle gossip, and ensure that other people’s opinions are well judged and based on facts. Your research can dramatically increase your chances prior to an interview, as employers consider company research as a reflection of your interest, intelligence, and enthusiasm. Research shows that you are competent, engaged, and motivated to work, and every employer likes those individual traits
  • Once you have carried out sufficient research, it is very important to immerse yourself in your CV – rehearse talking through your career, particularly any achievements and successes to date. You would be surprised how many people stumble on the “talk me through your current role” question. This is because you subconsciously carry out your day-to-day role without a second thought, but being asked to explain it in an interview situation can throw up all sorts of problems! It’s probably the most obvious question in an interview, but it is a huge chance to convince the interviewer that your skills and expertise will add value to their business. On paper, you may look the best candidate by a country mile, but if you cannot communicate your career achievements effectively, it will harm your chances of getting through to a second interview
  • Read the job description thoroughly, matching your skills, knowledge, and expertise to the requirements of the job and company. Your purpose in doing this is to demonstrate that you take this job opening seriously, an attitude that the employer will applaud. Recall all the positive things to say about current and past employers, managers, and colleagues. Never convey negatives about past experiences or people – we have all experienced a horrible boss, but keep it to yourself, since most employers will run a mile from a candidate who does not talk favourably about current or past colleagues or employers. Even if the reason you’re looking for a new opportunity is a breakdown in a relationship with a manager or colleague (which is often the case!), there is no need to wax lyrical about your assets and their inability to manage you effectively
  • Whether you have much or little experience, it is worth bearing in mind that employers want to hire people who will continue to learn and grow with the company. So as you answer job related questions, focus not only on your experience, but also on how your efforts served the needs of your previous employer and the aims of the company
  • Check and double-check the location, route, and travel time. If necessary, and time allowing, try a dummy run before your interview, taking in availability for parking or any potential bottlenecks.
  • You have probably heard this a thousand times but don’t be late! Being punctual is more than a demonstration of good manners – it is a reflection of your core values. A client will accept a late train or an unexpected traffic jam, but if you have no valid reason, don’t be surprised if people perceive you to be a bit of a flake!

Typically Asked Questions

The format of interviews has not really changed over the years, and the same applies to the type of questions you will be asked. Be prepared for the occasional curve-ball question, but remember that all questions are designed to test your interpersonal skills, poise, character, and temperament. An employer is looking for someone that has the skills and expertise to perform the role, but who will also add value and work in harmony with existing colleagues and clients.

Typically, you will probably be asked the following:

  • What do you know about the company?
  • What is your understanding of the position?
  • Talk me through your career?
  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • Why are you looking to leave?
  • What is your biggest achievement to date?
  • How would your current manager describe you?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What are your strengths / weaknesses?
  • What is your biggest achievement to date?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • What salary are you looking for?

In some respects, interviews are similar to a drama – they are staged, but if you rehearse your lines by thinking about the above questions, your chances of making the employer applaud will increase! Please bear in mind that as competition for the best jobs increases, employers are comparing more and more applicants and asking more and more questions. Only one or two of the questions will be aimed at your actual job-related skills – your cultural fit is just as important to the employer, so your ability to respond with answers that highlight your manageability, willingness, and professionalism will heighten the employer’s interest in you.

Think about what you want to put across about yourself in the interview, and then prepare answers to these questions that best highlight the attributes you want the interviewer to know about. Be ready to adapt these answers to questions that are phrased slightly differently – think about the answers as bullet points on a cue card, rather than a polished script!

At the Interview

You’ve read the job description thoroughly, researched the organisation, and immersed yourself in your CV. Now you are ready to impress them. The more prepared and rehearsed you are, the less stressed and more confident you will be. Remember, likeability and credibility is what an employer is looking for.

  • You should arrive at the location early and the interview on time. Arriving too early indicates poor timing and can possibly interrupt an interview schedule, and being late is not an option (see our previous cautionary note on getting to an interview on time).
  • If you fail at the above point, you will have a mountain to climb and there will be a strong chance the interviewer will not take you seriously. On the flip side, candidates who are prepared and courteous will be well on the way to a successful interview. Research and our own experience indicate that HR and senior marketing professionals in the UK will have made up their minds within the first few minutes of meeting someone. Of course, you will have time to express yourself in an interview and initial decisions and judgements can be altered, but the pace in which we live and work has changed this dynamic – so it’s extremely important to get the tiny aspects of interview etiquette in proper order.
  • On your arrival, compose yourself, take a few deep breaths, and introduce yourself to the receptionist. Give the name of the person you are meeting, and take a few minutes to read any company literature that is available. To give yourself a psychological edge, repeat to yourself that you have a lot to offer and, if you’ve done your homework, you’re going to give a better performance than other less-prepared candidates. It is worth bearing in mind that it takes two to conduct the interview and fill the job – the pressure is also on the employer to find the most suitable person, and, from their point of view, you could take any job you want. Believe it or not, an employer will find it difficult to compare and contrast various candidates so they are probably just as nervous as you are.
  • If possible, get the interviewer to set the scene by asking them to describe the job, the company, and the type of qualities and skills needed in the role before you start answering any questions about yourself. Ask questions which show that you have done your homework – this will demonstrate that you already have an interest in the role and organisation, and you are not just there for interview practice.
  • Smile and the whole world smiles with you – you’ve heard this one before so put it into action. A natural, genuine smile is extremely appealing; people want to work with people who make them feel good. So put your interviewer at ease with a smile that shows interest and liveliness. This is not to say you need to stick a big artificial grin on your face, which is easy to recognise as fake, but a genuine smile can directly influence how people feel about you.
  • Try not to be too familiar and relaxed by using first names, and it’s polite not to sit down until you are asked to. Try not to show anxiety or boredom, and be mindful of body language and tone of voice. Without going into great detail about the psychological impact of body language, being open and welcoming will make you interviewer feel comfortable in your presence. Give some thought to your behaviour and body language, as it can affect how you are perceived – candidates that can demonstrate a genuine enthusiasm and passion by non-verbal actions will be taken far more seriously
  • Take time to listen. When you’re constantly busy thinking about what you are going to say next you may miss a vital point, so concentrate on paying attention to what the interviewer is actually saying.
  • It’s not advisable to ask about hours, holidays, salary benefits, or the possibility of having your own car or office, particularly at first interview stage! Give it a few months into the job before thinking about asking these questions. These issues will be discussed at a later stage of the interview process, and it is sensible to let the interviewer take the lead on this part of the interview as and when it occurs.
  • When it is your turn to answer questions, think before you speak. If you do not understand the question that has been asked, ask the interviewer to repeat the question or to offer a bit more clarity on why they want to know that point. You will always give an informed answer once you fully comprehend the question you are being asked.
  • At no point interrupt the interviewer or give over-elaborate answers. You will be considered rude or impatient, so stick to the clichéd saying that you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that order. In your answers, stick to the facts and be honest. An individual who demonstrates humility and integrity is instantly likeable.
  • Attempt to treat the interviewer with respect but as an equal, and, at the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for their time. If you are interested in the role and company, let them know enthusiastically – you would be amazed at how many people don’t!

After the Interview

The first thing you will probably do is breath a sigh of relief! The second thing you should do is ensure that the saying “out of sight, out of mind” does not apply to you. It’s really important to inform your consultant how you feel, especially if you are certain that the job is for you. The company can then be contacted while you are fresh in their minds and before opinions are hardened. A “maybe, probably not” verdict can be sometimes be converted to a second interview and a subsequent job offer.

Think the proposition through – double-check any statements made which surprised you, and decide whether it really meshes with your career aims. If it doesn’t, let your consultant know quickly and politely with reasons why; it may be that you might meet the interviewer again in different circumstances, so it is important that everyone concerned retains an impression of you as a credible and professional applicant.

Probably the hardest thing to do is to asses what parts of the interview didn’t go to plan. It is important to recognise any negatives in your performance, as this is the only way you will have an opportunity to overcome those negatives in your follow-up correspondence and during any subsequent interviews. You may want to consider writing a follow-up e-mail to the consultant or employer to keep you fresh in their mind – be sure to emphasise your appreciation of their courtesy, your enthusiasm and interest for the opportunity, and show that you would do your best work in their environment.      

The Second Interview

Congratulate yourself again! It is a testament to your performance at the first interview that you’ve been invited back for a second – you’re another step closer to the job. The company has narrowed the field, but it’s still important to ensure that you stand out from the competition.

First things first: don’t be complacent, and don’t neglect your performance at your first interview. Even if the interviewer at this stage seems like the kind of person you’d share a drink with, don’t relax just yet. Your interviewer is trying to decide which candidate is the best investment for the company. Think about what made you shine in the first interview and do more of the same! You should be even more prepared and more informed about the role, the company, and how you can add value.

Be aware that your second interview will most likely be longer, with more questions to answer, more people to meet, and often a presentation, writing test, or similar, to prepare or complete. Think about new information that you can bring to the interview.

Don’t be surprised if the second interview is a series of mini interviews – expect to meet department heads, line managers and other team members. At this stage, your expertise, qualifications, and skills are not in doubt but your cultural fit is being probed a little further. Relax a little – these are your potential new colleagues.  Cultural and personal fit is one of the most important factors at any interview – questions are likely to be aimed at getting a feel for your personality. People want to make sure you’ll complement the team and integrate well into the company culture. Be mindful that a good cultural fit works both ways – this is your opportunity to work out whether the company is a good fit for you. Take in the immediate environment, the atmosphere, and the general attitude of your new colleagues.

Be prepared to ask more questions, particularly more in-depth ones than you did at the first interview. Questions about the role, the future of the company, opportunities for career development, and training are advisable, rather than those about salary, bonuses, and holidays.

At some stage, you will be asked about your salary expectations, which can be awkward for both you and the interviewer. Outline your current salary and benefits package, and give some indication of what you’re looking for. Importantly, be reasonable and sensible about your expectations, and leave the door open for negotiation. Impress upon the interviewer that it is the role and the company which appeals to you most, as opposed to the salary.

Remember that it is a two-way thing: the company wants the right person for the role, and you want to be sure you’re making the right move for your career. Do also bear in mind that no matter how scientific the interviewing style, likeability is a powerful influence in deciding who gets the job. It is human nature to like people who have similar values and interests. When you successfully intimate that you share similar traits and work-based values with the interviewer, you will create affinity that may lead to a job offer.

The Offer

Congratulations! You’ve succeeded in getting an offer, but now is the time to step back and think things through carefully. You do need a little time to get over the excitement of being chosen and now is the time to calmly consider whether accepting the offer is in your best interest. An employer will normally give you time to consider because you are making a choice that impacts many facets of your life.

There are three types of offer that you could receive:

  • The one that you will probably decline due to a disparity between your salary expectations and the offer
  • The one which is within your desired salary band and is seriously worth considering
  • The one which you will instantly pounce on and accept

Money is, of course, important – you’ve got bills to pay – but there are other elements that you should consider:

  • Does the role still appeal to you as much as it did in your first interview?
  • Is it the best possible offer you can get?
  • Will the company, the role, and your colleagues add value to your career and personal development?
  • Is the reputation and culture of the company what you’re looking for?
  • Is it a good cultural fit and will you enjoy working there?

You may decide that the role is not for you and, if this is the case, it is polite to inform the employer of your decision as soon as you can, and explain that while you greatly appreciate the offer and interviewer’s time, you have made a difficult decision not to accept the offer. Even though you’re turning down the role, be sure to leave a positive impression.

You may decide that the role is just right for you but that the money is the only thing holding you back, and you wouldn’t be the first – we find that the most common negotiation after an offer is about money. If you do want the job, you should reiterate your interest and explain in detail why you feel the salary should be higher – be reasonable! If negotiations are conducted sensibly and constructively you will gain respect from the employer.

Before getting into negotiations with any employer, work out what your minimum requirement is for any job – you must know what pays the bills and puts the food on the table. You don’t have to disclose this figure but it is necessary to know what it is. You will also need to get a grip on what your skills are worth in the market because you do not want to over- or undervalue your worth. It may be that the offer is perfectly acceptable, but if it’s not then you need to negotiate something which is fair and acceptable to both parties. In truth, this is the one part of the proceedings where you have the upper hand, but don’t lose out by asking for a salary which is unexpectedly higher than originally anticipated. An employer will honour and respect someone who has a clear understanding of his or her true worth in the marketplace. You should also consider carefully what you would do if the negotiations were unsuccessful and the company could not increase the salary – whether you would still definitely turn the role down, or reconsider their first offer. If the former, remember to leave a positive impression and thank the company for their time and their offer.

If you decide to accept the role, either after negotiations or straightaway after the offer, accept the job verbally and try to outline a possible start date. Never resign from your current role until you have the offer in writing; the offer letter must contain all the salient points such as job title, salary, and any related benefits. It should also contain the company’s terms and conditions of employment. Be sure to read this clearly and understand the most salient points such as pay, holidays, working hours, and benefits.

Resigning is never easy: it is best to notify your current employer by writing a letter of resignation, and then attempting to discuss things diplomatically and calmly. It makes life a lot easier to leave on pleasant terms – you never know what will happen in the future and you may well be looking to the same company for a reference. When working your notice period, ensure that you maintain a professional approach and a good work ethic – don’t let the quality of your work slide just because you’ve resigned. You want to be remembered as professional even when you know you’re leaving.

Any new job involves a change in duties, responsibilities, location, and working culture. Be clear about the new challenges you are facing and embrace working with your new colleagues and learning new skills. In this way, you will take on your new role and progress in your career with commitment and motivation.