Interview Top Tips and How Best to be Prepared

Perfecting your interview preparation

Preparing for your interview is essential if you are to have the best chance of giving your best. Not only does preparation help you to anticipate some of the questions you are likely to be asked, it also ensures that you have gathered some basic information about the organisation that you are hoping to join. After all, if you are planning to work for it, you should at least aim to find out if its reputation, its operating style and the way it is likely to use you matches your requirements. From its side, you are unlikely to impress if you can’t talk with some understanding about the business, its operating environment and competitors (if private sector) or its main purposes, objectives and services (if public sector). In an ideal world – and particularly for senior level roles – the recruitment process should be one where both parties are trying to make an informed decision about how good the ‘match’ is. You are only going to be able to take part in this assessment of mutual ‘fit’ if you have done some homework.

The good news is that it has never been easier – thanks to the internet – to research organisations; the bad news is that you have to assume that all the other interview candidates will do diligent preparation and research as well. So, how do you make yourself stand out?

As a minimum, your preparation should include:

  • researching the organisation and/or the department that you are applying to
  • finding out as much as you can about its selection criteria/competencies
  • finding out as much as you can about the interview process (timing, structure, location, interviewers)
  • personal preparation – understanding your assets and risks in relation to the job and preparing yourself mentally.

Researching the organisation/department

There are several very good reasons for researching the organisation you are seeking to join.

  • So that you know exactly what you are getting into – is this the kind of organisation in which you can prosper; how do your talents match its advertised needs?
  • So that you can ask sensible questions at the end of the interview – you will usually be given the chance, and it is a final opportunity to impress.
  • So that you can anticipate some of the questions you will be asked – what are the key things the organisation is likely to be looking for?
  • So that you can show you are interested in the organisation, motivated to join it and that you have been proactive in investigating its requirements.

It’s worth emphasising that most organisations will expect you to have done this research and will be disappointed if it becomes clear that you haven’t. Imagine these questions being asked:

  • ‘So how much do you know about us?’
  • ‘What makes you interested in working for us in particular?’
  • ‘What do you see as the main challenges in the role you are applying for?’
  • ‘What do you think about our recent press coverage?’

Giving a decent answer to questions like these depends on the research you have done. Even when applying for an internal position, perhaps in a different department, you should still do your basic homework. You have to assume that the person or people interviewing you are enthusiastic, passionate and committed to their business. You need to mirror this if you want to ‘get on their wavelength’ and impress.

Understanding their competencies/criteria: what are they looking for?

You will encounter some interviews that are less structured and where the criteria are much less clear. With preparation, you can be in the best possible position to get your strengths across even when the interview process is less than ideal. Your homework in terms of ‘what are they looking for’ is even more important in this situation, as you may not be able to rely on being questioned in the relevant areas.

Researching the interview situation

Nervousness is an inevitable part of interviews for most of us, and anything we can do to minimise it is likely to be helpful. Once again, the more you can find out in advance about the actual interview situation, the better. If you can, you should at least find out the following:

  • The timing of the interview: how long will it last? This will give you a sense of how expansive you can afford to be with your answers.
  • The interview format: will it be a structured, competency-based interview? What, if any, other components will there be to the interview, for example, a biographical interview or an element based on your CV and work history?
  • Who will be interviewing you: will it be one person or a panel of two or more?
  • Details of venue: the last thing you need is to be in a panic about finding the right location!

A lot of this information should be contained in your invitation to the interview, but don’t hesitate to contact the organisation to clarify any of the above points about which you are not clear.

Researching yourself: assets and risks

The final element of preparation is the time you should give to weighing yourself, your style and your assets/risks in relation to both the interview situation and the job.

Despite having conducted hundreds of interviews, it still surprises us how unaware people often are of their impact during the interview. So, how well do you know yourself? What do your friends/family/colleagues say about your impact when you are not around? Probably the only way you will find out is by asking them!

Your impact at interview

Part of your preparation should include a long, hard look in the mirror (metaphorically speaking), so as to make as objective an assessment as possible of people’s likely first impression of you. Here are some questions you can ask of yourself – or of others – to help build self-awareness of your impact.

‘How confident do I sound when talking about myself?’

Research shows that interviews often overemphasise – and thus tend to put too much weight on – social confidence and verbal fluency. Good interviewers will try to get beyond this so that they are not overly influenced by the ‘spin’ a candidate is putting on their achievements. Nevertheless, understanding how confident and fluent you typically sound is important. It’s also worth remembering that for most people nervousness has a dampening effect on normal levels of confidence and fluency. Sources you can use to assess this include your friends, feedback from previous interviews and your own knowledge of whether, for example, people typically see you as thoughtful and quiet or expressive and extrovert.

Thinking about yourself objectively can be difficult, which is why you need to give time to this element of your preparation. There is no substitute for actually ‘saying the words out loud’ as part of your preparation. How does your voice sound? How quickly do you speak? Do the words you use make you sound confident? (Too many positives risk making you sound arrogant.) Do the words you use make you sound too modest? (Too many negatives will make you appear to be self-doubting and uncertain.) A lot of people find this balance hard to achieve, so do practise out loud.

Assets and risks in terms of the job

Your research into the competencies needed for the role comes into its own here; we would suggest using the ‘task, thought, people’ model as a way of checking – in broad terms – how your experience, skills, competencies and personal attributes map onto the organisation’s requirements. Use it as a way of getting a broad picture of where you are likely to be perceived as relatively strong or weak in terms of their criteria. So ask yourself:

  • Am I likely to come over as a TASK person? Is a lot of my experience about operational delivery; are my best examples about driving things through against deadlines; do I find it easiest to talk about delivery, plans and targets?
  • Am I likely to come over as a THOUGHT person? Is a lot of my experience about developing ideas or strategy; are my best examples about creativity and innovation; do I find it easiest to talk about analysis, judgement and insight?
  • Am I likely to come over as a PEOPLE person? Is a lot of my experience about getting results through others and developing people; are my best examples about communication and engagement; do I find it easiest to talk about influencing, coaching and collaborating?

For most of us, one or two of these areas tend to be more highly developed than the others, often because of our natural preferences or our experience. But it is worth giving some thought to how your natural preferences are likely to come to the fore during the interview.


Extract taken from:
You’re Hired! Interview Answers
Impressive Answers to tough questions
by Ceri Roderick and Stephan Lucks


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