After your fantastic CV has gained you an interview, you must wow the interviewers in person. A job interview is a formal meeting in which one or more people representing the employer, question, consult, or evaluate you – the job applicant.
Preparing yourself before an interview will help you make the most of the oppurtunity you have been given to impress.
Types of interviews
There are different types of job interviews and this will affect the way in which you prepare. A job interview could follow one or more of the following outlines:
Behavioural – asking about your past competency as a guide to predict your future behaviour
Technical – asking specific technical questions to test your knowledge
Case Studies – to discover your processes, e.g. ability to analyse, identify key issues, etc.
One-on-one – should be considered as a formal interview
Panel – more than one interviewer – address each person with eye contact and body language
Telephone/Video conferencing – be prepared, sit at a table in a quiet environment
Make sure that you know which structure the interview will take so that you have time to prepare. Contact the company/organisation to ask if you haven't been informed.
Prepare yourself for the interview by gathering information about the employer to give you an overall understanding of the company. Gather your research through multiple sources such as the internet, informational interviews, phone books, libraries, or by talking to people.
Gather information about:
Prepare and practice your answers to typical interview questions. If you feel prepared your confidence levels will soar. The section Example interview questions below contains some examples.
Check the job description and candidate specification. Does it fit you? Why do you want this job? (make sure you can make a valuable case when asked this question). What can you offer?
Prepare and practice answers to these questions, and others you think may be asked. Prepare and practice your own questions to ask (you can take notes with you if you wish).
Ask a friend or family member to ask you these questions and practise answering out loud.
Check the exact time and place of the interview.
Check the title and name of the interviewer(s).
First impressions are very important!
Wear smart, conservative clothes. Dress as if you already have the job. Choose something you feel comfortable and confident in.
Clean, pressed clothes
Boost your confidence - prepare and practise.
The DO'S of interviews
Arrive five minutes early.
Bring extra copies of your CV.
Bring something to write on and something to write with.
Be polite to everyone you meet, including staff at reception.
First impressions do count!
Greet the interviewer by name and shake hands firmly.
Wait until asked to be seated.
Sit with good posture and look alert and interested at all times.
Listen carefully to the questions and think about the question before answering.
Maintain good eye contact with the interviewer.
Smile now and then.
In a panel situation address your reply to the person who has asked the question, however let your eyes and gestures take in the whole panel.
Avoid answering just "yes' or "no'.
Elaborate when appropriate but keep answers clear and concise.
Assume all questions are asked for a good reason and give them your best response.
Ask for repetition or clarification of a question if you are unclear about what is being asked.
Give positive answers and display enthusiasm for the job.
Have some questions prepared to ask the interviewer.
Thank the interviewer or panel for the opportunity to be interviewed when the interview is finished.
The DON'TS of interviews
Take too much stuff, or anything distracting or noisy.
Leave your cell phone switched on.
Smoke ... or smell of smoke.
Call the interviewer by first their name, or the wrong name.
Slouch in your seat.
Appear desperate for a job - any job!
Invent or exaggerate experience or skills. (You will get found out eventually)
Make derogatory remarks about former employers, courses or learning institutions.
Cut in when a question is being asked. Wait until the interviewer has finished speaking before you respond.
Correct an interviewer or adopt a superior attitude.
Bring up the subject of salary near the beginning of the interview.
Give memorised responses and forget parts, or misunderstand the question because you have focused on keywords you have committed to memory.
What should you do in the interview if your mind simply goes blank? Try some of these phrases to give yourself time to gather your thoughts.
“How do you mean?”
“That’s a very good question could I have some time to think about it please?”
“Sorry I’m not sure I understood the question fully”
"Could we come back to that question later please?"
Repeat the question out loud (this gives you more time to think).
Could you repeat the question please?
You will need to be prepared for the types of questions that you might be asked in the interview and, of course, for your answers.
Here are some typical questions that you may be asked at an interview. They are only a guide of what you may encounter. You are also likely to be asked questions based on the information you have given in your application form or CV, such as questions about your work experience or education.
You may find it helpful to use the STAR formula to fully answer interview questions.
Describe a situation you were in.
Describe the task you needed to do. Be specific.
What action did you take? Keep the focus on you. Avoid blaming. What did YOU do?
What happened? What did you learn? What was accomplished?
Take your time to formulate each answer, what is the interviewer aiming to understand about you?
Click on each question to get some advice on how to answer.
Think about the position you are applying for and talk about key elements within your life, both personal and professional, that are relevant to the role.
Stress the positive aspects which have attracted you. Do not mention the negative aspects of your current job or this job.
The job description should give you some answers to this, but think of the other skills and qualities that may be required. These may include communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership ability, supervisory skills, problem solving and analytical skills.
Be honest when answering this question. If the answer is yes give details about your previous experience. If the answer is no draw on other experiences which you feel are parallel or illustrate skills needed in the new role.
This is your chance to sell yourself. Stress your achievements in your previous jobs which are relevant to the new position.
Emphasise the positive reasons why you want to join this company. Stress opportunities for personal growth and new challenges. Avoid aspects such as more money or shorter hours.
This is your chance to impress the interviewer with your knowledge of their company. Give them a run down of their products/services, sales figures, news, profits and major customers.
This question will only be asked if you are making a big change in your career. Always stress the positive aspects of the change rather than the negative aspects of your previous career. Say why you think you will be good in the new career - this should come from your experience and achievements, stress the transferable skills you have, such as leadership ability.
Link in your goals with the company that is interviewing you.
Describe the job in terms of the criteria they have used to describe their job. An ideal job might include things like challenging work, a fair rate of pay for the job, hard working colleagues, good career prospects, good team atmosphere, opportunity to learn new skills and develop current skills.
The answer to both these questions are the same. For example, being a perfectionist can be a strength and a weakness at the same time.
Highlight an achievement which is related to their needs. Explain in detail how you achieved success.
Choose a failure which you were later able to rectify, or something that pushed you down a new pathway.
Use the STAR method to describe the situation and make sure you conclude the describion with what you learnt from the decision.
Pick your best attributes and achievements from your career.
Be very careful when you answer this question - you do not want to appear to be greedy. The same principles as above apply. If you are applying for a specific vacancy you could ask them what the salary range is.
Use this opportunity to divulge any important information you think is relevant. It is also an opportunity to bring up another experience or skill you have which has not yet been touched on in the interview.
Be prepared to answer this question by checking the required notice period for resignations if you are currently working. Take into consideration the time it takes to relocate if that is required.
More example questions
These questions are grouped into industry or skill areas to give you an idea of what specific questions may be asked.
Sometimes clients/customers can be a bit difficult; angry or upset. How would you handle someone like that?
Have you ever gone the ‘extra mile’ for someone? If so, please describe the situation and the outcome.
Can you describe an occasion when you had several urgent tasks to perform, how did you deal with the situation?
Can you tell us about a time you have been involved in a team that has been very successful – what do you think the reasons for its success were?
Have you been in a team where it was not performing well – i.e., one team member was not pulling their weight – what steps did you take to respond to this situation?
Describe, using an example, a time you had a disagreement with colleague at work/polytech. How did you manage to work it out?
Can you tell us about a time when other people have opposed your ideas (friends/classmates/work colleagues), how did you respond to this?
Can you describe a time when you made extra effort to ensure a person understood what you were explaining to them?
Can you tell us about a time when you had to communicate delicate/confidential/sensitive information to others or information people were reluctant to hear? How did you go about this?
What steps do you take to establish rapport with customers/colleagues/classmates?
Personal effectiveness and professional development
How will you keep up to date with current trends or new developments in the field of...?
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
If the situation arose where you were not coping with your workload, how would you go about dealing with this?
Can you give an example of a time when you had to present or explain complex/technical information to someone who has less technical knowledge than you?
Questions YOU could ask
Towards the end of the interview you will normally be given the chance to ask questions. The interview is not over so you still have the opportunity to impress. Asking well thought out questions can end the interview on a positive note.
Prepare a list of questions as some will be covered during the interview.
Questions could include:
Who would I be working with?
How many employees are there in the section?
What are the opportunities for training?
How do you support professional development for your staff?
Would I get the opportunity to gain qualifications?
What are chances for promotion?
What are the hours of work?
How did this vacancy arise?
How will my performance be measured?
When is the anticipated start date?
When can I expect a decision by?
DO NOT answer that you haven’t any questions!
To further create a good impression, it is essential to thank the interviewer for giving you the opportunity. Regardless of how you feel the interview went, consider what you could have done better. If you’re unsuccessful, this will help you be better prepared for the next interview.
After the interview checklist
Write a short note and send it promptly to:
Thank the interviewer
Confirm or decline your interest in the job
Clarify and/or provide further information not mentioned at the interview
Do damage control if you feel you didn't do yourself justice in some way
Now you must wait. If you have not heard after a week or so you could try to find out if the job has been filled. There may have been a lot of competition for the job, so do not take it personally if you don’t get it.
If you’re not successful in getting the job, try to work out why. Be honest with yourself. Receiving feedback on your interview performance can be a useful tool for improving your performance next time. Most Human Resources professionals recognise that feedback is essential for self-development and will be happy to accommodate your request. Try to think of each interview as a chance to learn and improve, not just as an opportunity to get a job.
If you keep getting turned down at interviews ask at Otago Polytechnic Career Services for help - you will be able to get some advice on your interview technique.
Been offered the job? Congratulations!
Need to talk to someone?
The Hub, H Block, Dunedin
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