The thought of an interview strikes fear into the hearts of many experienced professionals at the peak of their careers. Almost everyone has a horror story of their first interview, either for a part-time job or a further education provider that has haunted them for decades, but it doesn’t have to be this way! Interviews are the first step to positive life changes, and with the right preparation you can one day be that smug colleague who breezes through interviews without a second thought.
Before the Interview
Research the organisation:
Conducting thorough research is a good way of showing you are really passionate about the opportunity you are interviewing for. Knowing your stuff will show you’re committed and will also drive off any nerves – it’s a huge confidence booster. Use the internet to research as extensively as you can; from the official website, affiliated sites, what the media say, and review sites like Glassdoor.com.
Make sure you understand their:
Products and services
Values and plans
History and accomplishments
Study the job description and person specification:
Make sure you know the job description and person specification inside and out. Fully understand the duties and responsibilities of the role you are applying for.
Do a self-evaluation. Make sure you understand your strengths, gaps in your knowledge and skills, how your past academic and/or work experience is relevant to the role, and even what skills you’ve learnt from your hobbies and extracurriculars. Spend half your life sorting out your scout group’s squabbles? Make sure they know about your leadership skills. Watch an embarrassing number of documentaries for fun? Tell them about your curious mind and love of learning. A simple google search can show you how to sell your personal qualities and hobbies in a formal interview.
Answers for questions: Google is a great way to find common interview questions, so you have an idea of what to expect and how to respond. You should definitely know your CV inside and out, which should be easy as it must all be true!
Gear: Make sure you prepare everything you need the night before the interview. This includes a good quality folder, pen and two copies of your CV, just in case you need to give the extra copy to the interviewer. It is perfectly acceptable to take a notebook with your research and prepared questions into the interview with you, and generally respected if you want to jot things down as you go. Just make sure that you’re only using this as a prompt and a memory aid – you still need to engage with your interviewer and show you can think on the spot.
Location: Write down the address/location and work out how to get there.
Outfit: Choose and iron your outfit. We generally recommend you look as smart and professional as possible and dress conservatively. How appropriately you dress for an interview tells the interviewer how seriously you take the opportunity and what to expect from you in future. Make sure you are presentable and well-groomed. It’s also worth considering what makes you feel confident and comfortable – if you’re 100% a trousers person, you’re not going to feel yourself in a pencil skirt when you could be wearing smart black slacks instead.
Sleep: Have a quiet evening and a good sleep the night before, to calm your nerves and boost your confidence. Psychologists recommend avoiding distractions too, including heavy meals, intense exercise, alcohol, excessive caffeine or a late night.
Punctuality: In interviews, punctuality is critical – not arriving on time can reflect badly on you and should be avoided at all costs. Your arrival time at the interview tells your interviewer what to expect from you in future, so try to make it a good impression! Aim to arrive at least fifteen minutes prior to the interview and ensure the receptionist or somebody within the business knows that you have arrived. It might also be a good idea to switch off your mobile at this point in time.
During the interview
Some of the key things to do during the interview:
- Greet the interviewer(s) courteously, with a warm, friendly smile and a relatively firm handshake to show confidence and assertiveness. (But not too firm!)
- Consistently maintain a reasonable level of eye contact throughout, spreading it evenly if being interviewed by a panel of interviewers. Good eye contact demonstrates focus, interest and confidence.
- Be a good listener – showing alertness and attention to detail reflects your enthusiasm and positive attitude and is likely to guarantee you higher scores. If there was any lack of clarity, politely ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify.
- Confidently and clearly express yourself. You want to appear composed and assertive, without being too relaxed, aggressive or nervous, and to keep your responses concise.
- Avoid giving rushed and disorganised answers and take a moment to compose yourself when necessary. Use examples whenever possible to illustrate how your experience would fit the role. This is where your self-evaluation and research or total lack of preparation will really show!
- Demonstrate passion and enthusiasm in the way you express yourself. Show your eagerness and interest in the role, the company, its values and its products and services. Where relevant, asking questions can further enhance your impression of keenness. It is often said in business that interviewers judge by attitude and personality first, because skills can be taught. Show them that you will be a good colleague to work with or a great candidate for the course.
Plan two or three questions to ask the interviewer at the end. Not having any shows, a clear lack of interest. They must be simple and relevant. Good open-ended ‘what/where/will/who?’ questions let the interviewer to happily elaborate.
It is ideal to ask questions relevant to the company/education provider you are interviewing for, but here are few flexible questions to get you started:
- What do you personally like about working here?
- Where can this opportunity take me in future?
- What qualities would your ideal candidate possess?
- What are the organisation’s plans for the future?
- What opportunities will I have to gain new skills?
Things to avoid include:
- criticising your previous employers;
- negative examples of your past experiences
- expressing biases, prejudices or intolerance of any form
- too much focus career progression
- asking about salary, holiday or sickness policies
- arrogance or a superiority complex
Remember: you have been invited for an interview because they think you’re a capable candidate. This is also a chance for you to get to know the employer and work out whether you’d even want the job if you were offered it. There will be other opportunities out there, so this isn’t a ride or die situation! Remember your own worth and show them the best of you.