You’ve impressed them with your CV and covering letter, and you've got through to the next stage in the recruitment process: that all-important interview. An interview is your opportunity to demonstrate how you would be a good fit for the role. You'll be able to discuss your skills and experience in greater detail and, importantly, what you feel you could bring to the organisation. It's also a chance for you to ask any questions you might have about the role or the company, and to make sure that their values and culture are a good fit for you too.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the big day.

Before the job interview

Do your homework

Before the big day, visit the organisation’s website and review the job description. Read up on the skills they’re looking for and whether you meet those requirements. Then think about any examples you can talk about that demonstrate those skills or behaviours. Also, make sure that you understand the purpose of the organisation - why they do what they do. This will help you to see how your role will fit in and demonstrate to the interviewers your keen interest.

Plan your travel and expect the unexpected

There’s nothing worse than getting lost or missing trains before an interview. Make sure you know where the interview is being held and how you're going to get there. Of course, things can happen that are out of your control so It's a good idea to make a note of the person who will be interviewing you so that you can let them know if you’re going to be late. As a general rule, leaving early will help you to feel more prepared and composed on arrival.

At the interview​

Don’t panic, just be yourself

It’s natural to feel nervous before an interview. But don’t panic if things don’t go according to plan. If a question throws you off track, ask for a moment to think about it and compose yourself. If you’re really stressed, let your interviewer know; this will help them understand your situation and make you feel at ease. They don’t want to catch you out – they just want to see if you have the right skills and motivation for the role.

Give an accurate picture of yourself in the interview. Friends and family may have advised you about what to say, but it’s best to be yourself. This way you'll reveal your personality, you'll be more comfortable with your answers, and you'll appear much more authentic and relaxed.

Watch your body language

If, when under pressure, you tend to play with your hair, fiddle with a pen, bite your nails or anything else, try not to do so during the interview. Instead, look your interviewer in the eye, sit up straight and try not to slouch. A positive posture will help you to feel more confident too.

First impressions last

First impressions count. Make sure you’re wearing something professional and appropriate for the interview. Avoid clothes that are uncomfortable as you don't want to be worrying about them whilst trying to answer questions. Your handshake is important, so look the interviewer in the eye and shake firmly. A smile will often help too!

Listen and answer the questions

You may have prepared answers for some questions. However, don’t answer a question with a response that doesn’t relate to it. Listen carefully to the interviewer and make sure you answer appropriately, and don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to elaborate or repeat themselves if you’re unsure.

Change your examples

If an interviewer wants you to demonstrate your communication skills, teamworking talents and business ability, don’t use the same example for every question. Try to think of various ways to highlight your skills, perhaps by talking about things you do outside work or university. This will help to give your experience more context and depth.

Come prepared with questions

At every interview there will be an opportunity for you to ask questions about the role and the organisation. This will show the interviewer that you are interested and help you to visualise what it would be like to work there.

For example:

  • How many people are in the team I may be working in?
  • What’s the best thing about working here?
  • When can I expect to hear your decision?

Look interested and leave on a positive

Smile, nod and show you’re interested in what your interviewer is saying. If you look bored or don’t maintain eye contact, your interviewer may think you’re not interested in the job. Even if, at the end of the interview, you decide the role isn’t right for you, thank them for their time and remain enthusiastic. It’s always best to be professional.

Typical interview questions to expect​

Interviewers will ask you many different questions. The key to answering them successfully is simple: be prepared. Look at the job description, advertisement and the organisation’s website. What are they looking for from their people? Then consider your relevant skills and experience and how you can demonstrate them in the interview.

Here are some questions your interviewer may ask.

Why have you applied for this role?

Explain your motivation for applying for the role, what you know about the company and why you think you’re suitable for the position. Your answer should reinforce why you are a good fit for the job and convey your enthusiasm for the role. You can mention the good match between your skills and what the job requires - including what you will bring to the company; your interest in the organisation’s area of business/products; and the job being an exciting challenge for you.

What attracted you to this organisation?

Show you’re interested in the organisation and that you’ve researched them. For example, do you know the locations they operate in? And who their competitors are? Knowing details like this is important when applying for HR roles. To make a difference, you really need to understand the organisation.

Tell me about a time you had to work under pressure.

Your interviewer is encouraging you to talk about a project or piece of work that you found quite stressful. How did you deal with the pressure? Did you give up and walk away? Or, did you find a solution and get the job done? They want to learn about your resilience when under stress and how you cope when things go wrong.

Tell me about a time you had to resolve a conflict in a team

The interviewer wants to know if you can deal with issues within a team. So, describe briefly the structure of the team and your role within it. If there was conflict, did you deal with it or ignore it? What was the outcome?

Can you give me an example of when you’ve had to give feedback to someone?

They’re asking if you can show your coaching skills and ability to develop others. Do you shy away from giving feedback or are you good at tactfully giving positive and developmental responses? How did they take your comments and what was the result?

Tell me about yourself...

Don’t be tempted to give a short response – use this time to introduce yourself to the employer in the best possible light. Your response to this should be well rehearsed, confident and relevant. It’s not necessary to reel off your life history – instead, focus on things that relate to the job you’re going for. What are your key skills/strengths? Focus on what you know they are looking for, even if it has only been a small part of what you have done to date. Take another look at the job advert and download the job description from the company website, work through it carefully and think about how your experience and skills meet their requirements.

What are your weaknesses?

Nobody is perfect and everyone can identify areas for improvement. However, when thinking about yours, make sure they are relevant to a professional context. Remember to acknowledge that improving on your ‘weaknesses’ is important to you and, where possible, show how you are working to develop them. For example, you might be someone who is shy, but you purposefully make an effort to talk to people as you recognise this is an issue.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Your interviewer might want to know how the job you are going for fits in with your long-term plans. It’s okay if you haven’t worked out the next 20 years in your head – very few people have. However, you should have a general idea about what your interests are, what kind of areas you would like to work in and even perhaps where you see yourself in the next few years. Tell the interviewer how the job and their organisation fits in with these ideas – perhaps they offer lots of training and development, which in time will help you progress.

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