Job interview tips and how to best answer questions
So you've aced your CV and covering letter and been invited in for an interview? We're here to make sure you blow them away!
When you think of job interviews, you might be conjuring up thoughts of a particularly painful episode of The Apprentice, but don't worry – they aren't all that bad!
A little bit of plan 'n' prep is all you need to walk into any interview brimming with confidence, and the rest will fall into place.
Although your CV and cover letter are both crucial in providing a detailed picture of your skills and experience, an interview is your chance to really sell yourself and wow your potential future employer.
But guess what – we're here to give you tips on how to get yourself hired. So what are you waiting for? Let's go!
Job interview tips and tricks
How to prepare for a job interview
We're sure you're already well aware that the preparation stage is the most crucial for any interview, but it really is worth emphasising.
If you find it difficult to prepare for interviews and tend to give up quickly, or you think you'd prefer to wing it – we'd seriously suggest thinking again. Regardless of the sort of job you're going for, the more time you spend preparing, the easier things will be – and the more confident you'll come across.
Here are the main points to cover before the day.
Do your research
Turning up for an interview without being armed with interesting things to say about the company/sector as well as yourself and your own experiences is the easiest mistake to make.
Do some research by looking carefully at the company website, checking their social media accounts and the kinds of things they post, as well as googling them to see if you can find any press coverage or even a company blog.
Any awareness of this stuff you're able to drop into conversation will really impress them, and it'll give you a better picture of what you're potentially signing yourself up to!
It's also a good idea to research the wider sector so you can show awareness of any controversies and who the company's competitors are.
Most employers say that it's obvious when a candidate hasn't prepared adequately – the knowledge you gather on these subjects will imply you have a genuine interest and that you're willing to go the extra mile.
It'll also make conversation flow easily and reduce the chances of any awkward silent moments.
Pro tip: Set up a Google Alert for the company name so that you get any relevant news about them straight to your inbox.
Think about what you have to offer
Now you've done your research on the company and sector, it's time to start thinking about which aspects of your skill set and experience are directly relevant to the company and the job role.
Read through the job description, pull out the most important parts and write them in a list.
Next to each point, write down any parts of your own CV or things about yourself that come to mind that you know demonstrate you have something to offer that directly relates to each point.
It's guaranteed that the interviewer will use what's included in the job description to direct your conversation, so preparing in this way will mean you have a go-to response when you hear the expected buzzwords.
Prepare these in advance and read them over and over so that when it comes to the interview question about a certain competency then an example will pop straight to mind. This can also help prevent you from repeating yourself with the same examples.
For a bit of extra help, check out this list of the skills that employers want the most.
Prepare your own questions
There's nothing worse than ending the interview with no questions to ask your interviewer! Don't be fooled into thinking this part doesn't matter – showing you're inquisitive and able to come up with interesting questions is equally as important as answering them.
It's likely you'll be keen to hot foot it as soon is your side of the interview is up, but employers actually consider your moment to ask questions as something that's very important, so take the time to prepare a few.
Make sure you don't ask anything that's already been covered, though, or it'll seem like you're not listening.
Wake up early
An obvious one we know, but we'll say it anyway: get up extra early on the morning of your interview!
If you have time, go for a run or to the gym to wake yourself up and get those endorphins going (those chemicals in your brain that are released after exercise and make you feel good). This'll calm the jitters and give you a confidence boost!
Make sure you have a good-sized breakfast. You don't have to go full monty with a full English, but don't scrimp either – half a slice of toast won't give you the brainpower you need to focus.
We recommend a bowl of cereal, some fruit, toast and a cup of coffee. Take an apple with you to fight those mid-morning hunger pains!
Before you head in for your interview, have a chat with a friend or family member about something other than the interview to loosen yourself up and get you into the swing of things. Nothing like a natter about EastEnders to take your mind off your nerves!
Plan everything for the interview day
Planning everything in advance will put your mind at ease and ensure nothing goes wrong on the day.
Choose what you're going to wear (something smart but not too formal will give a good impression) at least a couple of days before the interview.
This will cancel out any potentially disastrous moments where you realise your lucky shirt has a massive blob of ketchup down the front and you need to wash it last minute in a blind panic.
Pack your bag with everything you'll need the night before too – few copies of your CV, business cards (if you have any), your passport and a portfolio of work (if you have or need one).
We'd recommend also carefully planning your journey to the interview and even testing out the route if you have time. It's always better to turn up early (at least five minutes early!) than it is to be late, so make sure to leave some extra time.
What to do during a job interview
Try to calm your nerves on the day by not obsessing about what's ahead too much. After all that great prep you've been doing over the last few days, there's not much more you'll achieve by thinking about it incessantly – that will only make you more nervous.
Always remember that it's normal for you to get a bit nervous and most employers will expect you to be!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the big day:
- Make sure you smile and give a firm handshake when greeting your interviewer – there's nothing worse than a limp handshake
- Ask a short icebreaker question when you first arrive to get things going on an informal level, like “How's your day going?”
- Think about your posture and make sure when you take a seat you're sitting up straight and not fidgeting. Hand gestures can be good for emphasis when you're talking, but don't overdo it. Try not to sit completely rigid either, or you'll look (and feel!) uncomfortable and more nervous
- Be aware that you're talking to a professional and be mindful of your vocabulary. If you start to go on a tangent, stop yourself ASAP and try not to say things such as "erm" too much – take a second and breathe!
- Compose yourself when answering questions and take time to think. You can think back to the notes you've written and then give the best answer that you can. Much better than rushing straight into it!
Tips on answering the questions
Once you have all of this under wraps you'll be in the best position to answer whatever questions they hit you with – competently and with confidence!
The interview may start with a few more general opening questions, and as easy as these questions might seem, they can throw you off if you haven't prepared adequately.
Normally they will ask you something along the lines of "so tell me a bit about yourself". When asked this it is important not just to launch into your life story, as this isn't what they're asking.
What this question really means is "tell us in a few sentences why you're a relevant candidate to this company and role" so things like your degree, uni and what has made you decide to go for a career in this area will suffice.
You can also mention things like where you're from if you're applying somewhere away from home, but keep it brief.
Although questions like these are just warm-up questions, don't take them too informally as first impressions are incredibly important.
It's likely the follow-on questions from this will then draw on examples and experiences to test your key competencies. This is where you can use the notes that you've prepared in order to answer the question to the best of your ability.
A few BIG interview tips on how to answer interview questions are:
- Answer the question directly (don't waffle to squeeze in things you'd like to say)
- Give a clear and tangible example when you can
- Show you've thought about how your current skills are relevant/transferable to the job.
Many employers report that a large number of candidates lack a wide range of examples and are too vague. They don’t want to hear about what you've been doing at university for every question, so think outside the box by using examples from your life outside of education and at previous jobs.
Dealing with difficult interview questions
If a difficult question comes up, there's no hard and fast rule for handling it. It's easier said than done in a high-pressure interview environment, but try to stay calm and just answer the question as best you can.
A common "difficult" question is "What are your weaknesses?". In this case, it's a good idea to talk about something that is a weakness you are working on. In other words, flip the question to something positive.
You may not be too good at public speaking but you have been working on improving it whilst at university (give an example, like a presentation you scored well in) and now you feel you're slowly managing to overcome it.
Also, saying your weakness is being too much of a perfectionist is basically a humble-brag about how hardworking you are. It shows lack of self-awareness and is somewhat of a non-answer...
If you really struggle with knowing when a project is finished and tend to work on things obsessively, then say that! Turn it into something positive and say that this is why you enjoy working with other people in a team and are always appreciative of feedback.
An interview is all about self-promotion and showing why you're the best candidate for the job, but it's also important to remember that they'll be looking at how you're going to fit into a wider team.
Being likeable and showing enjoyment in working with others will help them picture you fitting into their office!
To conclude the interview, it's very likely you'll be asked if you have any questions yourself.
A good starting point is to ask the interviewer if there's anything that they feel you haven't covered in quite enough detail. Not only does this give you another bite of the cherry, but it also shows that you're open to improvement and able to self-evaluate.
Otherwise, remember your prepared questions that you have thought of. But as we touched on earlier, be careful to make sure that the questions haven't already been answered in the interview, as this can make it seem as though you weren't listening.
Another good question to ask is "What do you think the most important qualities are for the ideal candidate for this role?". This will show the interviewer that you too are interested in working out if you're a perfect fit, and will also give you an idea of whether you've covered everything they were expecting from you.
What to do after a job interview
Once the interview is over, there are still a few things you can do to give yourself an advantage over other candidates in securing the job. A follow-up email to thank the employer for seeing you and giving you their time is always a good idea, and will keep you at the forefront of their memory.
If you haven't heard back from them in two weeks or more, send an email or phone them up to ask for feedback.
Even if you didn't get the job this time, remember that every interview is a learning experience and you will get better and better at this every time you walk in to an interview.
The last thing to say is simply... good luck!