Anne Scally HR Consultant


Your preparatory work begins well in advance of the interview itself. Preparation is the ‘mother of success’ and you cannot over prepare for an interview.

You should have a clear understanding of what the requirements of the job are from both the job advertisement and the job description ( always request a job description when you get invited to interview if not already provided).

There are two types of questions asked at interview, general interview questions about your education, experience, career to date etc. and competency based questions which are usually behavioural and can be tricky if you have not thought about examples and prepared answers.

First Impressions

It is said that people make up their minds about other people within 7 seconds of meeting them. You have only one chance to make a good first impression at interview. Smiling is shown to be a psychological signal of altruism (among other positive correlations). When you smile at someone, it makes her more likely to trust you, and it makes you seem more approachable. Flashing a smile in those first seven seconds of meeting someone may be all it takes to forge a stronger first impression and connection.

Dress and groom appropriately.

This should go without saying, but interviewers will judge you on your looks long before they judge your words or actions. You can start off on the right foot by dressing appropriately for your interview. What you wear and small things like hair, makeup and nails can actually influence how interviewers view you for a particular job or as a fit for their organisation.

It used to be easy to know how to dress for an interview, a smart suit and tie or a well cut suit and blouse in muted colours. These days it’s not quite as simple. There are sectors and companies now where employees wear jeans and tee-shirts to work and turning up for an interview in a suit will make you look as if you will not fit in. People in the tech sector usually dress very casually, people in the fashion industry will tend to dress creatively, while solicitors still tend to dress formally and so on. If you are interviewing for a job within your own sector, you will already know the norm. If you are unsure of the sector, phone the company in advance of your interview and ask them what the dress code is, they’ll be impressed that you asked in advance of your interview. If the dress code is very casual, you should still dress a notch or two up for your interview and wear business casual (e.g. chinos/open necked shirt for the men/slacks and blouse for the ladies) as it is important that you project the right image for yourself and also show respect for the interviewers and your prospective new employer.

Dealing with Nerves

Some nerves are natural and adrenalin helps us to perform in stressful situations. Good preparation is the key to being confident about your interview and knowing that you have prepared well should help to calm your nerves. Nearly everyone is nervous at the start of an interview but the interviewers are aware of this and most will be kind and give you a chance to settle down by asking some ice-breaking questions at the start. If you are really nervous, while in the waiting area relax by breathing in and out slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth, focus on your breathing rather than your worries. In the interview, a single slow breath in and out while the interviewer is speaking should be a big help and will not be noticed by them

The ‘do’s and don’ts’ of introductions

When you enter the interview room greet the interviewer confidently and warmly with a smile and make good eye contract. Allow the interviewer to offer a handshake first and wait to be invited to sit down. When the interviewer introduces himself respond with ‘pleased to meet you’ or ‘how do you do’. Always take the lead from the interviewer, wait until they offer a handshake and make sure your own handshake is firm. Do not sit down until you are invited to do so.

Greet the interviewer by name e.g.” I am pleased to meet you, Ms. Ryan.”

Do not use first names unless the interviewer invites you to, always maintain a professional approach even if the interviewer has a casual interview style.

Projecting a positive image

Employers are looking for people with a positive attitude to life and work. As well as making a good first impression, you need to be polite and friendly throughout the interview and share as much information as you can with the interviewer.

Be responsive: give full answers to questions. Never respond with just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Develop each answer fully using the opportunity to positively portray your skills, knowledge and attitude with each answer that you give. Good preparation will assist you greatly in this regard as you should have your answers developed and thought out in your head before going for the interview.

Be confident: Interviewers want to be convinced that you can do the job you are interviewing for. You need to show that you are confident without being pushy or arrogant. For example, if the interviewer says, ‘So, it’s 3 years since you worked in IT, rather than saying ‘Yes, that’s right’, say something like ‘Yes, that’s right, however my IT skills are transferable and still current and since then I have also learned additional relevant skills in my current role.’ (state what those skills are).

Answering interview questions

Listen carefully to each question and make sure the interviewer has finished the question before you answer.

Consider the question before you answer, this will help you collect your thoughts and ensures that you are not cutting off the interviewer.

If you need a little time to think about your answer, it is quite acceptable to say ‘ can I please have a moment to think about that?’ (shows someone who reflects and doesn’t jump to conclusions).

If you don't understand a question, it is better to say to the interviewer, ‘I don’t understand your questions, can you please re-phrase?’

Never badmouth a former employer (even if they were awful).

Badmouthing your previous employer will always reflect poorly on you and will make you appear unprofessional.

Focus on what you learned and enjoyed in your previous employment, this shows a positive attitude to work.

Answer the question you are asked and don’t waffle. If you genuinely don’t know the answer, say something like, ‘that is not an area I have come across before’ rather than bluffing.

If you have something you want to get across and the interviewer doesn’t ask you the right question, you can always lead the interviewer when answering another question e.g. if the interviewer asked you ‘do you use excel in your current job?’ say something like ‘yes I do, but I also used SAP and Access in previous roles’

Showing that you are shifting your focus from your old job to new opportunities indicates adaptability and ambition.

The main part of your interview is the questions themselves so this is where you really need to prepare in advance. You can anticipate most of the questions as the same questions are asked time and time again at interview.

Typically the questions are

Questions about yourself

What do you know about the organisation ( have the research done)

Why you have applied for the job

Questions about your qualifications, experience and career to date

Why you choose this particular area to work in

Questions about your personality

Competency Based questions (can be tricky and you need to be really well prepared and be able to cite real work examples)

Most likely you will also be asked by the interviewer if you have any questions that you wish to ask. This usually comes towards the end of the interview. Always have a question or two ready. Try to come up with questions you want to know the answer to, never ask about money at this point as this sends the entirely wrong message to the interviewer. An example of a good question would be: What are the top priorities in this job over the next six months?

Closing the interview

Always wait for the interviewer to close the interview (I have been on a interview panel once where the interviewee closed out the interview, and left the room before the panel concluded the interview — needless to say that candidate didn’t get the job). As at the outset, take your lead from the interviewer, wait for the interviewer to close the interview, then thank them for their time and for granting you the courtesy of an interview, shake hands if they offer to do so and then leave the room.

Following this article, I am going to write a section specifically on competency based questions and how to prepare answers as these are the questions where I have often seen people come unstuck at interview.

Good luck for now if you are preparing for an interview!