Candidate Advice

Top tips for executing a successful interview 


Top tips for executing a successful interview 

A job interview can be daunting even for the most experienced candidates, but it is the most important part of securing a new job. There are plenty of ways to calm those interview nerves, so be prepared and get ready to make the right impression. 

No matter how well qualified you may seem ‘on paper’ for a job, when recruiting, an employer will still be interested in your personality and presentation. If employers have more than one suitable applicant for a role, interview performance is often the deciding factor. This makes the face-to-face meeting a critical part of the recruitment process and you will need to impress from the start. 

Following the interview preparation guidelines we’ve provided below will help you overcome any interview nerves and provide you with some confidence for a productive meeting with your potential new employer. 

Pre-Interview Preparation 

Find out as much information as possible about your prospective employer in advance of your interview. 

Most companies now have websites which are packed with information. Familiarise yourself with mission statements, past performance and future goals. Be aware that if your prospective employer does have a comprehensive website, you may seriously compromise your chances if it becomes apparent you have not taken time to research it. 

If available, also access the press or news area of the website. This will give you articles from the media and insightful information about the company. It will also ensure you are aware of recent press releases involving the company. 

If the company website does not have a press area, access information online through search engines or social media sites. 

GEM Partnership Consultants are specialists in supporting candidates through the interview process and will happily provide supporting information and talk you through company expectations and interview style which will significantly boost your chances of making a good impression. 

Familiarise yourself with the details of your interview. 

Prior to the interview it is important to ensure you have all the details you need and that you familiarise yourself with this information. This includes the date, time and location of the interview, as well as the name and title of the interviewer. It’s always helpful to write this information down and take it with you to the interview just in case you need it.  

Prepare your interview outfit in advance. 

Check the dress code in advance of your interview and ensure what you’re planning to wear is appropriate for the style of interview you’re attending and employer you’re meeting with. A suit or smart office attire is the usual suggested outfit; however, casual clothing may be appropriate in some circumstances, but we would suggest to still keep it smart casual. 

Familiarise yourself with the journey to the location, to ensure you arrive in plenty of time.  

If driving, do a ‘dummy run’. Anticipate delays, especially on unknown routes. Contact your interviewer swiftly if you are unavoidably delayed on the day. 

Do not arrive over-laden with belongings! 

Take any requested certificates, references etc., a spare CV and a notepad and pen. A mobile phone is always useful, but ensure it is turned off or at least on silent before arriving at your destination. 

Be punctual for your meeting, but it is inadvisable to arrive more than half an hour early. 

Leave yourself enough time to use the restroom and freshen up if necessary. 

Remember that you start making an impression on your prospective employer the moment you arrive. 

Be courteous to the receptionist and any other staff you may meet prior to your interview. Their opinion of you is often sought and may even have some influence on the final selection. 

The Interview 

First impressions. 

Research tells us time and again that first impressions really do make a difference and that a prospective employer will form judgments in the first couple of minutes of the interview that will seriously influence their final decision. 

Greet your interviewer standing, with a strong, firm handshake and a smile. 

Good body language is vital. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Speak clearly and confidently. Try and maintain a comfortable level of eye contact throughout. 

A typical interview will generally start with an introductory chat, moving on to questions specific to your application and experience. 

General information about the company and role may follow, finishing with an opportunity for you to ask your own questions. (See Common Interview Questions for more in-depth support on this.) 

Be familiar with your CV and prepared to answer questions from it. 

Similarly, ensure you have read any job description thoroughly and think of ways in which your experience will benefit your potential employer. 

LISTEN to what is being asked of you. 

Think about your answers to more difficult questions and do not give irrelevant detail. Give positive examples from your experience to date. Be concise but avoid one-word answers. Prepare yourself in advance for likely questions. If you are unsure about what the interviewer is asking for do not be afraid to ask them to clarify the question. If in any doubt do not fabricate answers, be honest up front that you do not have an answer. 

Be ready to ask questions that you have prepared beforehand. 

This can demonstrate you have thought about the role and done some research on the organisation. Ensure they are open, thus encouraging the interviewer to provide you with additional information. (See Your Questions of the Interviewer for more in-depth support on this.) 

Show your enthusiasm for the role, even if you have some reservations. 

These can be discussed at a later stage. 

Common Interview Questions 

The key thing to remember when responding to interview questions is to keep your answers relevant and to the point. If you are faced with a difficult question, make sure you stay calm, don’t get defensive, and take a moment to think about your response before you answer. 

These are some common interview questions for you to consider and prepare relevant answers for beforehand. Remember, the suggested responses we’ve provided are only examples. Try to personalise your response as much as possible. 

Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: Identify some of your main attributes and memorise them. Describe your qualifications, career history and range of skills, emphasising those skills relevant to the job on offer. 

Q: What have your achievements been to date?
A: Select an achievement that is work-related and fairly recent. Identify the skills you used in the achievement and quantify the benefit it had to the company. For example, ‘my greatest achievement has been to design and implement a new sales ledger system, bringing it in ahead of time and improving our debtors’ position significantly, saving the company £5,000 a month in interest’. 

Q: Are you happy with your career-to-date?
A: This question is really about your self-esteem, confidence and career aspirations. The answer must be ‘yes’, followed by a brief explanation as to what it is about your career so far that’s made you happy. If you have hit a career plateau, or you feel you are moving too slowly, then you must qualify your answer. 

Q: What is the most difficult situation you have had to face and how did you tackle it?
A: The purpose of this question is to find out what your definition of difficult is and whether you can show a logical approach to problem solving. In order to show yourself in a positive light, select a difficult work situation which was not caused by you and which can be quickly explained in a few sentences. Explain how you defined the problem, what the options were, why you selected the one you did and what the outcome was. Always end on a positive note. 

Q: What do you like about your present job?
A: This is a straightforward question. All you have to do is make sure that your ‘likes’ correspond to the skills required for the job on offer. Be enthusiastic; describe your job as interesting and diverse but do not overdo it – after all, you are looking to leave. 

Q: What do you dislike about your present job?
A: Be cautious with this answer. Do not be too specific as you may draw attention to weaknesses that will leave you open to further difficult questions. One approach is to choose a characteristic of your present company, such as its size or slow decision-making processes etc. Give your answer with the air of someone who takes problems and frustrations in your stride as part of the job. 

Q: What are your strengths?
A: This is one question that you know you are going to get so there is no excuse for being unprepared. Concentrate on discussing your main strengths. List three or four proficiencies e.g., your ability to learn quickly, determination to succeed, positive attitude, your ability to relate to people and achieve a common goal. You may be asked to give examples of the above so be prepared. 

Q: What is your greatest weakness?
A: Do not say you have none – it is both unrealistic and likely to frustrate the interviewer. You have two options – use a professed weakness such as a lack of experience (not ability) on your part in an area that is not vital for the job. The second option is to describe a personal or professional weakness that could also be considered to be a strength and the steps you have taken to combat it. An example would be: “I know my team think I’m too demanding at times – I tend to drive them pretty hard but I’m getting much better at using the carrot and not the stick.” 

Q: Why do you want to leave your current employer?
A: State how you are looking for a new challenge, more responsibility, experience and a change of environment. Do not be negative in your reasons for leaving. It is rarely appropriate to cite salary as your primary motivator. 

Q: Why have you applied for this particular job?
A: The employer is looking for evidence that the job suits you, fits in with your general aptitudes, coincides with your long-term goals and involves doing things you enjoy. Make sure you have a good understanding of the role and the organisation and describe the attributes of the organisation that interest you most. 

Other common interview questions to consider: 

  1. What do you enjoy about this industry? 
  2. Give me an example of when you have felt anger at work. How did you cope and did you still perform to a good level? 
  3. What kind of people do you find it difficult to work with? 
  4. Give me an example of when you have had to face a conflict of interest at work. 
  5. Tell me about the last time you disagreed with your boss. 
  6. Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? Why? 
  7. This organisation is very different to your current employer – how do you think you are going to fit in? 
  8. What are you looking for in a company? 
  9. How do you measure your own performance? 
  10. What kind of pressures have you encountered at work? 
  11. What changes in the workplace have caused you difficulty and why? 
  12. How do you feel about working long hours and/or weekends? 
  13. Give me an example of when you have been out of your depth. 
  14. What can you bring to this organisation?

The Competency Interview Challenge 

Competency-based interviews are interviews where each question is designed to test one or more specific skills. More often than not, prospective employers are using competency-based interview questions to distinguish relevant candidates from those who do not have the right skills or experience. 

When asked a competency-based question, the interviewer wants you to talk about how you have actually overcome real challenges in previous jobs. The logic behind this is that past work behaviour will provide a strong indication of future job performance. 

To be successful in a competency-based interview the golden rule is to give real examples that actually happened to you. Make sure you do not talk in broad terms about how you generally tackle those sorts of situations or provide theoretical examples. Instead make sure you talk about a specific example. 

Every job will have a set of key competencies, which the interviewer will explore during the interview process. A competency-based question will often start with phrases such as: 

  1. Tell me about a time when… 
  2. Give an example of a situation where… 
  3. Describe a scenario… 

Typical competencies covered during an interview include: 

  • Communication Skills 
  • Overcoming Objections 
  • Influencing Others 
  • Delivering Results 
  • Use of Initiative 
  • Teamwork 
  • Planning & Organising 
  • Developing Others 

Your Questions of the Interviewer 

It is advisable to prepare at least two or three questions that you would ideally like answered during the course of the interview or at the end. Prospective employers place great emphasis on the questions that you ask during the interview process, as they provide an insight into what is important to you as an individual and can often be the difference between you or another candidate getting the job. 

Some questions as a starting point would include: 

  • What are the day-to-day duties involved in this job? 
  • How will my performance be measured? 
  • What do you see as the immediate challenges for me if I were to be given the job? 
  • What are your expectations in the first year? 
  • Are you looking for anything in particular from the person who will take this role? 
  • How do you see this role developing? 
  • What challenges is the organisation currently facing? 
  • Could you describe the company’s culture and type of employee who fits well with it? 
  • What is the anticipated development route from this role in the future? 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the above information in further detail, please get in touch with our team here. 


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