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How Do I Prepare for an Interview?

Help with your employment search: interview preparation

Any job interview is a significant event, usually with long term objectives. In most cases, the applicant is trying to sell themselves to an organisation where they expect to be based for years ahead.

In order to maximise your chances of success, you need to do more than briefly research the company and turn up on time, looking smart and sounding enthusiastic and positive. Today's candidate must stand out in several ways: bright, switched on, organised, quick to respond and fully conversant with the business.

It may sound a lot to ask for, but if you want to perform at your best, you are well advised to prepare thoroughly. So, just how do you prepare for a job interview? To help you, we have put together some key points which should help you to do as well as you possibly can on the day.

Do your homework

Start your preparation by learning about the company who are advertising the vacancy. Doing so gives you a better understanding of the organisation you will potentially be working for. It is sensible to do this and it is also only polite. You do not have to memorise annual reports or a historical list of CEOs, but you should know things like what the company does, how many people it employs, and how long it has been in business. This information will almost certainly be on their website.

To find out more about the company, quickly Google them to see if the company has put any articles up on the Internet. If so, read them so you can gain an insight into what the company is doing and even how it thinks. You should also take the names from any 'Key personnel' page and run a search on these people for a little more background information. If the company is large, then your focus should be on the personnel in your area – especially the person who will be interviewing you.

You could also make contact in advance and ask politely what format the interview will take: will it be one-on-one, a panel, a group or competency based? Explain that you don't mind which, but you would simply like to be adequately prepared.

Make a good first impression

It may be one of the biggest cliches used for interview coaching, but it is true: first impressions count, and ignore this at your peril. This is not just about appearance (which is of course extremely important) but also about a pleasant demeanour and arriving just a little (5-10 minutes) early. Make sure you plan your journey (perform a test run if the location is busy) and leave time to accommodate problems like traffic jams, absences of parking spaces or late trains.

Dress seriously: if in doubt, go for a sober suit, a plain shirt and a muted tie, or for women a simple business suit. Pay attention to details like clean and polished shoes, subtle makeup for ladies and tidy facial hair for men.

During the interview, it is important that your body language is right from the start. When you are waiting for your interview, do not slouch but don't fidget either. Always seem alert, active, open and confident – in practice this means sitting up straight, looking around and noticing what is going on. Smile at people, say hello, and make your handshakes firm and dry.

It is a good idea to continue to monitor your body language throughout the duration of the interview. Show your interest by leaning forward slightly in your chair and making eye contact with the people you are talking to. Show them that you are listening to their questions and points. Avoid defensive postures like crossed arms and crossed legs and speak clearly, so you always appear interested and attentive. Of course the best way to seem interested is actually to be interested, and if you have done your homework then this will be easier to achieve.

Be ready for the questions

Questions are naturally at the heart of the interview and should be central to your preparation. You should have some idea of what the company wants from you, what skills it requires, what experience it would like and what kinds of competency it needs. It might be helpful to prepare a list which compares their needs with your attributes and see how they can best be matched. Showing your interviewers how you are the right person is your key task at any interview.

Familiarise yourself with the types of questions the interviewer might ask. But you must avoid appearing too glib when you answer any sort of question. Remember that an interview is a conversation, not a chance for you to trot out pre-prepared answers.

The most common types of questions are as follows:

Behavioural Questions, also known as situational questions, are becoming increasingly popular with interviewers. You will be asked open-ended questions about your behaviour in past situations and the interviewer will try to match your response with the pre-set requirements of the job. That list you made of your past achievements at work will come in handy when someone asks you this sort of question.

Knowledge Questions sound simple enough but can actually be quite complex. The interviewer wants to find out about your ability and capacity to learn. You may also be expected to acknowledge the limits of your knowledge. Look up the subject on the web – there are some good sites with sample questions and sample answers.

Strength and Weakness Questions are old favourites. The interviewer will be particularly interested to hear the positive spin that you apply to your weaknesses, so you should have thoroughly prepared this subject. Again, sample questions and answers can be found on any number of websites and you can tailor the replies to suit your own circumstances.

Open and Closed Questions: closed questions elicits a definite response, for instance: 'How long were you at your last job?' whereas the open-ended question allows you to expand on significant matters, for instance, 'Tell me about a time when you implemented this policy'. Open-ended questions are an opportunity for you to demonstrate how your past experiences have helped you to become a better employee (or person!). But you should still be concise because if you start to waffle, you will create a problem.

Your Own Questions are usually a very important part of the process. So when that old favourite: 'Is there anything you would like to ask me?' turns up, don't take the easy way out by saying no: this could actually spoil a perfectly good interview. Prepare some questions about the company or your specific job in advance. It may be worth your while to try and build on any relationship which you have developed with your interviewer and ask them about working for this company.

Be prepared - follow up

After the interview, wait a few days and then email the interviewer with thanks and to say just how much you would like to become a colleague. It might also be worth phoning up after a reasonable interval to see how things stand: it's just another way of showing that you care. Even if you aren't successful, the interviewer will feel obliged to respond and to give you some feedback if the outcome isn't as you'd hoped. On the other hand, it will demonstrate your commitment to the job and help to sway the interviewer's decision in your favour ... so you have nothing to lose.


Although there is a lot to do if you want to properly prepare for a job interview, that's what is needed. If you really want the position you are applying for, isn't it worth it? And in any case, isn't it better to prepare thoroughly each time and get a job quickly, than fail to prepare and be subjected to a continual process of poor interviews and rejection? So, knuckle down, learn from each experience, and you will stand a great chance of landing the job you want in the shortest possible time.


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