How to make a good first impression at interview?
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but most of us do. There may be a classic novel lurking behind that garish sleeve, but we rarely take it off the shelf and open it to find out. It’s the same with interviews. If you turn up looking a mess or with a scowl on your face, you may as well have saved the bus fare.
Start as you mean to go on
Your interviewer will probably see you before they hear you, so knowing what to wear in an interview can put you ten points ahead of the opposition before you’ve even opened your mouth.
Start your courtesy at the door. Even before you get to the interview room or meet your interviewers, be well-mannered and positive with the reception staff and anyone else you encounter on the way to your interview. You could be working with them in a few weeks’ time. This is also a great opportunity to make sure your voice isn’t about to crack or dry up on you – try to relax a bit, and build up some confidence before your interview starts.
You will have no idea of the structure of the company or who has influence in the decision making process so treat everyone with equal courtesy. The receptionist may be married to your interviewer and could have a major influence on your future.
Your body language and handshake are vital in creating the right impression. Make sure you’re not avoiding eye contact, glancing nervously from side-to-side, playing with your tie or fiddling with the zip on your bag.
Building up the right impression
Interviews are often scary, sometimes intimidating and always stressful. This is a theatrical performance - they are the audience, you are the performer, and you’re on your own. But don’t be freaked out by it all. Remember why you’re here, be clear about what you want to say and what you want to ask, and keep your cool.
Preparing properly for your interview should put you at ease as you’ll have confidence that you know enough about yourself, the role and the company to answer the common interview questions
In the first few minutes, be as positive about everything as you can. Even if you’ve had a horrible journey, try not to let your frustration show. Don’t forget to smile from time to time, and show interest in what you are being asked.
When quizzed about your current role, don’t be tempted to ‘diss’ your employer, however much you might be looking forward to leaving. Show them you’re here because you see it as a positive career move, not because you’re running from a job you’re not happy in.
Showing a positive attitude is the single most valuable first impression you can make. If you are excited and up for it, your potential employer will probably be considering you for the job within two minutes of you walking through the door. The right attitude really can have that much impact.
What questions should I ask my interviewer?
Most interviewers will give you an opportunity to ask questions after they’ve finished grilling you, so be prepared to make the most of it. Try to concentrate on issues that are important to you and combine an interest in the company with an interest in the job.
With a wide variety of interview styles and structures, there’s every possibility that everything you want or need to know about the job will have been covered over the course of the interview. There is always more information available though and if you don’t have at least five questions prepared, you’ll come across as passive rather than curious and interested.
Regarding role specific questions, look through the job description to see if there are any areas that you would like more information about. Here are some good examples of the questions you could ask about the role:
- Why has the position become available?
- What are the main objectives and responsibilities of the position?
- How does the company expect these objectives to be met?
- What are the measures used to judge how successful I am in the role?
- What obstacles are commonly encountered in reaching these objectives?
- What is the desired time frame for reaching the objectives?
- What can I expect from you in terms of development and support?
- What aspirations do you have for me at the company?
- Where will the job fit into the team structure?
Good interview preparation should have given you an insight into what it’s like to work for a company, but it’s good to get answers straight from the horse’s mouth in case you’ve misinterpreted anything. These questions are a good place to start:
What’s the best thing about working at your company?
- What is the main thing the organisation expects from its employees?
- How do you build good relationships within teams?
- What is the turnover of staff like throughout the company?
- Are there any plans for expansion?
- How would you describe the company culture and management style?
To show your interest and knowledge of the industry the company operates in, it’s also a good idea to have a question ready regarding a current event or issue in the market. For example, “How do you think the recent merger between your two main competitors will affect the future of the industry?”
How well your interviewer reacts and answers your questions gives you a great insight into the company. The interview isn’t just for them to see if you’re the right fit for the organisation – if you’re confident about your skills and ability to do the job, you should also be making sure they’re the right fit for you.
Generally, it’s not a good idea to ask about pay or benefits, as this can make you seem more interested in what the organisation can do for you, rather than what you can do for them.
If you're counting down the days till your next job interview, these helpful hints will help you get in the right mood so you can leave a lasting impression on the interviewers
Common Interview Questions
What will you be asked?
Job interviews can be stressful but having prepared answers to the most common job interview questions can ease some of those nerves. Below is a list of the top 20 most commonly asked questions.
- Tell me about yourself?
- Are you a team player?
- What is your best achievement to date?
- How do you deal with stress?
- What has been the biggest disappointment in your career?
- Why would you like to work for us?
- What do you know about this job?
- What makes you different from other candidates?
- Have you any questions?
- Why have you applied for this particular position?
- Why do you wish to leave your current position?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Can you act on your own initiative?
- What motivates you?
- What would your ideal job be?
Strengths / Skill Probing
- What qualities or abilities would you bring to this job?
- What are your weaknesses?
- How would you deal with a difficult situation?
- What would you consider to be your strengths?
- How would your colleagues / boss describe you?
Competency Based Interviews
Tips on Dealing with Competency Interviews
Competency based interviews take a more scientific approach to finding the right person for the job. Employers are more readily able to compare candidates based on certain key competencies required for the role. The below tips can be useful in getting prepared for this type of interview.
How You Are Assessed
- Interviews are based on asking targeted questions related to the key competencies for that role.
- Usually between 4 and 6 key competency questions will be asked.
- Applicants are judged on their past performance. This is used as an indicator of their future performance.
- Employers want to determine whether your skills, abilities and motivation match their specific criteria.
- Personal competencies evaluate your individual attributes.
- Managerial competencies looks at how well you deal with responsibility and your supervisory control.
- Analytical competencies usually revolve around your decision making abilities.
- Social competencies look at your interpersonal skills, looking at well you function in a team and how well you get on with your colleagues.
- Motivational competencies focus on the things that drive and motivate you.
- It is acceptable to ask for the list of competencies you may be questioned on in advance.
- Get your stories ready beforehand. Use examples from both work experiences and other areas of your life.
- Keep your answers as succinct as possible. Rehearse your answers and know when to stop.
- Add structure to your stories using the mnemonic STAR - situation, task, action, results.
- Describe the situation, task or issue you had to deal with.
- Provide details about the action you took and the challenges you faced. Use the word “I” when describing actions.
- State the results or outcome of the situation.
- Explain what you learnt or developed as a result.
Dealing with Panel Interviews
How to get prepared for a panel interview
Panel interviews can be daunting when you are faced with questions from a number of interviewers all with their own agenda. Employers often use this interview style as it increases the accuracy of finding the most suitable candidate for the job.
The panellist are looking at how well you deal with stress, how you interact and communicate with the panel members. Ultimately they want to know if you can do the job, do you fit the company culture and if there a risk factor involved in employing you. Here are some useful tips on how to deal with panel interviews.
Find out about the Interviewers
- Find out about the people on the panel.
- Do internet research, use LinkedIn, company website etc.
- Try to find a common interest.
- Tailor you answers and questions around these.
Prepare and Practise
- Prepare and practise out loud your responses to the most common interview questions.
- Create a mock panel interview session with friends and family.
- Watch your body language. Practice maintaining eye contact, good posture and leaning in.
- Talk in a natural, confident manner. Think positively and take your time when responding.
- Manage your nerves. Use simple calming techniques like breathing slowly and deeply. Drop your shoulders and smile.
Engage the Whole Panel
- Aim to engage the whole panel.
- Divide your eye contact across the panel, regardless of whether they ask you a question or are purely taking notes.
- Watch out for the quiet note taker, often this person with have the most influence.
- Try to use the interviewer’s names where appropriate.
- Remember the panellists want you to do well.
- Don’t forget to prepare questions, they can help to show your level of interest in the job.
- Based on your research, you can tailor your questions to specific panel members and their roles within the company.
- A good strategy is to cross reference a question with one that has already been asked by a different member.
At the end of the interview, shake hands and thank each panellists personally, again using each person's name and consider a follow up thank you email.
During the Interview
How do I answer questions I haven't prepared for?
Interview questions can sometime catch you off-guard but this can be a good thing as it gives you a chance to show your ability to think and react quickly.
Whilst you can't know every question that you will be asked at interview, you can still prepare for the likelihood of unexpected questions by being thoroughly honest with yourself even before you go to the interview.
Firstly, make sure your CV or cover letter does not contain any inconsistencies that will trip you up later on. Check your CV with brutal honesty and if there are any issues that you simply hope will be skirted over – such as long employment gaps – address them before your interview.
Make sure you know what your motivations are. For example, why did you really want to leave your last job; are you really seeking a career move or just want more money? Not having a firm line on your reasons for wanted a job can make even simple questions extremely difficult to answer – especially in the pressure of an interview.
The more honest you are with yourself about the position you are applying for, the less likely it is that you will encounter a really tough question – or one that simply ‘sees through you'
If you really have no interview experience, conduct a mock interview between yourself and a friend. Answering questions, just like any other activity, requires practice. If you can practice answering simple questions, you have the confidence to answer the more difficult ones.
Staying calm is a prerequisite
Once at the interview, the key to dealing with unexpected questions is to remain as calm as you can. Nothing ruins an interview like inconsistent and confusing answers - and when we're nervous we tend to speed up our speech.
A few tips for being calm at interview:
- Don't be late – you'll be on the back foot before you've even started
- Take a moment - settle down beforehand and collect your thoughts
- Take deep breaths – in through the nose and out through the mouth
Breathing deeply before answering each question will not only calm you by sending oxygen to your brain, but it will also give you time to think about your answer
Get into the habit of collecting your thoughts before speaking, you will feel more confident about your answers and less likely to ramble.
Even if your interview is going great and you've answered some questions carefully and thoughtfully, the interviewer is always likely to throw in a question which seems hostile or out of the ordinary. What do you do now?
The first rule is you don't have to rush your answer. Resist the temptation to snap back a hasty answer it doesn't convince.
Don't feel threatened – it isn't personal. The question could have been put to you to see how you think on the spot as much as anything. This is not a cross-examination and there is no clock ticking
A good tip is to break down the question. Take it apart bit by bit. If you are not sure about the question then ask the interviewer to repeat it.
An unexpected question is a good chance to show your character and personality. In all cases honesty is the best policy – and if you have something positive to say don't be hamstrung by false modesty.
If you really are not sure how to answer a question or you don't understand it then inform the interviewer and ask for clarification. This is far better than waffling your way through with a poor incomprehensible answer.
You can't be expected to know every answer – it is how you conduct yourself that can impress an employer as much as anything. So be prepared, be honest and be yourself.
How can I leave a lasting impression at an interview?
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, as they say. It is important that we learn from our bad experiences instead of dwelling on them and beating ourselves up about it. Knowing a few basic principles can really help you come out of the interview room with smiles all around.
Start as you mean to go on
The first few minutes of an interview are vital. Getting off on the wrong foot will affect both your confidence and your prospective employer’s impression of you. There is only one chance to make a first impression so it helps to ensure it is a positive one.
Be prepared for different styles of interviewers
We are all different but people tend to like people who are like themselves! If possible, try to slightly tailor your style to theirs while still being yourself and letting your personality shine through.
Know your CV inside out
It is common that we practice for the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question by reading through our CV in chronological order. When asked to speak at random about different roles throughout our CV we find ourselves stumped. To overcome this problem, study each role in detail and practice speaking about them individually rather than in a chronological order.
Plan answers for 15 - 25 common interview questions. While those specific questions may not come up in the interview, you can be sure that very similar ones will, letting you tailor the response instantly. Remember to give evidence to support each of your answers.
Pave the way
Think about what you would like the interviewer to ask you next. Attempt to influence this by peppering your answers with pieces of information that will prompt the interviewer to ask about those specific things. For example, if you mention a relevant course that you have completed, the interviewer is then likely to ask you about it, but be subtle!
Think twice before saying nothing!
If you are asked a question that you simply do not know the answer to, be honest about it and explain that if you were to answer it you would be taking a punt on it. The interviewer will probably appreciate your honesty and may even ask you to have a go at answering it anyway.
Don’t ask questions for the sake of it
Normally near the end of the interview you will be asked by the interviewers if you have any questions for them. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the job, company or industry. For instance, refer to an article about the industry and ask them their opinion on it and how they think it will affect their business rather than asking generalized questions suited for all.
If all of the questions that you have prepared have been answered throughout the course of the interview, be honest about it and tell them so; they will appreciate your honesty. You could then ask them if they have any more questions for you. This demonstrates your confidence and also gives the interviewer an opportunity to find out more about you.
Know your weaknesses
Prepare both ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ weaknesses and be sure that whatever weaknesses you give, you demonstrate a self-awareness of that weakness and how you work towards overcoming it.
Contrary to everything mentioned above, by giving yourself a break from preparation on the eve of the interview and doing something that completely takes your mind away from it will actually help you to sleep better and in turn will enhance your interview performance.
After the Interview
Top 5 Assessment Centre Tips
Don't just do it – show the assessors you're doing it
Remember when you passed your driving test. You didn't just need to look in your mirror before you made a manoeuvre, you had to move your head to show the examiner you were looking. It's the same in an assessment centre. You not only have to listen to what people are saying, you have to show the assessors you are listening through body language and feedback.
Relax and be yourself
In a situation where people are observing you in order to assess you, of course there is an extent to which it is wise to keep your guard up and manage the impression you are making. However, if this is taken to an extreme level what people see is someone who is uptight, wary and they are likely to be frustrated because they just don't feel they are seeing a real person. Therefore if you can relax sufficiently to let your personality shine through and to let something of your unique individuality be seen the assessors are more likely to warm to you.
Find an opportunity to practise
With assessment centres, like with most worthwhile activities, practice helps. If you can find the opportunity to run through exercises with a trusted friend you are likely to be more relaxed and well prepared when it comes to the day itself.
Know your assessment criteria
In most cases the assessors will be assessing you against a pre-defined list of qualities, attributes or competencies. For many public sector jobs this list will be communicated prior to the event or will be available on request or with a small amount of research. In the private sector, openness from the organisation regarding defined qualities to be measured will vary considerably. If it feels appropriate, ask the organisation prior to the event. If you applied through a recruitment consultancy they may be able to help. At the very least the job description (if available) or the advertisement you applied to will have some indications of the criteria you are likely to be measured against.
Prioritise your time
One of the most common failings at assessment centres is candidates failing to do themselves justice because the run out of time in exercises. Many assessment centres will involve digesting a brief and responding in some way. It is important to initially process the information quickly at an overview level by skim reading. After this there is a chance to go back and study elements in more detail once you have a feel for the overall challenge and what is required.
'Why Should We Employ You?’ Answered
Create a good response
While there is no perfect answer to the frequently asked interview question ‘so, why should we hire you?’ having a well-researched and well-rehearsed response will make it a less challenging situation. The below tips will help you create a good response to this commonly asked interview question.
- Research the role offered – look at others doing a similar job.
- Know about the company – visit the company’s website, seek out news articles, etc.
- Understand how they work and what they expect from their employees.
- Find out more about the interviewers – aim to find a common interest.
Analyse and Map
- Analyse and map out where your own experience matches the job.
- List the skills you have that match their job requirements.
- List examples of when and how you showed these skills.
- Know your USP – unique selling point.
- If you worked for a similar organisation or in a similar role incorporate this into your answer.
- Show how you could be of value to the company.
Gather the Information
- Gather all the information together.
- Write out a draft answer incorporating the salient points related to the role and the organisation.
- Include some proven examples of your experience and research to date.
- Be clear, concise and confident in your answer.
- Keep your answer short but memorable, finishing off with a summary of your overall abilities.
- Practice your answer with friends and family.
- Get feedback and make improvements.
- Aim to get a good balance without the oversell.
- Use a natural, confident and enthusiastic tone in your reply.
Interviews and Body Language
Making a good impression at interview
Your body language can speak volumes about you - especially at interview. Outlined below are tips on body language matters that you might consider prior to attending a job interview.
Before the interview
- Arrive at the building 5 -10 minutes before your interview.
- You are being observed from the moment you arrive at the building, be friendly, calm and professional.
- If you have to wait – sit up straight and relax.
- Best not to place things in your lap.
- Greet the person meeting you with a smile and walk confidently.
At the Interview
- Place your belongings on your left side – this makes it easier to shake hands.
- Offer your right hand with your palm tilted slightly up.
- Shake the interviewer(s) hand in a self-assured manner, smile and make eye contact.
- Sit back into the chair and slightly away from the table.
- Items needed for the interview should be placed on the table anything else can be placed on the floor beside you.
- Do not hold anything in your lap.
- Sit still and relaxed.
During the Interview
- Make regular eye contact and smile where appropriate. Never fully lock eyes with the interviewer(s).
- Try to keep your gestures above the table height and below your collarbone.
- Avoid crossing your arms or slouching as it gives a ‘closed’ impression.
- Plant your feet on the ground.
- Look interested. Nod your head while listening.
- When answering a question try to keep your voice positive, relaxed and enthusiastic.
Ending the Interview
- Smoothly gather your belongings on your left hand side.
- Smile, shake hands and thank them for their time.
- Walk out of the interview in a smart and professional manner.
- Smile at any other staff you meet and thank the receptionist before exiting the building.
Success at Interview
How to succeed
Success at interview is down to convincing the employer that you would fit well into their team, that you would do the job competently and that you can develop well and provide good value should they hire you.
- Get there early and relaxed.
- Compliment and demonstrate warmth.
- Use interviewers' names, maintain good eye contact and sit upright.
- Drink water but decline tea / coffee.
- Focus most of your attention on the decision-maker.
- Understand and comply with the 50-50 rule (talking vs listening).
- Keep your answers to between 30 seconds and two minutes.
- Focus on what’s important to the interviewers.
- Never - ever - be negative or critical.
- Demonstrate ambition and enthusiasm.
- Listen really attentively to interviewers.
- Wait for the end of every question before thinking about your answer.
- If you’re not sure about a question, clarify what they want to know.
- If you don’t know an answer, admit it – but clarify their question first.
- If you don’t know something, explain how you would solve it / get help with it.
- Tell them that you have enjoyed the meeting and that you’re interested.
- Reiterate why you believe you’re suited to the role.
- Ask if they have any reservations.
- Say goodbye to everybody, using their name.
- Send a ‘thank you’ email to the decision maker as soon as you can.