Hone your Interview Skills

By Gemma Creagh - Last update


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Although it mightn’t happen right as you graduate, you are bound to be called for an interview at some point. While this should be a boost to your confidence, it obviously doesn’t mean that the job/fellowship is in the bag. We’ve compiled our top tips when it comes to interview skills.

You have a way to go before you collect you sign on the dotted line…

Interview Skills

The first thing you have to do is to prepare. Follow the checklist below to ensure you know your stuff…

1) Research the Organisation

Employers like it if you have at least some knowledge of their company and this is usually easy to obtain. Obviously, searching their website is a good place to start, but if they don’t have one, or it doesn’t contain much information, then you will have to look to other sources. Googling them will usually pull up some facts, but you could also ring up and ask for a brochure, search online newspaper archives or make inquiries from your own personal network to see if they know anyone who works there.

2) Research the Job

You need to have a clear idea of the duties and responsibilities of the job that you’re interviewing for, so you will be able to match yourself as closely as possible to the ideal candidate.

3) Relate your Career Goals to the Job

One of the most effective ways to reassure an interviewer is to demonstrate how the job you’re interviewing for is well matched with your own career goals. This way, the interviewer sees a motivated individual who will stick with the job.

4) Prepare your Selling Points

You should prepare a list of seven or eight things that you want the interviewer to remember about you after you leave the room. These selling points must be relevant and could include items from the following: your personal strengths, your skills, your experience, your achievements, obstacles you have overcome, your qualifications and your non-work interests and activities.

5) Plan Answers to Typical Questions

These should be prepared in outline and not learned off by heart. Rote answers, even if remembered under the stress of an interview, come out sounding hollow and insincere.

6) Revise CV / Application Form

Do not be surprised by your own CV and always keep a photocopy of any application form you have completed and sent off.

7) Revise the Position’s Ad

The job ad is a useful interview preparation tool. It can give you a lot of information about how the company sees the job and what they want from the prospective employee.

The day before the interview can be a relaxing time when you merely revise the key points you outlined in your preparation checklist. If you choose, you could have a final oral rehearsal of your prepared answers with that an honest friend who will give you critical feedback.

The Big Day

  • Be Prepared

When the interview is imminent, make sure that you don’t fall at the first hurdle. For one thing, make sure that you know where the interview is taking place and that you know how to get there. Many interviews take place at 10 Nowhere Lane, so be sure of the route before you set off – in good time. (It’s often useful, in any event, to check out the premises of your future employers. You might get some useful clues as to the level of formality, or otherwise, of the organisation.)

  • Choose your Outfit Carefully

Sort out what you’re going to wear the night before, and not in the five minutes between your alarm going off and the taxi arriving. Even if the company has a “business casual” dress policy, you’re better off dressing a bit on the stuffy side than taking a gamble, only to find that your idea of casual doesn’t match that of your prospective employer. Jeans (in fact denim of any shape), runners and other street casual clothes are generally a no-no, even if the job is in casual sectors such as tech, graphic design or retail. Get the job first. Then you can check out the style of the place and adapt your style to theirs. At the interview go for substance over style.

  • Maintain a Professional Air

Once you arrive, then you will probably have to spend a little time in the reception area. Even while you are waiting, try to look poised. Rifling through your bag or chatting on your mobile will not make a great first impression. Walk into the interview room positively and assertively. Don’t shuffle in, but equally don’t barge through like you own the place. Shake hands with the interviewer or interviewers, looking them in the eye and using their name, if you know it.

  • Be Present and Alert

When shown your seat, sit with a straight back, looking alert and interested. Folded arms, hands in front of the face, head propped up on your hand all give inappropriate messages. All gestures should be closed: no pointed fingers or chopped hands and try not to fiddle with pencils, ear lobes, chins or locks of hair. Eye contact is critical. As a rule of thumb, try to maintain eye contact for about two-thirds of any interaction with someone. We all know how difficult it is to assess someone who rarely looks at us. We share the same discomfort at being eyeballed almost constantly by someone who is talking with us.

  • Practice Good Social Ettiquete

Where you are being interviewed by a panel of three or more people, remember to include everyone. Keep your body posture square to the whole panel and scan the whole panel with your eyes. The guy who is saying nothing on the end might be the critical decision maker.

Question Time

Many people get nervous which is why honing your interview skills beforehand is a must. However, being properly prepared should go some way to assuaging this. If you are equipped with outline answers to some of the common questions, then you will be better able to cope with any nerves you might have. Typical questions include:

  1. Tell me about yourself. What is your background?
  2. Why are you interested in our company?
  3. What skills do you think you could bring to the role? Tell me how you have displayed these skills in a practical situation.
  4. What aspects of your previous experience do you think will be most helpful to you in this role?
  5. What areas do you think you need to improve on?
  6. Are you a team player? Describe a time when you worked on a team project.
  7. Where do you see yourself in five years time?
  8. What has been your biggest achievement to date?
  9. What salary are you expecting?
    And finally…
  10. Have you any questions for us?

Yes, you do!

The goal with this question is to persuade the employer/superviser that you have the skills, background and ability to do the job and can comfortably fit into the organization. So, be prepared to ASK questions such as:

  • What is the most important quality you are looking for in the person that will fill this position?
  • What are the promotion prospects after I have gained experience?
  • What are the greatest challenges in this position?

Don’t forget to throw a few gentle smiles into your interview session, despite the nerves, to show them the people person you are. Don’t overdo it, though, or you will be in danger of appearing innane.

Leave an interview as positively as you arrived. Avoid the tendency to bow and scrape your way to the door, fearful of turning your back on the interviewer. The same assertive handshake is required as that you gave on leaving, followed by a brief thank-you statement, followed by an elegant exit.

If you want tips on how to effectively manage your time, check out this article.


Gemma Creagh

The Black Art of Time Management
Postgraduate Study: Further Afield


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