A good interview technique is not something that comes naturally to everyone. The candidates who are most successful in interviews take the time to prepare and don’t leave any variable to chance. If you often feel unprepared for questions or your answers aren’t as strong as you think they could be, the good news is there is something you can do about it.
Good interview preparation is an essential skill that can be easily learned. It’s a multi-step process that will include everything from researching the company to following up with the hiring manager after your meeting.
If you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing when preparing for your next interview, read on to discover the Nolan Recruitment top 30 tips for preparing for an interview. We’ve even included questions to ask that will make you stand out from the other applicants.
Do your research
- Learn everything you can about the company. Good interview technique starts with research. You need to understand the history of the company, the management structure, and the scale. A company with 12 employees will be looking for something very different from a company with 12,000 employees over three continents. At Nolan a leading engineering & technical recruiter, we believe that researching the company is the best way to ensure that you are prepared and fully understand the role on offer.
- Check the news for recent developments. A recent acquisition or development could mean big things for a company. Being up to date on the latest news developments will help you to speak confidently about the company. Check their website for press releases, as this is where you will find the version of the news that they want to put out there. Be wary about mentioning negative press, unless it could create an obstacle for you accepting the role.
- Check for employee reviews online. Look on LinkedIn and see if anyone in your network is already employed with the company. If you have secondary connections, ask if any of your mutual contacts could introduce you. This isn’t about trying to get someone to put a good word in for you, it’s about getting to know what the company is really like to work for. If you happen to ask a disgruntled employee, they might not have the best feedback on the company. Take anything said with a grain of salt or you could end up walking away from an incredible opportunity.
- See if they’re listed on GlassDoor. This website contains information about different companies submitted by their employees and the people who have interviewed for roles. Even those who aren’t successful in securing a job can leave feedback on the interview process. By looking at GlassDoor, you may be able to learn more about the interview style, if there will be tasks, and if there are any set questions they ask all prospective employees. As with the LinkedIn feedback tip, be sure to take anything negative with a grain of salt. It’s not uncommon for disgruntled employees to leave negative feedback.
- Refer back to the job description. You need to be confident that you know what role you are interviewing for. Although rarely perfect, the job description is a great place to start. Check that it matches the standard job description for a similar role. Or look at how it compares with different companies. You can then start to match your own competencies to the job description.
- Make sure you’re familiar with your own CV. Read and reread your CV as you are going through the job description. Make sure you know what you have mentioned, but also look for any key points you may have missed out and would like to highlight in the interview. There’s nothing worse than leaving an interview and realizing you forgot to mention something really important.
Practice your answers
- Anticipate the interview questions. You don’t need a crystal ball to get a pretty good idea of what you’ll be asked in your interview. Most interviews will follow the same format and will often be based on the job description. Anticipate the most common interview questions and then practice your answers. The questions might not be exactly the same, but you will have the structure of your answers in mind.
- Match your competencies to the job description. Run through the job description and think of a few different scenarios that demonstrate your capability. This is a great way to jog your memory about the past and think in detail about what situations you would like to share with the interviewer. Run through your CV and LinkedIn page and make notes about projects you’ve worked on and milestones in your career. You’ll be surprised how much excellent material you have once you sit down and think about your career in a linear way.
- Ask a friend to run a mock interview. A practice interview is a great way to run through your answers and feel more prepared for the day. When you answer questions in the interview, you’ll feel more confident if it isn’t the first time you’re saying it out loud. Try in front of a mirror, or ask a family member or friend to interview you. You might feel silly at the moment, but you’ll be grateful for this practice when you’re in your interview.
- Memorise a few key scenarios. Interviewers will often ask you to tell them about a time when you encountered a particular challenge. When you think of these on the spot, your answer will often be confusing and you might miss out key bits of information. This is why thinking about a few scenarios in advance can help you to form more succinct answers. Think about a time you had to manage a team, encountered a problem, disagreed with a manager, had to take difficult feedback and failed at a task to get you started.
- Structure your answers using the STAR method. Once you have a few scenarios in mind, try to structure your answers using the STAR method. This is a very common interview technique that will help you to form your answers in a cohesive way. STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. It encourages you to fully outline the scenario, explain the task, outline the action you took and then explain the results. This can be applied to most situational interview questions and is a great way to ensure you cover all the key points. If you find yourself rambling, focussing on this method can bring you back on track.
- Focus on your body language. When you spend so much time thinking about what you’re going to say, you can’t forget the delivery. Your body language is often just as important for success in an interview. You could have the best answers to every question, but if your body language says that you really don’t want to be there, you may as well stay at home. Practice your answers in front of a mirror so you can focus on your body language and identify anything that could be problematic. Sit up straight, project confidence and keep your hands in a calm and relaxed position for the best results.
Choose your outfit
Research the company dress code. Knowing what to wear for an interview can be one of the hardest tasks. If this isn’t mentioned in the email confirming your interview, give the reception desk a call and ask about their dress code. Always aim to be a little bit smarter than you need to be. If a company has a very relaxed dress code, wear something that is smart casual. And if the company is very conservative, wear your best suit. Accessories should be understated and professional. This means a neutral tone bag and minimal jewellery for women and a professional bag for men. Never take a backpack to an interview.
Check the weather forecast. The weather might drastically change your choice of clothing. On a hot day, look for breathable fabrics in colours that won’t show sweat stains. If it’s going to rain, make sure you take an umbrella to avoid dripping through your interview. If it’s cold, dress in warm layers that you can remove so that you don’t get too warm inside. In hot weather, make sure you keep it professional. Linen and cotton fabrics will help you to stay cool without needing to resort to shorts and tank tops.
Choose an appropriate outfit. You will probably have a go-to interview outfit that you always fall back on. If you’re not sure what to wear, ask for some feedback from friends and family. The most important thing is that it fits you well and is free from obvious wear or damage. You don’t have to spend a lot on an interview outfit, but it’s worthwhile focusing on getting a few high-quality pieces that fit you well.
Prepare your outfit the day before. There’s nothing worse than a wardrobe malfunction on the morning of your interview. A lost button or a ripped pair of tights can derail your entire day, especially if your interview is first thing in the morning. By preparing everything the night before, you remove one more variable in the morning. Once you’re dressed, be careful when drinking coffee or eating breakfast. Also be careful where you sit or lean on public transport, as you could end up with an awkward stain.
Plan your trip
- Confirm the interview location. Don’t make any assumptions about the location of your interview. Companies may have two locations, or they might conduct interviews off-site in a coffee shop. Always confirm the location of the interview if it is not mentioned in an email. This will allow you to plan your trip and determine how much time you need to leave to get there. Arriving late for an interview will start the meeting off on the wrong foot. Interviews are very time consuming, and an interviewer may take this as a sign that you don’t respect their time.
- Plan your journey. Plan how you will get there and have a backup if your first method fails. If your car won’t start in the morning, will you still have enough time to take public transport or get a taxi? If your train is cancelled, is there a backup train that will get you there on time? Think about all the ways your journey could go wrong and then plan for this eventuality. If your journey requires a lot of connections, minimise the risk of running late by getting there 30 minutes to one hour early. You can then find a coffee shop in the area and have a sit down, so when the time comes to head to your interview, you’ll be calm and collected.
- Give yourself plenty of time. Running into an interview late and flustered is not a great look. It will also stop you from giving your best performance. In some cases, the interview may even be cancelled. If you are so late that your interview would clash with the next candidate, don’t be surprised if they cancel. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the location and find the office. Remember that some office buildings are huge labyrinths and it can take an extra 10 minutes just to find the reception desk.
- Arrive early if you can. Aim to arrive with 5 or 10 minutes to space. Before you announce yourself at reception, take a moment to check your appearance in a mirror. If you arrive early and announce yourself, they could choose to get the interview started early. Make sure you have done everything you need to do before you let them know you have arrived. Go to the bathroom, finish your coffee, have a glass of water and gather your thoughts.
- Find a space to gather your thoughts. Your time to shine is nearly here. Now you need to focus your thoughts, catch your breath, and calm your breathing. Find a quiet place to gather your thoughts and then use the square method to slow your breathing and your heart rate. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and then hold for four seconds. Repeat this a few times and you will notice your heart rate slowing down. This is a great method for calming your nerves and gathering your thoughts.
- Put your notes away. It’s nearly time to announce yourself. Before you walk up to the reception desk, put your notes away and trust your memory. Having notes in an interview can be helpful if you are very nervous, but it can also be a disadvantage. If you rely on them too much, you could fail to answer the questions being asked. Instead, feel confident in your preparation and trust that your process has been effective. Focus on the here and now rather than the time spent preparing. This isn’t a practice, it’s the real thing, and you’re ready for it.
Questions to ask
At the end of the interview, you may be given the chance to ask questions. Many of your questions may be answered throughout the interview process. This is why it makes sense to prepare a few extra questions so you know you’ll have something to ask.
Asking questions is an important part of the interview process. Interviews should always be a two-way conversation. You should use the time to determine if the role is right for you. If you’re at the start of your career, you might be keen to just get started in any role. As you progress, you might need a reason to leave your current role. This is when asking questions becomes so important. These are some of the best and most revealing questions you can ask in an interview.
- What does the day-to-day look like? This question tells the interviewer that you are detail-oriented and are already imaging yourself in the role. It can also be very revealing, as you might learn that there are parts of the job not listed on the job description. There could be things you’re doing in an existing role that you don’t want to do in your next role. Asking this question can help you to determine if the role is right for you.
- Where have previous job holders moved on to? How does someone in this role typically progress? If they are promoted internally, this suggests that the company likes to focus on employee retention and reward accomplishments. If they move on elsewhere, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could simply mean that there simply isn’t a more senior role to move on to. This question can tell you a lot about where you can expect your career to go with this company.
- What do you like about working for this company? After a 30-45 minute grilling, it’s nice to turn the interview around. This can catch interviewers off guard and might reveal something about the company that wouldn't come up otherwise. Small perks like early finishes on Friday, free breakfast or company retreats can make a huge difference to your day-to-day life. If they struggle to come up with anything that isn’t incredibly generic, it can also be very telling.
- How do you measure success in this role? Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job, but this will be measured in a different way by different companies. Someone who thrives on feedback might not do well in a company that relies on their workers being very self-sufficient. A strict, target-driven company might not be suited to a person who wants their success to be measured in different ways. Asking this question will tell you a lot about the company culture and what is expected in the role.
After the interview
- Remain professional. When the interview is over, there may be some small talk as you’re leaving the building. Don’t be lured into a false sense of security here. Keep it professional and courteous every step of the way. Don’t be tempted to pull your phone out and start checking emails. Imagine this is still part of the interview and wait until you are out of sight before you relax.
- Confirm the next steps. Before leaving, make sure you know what to expect next. Confirm timescales and if there will be a second round of interviews. This will help you to decide if and when you need to follow up. Remember that these next steps can change, and not hearing from a company doesn’t always mean you didn’t get the job. Hiring is sometimes put on hold, or they decide to interview another candidate. Rescheduled interviews can also delay the process. If you’re unsure, following up by email to confirm is often the best way to go.
- Send a follow-up email. It might sound outdated, but sending a follow-up note is still incredibly popular with interviewers. It will cement your name in their mind and in their inbox. Make sure you send the email from a professional email address rather than a personal one. You can simply thank them for their time and reiterate your interest in working for the company. In a close race with two or three other applicants, sending a thank you email could be the small touch they need to make a decision in your favour.
- Ask for feedback. If you are unsuccessful in your application, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t good at what you do, it simply means that someone else was better suited to the role. Every interview can be a powerful learning experience if you choose to use it as one. One of the most effective things you can do after an unsuccessful interview is to ask for feedback. Most companies will be happy to give you a few pointers to help you on your job hunt. This might be feedback related to your interview questions, or they might simply have discovered you don’t have enough experience. Learn from this feedback and make sure you are ready when the next interview comes around.