How to prepare for an interview - questions and answers - the ultimate interview toolkit

How To Prepare For An Interview – Questions and Answers

Interview Tips & Tricks

PREPARATION

Research before the job interview is essential. Your success will be determined based largely on how prepared for an interview you were.

Research the Company

Check the company website(s) to look for:

  • Their core disciplines – what the company actually does
  • Any charitable work they may undertake
  • Anything you can relate to or have experience in/with to bring up in your interview.

Visit their competitors websites

  • Find out who they are
  • Find out how your company differentiates itself from their competitors and as a result, what their Unique Selling Points are. You can bring this up and compliment them with it at your interview or when they mention it, you can reply with an answer that shows you’ve done your research.
  • Look at the News section, see what they’ve been up to recently and what’s important to them that you can talk about. Also, search on Google to see if they’ve been in any local or national news.

Use LinkedIn to Research What People Are Talking About in Their Industry

  • LinkedIn is great for industry related topics. You just need to find it’s active users and the influencers within the specific industry and see what they’re talking about. The influencers are usually those high up within a client or leading organisation.
  • LinkedIn Groups can also be a valuable asset, using the same logic as above, find relevant groups to see what people are posting about.

Research the Role

Make sure you know the job description for the role in detail.

The more you know about the role, the easier it is for you to ask any questions at the end of the interview.

Go through the description and write down examples of your experience next to each requirement they mention.

  • Don’t forget to make these examples relevant to the type of company, role, size of project etc. that you are interviewing for
  • If you haven’t done something in the spec then don’t be afraid to tell them but try to give them an example of something similar that you have worked on in the past which makes your experience relevant
  • Big yourself up, don’t hold back but be confident with it, don’t come across arrogant
  • If the role is a sales or other target driven role eg procurement or operation manager positions, then you should know your figures. What were your targets? What did you achieve? What were your KPIs etc.
  • You should have already done all of the above when writing your CV for this role, so hopefully you’ll be pretty prepared when it comes to this bit. REMEMBER: Just because it’s in your CV, don’t assume they know or remember everything you put down, be prepared to mention everything again.

We’ve created another helpsheet on CV writing tips – how to write an interview winning CV and build your CV around it.

What to Wear

Look presentable and smart – it is better to be too smart than not smart enough.

Plan What to Take With You

Take some copies of your CV with you. I was never asked for one however if they’re unprepared their end, it makes you look good if you can hand them one over to save them rushing around trying to find their copy.

Pad and pen – I never made notes while I was in a job interview but I ALWAYS wrote questions down beforehand to ask at the interview (see section below on frequently asked interview questions). If you’re like me, your mind goes blank in intense situates like an interview and all the questions I wanted to ask, I’d completely forgotten.

Change for parking – the last thing you want to be worrying about when you arrive for your interview is getting a parking ticket!

Know Where You Are Going

There’s nothing worse than rushing on the day of the interview, getting stuck in traffic, taking a wrong turn and then stressing out, thinking you’re going to be late. Plan ahead! If you can, take a test trip to the place of the interview. If you can’t, use Google Maps to plan your route and the street view is great for locating the exact building and figuring out where you can park.

THE INTERVIEW

As soon as you step onto the premises, be ready for your interview. Be happy, pleasant to everyone you meet or pass by. You never know who you might run into.

Arrival

Get there between 5-10 minutes early – not before, not after. HOWEVER, use your judgement, if it’s as simple as walking into Reception, 5-10min is fine. If you have to go through a Gatehouse first and the building you’re going into is a highly secure building, get their earlier.

I turned up 13-minutes early for an interview once (I knew that because I had to sign-in with the time I arrived) and had to go through a Gatehouse first. As I was signing in, a customer of the company’s arrived and she was prioritised over me, which is understandable, however it meant the person manning the Gatehouse notified the person interviewing me 5-minutes after my intended interview time – which he then brought up and questioned me on in my interview.

If you get there too early then it can show you are not good at planning your time. It also puts the manager under pressure if they know you are waiting in reception for them.

The Manager will normally be ready for you 10 minutes in advance of you arriving so if you cut it too close to your meeting time then they might start to question where you are.

Aim to arrive at the offices well in advance of the meeting time in case there are any problems with traffic etc. It is better to sit in your car for a bit rather than risk being late. This also gives you time to gather your thoughts before you go in to the interview – print and take this document with you to run through before you go in.

  • Ensure you are friendly and professional with the Receptionist. Start a conversation with them (unless they are obviously too busy).
  • The Manager may ask the Receptionist’s opinion on what they thought of you when you leave so it is important to ensure that they have good things to say about how friendly you were.

The Interview

Maintain eye contact with the Manager as they are speaking. Listen intently and If you want to, take notes to bring up and question later – but don’t keep your head down whilst writing, it will make it hard for them to engage you in conversation.

Be honest with your responses, don’t back yourself into a corner which you can’t get out of.

Don’t just give one-word answers. Try to ensure you always elaborate with examples on what you have done, e.g. “Yes, I am very good with the Microsoft PowerPoint. In my previous, I was responsible for creating the presentations that were used company wide for sales meetings, board meetings etc.” Managers find it very annoying if they have to constantly push to get more details.

Don’t waffle on! Be factual and concise with your answers.

Whilst being concise, if there is an opportunity, try to open up a conversation on a topic(s). Turn your interview into a discussion rather than a job interview. You will feel a lot more comfortable and it will be a much more pleasant experience for the interviewers and they’ll be able to see your true personality.

Highlight achievements in your previous roles related to the company’s industry.

Always show your enthusiasm for the job. They will be looking for someone with drive and passion and this really needs to come through in the interview.

Body Language

Maintain positive body language:

  • Always Smile!
  • Relax your shoulders, sit up, nod and laugh (when appropriate)
  • Keep your head up and maintain good eye contact
  • Point your body towards who ever you are talking to, to show you are engaged in the conversation
  • Ensure you don’t leave your outer coat on, put hands in your pockets or fold your arms. These all come across as very negative.

Seal-the-Deal

After you have asked your final questions ensure you ask the client if they have any reservations about you – this is your final chance to ensure you have done everything you can to get the job.

Don’t forget to tell them before you leave the interview how much you want the job and mean it! It sounds obvious but so many people forget to say it.

Ask them how things will proceed from here – you don’t want to expect a call the next day if they are thinking they won’t decide for 2 weeks.

Ensure you thank them for their time – this is often forgotten at the end of the job interview.

FREQUENTLY ASKED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

To make the most out of this section, I’ve added a space below each frequently asked question (FAQ) for you to write an answer (if you decide to print this off). You can then run through this section before each job interview you have, to fully prepare yourself for any question coming your way.

Standard Questions

Why do you think you are suitable for this role?

They will ideally want to hear a couple of examples of things you have done that are relevant to the role they are looking to fill.





What do you think this role involves?

They will want to ensure you understand the job role. This is one of the reasons dissecting the job description is so important.





What do you know about our company and why do you want to work here?

Make sure you have read up on the company and have 2 or 3 good examples of what you know about them (try to throw in something you really liked from what you researched as well as this shows you are very keen and interested in them).





Give an example of when you have had to work under pressure.

Try to think of something that could be a relevant example for this role as well i.e. a situation you handled well that could come up with them in the future.





Give an example of a recent, relevant project you have taken part in.

Again, try to be specific. What was the project? Why was it important? What was your role and how did it add value? Always try to give examples that are relevant to the role or industry you are applying to where possible.





What do you know about our services and how can you enhance them?

Give past examples of how you enhanced your previous employers services. This could be on a particular project, a strategy you created or helped develop.





Why would you be an asset to our company?

Very similar to the last question just phrased slightly differently. Your answers will be pretty much identical though.





What do you enjoy most about your current job?

Be honest but be careful not to put the employer off by saying you enjoyed something that isn’t part of your new role as it may make them think you won’t stay with them. Try to mention something you enjoyed but that is also a part of the new role.





If you had to pick one thing from the job spec that you like the least, what would it be and why?

Another one to be careful of here. Be honest but always find a positive about the negative. An example could be: “It would probably be the admin side, however, I love seeing projects through from beginning to end, so even though it would be my least liked thing, I’d still want to do it.”





Why do you want to leave your current company?

Don’t let your interview time turn into war and peace about your current company. Keep it short and don’t bad mouth them/their processes or managers in any way. You are there to sell yourself, not to talk about a past bad relationship/experience.





Where do you see yourself 5-years from now?

Most large companies like people that want to progress with them and that will work hard to get there. A smaller company might not be able to offer the same opportunities so tailor your question to the size of employer.





What would your existing colleagues say about you?

They will be looking for a friendly and professional response to this but you can throw in a joke too: “Makes a great cup of tea”.





Can you tell me what your main strengths and weaknesses are and why?

Try to think of strengths that would be important to the role you are interviewing for. Make sure your weaknesses can also be strengths in some way. For example, a perfectionist can take a long time to do a job but will do it right. Perfectionists also tend to be micro managers, so this is not always the best thing to say if you are forward to a senior management role. Be careful with this as most employers want someone that can work fast and get things right first time.





What targets have you had to work to?

Know your figures! If your role involves making money, saving money or working to KPIs in any way then give good examples of the targets you have worked to and how these were achieved or exceeded.





What would you say is your biggest employment achievement to date?

Give an example of something relevant to the employer and the job role you’re going for, something that can add real benefit to them.





Give me an example of when you have had to handle conflict within the work place?

They will want to know that you are calm and professional at solving situations – ensure your example has a positive outcome.





Give me an example of an issue with a difficult member of staff – how did you handle it?

Like the above, let them know how you handled this in a calm, professional manner and the positive outcome for both parties involved.





Give me an example of when you have had to engage your team in change?

Change can be damaging to a team, so let the interviewer know how you kept them motivated through this time – Constant and honest communication is always key!





Competency-Based Interview Questions

I personally hate competency based questions, my mind goes blank and I stutter constantly. Only through writing out examples of things I’ve done and reading them before an interview, can I hope to recall them when asked!

Competency questions are to assess your level of experience. Give examples from work or educational, with a different example for each question you get. If possible, try to tailor each example to be as relevant as possible to the job you’re interviewing for. Don’t go into too much background detail when answering competency questions.

Carefully evaluate the person specification and skills they’re looking for. These questions are the perfect opportunity to demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the job. Have a look at our other post on writing a job winning CV for tips on how to do this effectively.

Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline and what you did to rectify it.

A very open question! What the interviewer is looking for is how you handled stakeholder expectations. Briefly explain the task you were doing, the reason you failed to meet the deadline and then talk about, ideally, how you had already spoken to the person(s) who had set you the task and managed their expectations about the task being delivered late and then the overall outcome.





Describe a situation when you had to complete a piece of work to a high standard while meeting a strict deadline.

I personally think this is an awful question! What they are really asking is “Tell me how you went above and beyond to get the job done”. This will obviously have to be tailored to the job you’re going for but my answer would be something along the lines of, with numerous senior staff off, including my boss, I had to collaborate with multiple department heads to get the information I needed and re-write it to remove any technical jargon, whilst also managing and implementing my day-to-day work. The result was a really high-quality brochure, a happy events team and stronger relationships between myself and other departments.





How have you previously managed your time effectively and achieved success?

Here you have a few options: How you delegated some tasks to free up time to work on something else or hit a deadline; How you worked extra hours to achieve success or how you rearranged/managed your work load to get the necessary outcome.





Describe a project you have been a part of when a problem occurred halfway through and how you handled it.

This question eludes to when you had started a project and got pretty far into it, only to realise you’ve been doing something or something beyond your control has cropped up that could jeopardise the full thing. How did you handle this? Really, an ideal answer is you worked extra to ensure the project was rectified, whilst communicating with the appropriate people to keep them up-to-date and how you setup procedures afterwards to ensure something like this didn’t happen again.





Tell us about a time when you used your creativity to carry out a project.

This question eludes to when you had started a project and got pretty far into it, only to realise you’ve been doing something or something beyond your control has cropped up that could jeopardise the full thing. How did you handle this? Really, an ideal answer is you worked extra to ensure the project was rectified, whilst communicating with the appropriate people to keep them up-to-date and how you setup procedures afterwards to ensure something like this didn’t happen again.





QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO ASK

Employers always like engagement and they want to know you’re a good culture fit for their company. Being able to hold a conversation is always vital in any job interview. Below are some examples of questions you can ask during and at the end of your interview. Try to tailor them as much as possible to the role you’re going for.

Is there any room for progression within the role?

How many candidates are you interviewing?

What do you think is the most important quality a person should have for this role?

What’s the current team and who would I be working closely with?

Who is your main competitor?

What would you say the main challenge of the role is and why?

What are the immediate projects that I’ll be tasked with, if successful?

Do you expect the main responsibilities of the role to change over time?

What was it about my CV that interested you?

Do you have and promote team building exercises and similar?

CONCLUSION

Getting an interview is hard work, so huge congratulations if you’ve got one! Now you need to nail it. In my experience, if an interview doesn’t go really well, you won’t be getting the job. Make sure you’re prepared for any question they throw at you. Make the most of this guide by printing it out and writing your answers below each question, take this with you and read through it before you head into the interview.

Struggling to get job interviews? Use my CV template and CV writing tips to give you the best possible chance in your job search.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *