Interview with CV's visible on desk

The Ultimate Guide to  Preparing For a  Job Interview

Job interviews are both exciting and daunting for many candidates. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to an interview, you’ve likely already impressed your potential employer with your CV, cover letter and application. But that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job offer.

The interview process is when hiring managers and recruitment teams go beyond the experience, skills and qualifications listed on your CV to determine whether you’re the best fit for their team. They’ll assess everything from your confidence to your soft and technical skills and how you present yourself as an individual who will add something to their organisation.

To make matters more complex, every company can take a slightly different approach to the interview.

Some will have multiple parts to the process, including telephone screening, video interviews, psychometric and skills testing and first, second and third-stage interviews depending on the type of role.

Some will ask you to complete tasks as part of an assessment; others will invite you to group or panel interviews where you need to convince multiple stakeholders.

However, just because interviews can differ doesn’t mean you can’t prepare effectively for them. With the right strategy, you can ensure you enter every interview with the confidence and insights you need to make a positive, lasting impression on employers.

We’ve created this complete guide to interviewing success based on our experience helping candidates find incredible roles for over 30 years.

Neil Scarborough

Managing Director

Understanding the Job Interview Process

Let’s start by understanding the process. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for conducting a job interview. Even if you find the ideal list of common interview questions you can use to help you prepare, you might still be caught off guard by the interview process itself.

Companies handle interviews in numerous ways.

Some of the most common options include:

The Traditional Interview

In a traditional interview, you’ll sit down with a representative or perhaps even an interview panel from the organisation you are applying to work for and answer a series of questions. These questions will usually help the interviewer determine if you’re the right candidate for the role based on pre-defined criteria linked to the job description, skills and cultural fit.

The Phone/Video Interview

During the pandemic, over 80% of companies adopted phone and video interviews to assess talent. These methods have retained their popularity in recent years, as they help companies save time and money on the interview process. During these types of interviews, it’s crucial to ensure you’re familiar with the technology you will use and prepare just as you would for a traditional interview.

The ‘Project/Task’ Interview

The ‘project/task’ interview is a more specialised interview form in which candidates are given a specific business problem or puzzle to solve or a technical task that could be part of your role. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your business understanding, skills and knowledge of the industry.

The Group Interview

Group or panel interviews are less common among smaller companies but still occur in some situations. They are generally used where candidate pools are likely to be quite large and where your soft skills – communication, customer service, interpersonal skills etc. are important to the role.

In these interviews, a panel of interviewers will assess multiple candidates at the same time, often by setting group tasks and activities to see how candidates interact with each other and perform these tasks, making it critical to know how to stand out.

The Multi-Stage Interview

Multi-stage interviews are also relatively common when companies hire critical new team members. You may have an initial “screening” interview, often with an external recruiting partner, where they ask basic questions over the phone. If you make the right impression during this interview, you will move to second and third stage interviews with the hiring company.

Mastering the Interview: Pre-Interview Preparation

Effective preparation is crucial to your success, regardless of which type of interview you’re invited to. Preparing for an interview doesn’t just mean searching on Google for common interview questions and practicing your responses.

An effective process means gathering all the necessary resources, conducting research and cultivating the right mindset to tackle any situation confidently.

Some of the first things every candidate should do include:

Researching the Company

For employers, the goal of any interview isn’t just to evaluate the skills and qualifications of each candidate but to define whether those candidates are the right fit for their specific needs. The only way to demonstrate that you’re the “ideal” candidate for the role is to comprehensively understand what the company is looking for.

Look up the company you’ve applied to work for online and make notes about its vision, mission statement, company culture, values and overall business goals. Check out the career pages on their website, their latest social media posts and any press releases or news reports published by other organisations.

If you are working with a recruitment company, they will be able to give you a detailed breakdown of the company, its goals and ethos.

Evaluating the Job Description

It’s easy to fall into the habit of “skim reading” job descriptions when applying for new roles.

However, if you’re invited to an interview, it’s worth reviewing and assessing the job description carefully. What keywords are regularly mentioned in the description, such as “attention to detail” or “adaptability”? What stands out about the company’s description of its culture or the required and preferred skills they ask for?

Examine your skills, experiences and attributes based on the job description. Remember, interviews often start with the question, “Tell me about yourself”, so what can you say in that opening statement that reflects how well you’re suited to the role?

Consider developing an “elevator pitch” where you highlight what you’ve done, your skills, achievements and how they all relate to the role you’re applying for.

Update Your CV and Cover Letter

Ideally, you should be updating and customising your CV and cover letter before applying for any role. Don’t make the mistake of sending the same information to every company you apply to work with.

Instead, use what you learn about the company during your initial research and the information you gather from the job description and your recruiter to build the perfect “complementary” documents for your interview. Ensure you’re drawing attention to the most relevant skills, showcasing aspects of your personality that demonstrate cultural fit in your cover letter and removing any “unnecessary” information.

This will boost your chances of getting a job interview in the first place and give you a valuable document you can refer to during the interview. Taking a copy of your CV to the interview will provide you with a cheat sheet you can refer to whenever you need help sharing relevant stories and experiences with your interviewer.

Preparing to Excel in a Job Interview: Top Strategies

Once you’ve taken the three steps above to ensure you have the right information (and resources) to perform well in your interview, it’s time to go deeper with your self-assessment and preparation process. Before attending an interview, it’s worth taking extra time to practice and master the essential skills you’ll need to “sell yourself” to a hiring manager.

Master Non-Verbal Communication

Nonverbal communication dominates how we communicate, according to behavioral psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian. Mehrabian’s extensive research on body language resulted in the 7-38-55 rule. This rule indicates that only 7% of all communication is done verbally. In contrast, the nonverbal components of our daily communication, such as the tonality of our voice and body language, make up 38% and 55%, respectively.

In other words, it’s not just what you say that influences your chances of interview success, but how you say it. Your posture, stance and even how frequently you make eye contact with your interviewer says a lot about you.

Practice interviewing in front of a mirror or a friend. Pay attention to how you hold yourself during the conversation. Slouching, crossing your arms, or fidgeting can all send the wrong message about the kind of employee you will be.

Focus on sitting up straight, smiling (when possible) and making regular eye contact with your interviewers. If you will be interviewing over video, remember to look directly at the camera when answering questions (don’t just focus on your video stream).

Polish Your Verbal Communication Skills

Exceptional communication skills are among the top things any interviewer will look for when meeting with candidates. They’ll want to see evidence that you can respond to questions carefully and thoughtfully, with a degree of confidence.

Practice answering common interview questions and pay attention to your language and cadence.

  • Are you using a lot of jargon that interviewers might find confusing?
  • Do you frequently use slang terms or rush through sentences?

Sometimes, it helps to take a moment to formulate your response before you start talking. If you need a minute, say something like “That’s a great question” to give yourself time to think.

Learn to Handle Behavioural Interview Questions

Behavioural interview questions are common. They’re an excellent way for interviewers to dive into your previous experiences and evaluate how you’ll respond to different scenarios.

Typically, the best way to respond to behavioural interview questions like “Tell us about a time when you overcame a challenge at work” is with a well-structured story.

You might use the “STAR” method (Situation, Task, Action and Result) to guide your interviewer through an experience. Remember to use detail in your response, referencing clear facts, figures and statistics wherever possible.

Another option is the “CARE” method (Context, Action, Result, and Evolution). Here, you’ll introduce your interviewer to the situation you faced and why it was important, then follow up with an explanation of what you did to achieve specific goals. You can also build on that with insights into how you’ve evolved and improved since or what you learned from the experience.

Prepare for Project/Task Interviews

Projects and task interviews can be particularly complex, as it’s often difficult to determine what kind of problem or puzzle you’ll be asked to resolve in advance. Often, the best way to master these interviews is to be prepared to ask the right questions.

This shows that you’re carefully evaluating the situation with a strategic mind. For instance, if your interviewer asks what you would do to help a company with declining revenue, you might ask:

  • How long has revenue been dropping for this company?
  • When did the issue begin? Were there certain factors at play, like a price increase?
  • Which segment of our audience has experienced the biggest churn rate?

Once you’ve gathered the right information, formulate a response that showcases your understanding of the problem and draws on your experience. You might say, “We encountered a similar issue at [company]. Their issue was also related to higher competition in the industry and we found that implementing [solution] drove [results].”

Be Ready for Group Interviews

Group job interviews can be complex. There are two common types of group interviews. The first is the group/panel interview, where you’re asked to attend a conversation with multiple stakeholders from the company.

During these interviews, it’s important to interact with as many people as possible in the room and pay the most attention to the person or people speaking to you.

The second type of group interview involves multiple candidates interviewing simultaneously. In this scenario, your employer will often be looking for both leadership and collaboration skills. With this in mind, think carefully about how you:

  • Speak up and present yourself as a leader.
  • Involve other people in the group by asking additional questions.
  • Build off the ideas of other team members.
  • Listen regularly to what other candidates are saying.

Optimise Your Interview Wardrobe

As business leaders continue to prioritise strategies for removing “bias” from the interview process, many are striving to avoid making decisions based on what a person looks like. However, we’re often unconsciously affected by a person’s appearance.

Ensuring you are well-groomed and dressed appropriately for an interview is crucial to demonstrating professionalism. Whether you’re attending an interview in person or via video call, make sure you dress professionally.

You can look at a company’s social media profiles or website for insights into what employees typically wear, and your recruiter can help you here. If you’re unsure of the right attire, stick with a business approach.

Overcome Interview Anxiety

Interview nerves are common. Most people feel anxious before an interview. This anxiety can affect everyone, from executive-level employees to entry level candidates. While you might not be able to eliminate nerves, you can focus on getting into the right mindset before the interview.

Experiment with ways to calm your anxiety, such as practicing some basic meditation techniques before you start the conversation. Take a few deep breaths, give yourself a miniature pep talk, or listen to a piece of music that makes you feel happy and confident.

During the interview, be patient with yourself. If you need an extra moment to breathe and ground yourself, say, “Good question; let me think about that.”

Brush Up on Your Technical Skills

Many employers will infuse technical skill tests into the process to help them identify which potential employees have the “hard skills” they need to deliver in a role. Often, the company’s hiring manager or your recruitment company will inform you in advance if you need to take a skills test.

This will allow you to read through valuable articles online, practice some “mock tests” and brush up on any skills you’ll be asked to demonstrate.

The more you practice, the more confident you’re likely to feel.

Prepare Carefully for the Day of the Interview

Preparing well for your interview also means planning the day in advance to mitigate as many potential risks as possible. Start by planning the route to the interview location and how you will get there. If possible, visit the area ahead of time if you’re unfamiliar with the route you’ll need to take.

If you’re attending a virtual interview, ensure you still have time to review your notes, dress professionally and groom yourself before you appear on camera. Additionally, take a few moments to check all of your technology is working effectively.

Arriving early is a good idea whether your interview is virtual or in-person. This will give you a few moments to get into the right mindset before the interview begins, calm your nerves and test any technology. Plus, ensure you prepare all the documents or resources you need in advance, such as your CV, list of referees and portfolio.

During the Interview: Top Tips for Success

If you’ve followed the steps above to ensure you’re adequately prepared for your interview, your chances of success will be much higher. However, while effective preparation is key, ensuring you’re ready to ‘perform’ well in the interview is also important.

Build Rapport with Your Interviewer

Building rapport is crucial during an interview. Hiring managers will look for evidence that you’ll mesh well into their team. Demonstrating your personality, smiling at the interviewer regularly and asking them about themselves will form the foundations of a positive professional relationship.

Building rapport doesn’t have to mean wasting an interviewer’s time with endless small talk. Simple strategies can help form deeper human connections, such as:

  • Subtly mirroring your interviewer’s body language
  • Making eye contact as often as possible
  • Smiling (when appropriate)

It’s also important to practice “active listening”. Lean forward and adapt your body language to show interest when your interviewer speaks. Ask them questions (when necessary) to build on the questions they ask you.

For instance, if an interviewer asks, “What did you like most about your prior role?” you might say, “It was a great experience overall. Are you more interested in the company culture or my work in that role?”

Answer Questions Concisely and Confidently

Although it’s important to give detailed and specific answers to your interviewer’s questions, remember that they will likely be limited on time. Avoid going into in-depth stories and sharing lengthy anecdotes with every question.

Identify what your interviewer is looking for when they ask a question and deliver concise, confident responses. For instance, if the hiring manager asks why you’re a good fit for the role, don’t tell them about your career journey.

Highlight the experiences you’ve had during your career that resonate with the values and goals of the company. Draw attention to critical skills and show you have a deep understanding of the priorities of that organisation.

Additionally, while it helps to rehearse responses to common interview questions, avoid sounding like you’re reading from a script.

Ask Relevant Questions

An interview isn’t just an opportunity for a hiring manager or executive team to learn more about you as a candidate. It’s also your chance to learn as much as possible about the company, the role and your responsibilities.

Asking the right questions shows interest and enthusiasm for the role. Avoid asking questions you could have easily answered with a little research (such as: “What products do you sell?”).

Instead, ask questions that demonstrate your commitment to being a good hire, such as:

  • What are the key performance indicators you’d track in my work?
  • Which team members will I work with regularly?
  • How would you describe your company’s approach to training and development?
  • What would be the biggest challenge I’d face in this role?
  • How does your company prioritise diversity and inclusion?
  • What does a typical onboarding process look like for someone in this role?

Demonstrate Enthusiasm and Interest

No employer wants to hire a candidate who doesn’t seem fully committed to the role. This is particularly true in today’s world, where employers are prioritising adaptability and resilience in a skills-short market.

According to a Glassdoor study, 25% of new hires leave a role within six months and your employer will want to avoid this rapid turnover.

With this in mind, focus on showing genuine enthusiasm for the position. Talk about what excites you when you consider working for this company. Do you share their values, feel thrilled about their upcoming goals, or look forward to opportunities to improve your work?

Ask about the development opportunities you’ll have, which skills you’ll need to develop to become the best possible employee and how you can improve your chances of progression in the long term. Showing a commitment to growing with the company will significantly improve your chances of getting a job offer.

Post Interview Follow-Up: What to Do Next

Finally, mastering the interview process doesn’t just mean being properly prepared before the interview and impressive during the interview conversation. It’s also important to think carefully about what you will do after the interview.

At the interview, ask when the hiring manager is planning on making a decision, and don’t send any chase-up emails or messages until after that point.

Once you leave the interview:

Send a Thank-You Note or Email

Just because you shouldn’t be pestering/bugging your hiring manager for a decision immediately after an interview doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get in touch at all. The one form of message you could send immediately after each interview is a “thank-you” note.

Keep the note short and sweet and send it within 24-48 hours of your interview. The message should express gratitude for the opportunity the company has given you. You can also mention something specific you remember about the interview.

Express excitement about hearing back from the interviewer and remember to personalise the message by using the hiring manager’s name.

Evaluate the Interview Process

Every interview you attend won’t necessarily lead to a job offer. However, every interview is a valuable opportunity to learn and improve. Sit in a quiet space and review the interview process in your head, listing the things you think went well and the areas where you believe you need to improve.

Invest in developing your interview skills as you commit to constantly learning and improving your career.

Stay Positive and Proactive

Don’t beat yourself up even if you don’t get the role you applied for with a specific company. If you’ve followed all the steps outlined above, the chances are that you did have a great interview, but you may still not have been the right person for the role.

If you think the interview went very well and there are no areas you need to specifically improve on, consider speaking to the interviewer and ask them for feedback on your interview.

Get their suggestions on which soft and technical skills you might need to develop or ask them whether you should consider applying for different types of companies and roles based on your current skill set.

Interviews are naturally nerve-wracking, regardless of how much experience you have in your role or how many companies you’ve applied to work with. While it’s impossible to fully predict what each interview will entail, you can still be prepared.

Making sure you do the right research and prepare effectively before the interview by honing your hard and soft skills, practicing different interview techniques and making the right impression on your interviewer by answering questions confidently and building rapport will boost your chances of success.

Over time, as you continue to learn from each interview experience, your confidence will grow, and you’ll find yourself nailing every interview opportunity.

Kind regards

Neil Scarborough – Managing Director

At The Recruiting Office, we have been helping firms with their talent acquisition, and a wide range of job seekers find their ideal roles for almost a decade and have successfully placed hundreds of top tier candidates. If you want to find out how we can help you – call us on 01603 964816 or email neil@therecruitingoffice.co.uk

Further Reading:

Master the Art of Marketing Yourself to Employers

Mastering Workload Management: Tips for Employees