A Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for an Interview

Do you rate your interview competence?

Interview Preparation

When getting ready to move on to the next rung of the career ladder, one of the key areas that you need to focus on to succeed is your interview competence.

An interview is a situation not like any other, and can give the most experienced operator the jitters. The correlation between how good you are at your job and interview performance is pretty weak. You should never assume that ‘you’ll be just fine’. It’s also wise to remember that an interview is always a competitive situation. For every person who’s relying on past experience to get through, there will be another one who’s honed their interview skills to perfection.

So where do you start then, if you’re a little rusty?

Well, there are several components to the interview preparation, and we have split them up into sections below. In our experience, the first two points below are well worth spending some time on. The improvement you can achieve through quality practice will not only help in your interviews but also stand you in good stead for the rest of your career too.

1. Your silent communication; body language.

Most are aware of non-verbal communication, but few have a good enough grasp of it and even fewer try to improve it. According to some researchers, nonverbal communication makes up two-thirds of all communication, so to ignore it is not an option.

The typical advice given to interviewees is useful enough, and covers things like eye contact, the handshake, your posture, what to do with your hands and so on, and whilst these things are useful to keep in mind, the most important thing you can do is to practice improvisation and persuasion in real life.

Top tip: use your smartphone to film you when you practice, then review and correct.

Only by actually doing it will you be able to improve your non-verbal communication skills and come across as confident and convincing. The good news is that these skills are not just useful in helping you win more interviews, but in your personal and professional life too.

Some useful resources to get you started are:

2.Verbal Communication.

An interview is really tough. You’re not just expected to speak authoritatively on a subject that you know well (you, your career and your job), but your audience is also challenging you by asking probing and unusual questions. To respond well to the pressure that comes with the situation, you need to be able to display a calm, collected and confident exterior, whilst also being able to convey your thoughts clearly and concisely.

In short, not dissimilar to public speaking.

When senior leaders in our sector speak we tend to be impressed by their presence and delivery, thinking that they’re all naturals, and us mortals could only dream of having the talent that they possess. Thankfully this is not true – in the majority of cases, they will have received coaching and training in public speaking, rhetorics, nonverbal communication and have years of experience talking to an audience. We should all take encouragement from this, as it means that any of us could learn to perform at the same level.

A strategy to improve your chances to do well in your delivery is to approach your training as you would a public speaking engagement. Here are a few ways you can get started.

And if you struggle with nerves on the big occasion (essentially the ‘fight or flight’ response bringing on a spike in adrenaline), why not try some breathing exercises.

3. Research the Company

We would recommend to not spend too much time on researching the company. An hour or two should suffice. In terms of streamlining the information gathering, look up info in the following areas, read and take notes.

  • Find out about the person(s) interviewing you, who your line manager would be and check their work history and what they’ve done recently.
  • If the company is public, download the latest annual report and skim-read it. Look specifically at the CEO’s comments and outlook. Take notes and test yourself that you’re able to talk about the company, and the division you want to join, to a 3rd party.
  • Check Google News for any news relating to the company, skim and take notes if you come across relevant information.

4. Craft your story

We’ve lifted this from the next section as it’s a little too broad to stand as a response to a question. To have a good grasp of ‘your story’ is useful in order to respond to a few direct questions, such as ‘Tell us a little about yourself’ or ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’, but will more importantly strengthen your ‘brand identity’, and make you come across as someone who is confident, self-aware and driven.

The best way we’ve come across to put your ‘brand’ together is to use the concept of the five Ws – an adaptation of the five Ws in journalism, and serves as a the blueprint for telling your story.

  • Who are you
  • Where have you come from
  • What do you do/have you done
  • Where are you going
  • Why should we go together

Tip: use your story, condensed, as your elevator pitch!

Respond to these five questions, adapt to the role you’re interviewing for, as required, and rehearse to sound natural.

5. The Interview Questions and responses.

Often the questions asked in an interview are variations of the same ones, and there really aren’t that many: 15 According to James Reed, Chairman of REED. To approach them armed with this knowledge makes the task to internalise them and their answers much less dramatic.

It’s easy enough to find sets of interview questions online, but the quality tends to be shifting and it can be a struggle to distil them down to the essential. In our opinion, it would make sense to take the plunge and buy the book ‘Why you? 101 Interview Questions you’ll Never Fear Again’ as your time is better spent on the responses.

Once you have the questions, then you need to put in the work and craft answers to each one of them, linking them back to your own CV and experience as much as you can. The company who is interviewing you is not looking to hire an employee, they’re looking to solve a problem. Your task is to make them think that you are the solution to their problem.

Once you’ve done this, then practice, practice, practice.

6. Questions to ask the interviewers.

The last thing that you need to prepare is some questions for the interviewer or panel. This tends to be slightly tricky as often, much of what you’d like to find out will already be covered in the interview, which might leave you with nothing to ask them. The solution might be to ask the interviewer for her/his personal experience working there, or about the person who previously held the role and why she/he’s being replaced.

Sometimes it may even pay off to be a bit gutsy – I have a friend who interviewed for a director role at an NHS trust, which had a terrible reputation for bullying and sexism. One of the questions that were asked at the end was ‘I’ve followed the issues you’ve had with bullying and sexism recently – what specific strategy are you employing to come to terms with these problems?’. Out of a panel of five people, no one had an answer, but he was offered the job. Now if only we knew whether it was despite or because of...

 As always, if you have any suggestions or comments, please let us know via email – we would love to hear your feedback.

// The Programme Recruitment team.