Interview Tips & Advice

Interviews are about presenting yourself in a positive and confident manner and we have interview skills and tips to help you. Many candidates are often worried that by "overselling" themselves they may appear arrogant and, as a result, they opt for mainstream answers which can sometimes appear fairly vague.

Here are some crucial interview skills and tips before you prepare yourself for an interview:

Tip 1. Spend time to know yourself
It may sound corny, but many candidates fail simply because they have not spend any time thinking carefully about what they can offer. Take time to think about your experience, why it would make you an ideal candidate for that post and how you can demonstrate it through concrete examples. Practising too early can be detrimental to your confidence as you will keep repeating the same mistakes and will get frustrated. Only practise and go through mock interviews once you have gathered your thoughts.

Tip 2. Research the job and your future employers
Your interviewers will want to know whether you are fit to join their company. At an interview, you will find it difficult to demonstrate that you are the best candidate if you don't know what they are looking for and how the company may fit within your overall career plan. In addition, demonstrating knowledge of the company will ensure that you come across as a motivated individual. Use all the sources available to you, including any information sent to you by the company with the application, the company's and other websites, their Annual Report & Accounts (which can usually be downloaded from their website - if not, ask them), etc.

Tip 3. Keep your answers between 1.5 and 2 minutes
Lengthy answers do not make the points clearly enough, whilst short answers tend to make too few points. No one will be prepared to listen to you for more than 3 minutes anyway. So as a general rule, ensure that your answers fit within the 1.5 - 2 minutes timeframe, with a bit more maybe for answers to some of the more open interview questions (such as "tell me about yourself").

Tip 4. Structure your answers in 3 or 4 points maximum
In order to make a strong impact with your interview answers, you must ensure that the message is coming out loud and clear. By adopting a 3- or 4-point structure, you will help your interviewers identify the important themes in your answer and they won't have to work so hard to get the picture. If you have more than 3 or 4 things to say then you should organise the information differently. The human brain cannot take more than 3 or 4 things at a time. Don't drown your interviewers with information.

Tip 5. Clearly headline each point in your answers
Too many people waffle around a topic without stating clearly what they are trying to say. Once you have derived a clear structure, ensure that each section is headlined by the message that you are trying to convey. For example, if you are being asked a question such as "What are your main strengths?", you could structure and headline your answer as follows:

• One of my key strengths is my ability to keep a team motivated, even at difficult times.
• I am also a very approachable and supportive person.
• Another one of my strengths is my resilience and hardworking attitude, and particularly my ability to complete projects.

Tip 6. Expand on each point with your personal experience
Simply stating a series of headlines will make your answer sound "cheesy" i.e. no more than a succession of sound bites which have no real impact by themselves. Interviewers do not only want to know your own opinion of yourself, they want you to back up the claims that you make with examples from your experience. If you adopt a 3-point structure over 1.5 to 2 minutes, this gives you on average 30 or 40 seconds per point. You must therefore ensure that you keep your examples succint and to-the-point.

Tip 7. Avoid announcing a structure upfront unless you are absolutely confident
Although it can make you sound very confident and "in control", it can also be dangerous to announce the structure of your answer upfront. For example: "There are many things that characterise my experience: one is my in-depth experience of project management, one is my ability to manage a team and the last one is my interpersonal skills".

• It will force you to have a ready-made structure as soon as the interviewer has finished asking his question. This could be awkward if you haven’t prepared the answer previously

• You will lose flexibility. As you develop your answer, you may find that you want to introduce something that you had not originally thought about or, on the contrary, that you want to scrap something that does not sound so good after all. If you have announced the structure of your answer upfront, you will not be able to change it half-way through.

Tip 8. Use active verbs and power words to describe yourself
Most candidates, in their fear of overselling themselves, use words which do not reflect their true level of confidence, skills, competence. If you want to make a strong impact you cannot use expressions such as "I was involved in" too often as they reflect a situation in which you played a role rather than the role itself. You should use words and verbs such as: "played a key role in", "managed", "elaborated/built on", "was instrumental in", "achieved", "proposed", "derived", "proficient/competent in", "confident in", etc.

Tip 9. When answering questions asking for examples, use the STAR framework
The STAR framework is a well-known interview technique to answer questions asking for an example, and it is certainly a method which all HR professionals will have trained in and learnt to recognise. It is important that you practice it thoroughly so that you can use it naturally at your interview.

Step 1 – Situation or Task
Describe the situation that you were confronted with or the task that needed to be accomplished. With the STAR approach you need to set the context. Make it concise and informative, concentrating solely on what is useful to the story. For example, if the question is asking you to describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult person, explain how you came to meet that person and why they were being difficult. If the question is asking for an example of teamwork, explain the task that you had to undertake as a team.

Step 2 – Action
This is the most important section of the STAR approach as it is where you will need to demonstrate and highlight the skills and personal attributes that the question is testing. Now that you have set the context of your story, you need to explain what you did. In doing so, you will need to remember the following:

• Be personal, i.e. talk about you, not the rest of the team.
• Go into some detail. Do not assume that they will guess what you mean.
• Steer clear of technical information, unless it is crucial to your story.
• Explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.

Why you did it
For example; when discussing a situation where you had to deal with conflict, many candidates would simply say: “I told my colleague to calm down and explained to him what the problem was”. However, it would not provide a good idea of what drove you to act in this manner. How did you ask him to calm down? How did you explain the nature of the problem? By highlighting the reasons behind your action, you would make a greater impact. For example:

“I could sense that my colleague was irritated and I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings and his anger, I gave him the opportunity to calm down. I then explained to him my own point of view on the matter, emphasising how important it was that we found a solution that suited us both."

This revised answer helps the interviewers understand what drove your actions and reinforces the feeling that you are calculating the consequences of your actions, thus retaining full control of the situation. It provides much more information about you as an individual and is another reason why the STAR approach is so useful.

Step 3 – Result
Explain what happened eventually – how it all ended. Also, use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and what you learnt in that situation. This helps you make the answer personal and enables you to highlight further skills.

This is probably the most crucial part of your answer. Interviewers want to know that you are using a variety of generic skills in order to achieve your objectives. Therefore you must be able to demonstrate in your answer that you are taking specific actions because you are trying to achieve a specific objective and not simply by chance.

Tip 10. Behaviour and body language
Your body language will give a lot of information to your prospective employers about you. They probably will not be looking at it specifically (unless it is so bad that they can't miss it!) but they will be subconsciously affected by it throughout the interview. For a comprehensive look at how your body language affects the interviewer's perception of candidates, see our special page on interview behaviour and body language

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