Given the current state of the economy and employment, many members of the Jamat may find they will soon need to re-enter the job market. Now is the time to prepare for your job search, which includes preparing for interviews.
From researching the company to deciding what to wear, spending time on interview preparation is essential if you're going to put in a good performance and secure the job. There are now a complex array of interview formats from telephone and video interviews to competency questions and psychometric tests. In some cases, you'll only need to succeed at one of these to land the role. In others, you may face several interview formats throughout the application process.
Your performance in an interview depends on how well you prepare. Don't leave this until the last minute.
AKEPB has formulated this comprehensive best practice guide to help with preparing for an interview and is offering 1-to-1 assistance with your CV, cover letter or interview preparation. Please contact us on [email protected] and we’ll be happy to help.
Here is our guide to increasing your chances of interview success.
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You may find you are on the phone for an hour and a half and are expected to answer detailed questions about previous roles and achievements. If you're not able to make some quiet time when they call then set a time for the interview to take place. Make sure you won't be interrupted. Make sure to charge your phone in advance. Consider using a headset for greater clarity. Keep a copy of your CV by the phone and all the other relevant information you might need. Prepare and compose yourself in advance. Think about answers you might give to their questions, particularly with regard to competency based questions.
Time tends to be limited for a phone interview, so it's a good idea to ask at the start, if not before the interview, about the structure or sequence of the interview process. The interviewer may well have a set script of questions and while you may feel rushed, at some points, if the interviewer thinks they have the information they need they will want to move on.
As you don't get the feedback or body language information that helps in a face to face interview, it might be useful to ask questions such as "is that what you needed to know?" or "do you want me to go into more detail?". Make sure you sound enthusiastic. Smile when you talk on the telephone. Pace yourself, take time to think about answers. If you don't fully understand the question, ask for clarification. Don't allow yourself to become flustered.
The interviewer may need some time to make notes between questions so don't worry unduly about short silences.
Make sure you have the interviewer's email details so that after the interview ends you can write them a thank you note, so as to reiterate your interest in the role and outline key points discussed and what you think you bring to the table.
Video interviews are often used in the early stages of the interview process to filter out large numbers of candidates. This format can suffer from connectivity problems and time delays. Also, not everyone is comfortable on camera and this may put some candidates at a disadvantage. However, with some preparation these issues can be overcome.
There are two types of video interview: live and pre-recorded.
Live interview - this is similar to a regular face-to-face interview. You'll speak to the interviewer (or panel of interviewers) in real-time over a video connection using a service such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts. Try to treat the conversation as you would an interview at the employer's offices and build a rapport with the interviewer.
Pre-recorded interview - this is a much less personal experience as you won't be speaking to a real person. You'll be presented with pre-recorded or even written questions on screen, and then you'll have to record your answer on video, often to a time limit. This makes practice even more important.
Use the following checklist before either a live or pre-recorded interview:
- Use a quiet location, where you won't be disturbed
- Make sure the room you choose is tidy and use a clean and simple background
- Use natural light from a window or put a lamp in front of the camera
- Close any software on your computer that might play notification sounds
- Switch your phone to silent or completely off
- Let everyone in the house know you're about to start the interview so they don't interrupt.
- Wear the same outfit you would for a face-to-face interview. avoid busy patterns and stripes.
- Avoid slouching, moving too much or touching your face
- Make good eye contact, smile, listen and take an interest in what the interviewer is saying
- Your camera should be at eye level
- You should look into the camera rather than at the screen
- For pre-recorded interviews, try to imagine you're speaking to a real person, maintaining your enthusiasm and positive body language
- Speak clearly, and be careful not to interrupt as this is more easily done with the slight delay over the internet
- Before the interview you should test your internet connection, the computer, camera and any software that you've been asked to use
- Ensure everything is fully charged or plugged in as you don't want the battery to run down
- Witch everything on at least half an hour before the interview and sign in to any software that you'll need
- If it's a live video interview, mention any technical problems. It may easily be fixed
- For pre-recorded video interviews, check beforehand whether you're allowed to stop and restart in case of technical issues.
Competency-based interviews are designed to test one or more skills or competencies. Each question targets a skill needed for the job. Normal or unstructured interviews tend to be more informal whereas a competency-based interview is more systematic.
Key competencies regularly sought after by employers include:
- Commercial Awareness
- Conflict Resolution
- Problem Solving
Expect questions along the lines of:
- Tell us about a time when you…
- Give an example of…
- Describe how you…
- Describe a situation in which you led a team?
- Give an example of a time you handled conflict in the workplace?
- How do you maintain good working relationships with your colleagues?
- Tell me about a big decision you've made recently. How did you go about it?
The key to providing successful answers to competency questions is preparation. It's essential that you read and understand the job advert. From the job description or person specification pick out the main competencies that the employer is looking for and think of relevant examples of when and how you've demonstrated each of these. Try to draw on a variety of experiences.
If you don't have work examples to illustrate all of the competencies for the job, use other experiences that you can draw on. What did you get involved in at university? How about holiday or weekend jobs you've done? Showing passion can also sometimes override limited experience.
With this preparation in hand, use the STAR (situation, task, action and result) method to best structure your answer:
- Situation / Task / Challenge: Describe the task that needed to be completed or the situation you were confronted with. For example, 'I led a group of colleagues in a team presentation to potential clients'.
- Action: Explain what you did and how and why you did it. Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on you. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what you actually did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions. For example, 'I presented to around 20 big industry players in the hope of winning their business. I delegated sections of the presentation to each team member and discussed our ideas in a series of meetings. After extensive research and practise sessions the presentation went off without a hitch'.
- Result: Describe the outcome of your actions. For example, 'As a result of this hard work and team effort I won the business of 15 clients'.
If you're struggling to answer competency questions, draw a mind map. Brainstorm with a big piece of paper. Put the competency in the middle and think about every time you've used it (inside and outside of work). It doesn't matter how trivial the examples are – use them to craft a better answer to the competencies employers look for. If you don't have a direct example, think of examples which show similar, transferable skills.
A strength-based interview focuses on what you enjoy doing, rather than what you can do like in a competency-based interview. The strength-based approach is particularly useful when recruiting individuals who don't have a lot of work experience. The strengths that employers look for depend on the job.
Here are some examples of strength-based interview questions:
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
- What energises you?
- How would your close friends describe you?
- Do you most like starting tasks or finishing them?
- Do you prefer the big picture or the small details?
Strength questions don't have a right or wrong answer. It is, however, important that you answer all questions honestly. Just like in any other interview you'll need to include examples to back up and illustrate your responses.
If you're asked to identify your weaknesses, stay away from generic responses such as 'I'm a perfectionist'. Think of things that you've struggled with in the past and select a real weakness. Ensure that you explain how your strengths compensate for this weakness and what you're doing to overcome it. When you're answering their questions, interviewers will be taking note of your body language and tone of voice, which can provide clues to your sincerity.
You still need to do your research into the company and the role. Read the person specification to identify what strengths and qualities the company is looking for. Then make a list of your own strengths. Include your academic, work and social achievements, when you're usually at your best and what motivates you. Think about activities you enjoy doing, subjects you've enjoyed learning about, and also about things you don't like doing and your weaknesses. Think about how all these strengths could be used to the advantage of the organisation you're hoping to work for.
Psychometric tests help to identify your skills, knowledge and personality. The majority of psychometric testing is completed online, though some paper questionnaires remain. There are two main types: Personality Tests and Aptitude Tests.
Personality Tests explore your interests, values and motivations, analysing how your character fits with the role and organisation.
You'll usually be presented with statements describing various ways of feeling or acting. There are no right or wrong answers. While there's generally no time limit, you should expect to spend between 15 and 30 minutes answering anything from 50 to 200 questions, usually online. The best way to prepare is to practise personality tests. Also, make sure you've read the job description, know what the employer is looking for.
When taking a personality test, make sure that you:
- Take the test in a quiet, familiar environment
- Read the instructions carefully, paying close attention to what you're being asked
- Stay calm by breathing slowly and deeply
- Work briskly and accurately, omitting any questions that you don't understand
- Are honest and consistent in your responses
- Trust your initial reactions, and don't simply try to guess the 'best' answer
Aptitude Tests assess your reasoning or cognitive ability, determining whether you've got the right skillset for the role.
Common tests include:
- Diagrammatic Reasoning
- Error Checking
- Numerical Reasoning
- Spatial Reasoning
- Verbal Reasoning
The test will probably be online so get used to working on a screen. Have the right equipment - you should have a few pens, rough paper, a calculator (you won't be able to use your phone in most cases), a watch and a dictionary. Read the instructions - before you start make sure you understand what you're being asked to do and how long you've got to do it. Be aware of the time - make sure you know how long you've got for the overall test and each question. If you get stuck on a question just move on and come back later.
The best way to prepare for an aptitude test is lots of practice. For advice, information and free psychometric tests online visit:
1. Tell me about yourself: Avoid a long and rambling story of your life. Highlight makes you relevant and potentially a great choice. Summarise your early career in as few words as possible to cover your background and then cut straight to your most recent and relevant experiences. You should begin with an overview of your highest qualification and greatest achievements, before running through your work experience and giving examples of the skills that you've developed.
2. Why do you want to work here? Demonstrate that you have done your research into the organisation’s unique selling points and core values. Avoid saying things that suggest a short-term interest in the role. This is an opportunity to show the interviewer what you know about the job and the company. Be specific about what makes you a good fit for this role, and mention aspects of the company and position that appeal to you most.
3. What are your strengths? Pick three or four attributes desired by the employer in the person specification. It's important to discuss the attributes that qualify you for that specific job, and that will set you apart from other candidates. Use the Rule of 3:
- Rule 1: Make a list of what you think you’re good at, what you enjoy doing and what others say you’re good at
- Rule 2: Take that list a step further and ask yourself why you consider each strength to be a strength - list three reasons per strength
- Rule 3: For each strength listed, detail three examples of where you’ve showcased that strength
4. What are your weaknesses? Share examples of skills you have improved. Think of a weakness that you have - that is preferably not a crucial requirement of the job - and show the interviewer you have a strategy for managing it. For example: “When under pressure my attention to detail can be less than I like so I build in extra time for checking my work or ask a colleague to do a final proofread for me”. Never say that you have no weaknesses, that you're a perfectionist, or that you work too hard.
5. Why should we employ you? Start by reiterating your understanding of the role outcomes, then illustrate the skills you have to achieve those outcomes with some tangible examples. Then use emotive language and wrap up with something positive and memorable.
6. Why do you want to leave (or have left) your current job? The interviewer wants to know why you want to work for their company. When asked about why you are moving on from your current position, stick with the facts, be direct and focus your answer on the future, especially if your departure wasn't under the best circumstances.
7. What are your salary expectations? Refer to an objective third party source to indicate the average, describe your previous salary, welcome a raise but remain open to negotiation with respect to other benefits.
8. How do you handle stress and pressure? Avoid claiming that you never, or rarely, experience stress. Rather, formulate your answer in a way that acknowledges workplace stress and explains how you’ve overcome it, or even used it to your advantage.
9. What accomplishment are you most proud of and why? Use the STAR (situation, task, action and result) technique to tell a compelling story. Outline the situation you were in, the task you had to accomplish, the action you took and then the positive results. Ideally, your answer should evidence skills relevant to the job. Always prepare several examples. Avoid the achievement of graduating from university.
10. Describe a time something went wrong and how you dealt with it? Prepare by making a list of examples of projects or goals that didn’t go according to plan and then listing what happened and why. Next, review the reasons it failed, how you felt about it and, most importantly, what you learned from the experience and what you’d do differently next time. As with the question about stress, be prepared to share an example of what you did in a tough situation. Keep your answer focused on the job and the company, and reiterate to the interviewer that the position aligns with your long-term goals.
11. Where do you see yourself in five years time / What are your goals for the future? Say that you would hope to develop and be trusted with increasing responsibility over the next five years. Never say, "Doing your job", even as a joke.
12. What motivates you? This question is designed to understand a person in the round. Honesty, enthusiasm and self-belief are qualities a recruiter will hope to see reflected in the answers. Never highlight the perks, the pay, or the holidays as motivating factors.
13. How do you prioritise your work? Provide examples of times when you've juggled a number of different tasks at the same time and still delivered them to a high quality and on time.
14. How would you improve our product/service? Base your answer on the research you will have done. Don't be too critical of the product or service, but avoid saying you wouldn't change anything. The interviewer wants to hear some ideas. Try to come up with one or two things that you think could be improved. The key is to offer an explanation of how and why you'd make these changes. Make sure you focus on relevant areas that you would have some responsibility for if you got the job.
15. Have you got any questions? Ask about the company and the opportunities for personal development. Ask more about the role, its challenges and the team. Ask what the interviewer likes about their job, the company and the culture. Ask how you could impress the company in the first three months. Ask where the interviewer thinks the company is headed in the next five years.
- Do your research and practice: Nerves stem from fear, and in an interview, fear is related to being asked something you weren’t prepared for.
- Ask yourself tough questions: Focus in advance on the worst things you could be asked during the interview. Prepare by asking yourself what is the best thing you can say on those questions.
- Visualise: Imagine how you feel when you’re at your best. What do you say? How do you stand? What do you believe about yourself? What tone of voice do you use? Now, practice being this person in the mirror and take him / her into the interview with you.
- Exercise, sleep, hydrate: Taking regular exercise in the lead up to the interview to burn excess nervous energy. It promotes oxygenation of the blood, boosts endorphins and promotes a good night’s sleep.
- Don’t be rushed: Plan your travel well ahead of time. Build in some time for a 10-minute walk around the block before the interview to help calm the nerves, as well as mindfulness exercises. If you are already working, book a day or half-day holiday from your current role.
- Have an icebreaker handy: Research the interviewer’s background using tools like LinkedIn and try to find something you have in common or something you can ask them about.
- Breathe: Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and use your diaphragm. Pauses when speaking aren't even noticed by the person you are talking to. Pauses help the speaker remain in control of their breathing and their general flow. Giving yourself time to think will help avoid a rushed answer and a shaky voice.
- Project confidence: Remember BBC - Bottom at the Back of the Chair. Have your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms apart and hands open. All these help you look and feel open and confident. Get your body in the right position and lean slightly forward to convey enthusiasm, project confidence and to send a message to your brain that you are feeling confident too.
- First Impressions: Be approachable and friendly, smile, make eye contact and give a firm but not forceful handshake. Be friendly to everyone you meet on the day of the interview – in the lift, in the reception area, even in the toilets.
- Exude confidence: Stand, walk, and sit with good posture as it indicates high confidence, Gesturing with open palms at exactly navel height is a good way to show you are calm, assertive and confident.
- Show an interest in the business: Lean forward, use your body, hands and facial expression. Give good eye contact: around about 65-70% when conversing, and a little more when you are the listener.
- Demonstrate energy, positivity and enthusiasm: Use your hands and body movement to emphasise and animate your points. Nod and smile to show you understand and subtly try mirroring the interviewer’s posture and pose. This builds rapport and empathy.
- Don’t let your body language betray how nervous you are: Your interviewer will have a theory of mind that you are confident and will then cherry pick data about you that substantiates their bias. Avoid leg shaking, hair playing, pen clicking, teeth sucking and clock watching.
- Don’t arrive unprepared: Practise with a friend or family members and get their feedback. Video yourself to see how you come across or sit in front of a mirror and notice what is going on with your body as you engage with others. Plan to arrive early: do some deep breathing to calm your nerves, check you’re looking the way you want to, and visualise yourself as conveying strength and confidence.
Facts Tell, Stories Sell
Develop your personal ‘story’.This is your career to date: present your career history as a chain of successes, skills and experiences to establish the value you bring. To do this, pull together elements from your background that define your brand – whether this is cost-saver, profit-maker, or market-builder, for example. Each milestone, promotion and accomplishment you highlight should reinforce your brand message.
Be engaging. Involve your interviewer by asking questions. A good presenter will modify voice and gestures, or use pauses for dramatic effect. Use cues from your interviewer to launch into a story, such as "Actually, that happened to me once", or "I faced exactly the same dilemma in my last job.". Use a structure with a clearly defined beginning (the problem), a middle (the solution) and end (the outcome). Give credit to others to enhance your own credibility.
Use the right words to indicate passion, responsibility and leadership:
|Win||Met the deadline||Initiative|
Use the right words to avoid sounding like an outsider. If you're new to an industry or field, read up to familiarize yourself with the language. Follow people in the industry on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, and seek out relevant blogs and videos. Use the right words to also show you’re a good fit. Examine the language on the company's "About Us" page on their website, on social media pages, and within the job advertisement.
The spotlight process is a technique taught for interviews to help you sound professional when you're put on the spot with a question. For this process, handwrite your answers during preparation as you would speak them: don't worry about grammar or punctuation – keep it natural. Then put your answers away, ask yourself the questions one by one and answer from memory.
Avoid last-minute trip-ups: Make sure you are not scrambling around at the last minute for something you need. Before an interview, pack:
- Pen and notebook
- Your CV and interview invitation
- Your academic certificates and work examples if requested
- Photo ID
- Breath mints or gum
- A bottle of water
- Money for transport and food
While many employers still expect candidates to dress smartly, a growing number encourage casual wear at work. Ask before attending the interview. It's usually much better to be too smart than too casual. Only opt for a more casual outfit if you're absolutely certain that's acceptable - if there's any doubt, always go for smart business attire. Whatever you choose, make sure that your clothes are ironed and your shoes are clean.
After the interview, find out when you'll be informed of the outcome. Thank the interviewer for giving you the chance to attend. Make some notes about the questions that were asked and how you answered them while the interview is still fresh in your memory. If you are rejected, email the company to thank them for the opportunity and request feedback from your interview so that you can improve your performance next time.
- Never arrive late
- Never lie or embellish the truth
- Don’t dress inappropriately
- Avoid talking too much or not enough
- Avoid finishing without asking any questions
- Don’t ask about their annual leave and sickness policy
- Don’t take telephone calls, texts during an interview - make sure your phone is off
- Never bad-mouth your previous employer
- Never use bad language in your interview, even if your interviewer does
- Don't fall into the industry jargon of your previous employer
- Avoid criticism of any staff uniform
- Never highlight the perks, the pay, or the holidays when asked about your motivation
Interview questions and answers:
Questions from you:
Competency / STAR interview:
Powerful interview words:
How to sell yourself:
Preparing for interview: