Tips for a successful first interview

Article reviewed: 2013/01/25 | Next review due: 2014/08/13

Congratulations, you’ve been asked for a job interview! You have good reason to be confident because the company obviously thought your profile and CV were suitable for the role and they would now like to know you better. It is still important not to be too relaxed, there is still a long way to go before the final hiring. So, here are some tips to prepare yourself for the interview:

Before the interview

Prepare as much as possible! You can start by going on the company’s website to research a little more, however a google search will also give you updated information and news articles on the company. If you have time, you can also request a brochure from the company.

To impress your interviewer, try to find information on the company's main competitors. If a third party arranged the interview via a recruitment agency, ask them information about it the role, the company, and ask if they have any tips.

Take note of key information and read this through two or three times before starting the interview. The company information can include:

  • Company history and when it was established
  • How many employees
  • Headquarter location
  • Type of business and what they do
  • Expand on the products/services they offer
  • Their place in the market sector
  • Turnover and rate of growth
  • How many branches/offices to they have, and is this international, national, etc.
  • What separates them from their competitors
  • Describe the market place they operate in
  • How many and who are their customers?

Once you have all this information, try to find appropriate questions to ask during your interview. This will show that you’ve done your research, however don’t ask questions just for the sake of it. If the interviewer has already mentioned something, then asking a questions that has already been covered may make them think that you weren’t listening.

It is best to prepare at least 15 questions; 5 on the role, 5 on the company, and 5 for the interviewer (What attracted you to this company? Etc.).

The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to anxious, and the better you know your prospective employer, the more you’ll know what to expect when you work for them.

Lastly, have a good night’s sleep before your interview so that you are awake and refreshed for the big day!

The day of the interview

Presentation is very important in interviews. Making a good first impression is key – you want to look professional, not like a fashion model (unless you’re interviewing to be a model, of course)!

Arrive early to make a good impression, 10-15minutes before the appointment should do. Plan your journey in advance and familiarise yourself with the route so that you don’t get lost or stressed on the day. If you think you are going to be late, ALWAYS phone ahead to let them know, giving the reason why you’re late and when you think you’ll be arriving.

When you arrive, be confident and polite, even with the receptionist. If your interviewer is late, don’t worry, you're about to meet influential people within the company and they are very busy. Whilst you’re waiting in reception, stay focused and don’t panic.

When your interviewer arrives, stand up, and shake hands firmly. Look into his eyes and smile, but don’t stare at him grinning like a maniac!

Questioning techniques

Most interviewers ask a lot of open questions that begin with "how" and "why" to allow you to explain your experience and background yourself. With more and more highly qualified candidates, companies are looking at the candidates’ personalities more and more. If your interviewer does ask questions about what you do outside of work, the interviewer is often just getting a better understand your personality and motivation. However, personal questions (re sexuality, etc) are definitely not allowed!

Often the interview will begin with a review of your CV. Answer questions positively and if there is a gap in your work history, there are still good reasons to have taken ‘time out’, so be honest and confident.

Lying during a job interview is never a good idea, the conversation may get confused and you always end up contradicting yourself and making matters worse.

You will also be asked questions about your skills relevant to the position.

Often there are no right or wrong answers to certain questions, the interviewer just wants to gauge your reaction to something.

For example, for salesmen roles you may be put in a role-play situation to see how you would go about something. Do not be afraid to get stuck in, the worst that can happen is that the customer says no, and this still happens to even the best salesmen.

There is a standard format of selling technique, where you find out about the customer and what their needs are, and then tailor the products benefits to meet a solution for them:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Gather information on the customer’s needs by asking open questions. Who? What? Where? How? Why? and When?
  3. Features - Highlight the features of the product (e.g. the pen is transparent.)
  4. Advantages – Explain certain features that meet the needs of the customer specifically (e.g. a transparent pen, you'll always know when you go running out of ink!)
  5. Conclusion – Closing the deal (e.g. I suggest you order 500 pens, would you like you delivery today or tomorrow?)

Frequently Asked Questions in Interviews

Tell me about yourself.

You can prepare an answer to this question in advance, but don’t repeat it ‘parrot-fashion’. Give details of your qualifications, your previous work experience and skills for the job offered.

What have you done so far?

Be careful not to confine your accomplishments to just one aspect of your job, but also talk about your life experiences of life such as how you've survived a shark attack, or your passion for ironing. Introduce yourself as unique and exceptional, being careful not to fall into extremes! Select stories relevant to the skills required for this job.

Describe a difficult situation you encountered and how you overcame it?

The interviewer wants to know what you perceive as 'difficult' and how you handle problems under pressure. Describe how you identified the problem and the solution you made. Finish on a positive note by explaining what you learned from the experience.

What are your strengths?

Liven up your answers with examples. Don’t just say ‘I’m confident’, but describe a situation where you hade to give a talk to several hundred people, for example. Describe your best attributes that would benefit the potential job-holder.

What are your weaknesses?

Avoid obvious answers like ‘sometimes I'm too hard working’ because it will not make you stand out. The interviewer wants to know more about you so be honest and respond in a working context. Always finish on a positive note, e.g. ‘even though I may not have sufficient experience in this as yet, I can prove to you and myself that I have the capacity to improve, learn and better myself’.

Why did you leave your previous job?

Avoid being too critical or too personal. Being negative creates a negative atmosphere in the interview, and interviewers are always looking for positive people.

Other questions:

  • Why do you want to join our company?
  • What qualities do you bring to our company?
  • Explain what you understand about this job?
  • Give examples of your successes in other positions?
  • What are your goals?
  • What are your achievements?
  • How did you react to a negative situation in your previous role?
  • What motivates you?
  • What you like about this job or company?
  • Why did you choose this industry?

As mentioned previously, always justify your answers. Imagine a parrot on your shoulder telling you over and over again "so what?”. Ensure that each of your answers is relevant to the job in question.

Asking Questions

A proper interview should also include lots of questions from yourself. You need to fully understand the position that you are interviewing for, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions will also help you stay focused and seem interested. Avoid the topic of salary, especially at this stage of the interview, as this can be negotiated once you have been given the job. Good questions to ask include:

  • What will be my daily tasks?
  • What will be my goals?
  • How the business is it divided?
  • What attracted you to this company?
  • What are the development plans of the company?
  • Will I have to travel for work?
  • What percentage of my time will be spent out of the office?
  • How would you describe the working atmosphere in the company?

At the end of the interview

Always formally conclude the interview by thanking them for their time. You can add that you enjoyed meeting with him and that you are keen to go further in the selection process. Ask your interviewer if he has any reservations that would prevent your application from going further. If he has, this may give you an opportunity tip the balance in your favour by listening to his response.

Finish as you started, with a firm handshake and a smile!

Body language

Body language is as important as your responses to the questions. Your tone of voice and enthusiasm, seeming confident and knowing how to be heard without shouting are all key points to remember during an interview. Don’t speak too fast, and allow yourself a pause after a question has been asked – think about your answers before you say the first thing that pops into your head! It helps to mentally repeat the question before saying anything.

With regards to your body language, don’t be too casual or relaxed, instead lean torward your interviewer. Imitate their body language and subtly copy his movements when he sits back in his chair, or leans forward again. This will help you create a bond with the interviewer and will leave a good impression of yourself.

Don’t be afraid to use your arms when you speak, gestures are an act of confidence.

For telephone interviews, stand up - this will help you project your voice.

After the interview, speak with your recruiter to see if you have any feedback from the interviewer. You can also give your opinion on how you think the interview went.

Good luck!

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