Preparing for an Interview

It is highly likely that during your search for a new position you will be asked to attend an interview, either with a Search and Selection Consultancy or with a prospective employer. It may be face to face, by video call or by telephone.

What is an interview?

The interview is a controlled discussion between you and the prospective employer, or the search consultant who is representing the employer. The interviewer is not there to trick you but to find out if you are suitable, that you have the skills that you mention on your CV and that you will fit well into the organisation and team. 

The meeting should be a two-way exchange of information and a fact finding exercise which will help the interviewer form an opinion about you, and conversely gives you an opportunity to find out about the organisation. Take the meeting seriously - your attitude will show respect.

Although in some quarters the interview has been criticised, it still remains one of the most common and popular ways of selecting personnel. 

Are interviews effective? No!

  • Most people over-estimate their ability to judge others
  • Interviewers are deceived by good ‘interpersonal’ skills of candidates, thinking they will be good at everything
  • Interviewers accept what candidates say without probing further
  • Interviewers can treat different candidates inconsistently

    Remember, the interviewer has only three key questions that need answering:

    1. Can you do the job?
    2. Can you get there?
    3. Do you want to do the job?

    The interview itself may take a number of different forms; it could be formal or informal, be conducted by one person, a panel or a committee and may follow a number of strategies and techniques. It may even be wholly on-line using AI.

  • Selection Formats

    Some companies have standard selection formats and it is likely, particularly with senior appointments, that the selection process will involve a number of interviews, each having a slightly different format.

    As well as the selection interview you may also be asked to undertake a number of selection tests, which could include psychometric assessment such as intelligence tests, aptitude and attainment tests and personality tests.

    Typically though the format will be: introduction; information gathering-asking you questions; discussion of the role and company; summary and conclusion.

    Whatever form the interview takes, every candidate should be offered the same opportunities to give the best presentation of themselves, to demonstrate their suitability and to ask questions of the interviewer.

    Quite a number of interviews may appear haphazard - don't worry - the interviewer may be unaccustomed to interviewing and could be a little rusty!

    A structured interview, designed to discover all relevant information and assess the competencies of the applicant, is an efficient method of focusing on the match between job and candidate. It also means that there is a consistent form to the interviews, particularly important if there are a number of candidates to be seen.

    Conversely unstructured interviews are very poor for recruiting the right person.

    Interviews need not be formal. The length and style of the interview will relate to the job and the organisation. Some vacancies may call for a formal interview panel, some for a less formal, one-to-one interview.

    First Impressions

    Presentation is all important when you go to meet your prospective employer and you should dress accordingly, even if it is an online video call.

    A number of studies have concluded that up to 93% of our first-time impact on others is non-verbal. Others have shown that there is a direct link between what you wear and what you earn. A badly dressed man penalises his earning potential by 15% and a poorly dressed woman by 11%. First impressions do count. A bad first impression with a client can take up to 15 subsequent meetings to correct - if ever. At an interview the wrong impression in the first few seconds could make or break a career.

    Look the part

    At your interviews you need to appear organised and professional which means wearing clothes that fit properly and look neat and tidy. We assess physical appearance – age, sex, perceived status, attractiveness. Most people will behave more politely if they think the other person has a higher status.

    So try to dress conservatively - it is a formal business interview and you want them to remember you for what you said and not for what you wore! This means dressing in a neutral manner as you don't know the preferences of the interviewer or company yet!

    If you pay attention to the details you can't go wrong: make sure your shoes are clean, your socks match and your tie isn't stained!

    If you are taking papers with you make sure you use a briefcase or similar bag, which is clean and tidy and looks professional.

    Body language is very important in the first couple of minutes – we form a quick impression which is lasting.

    Pay attention to the small talk – tone, volume, pitch and quality. Posture, gesture, touch and facial expression complete the picture. Make sure that first impression counts!

    Interview Checklist

    This can apply yo a face to face meeting or to a video meeting

    Before the meeting:

  • Make sure you know where you are going, who you are meeting and how long it will last. Take the company telephone number with you just in case you are lost or late. If the meeting is online check you equipment works and you have the correct link to join in
  • Arrive ten minutes early at reception - this will give you a feel for the organisation and the people at 'front of house'. If you are going to be late telephone and explain. Always apologise to the interviewer in person if you are late- this is courteous and shows respect for their time
  • Investigate the company you are seeing - products, services, size, location, reputation - use the internet, reference books, the company itself
  • Prepare a set of questions to ask about the role and company
  • Prepare your answers to difficult questions (why are you leaving; why do you want to work for us; tell me about a time when you failed and what you did to redeem the situation; why should we employ you etc)
  • Remember what you put in your CV - take a copy with you as well as a pad and pen to make notes. Re-read your CV and covering letter - if there is a mistake tell them before the meeting begins to save any embarrassment later
  • Know yourself - strengths/weaknesses, areas for further training
  • Think carefully about the type of role you are seeking and the type of company you wish to work for
  • On Arrival:

  • Prepare your opening move - first impressions are crucial - smile and introduce yourself. Do not offer your hand to the other person-let them do this. That way you will not have to worry about the firmness of your hand shake nor your sweaty palms! (incidentally, if the other person has an injured hand an over-firm handshake will not go down well will it?)
  • Wait to be asked to sit down
  • If you are ill on the day of the interview - don't go - all reasonable employers will wait a day or two
  • If online check your background and choose carefully what your camera is pointing at!
  • In the Meeting:

  • Be enthusiastic, show you are informed about the company and role. Try to create a positive impression
  • Keep your body language positive - look the interviewer in the eye, don't fidget, cough, slump in your chair, don't use a flat monotonal speaking voice.
  • Don't be over confident or arrogant.
  • Take note of your own body language - are you alert?
  • Make sure you answer the question - do not stray off the point or jump in. Above all do not make it up if you do not know
  • Avoid yes/no answers
  • Do not criticise current or previous employers
  • When answering questions do not rush into it, keep calm and think about what you are saying
  • If you do not understand the question ask for clarification
  • Keep a balance between talking and listening
  • Do not over rehearse the answers to expected questions - you may sound glib and canned
  • Don't ask about salary unless the interviewer brings it up - this will normally be at the end. Money is a tricky subject - all roles have a target salary range and market rate which they will expect you fall within. If your employer pays differently to the norm/average (ie: you are under or over paid) explain this when asked. Be realistic.
  • It is unlikely that expenses will be offered unless the interview required international travel.

  • The interviewer will be put off by the following:

    • Too aggressive, conceited, know it all
    • Poor ability to express answers well
    • No career focus
    • Passive, un-interested attitude
    • Lack of confidence
    • Concentration on the salary
    • Poor diplomacy
    • Closed body language
    • Not asking any questions
    • Lack of preparation for the meeting

    Typical Questions You Will Be Asked:

    • What do you see as your strengths and areas of weakness
    • What qualities can you bring to our organisation
    • How would your colleagues/boss describe you and do you agree

    Assessment Centres

    You may also find, particularly with the larger employers, that you are asked to attend an assessment centre. This is a planned programme of tests and group selection techniques designed to assess the suitability of participants either for promotion or for a particular position. Although it is called an assessment centre it may not necessarily be held in one place.

    Formal assessment using validated tests and work simulations that look at the individual's intellectual ability, motivation, work styles and 'people' skills is the only recognised method for quickly, accurately and completely measuring those factors that determine superior performance in a role'.

    The reasons become obvious when the evidence is presented. Research by Dr Mike Smith at the School of Management UMIST indicated that the best predictor of future performance in a management role was an Assessment Centre. On a scale from 0.0 to 1.0 where zero was pure chance such as tossing a coin and one was a perfect match between selection method and the candidates' eventual performance level, Assessment Centres achieved a staggering 0.7, whereas references and interviews were only just better than handwriting analysis at 0.2!

    An Assessment Centre is a standardised process designed to measure candidate's potential in a job. It is characterised by:

    - Several specially trained assessors

    - Candidates completing psychometrics and exercises based on simulations of the actual job

    - All candidates evaluated against the same competencies - those deemed critical to success in that job

    - Assessor's evidence on all candidates pooled to decide on suitability of that candidate

    Assessment Centres are designed to measure the abilities and potential of those attending for selection into the company, whilst a Development Centre is designed to work with current employees to determine their suitability for promotion, outplacement or to identify training needs.

    As such,

    Assessment Centres = Getting the Best People Development Centre = Getting the Best out of your People.
    The assessments are carried out by observing and recording behaviour and achievements across a range of exercises specially chosen for each Assessment Centre or Development Centre. These exercises are the means to get candidates to show what they could do if 'in post' or how they are likely to perform in more senior positions.

    The exercises typically include case studies of a business situation, an 'in-tray', a group discussion, a role-played negotiation, a presentation, experiential exercises to evaluate teamwork and leadership and psychometric assessment of all the candidates.

    The main benefit of using an Assessment Centre is that it is perceived by candidates as being accurate and giving them the opportunity to be judged on their merits, being better than the traditional interview with all its inherent bias.

    Further, when considering the costs of poor recruitment or promotion decisions, Assessment Centres provide top grade information that helps to choose the very best performers for the position or the most suitable employees for 'fast-tracking'

    A Quick Course in Body Language!

    The study of body language is a well written subject and many good books are available to the student. A related subject is NLP, and again many books are available to the student.

    In an interview situation you need to be aware that a trained interviewer will be looking for signals from you that demonstrate that what you are saying is uncomfortable to you or is not quite the truth.

    However, a fine line exists between the signs of nervousness and those of not quite telling the truth!


    The purpose of a handshake is to create a momentary physical bond which says ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or ‘we agree on this’

    A firm, positive handshake produces the best impression as it inspires confidence.

    A handshake can also be a power struggle – a dominant hand will face palm down forcing the other person to be palm up – open, outward-facing palms denote submission.

    Eye Contact

    During a friendly conversation people look at one another frequently, but for short periods. People who wish to dominate will stare at length.

    Minimal eye contact suggests submission, bad manners and dishonesty (beware though as the person may be very shy). Depression and sorrow also effect eye language.

    In general conversation people will glance at each other two-thirds of the time, making eye contact for a second or less. The listener will spend 75% of the time looking while the speaker will glance at the audience 40% of the time – everyone looks more whilst listening, particularly extroverts and females.

    Eye contact is reduced if the conversation is about intimate subjects or painful and embarrassing topics, as well as perceived ‘difficult’ interview questions

    Our facial expressions, voice and eye language communicate our emotions, whilst posture indicates our strength of feeling and underlying mood.

    Stress Signals – how to spot someone is nervous

    Where the person wants to ‘shut out’ or ‘withdraw’ from the world around them; signals include:

    Closing of eyes during conversation as if trying to remember something
    Shifty Eyes: rapid glancing to and fro Stuttering Eye: a nervous flicker
    Evasive Eye: unable to meet your gaze Stammering Eye: lengthy blink

    Shutting out the world; signs include: rubbing the ear, pulling the earlobe, putting a finger inside the ear or bending the ear forwards

    Displacement Activities: – all show signs of nervousness
    Winding up watches, pretending to read, examining their fingernails ‘Eating’ – chewing gum, biting nails, sucking long hair etc
    Unnecessary grooming

    Body posture:
    Crossed arms – a shield (although they may be shy) Crossed legs – see if feet are pointing towards the exit

    Not telling the truth

    Reasons for lying:
    Expedience: the social lie (lets have lunch sometime), including harmless flattery, loyalty and belief
    Necessity: the professional lie, used in acting and entertaining, the law and selling
    Withholding: playing for time in situations where you need to evaluate the facts before committing yourself. Suppressing negative or hostile reactions to maintain the status quo.
    Fear: where telling the truth could result in punishment. Fear of losing employment etc might prompt a lie
    Defence: unwillingness to admit to faults in yourself
    Crime: deceivers

    Body language will reveal deception when the need to lie is very strong, or when they don’t think you will believe them. Automatic signals include sweating, paling and altered breathing patterns but these are hard to see

    Your body language is very hard to control:

    A dry mouth will cause the person to lick their lips more, or swallow more often

    Feet and legs: most difficult part to control – when someone chooses to lie they will suddenly cross arms or legs, suggesting advanced self-defence. Foot signals include pointing feet to the exit, foot tapping or fast movements in the air

    Trunk: when people are trying to deceive they may turn their body away from you in an attempt to conceal their face and the truth – the ‘cold shoulder’

    Hands: hand signals are reduced in number when lying – hands go into pockets, they are clasped firmly etc
    The person will touch their head and face more often – faces, noses, ears and chins. Rubbing or touching the eye area is an indication of doubt.
    A person who is not telling the truth or who is telling anything but the truth will rub, stroke and scratch the nose more frequently than one who is being truthful.

    Voice: some people talk less when they are lying and make more mistakes in their speech. They may stutter, slur or hesitate as they speak.

    Of course they may just be uncomfortable in an interview situation, uncertain, shy or nervous – so their body language may not mean they are lying. However, the trained interviewer will check!

    Remember though that they will consider the whole picture, not one isolated signal.