How to handle interviews and improve your interview technique

Well done! Your CV was obviously successful as you have secured an interview!

Research has shown that interviewers form 80% of their opinion of you in the first four minutes of the interview. So it is important to dress and behave appropriately.

Most interviewers still expect potential employees to wear a suit or smart separates but how you handle yourself in the first few minutes is also a critical factor impacting the all-important first impression.

The interview allows the company to evaluate your skills, experience, personality and suitability for the vacant position. It is also an opportunity to compare each applicant and their responses to a similar set of questions.

This is when you will be selling yourself and letting the interviewer know why you are the right person for the job. It is also your opportunity to evaluate the company and the job being discussed. Many applicants miss this opportunity and, based on the limited information they have gained, risk ending up accepting a job that turns out not to be right for them.

What type of interview you encounter will depend largely on the job, the style of interview that the company uses and, to some extent, the personal style of the interviewer. The more usual interview types are:

Initial interviews:

When an employer has a large number of applicants to consider, a short-list may be drawn up for informal interviews of up to 30 minutes. The interviewer will then further short-list for a more in-depth follow-up meeting. 

Panel or board interviews:

Some organisations, usually in the public sector, will interview using a panel technique or by having a board of people present. Don’t be intimidated – answer each question directly and confidently, to the person who posed it.

Telephone interviews:

Some companies use short telephone interviews to decide which applicants to invite for a formal interview, or to quickly assess their interpersonal skills and background. These usually involve answering pre-set questions but you have to overcome the disadvantage of no visual feedback. If you are called at an inconvenient time, arrange for the interviewer to phone back when it is more convenient and you have had time to prepare.

Assessment centres:

Larger companies tend to use these and interviews can often last from half a day to three days. They normally consist of a presentation by the company and then a series of exercises for the candidates, which often include prepared and unprepared presentations, group tests, role plays, informal or formal interviews and psychometric tests to ascertain personality types.

Group interviews:

A formal or informal group meeting provides an opportunity for the employer to present the company and highlight the benefits of working for it. You should be able to ask questions and will probably have an opportunity for a one to one discussion at the end but do bear in mind that you will be assessed during this process.

This type of interview is followed by a more formal one at a later date.

Formal interviews:

This is the most common type usually held when a small number of applicants have been short-listed for a first interview, or when a few applicants are invited back.

Whatever the interview style, the following advice will help you make that all important first impression a good one.

The secret to a good interview technique – however, structured the interview – lies in being prepared.

  • Plan your journey in advance and always allow yourself some contingency time. If you are running late, telephone ahead to explain the situation
  • Dress appropriately. Even if the environment in which you will be working is casual, you need to show that you are making an effort. Smart clothes and grooming will make a good first impression on your interviewer
  • Research the organisation and its business sector – look at the website, read the annual report and, in advance, read at least one broadsheet newspaper each day. If you can, quiz anyone you know who has worked there
  • Prepare answers to standard questions – such as why you want the job, where it fits in with your career plans and consider responses to the inevitable “what are your strengths and weaknesses” question
  • Be ready with a few questions for the interviewer which show that you have done your homework on the organisation. The interviewer will want to know that you are on the ball
  • Confirm before the meeting who will be interviewing you – it could throw you if you are faced with an interview panel of six people when you were expecting a one to one meeting
  • If you can, ask about the format of the interview – for example, will there be any personality or skills testing?
  • Read through your CV and application letter again before going to the interview to refresh yourself on key points to discuss

Potential questions:

It is important you prepare for your interview by anticipating what questions the interviewer might ask. The following questions are examples of the types of questions that you may be asked to answer.

  • Tell me about yourself… (This is often an ice-breaker question. Keep the answer job or skill related.)
  • What do you know about the type of work we do? (This is your chance to tell what you know from the research you completed ahead of time)
  • What is your weakness? (Always make this a positive answer. For example, “My spelling is not always perfect, so I always use a spell checker”)
  • What are your strengths? (Describe your skills in a way that will show you as a desirable employee for the company)
  • Why did you leave your last job? (Answer with a positive statement. “It was time to take on a new challenge”)
  • Why have you been unemployed for such a long time? (Tell the truth. Emphasise that you were looking for a good company where you can settle and make a contribution)
  • Why should we hire you? (Make a positive statement, such as “I would like the opportunity to work with you and believe I would be a valuable asset”)
  • Do you have references? (It is most important that you contact your references ahead of time and have their name, current address, and telephone numbers)


  • Turn up on time and be polite to everyone you meet – you never know who might have a say in your appointment
  • Make the most of your research – mention some of the facts you have gleaned from the media, etc.
  • Make sure you talk to everyone if it is a panel interview
  • Find out as much as you can about the job; for example, you may want to know who the job reports to and why it has become vacant
  • If the first interview is with a recruitment consultant, ensure you get as much information about the organisation and the job as possible before deciding to meet with the company recruiting

Do not:

  • Be late – in fact, arrive early so you have time to prepare yourself
  • Criticise current or previous employers
  • Answer a question with another question
  • Interrupt the interviewers – although they may interrupt you
  • Leave without finding out when you will hear if you have made it to the next round of the recruitment process and what that next step will entail

Congratulate yourself on what went well but importantly, learn from your mistakes.  Make a list of the questions you answered well and those you answered poorly. Think about what you should have said so you’re ready.

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if you don’t get the job. Good employers are increasingly geared up for this. Also, you may want to apply to this organisation again and it shows you are still interested.

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