When I wrote my career coaching book Falling in Love with Your Job, I focused on the process of exploring your career options. The book contains exercises to help readers establish what kind of career, industry or job position would suit them best. The clearer you are about what you want from your career, the easier it becomes to find a job that is fulfilling and exciting.
Since then, I have been writing a series of articles that cover some of the practical aspects of finding a job. You can read the first two articles here:
In this article, I am sharing tips on how to prepare for a job interview. As with my previous articles, I have consulted recruitment agencies and an HR company so that I can share first-hand expert advice with you.
Do you dread job interviews?
Many people experience job interviews as stressful. The idea of entering a room where several people are waiting to question and evaluate you can be daunting, in particular if there is a lot at stake for you.
Some of my career coaching clients come to me specifically to practise their interview skills. This can take the shape of a role play in which we go through the typical questions that might be asked at the interview.
There are many ways in which you can prepare for your job interview. Some are easy and can be done quickly. Others require more investment in time and effort. Like with everything else in life, the more effort more you put into your preparations, the higher the likelihood that you will perform well at the interview.
Here are my recommended steps for preparing for your next job interview:
1. Find out more about the interview style
Interviews can take many different shapes and forms. The most common interview style is a competency-based conversation in which the interviewer asks questions about the applicant’s skills and experience.
However, Shaheen Kadri of bonafide hr, a boutique human resource company, explains that many employers now chose different or additional formats, such as asking candidates to present on a certain subject matter or participating in a game experience or business simulation. He advises to find out more beforehand about the set-up of the interview:
- Will it be a one-on-one interview?
- Who will be interviewing?
- Will it be competency-based?
- Will you have to present?
- Will you need to show a portfolio?
- Will there be any assessment tests?
- Will it be in person or online?
In this article, I focus mainly on traditional competency-based interviews.
2. Research the organisation
The minimum you should do before you attend a job interview is to research the organisation that is hiring so that you understand their products, services, history and values. This will make it easier for you to talk shop with the interviewers. You can demonstrate that you have an interest in the organisation and that you are familiar with the environment in which it operates. It will also make it easier for you to link your work experience to the goals and challenges of the company you wish to work for.
Researching a company is easy. In most cases an internet search will provide all the information you need. You may even be able to find the people who are going to interview you on LinkedIn or the company’s website. I recommend that you read their profiles to understand their background and interests.
Shaheen Kadri advises that it’s always good to know beforehand if the person interviewing you is familiar with your previous employers. Maybe they have even worked for the same company. If that’s the case, you have to be careful in your responses as the interviewer may know the inner workings of the company you talk about and they may even know your previous boss.
If you want to go a step further, you could also contact other employees at the organisation on LinkedIn and ask them whether they would be happy to share a bit about their experience working for the company. They may be able to give you valuable insights into the culture and topical themes the company is dealing with.
3. Study the job specification
Once you have researched the organisation, it is also important to understand what they are looking for in you. Often you will have seen a job advert that provides a rough idea of job requirements, but it will usually be just a summary. It would be better to get hold of a proper job specification for the role you are applying for.
A job specification is a document written by an employer that contains relevant information regarding an open job position. It identifies the skills, traits, education and experience a candidate will need to qualify for that job, often divided into key requirements and others that would be desirable. Smaller companies may not have formal job specifications, but larger corporations usually do. Ask the recruiter whether a formal job description is available.
Shaheen Kadri explains that candidates are matched to the job specification based on their CV. That’s why it is so important that you tailor your CV against the job requirements. If you have made the cut and you are being interviewed, you have fulfilled the initial selection criteria. You will then be asked to provide examples and dig deep into the claims you have made on your CV. Sending a more bespoke CV shows you have thought about the role as well. Read more about CV writing in my article How to write a CV that stands out.
4. Prepare your content
The purpose of the job interview is to establish whether you could be a good match for the company. This requires that you meet at least the key requirements from the job specification. If you are serious about landing the job and ready to put in some decent work to position yourself in the best way, I suggest completing the following exercise:
- Step 1: Create a table with two columns.
- Step 2: In the left-hand column insert each of the requirements from the job specification so that each item occupies one row.
- Step 3: In the right-hand column capture evidence that you meet the specific requirements shown in the column on the left. This could be a qualification that you hold, reference to work experience or a case study.
Here is an example of how to complete the table:
|Job requirement||Examples of evidence that I meet this requirement|
|Experience in-house and in private practice||5 years of working for Smart Lawyers LLP. One year secondment to the in-house legal department at Masons PLC|
|Financial services experience||I have been advising financial services companies over the last 4 years, for example Retail Bank Plc, Blue Insurance Plc and Blue Investments Plc I drafted and negotiated a major call centre agreement for Retail Bank Plc that had to comply with the EBA Outsourcing rulesI completed a 4-day training course “FCA Handbook for Lawyers”|
|Good conflict resolution skills||I mediated two serious complaints to the satisfaction of both parties:Sexual harassment complaint by one employee against another after a Christmas party Complaint to the SRA about alleged misconduct by one of my team members|
|Embracing change||When our office decided to move to paperless working, I volunteered to become the paperless champion in our team. I consulted team members, listened to their concerns and assisted in developing solutions to address them.|
The purpose of this exercise is to explore in detail how you can demonstrate that you are the right person for the job. It takes time and effort to create this table, but it’s very useful. Thinking about each job requirement in detail and how you meet it will make it easy for you to pull out the necessary answers as required and on the spot during the interview.
The exercise will also help you identify gaps where you cannot demonstrate that you meet a requirement. You can then create a strategy for dealing with this gap. For example, you could decide to bring it up proactively by saying something like:
“I’m conscious that I have not yet worked with cloud service providers specifically, but I have experience from working with IT outsourcing providers over the last 10 years. I believe that many of my learnings from that time are transferable to cloud service providers and I look forward to learning more about this specific aspect of IT procurement. I have already started to familiarise myself with the EBA guidelines on cloud sourcing agreements.
5. Prepare for the worst
Most people are worried about certain questions they may be asked in interviews. The best way to deal with this is to have answers ready and to practise them. My recommendation is to list all the questions that you feel uncomfortable about and then develop answers for each of them. For example, many people dread being asked the following:
- What are your salary expectations?
- What makes you the right person for this job?
- Why is there a career gap in your CV?
- You seem to change jobs every year. How do we know that you will be committed to this role?
- Tell me about an occasion on which you have failed in your career and how you’ve dealt with that situation.
- What is your biggest development area?
- What do you want us to know about you?
These are just examples and you may be worried about different questions that are more specific to your situation.
I recommend that you not only think carefully about how to answer these questions, but also write down your answers word by word. It is only when we force ourselves to formulate full sentences that we think through the issue comprehensively. If you need inspiration, you can Google the questions you are worried about. For most typical interview questions you will find tips on the internet on how to answer them. You can then pick and adapt answers that suit your personality and circumstances.
6. Consider your vision for the role
Ben de Grouchy of recruitment provider ecruit has another piece of advice for those applying for senior roles: Consider how you would spend the “first 90 days” in our new role, for example by asking yourself:
- who do you want to meet?
- what will be your 1st objectives?
- what data do you need to understand the business?
- how will you measure success?
If you invest time in exploring these types of questions, it will probably uncover important themes you may wish to ask about in the interview. Going through this exercise will also assist you in talking confidently about your approach to the role and this will make you more convincing in the interview. The interviewer will find it easier to visualise you excelling in the role. Ben believes this makes a real difference in the interview and will help you land that job.
7. Practise the interview
If you are one of those people who find it easy to just turn up for an interview and perform well, then great – lucky you! The fact that you’re reading this article might mean though that you are not quite that confident about your interviewing skills.
The good news is that interviewing skills can be learned and honed like any other skill. In the same way as musicians, public speakers and athletes practise their performance, you can do this for your interview. In fact, that’s what I do with my career coaching clients. We role play the interview. I take on the role of the interviewer and ask a range of questions, normally a mixture of standard interview questions, questions that are specific to the job they are applying for and, most importantly, all those questions that the client is concerned about. I reflect back what I notice in terms of their body language, intonation, energy and, of course, the content.
Clearly, the content of your answers is critical and the previous steps in this article will help you create answers that are persuasive. At the same time, it’s important to be aware that most of our communication is nonverbal. You may speak the right words, but your body language and the tone of your voice can communicate something different. For example, if your voice is flat, your body language closed and your eyes looking down, the interviewer may draw conclusions from this. They might get the impression that you are not excited about the job, that you are insecure or even that you are hiding something. A career coach like me can reflect this back to you and provide tips on how to come across as more positive and engaging.
Obviously, you can also practise with a friend or family member, but chances are that they will not be quite as skilled in picking up the right points and they may not be as frank with you as a non-biased coach who has no stake in your life.
If you have nobody to practise with, then Ben de Grouchy suggests that you film yourself answering the interview questions. You will learn a lot from it. It’s very powerful!
8. Chose the right environment for video interviews
Many interviews take place online these days. This makes it important to think about the best environment in which you will take the video call. Here are a few things to consider:
- Quiet space: You will need to have a quiet space where you will not be interrupted.
- Tidy background: What background will people see behind you? Rightly or wrongly, the interviewer may make assumptions based on the items they see in your background. An ideal background would be a plain clean wall that does not distract from you. Backgrounds to avoid include those that are cluttered or untidy. For example, disorderly shelves, piles of papers or an unmade bed (I have seen it all!).
- Good lighting: The interviewer will want to see your face to establish a connection with you. This requires a good light source which lights up your face. You can set up a lamp behind your computer screen or you can utilise natural light by placing your screen in front of a window. Lighting in my flat is pretty bad, so I bought light panels from IKEA to create the perfect conditions for my video calls.
- Good microphone: I suggest that you test the quality of your equipment with friends as sometimes we have no idea how clearly the other side can hear and see us. If the built-in microphone of your computer is not good enough, plug in an external mic that records your voice loud and clearly. I use a Yeti microphone.
- Fast internet connection: Since video meetings have become the norm these days, you may want to invest in the fastest internet you can afford. It can kill an interview and the mood of the interviewer if the screen keeps freezing, sound is delayed or you keep getting kicked out. If you don’t have a good enough internet connection, consider taking the call at a friend’s place.
9. Consider your appearance
Whether the interview is in person or online, you will need to think about your attire and appearance generally. That’s everything from the clothes you wear to your haircut, make up and accessories. What’s appropriate will depend on the industry you are applying for. If in doubt, ask people who work in that industry or, even better, in the company you are applying for. Whilst wearing formal work attire is becoming less common, for the interview you do want to give the impression that you can dress professionally and that you have made an effort to look your best. Be moderate in your use of makeup and avoid clothing that is too revealing. Rightly or wrongly, if you dress up as for a night out, the interviewer may regard this as unprofessional.
10. Build up your confidence
Hopefully some of the steps set out in this article will already help you feel more confident about the interview process. If you come across confidently in the interview (not cocky or arrogant!) this can also help the interviewer to feel more confident that you are a good candidate. They often match the energy you radiate.
If you want to improve your confidence, I recommend that you write down all the aspects that make you an excellent candidate for the job you are applying for: your education, skills, behaviours, motivation, certifications, awards and your experiences. Write down all of your achievements. Make these items specific so that they really land with you. For example, rather than writing that you are a “good lawyer”, list positive feedback you received, deals that you completed, cases won, business you secured, etc.
If you have not kept records of your achievements, I recommend starting a practice of collecting them going forward. Whenever you receive an email or text message with praise, print it out and collect it somewhere, for example in a folder, together with all your certificates and other work achievements. Over time you will create a library with evidence of your success that you can consult whenever your confidence is a little bit on the low side.
What about accessibility?
Caroline Whiley of hireful, a company that provides IT solutions for recruiters, points out that not everybody is able to attend interviews in the same way. This makes accessibility an important consideration from both a candidate and company perspective. For example, not everyone has the equipment or home environment conducive to holding an interview, and that’s OK.
Caroline recommends that you are clear about what you can and can’t do. If you cannot make an online interview, ask the recruiter if they can make sure you’re able to go into the office for the interview, or if not, then perhaps you can meet the interviewer at a flex-working space or coffee shop instead. If the employer isn’t able to accommodate that, then make sure you’re up front about your personal circumstances; for example, that you’ll be using a phone for a video interview or be at home with a young family. Most companies are very understanding these days – but you also want to present yourself in the best possible light, and a barking dog or screaming toddler is unlikely to help you!
Caroline explains that accessibility means that you are given the best chance to perform at your best. If you know that you’re an anxious person, or that you don’t cope well in unfamiliar situations, there is no harm in asking the recruiter if you can see the interview questions in advance. Neurodiverse individuals in particular might feel under pressure when put on the spot to answer questions from a stranger. It might not always be possible to show you the interview script or a list of questions, but the recruiter may well be able to give you a heads up on the type of questions that have been asked in previous interviews for this role.
In general, organisations are placing increasing importance on accessibility and inclusivity through the interview process. So don’t be afraid to ask for extra support or adjustments to be made for you if you need it.
An interview is a two-way process
Caroline encourages you to be your authentic self in the interview. Rather than trying too hard to “fit in”, establish whether the role could be a great match that allows you to add value by being yourself.
Remember that a job interview is a two-way process. It is not only the company that is interviewing you. You are also interviewing the company. Maybe they should be lucky to have you working for them! What do they need to demonstrate to persuade you that it would be fulfilling to work for them? I recommend throwing in a few questions from your side in the interview to show that you’re proactive and that you’re not begging for the job. Most interviewers will give you an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. Have a few questions ready so that you don’t have to revert to the awkward: “Eh, no, I think we’ve covered it all.”
Rob Johnson of Johnson Associates, a Specialist Loans & Trade Finance Recruiter, explains that the questions you ask will give the hiring manager a further impression of the person you are and what interests you have. They also give you the opportunity to further build rapport before the interview concludes. Rob recommends avoiding asking mundane questions, such as about the team and organisational structure. Ask questions which will spark engaging conversation.
Remember that it is a competition
When you go through the above steps – you prepare well, look professional and have a great conversation – you might come away feeling satisfied because you answered all the questions. But Rob Johnson reminds us that an interview is a competition! You may not see the other contestants but they are there, fighting for the same job.
Remember, there is only one job and one winner, so you must attend the interview with the will to win. Just getting through the questions somehow is not enough! If you don’t try your absolute hardest to succeed, another candidate will.
You don’t have to do it on your own
Hopefully this article has given you ideas about how to create your own strategy for performing well in your next interview. If you are interested in receiving assistance for your job hunt, you can book a FREE Discovery Call here either with me or one of my handpicked associates. We will discuss your situation and requirements, and suggest a course of action. If you then decide to work with us, we can create a bespoke strategy and break it down into easy and manageable steps that will move you steadily forward towards your chosen goals.
We would love to hear from you!