Steps to a successful interview

Blog Alpha Resumes interview preparation

For many people, job interviews are right up there with visits to the dentist. They’re hard to avoid, though, if you want to take the next step in your career.

Feeling prepared when you walk into an interview will help your confidence and your performance, even if you never manage to eliminate your nerves completely. We look at what to do before, during, and after an interview to stand out as the best candidate for the job.

The purpose of an interview

The main reason for an interview is, of course, to see if you have the skills and experience to do the job. But finding someone that’s the ‘right fit’ is increasingly important in organisations, so it’s an opportunity to show them your personality.

It’s also your chance to explore whether the job that looked amazing on paper is right for you and to see who you might be working with.

Prepare for the meeting

Once you’re invited for interview, it’s not enough just to turn up on time – although that is vital.

Do your homework

Read the position description and job advert again. If anything isn’t clear or you’d like to know more, make a note: asking questions is a positive thing, as we explore below.

Check the website or Linked In profile of the company you’re meeting with, to see if it is involved in any major projects or has been in the news recently.

If you know someone who works there already, get in touch. People are usually happy to share their views on the culture and office environment.

Dress the part

Whether you’re face-to-face with a panel, or on a Skype call with one person, see our tips in What does your image say about you? and you’ll be dressing for success.

Settle in to the interview

A few nerves are to be expected (even interviewers will be nervous sometimes!) but always remember to smile and make eye contact.

Take a copy of your CV to refer to, plus a notebook and pen or laptop. It’s acceptable to write down people’s names if you’re faced with a panel and to make a note of what you’d like to ask later.

Often, the first question is “Tell us a little about yourself”. An open-ended question can cause people to ramble, which is not a good start! Memorise a few points that are specific to the role and keep your introduction to around two minutes, covering:

  • your most recent and most relevant experience
  • your key skills and competencies and any outstanding achievements
  • what motivates you about what you do

Stick to your current and immediate past roles as the rest of your history is in your resume.

Let your personality shine without dominating the conversation and you’ll find it’s easy to establish a connection with the hiring manager.

Answer questions with confidence

It’s common for interviewers to have a list of ‘behavioural’ questions. These usually start “Tell me about a time when…” and explore how you responded in a situation, rather than asking hypothetically what you would do. This makes it easier to compare candidates’ responses to each other.

Behavioural questions explore the strengths that are needed for the role, such as:

  • Leadership
  • Collaborating with others
  • Planning and time management
  • Dealing with stakeholders or customers

To answer a behavioural question well, use the simple formula C-A-R (and take a sip of water before you speak if you need a moment to think):

C: Context

Provide a bit of background to explain the environment and your role at the time, so the interviewer understands the example.

A: Action

Explain what specific action you took to respond to the task or challenge.

R: Result

Describe the outcome. This is what separates ‘hypothetical’ from ‘experienced’. Real figures add impact to your response, such as ‘a 10% increase in sales’, ‘20% increase in staff satisfaction’, or ‘reducing steps in a process from 6 to 5’.

Examples of the C-A-R model

Right before the launch of a product you were developing, a competitor launched a very similar product.You organised a national video conference with senior stakeholders to plan how to respond.The media messaging focused on points of difference and the product was still a success, hitting sales targets in the first month.
You were responsible for rolling out a complex new IT system for customer-facing staff.The release was suddenly brought forward for business reasons, but users weren’t ready.You created online training guides for immediate use, supplemented by training sessions later on, and you were nominated for an award.
A new director was unhappy with the status of your project and wanted to elevate the risk level to ‘high’.You summarised the issues and risks that had already been mitigated and met with the director to address any concerns.The risk level stayed at ‘moderate’ and you were promoted to a larger program once that project was completed.

Don’t avoid the negatives

You may be asked about times when things didn’t go to plan, leading to unhappy stakeholders, missed deadlines or unsatisfactory outcomes.

This isn’t a trick. The interviewer wants to know how you handle less-than-ideal situations and what you learn from them. Or, if they ask what you see as your weaknesses, they’re looking for evidence of self-awareness and what steps you have taken to improve, such as mentoring or professional development.

There are a few things you should avoid, though:

  • Don’t exaggerate or contradict what you’ve said in your LinkedIn profile, which the interviewer will probably have read
  • Despite wanting to leave your current role, never criticise your current employer
  • Avoid being over-familiar or using humour or sarcasm that may fall flat.

Ask questions of your own

At some point the tables will be turned and you’ll be asked if you have any questions.

Saying ‘no’ makes it look as though you have little interest in the job. Show you’re motivated by asking questions such as:

  •  I saw in your annual report that you’re starting an IT transformation this year. What benefits will that have for customers?
  • Does the organisation have a staff learning and development program?
  • I read that your CEO is leaving soon. What impact do you expect that to have on the direction of the company?

In the first interview in particular, avoid questions relating to salary or benefits unless the interviewer mentions them.

Follow up afterwards

After thanking the interviewers and asking about next steps and timelines, you’re done…almost.

Stand out from the crowd by sending a well-worded email to thank the interviewer and reiterate your interest. A phone call is an option but recruitment can be an extremely busy time for managers.

Prepare your referees for the possibility of a call. Share your CV and the position description and list the key attributes that make you a great choice.

Reflect on the interview. Write down the questions you were asked and your responses. If you’re not successful, take some time to improve them before your next interview.

Where to find help

Here at Alpha Resumes, we run one-on-one interview preparation sessions and personal coaching to help you practice and gain confidence. See Writing and coaching services or contact us to find out more.

Online resources are also available to help you prepare:

  • has a blog to guide you through the application and interview process

  • Big Interview is a US site with a blog, plus free and paid guides and videos
  • And major recruitment consultants often have blogs with tips and guidance for all aspects of job hunting.

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