Interview Success
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International Language Job Centre Home how to prepare for a job interview

Preparing for a Job Interview

It's a rare candidate who's not filled with trepidation at the thought of the interview situation. Being bombarded with questions, with what seems like your whole future on the line is no fun in anyone's (except a demented masochist's) book. But the good news is that with a little practice and lots of preparation you can turn interviews into altogether more manageable experiences AND have a good chance of success. The guide below will help to show you how. Print it out for reference if you like.


If the idea of being interviewed rates with having your teeth extracted (without anaesthetic), try to bear in mind the following points:

    • The employer has seen your CV and covering letter and wants to know more. You have got further than many others, and now have good odds for success.
    • Employers do want to employ someone- you could be just what they're looking for.
    • As with exams, the more preparation you can do, the better you'll feel on the day.
    • Interviews are two way streets. You can take some control over the course of the interview, as we'll be explaining below.
    • Interviewers are human too!


Now that you can face thinking about it, it's a good time to consider the purpose of an interview. For you, it's a vital opportunity to show the employer that you are right for the job and to get a feel for the company you are seeking to join. The interviewer will be using the interview to:

    • verify the accuracy of your CV and delve deeper into the information you gave
    • evaluate your verbal and interpersonal skills
    • establish the relevance of your experience and achievements
    • see how you respond in the situation
    • give you information about the position
    • determine salary requirements
The best interviews leave both candidate and interviewer clear and satisfied about what each has to offer.


You must spend time preparing in order to maximise your impact in the interview. Lack of preparation will leave you at a distinct disadvantage.


The best candidates present themselves as interested and well informed. Think about information you should know:

    • the nature of the job
    • the company's products and / or services
    • the position of the company within the industry
    • any changes or restructuring it has undergone
Your careers service is a good starting point for information. Also you can ring the company itself for additional information.


The interviewer will need to find out more about you to be able to decide if you're the right candidate for the job. They will therefore be asking you lots of pertinent questions. Some of them may be tough to answer so be prepared.

  • Review your CV -
    • Check it's complete and consistent- if there are any gaps make sure you have a good explanation for them.
    • Run through your list of skills, experience, etc and work out why they are particularly useful to this employer.
  • Anticipate some possible tough questions, or areas they might concentrate on. Prepare convincing answers to standard interview questions such as:
Why are you interested in a career in...?
Why did you apply to this firm...?
Why did you choose a degree in...?
What skills do you possess that would be useful for a career in...?
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses...?
Tell me about your work experience in...?

Knowing what answers you could give to questions such as these will make you much less likely to panic and much more likely to give good answers.

The interviewer may also ask you to say something about yourself generally. You should structure a couple of paragraphs on yourself and your achievements and become confident in talking about yourself.

Try practising your answers to all these questions with someone whose advice you trust. Also your careers service probably runs interview practice sessions. These can be invaluable- the more practice and feedback you get, the more confident and capable you will become in an interview situation.


Towards the end of an interview you will usually be asked if you have any questions. Resist the urge to say no and run! This is an opportunity to find out more and to show an employer what you already know about their company. Asking questions lets the interviewer know you're interested, and are a good listener as well as a good talker.


    • about the prospective job's duties in more detail
    • about such issues as potential for career advancement, the company's plans for the future, and so forth
    • any issues from the interview you need clarifying
    • bring in any knowledge you have of, for example, recent changes in the company, its working practices, market strategy, etc
    • about perks or your salary (unless specifically asked- in which case give a range)
    • for information that has already been clearly given during the interview

Check these simple points:

    • You know exactly when and where the interview will take place.
    • You've planned how to get to the interview and how long it will take- give yourself plenty of time.
    • You know the interviewer's name and job title.
    • Your interview outfit is smart, clean and looks businesslike.
    • Check that the same goes for yourself!
    • Remember, however much we might disapprove, first impressions are very important.
    • Remember to take a copy of your CV and application form, the job advert and a pen and paper for any notes you might want to make during the interview.

Now that you've prepared thoroughly for the interview, here's some advice for the day itself.

Dealing With Stress

While most of us are never going to find an interview a relaxing experience, we should be able to keep the stress and strain to manageable levels. Bear in mind the following:

    • Try to remember the interview is human too and may even be nervous themselves.
    • With all the preparation and practice you're in a good position to do well on the day.
    • Try taking deep slow breaths to relax yourself before the interview.
    • Be positive!
Different Formats

Bear in mind that interviews are not always "one to one". Organisations such as the Civil Service often use a panel to interview candidates. This presents additional challenges:

    • Try not to be daunted.
    • Try not to aim your answers exclusively at one interviewer- include all the panellists in your answers and eye contact.
    • Tailoring your answers to fit a diverse panel is a difficult skill to master.
    • Remember that panels may be fairer on candidates- even if one of them doesn't like you there are the others who may well disagree. Personal clashes are much more significant in one to one interviews.
Another possibility is facing an interviewer who deliberately attempts to place you under stress. They may use an aggressive questioning technique, or ask very tough questions. This is designed to see how you cope with pressure. Remain calm and answer each question rationally. Do not take it personally! If possible find out before the interview what format it will be taking.

Directing the Interview

Many people leave an interview with the feeling that they haven't "sold themselves fully". It is possible to take more control in an interview so that at the end you can feel you have put yourself across in the best light. The interviewee can take a more active role:

    • If you find a question or point unclear then ask. A simple request for clarification is far more preferable than waffle.
    • If you're given a question with a simple yes / no answer, try to expand your answer into a reply which stresses your skills and achievements.
    • Any questions about your weaknesses, or that reveal any weakness- try to turn them round to highlight some strength you possess.
    • Watch for feedback from the interviewer and try to respond to it. If there are signs that the interviewer's interest is wandering- shorten your answer or switch to another subject.
    • Don't say you agree when you really don't. As long as you express your difference of opinion in a reasonable and reasoned way it's perfectly acceptable.
    • Listen carefully- the more you know the more directed your responses and questions can be.
Body Language

Be aware of any nonverbal signals you may give out during an interview. Posture and body language can be important in determining what people think of you. While too many hints may confuse and be impossible to remember, there are a few simple tips to ensure you make a good impression:

    • Look at the interviewer- avoiding eye contact can make you seem untrustworthy and lacking in confidence.
    • Try not to fidget.
    • Avoid crossing your arms- it seems defensive.
    • Lean forward when answering- it makes you appear interested.

It's a rare interview that contains a job offer within it. If, a couple of weeks later, you receive an offer- CONGRATULATIONS. If not, try not to be disheartened. Look on the interview as a learning experience. Next time you'll be even better.


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