Preparing for Job Interviews

Congratulations – you’ve bagged yourself an interview. This means you’ve seen off most of the competition, and the company feels you’re worthy of a spot on the shortlist. Let that confidence boost sink in, then get ready for the next step.

It's natural to feel nervous about an interview, but it's important to project a sense of confidence, present yourself and your ideas well, and demonstrate that yes – you are the best person for the role. How? Through a mixture of solid preparation, being well presented and forward planning. Gathering key facts and figures in advance, as well as thinking through your responses to certain interview questions, means you can walk confidently into the room knowing you're ready for anything. Now you can relax (well, sort of) and let your personality and enthusiasm shine.

Make sure you're prepared with these interview tips from Monster. Let’s start by waving that magic wand and transforming your outfit. You shall go to the boardroom.

What to wear to an interview

There’s a large element of stage management with interview preparation. Whether we like it or not, first impressions count. Plus, knowing you look the part will lift your confidence and help you to give your best possible performance.

Putting on your interview outfit is your first step in getting into character, so to speak, and can put you in an aspirational mindset too. Even if the company you're interviewing for has an informal dress code, you'll still need to look smart, professional and well groomed. As a guideline, you should aim to dress one level above your usual work wear. And let's be honest – if something as simple as polishing your shoes and wearing a tie gives you the edge over a close-running candidate, it’s well worth the effort.

Plan in advance

Check your interview clothes well in advance. If you’re choosing from your existing wardrobe, give everything the once-over for marks, stains, missing buttons and loose hems, leaving yourself plenty of time for any fixes. If you’re treating yourself to something new, don’t leave it until the last minute – you want to be relaxed the night before the interview, not haring around the shops frantically trying to find something that fits. Unless you’re in the fashion industry, there's no need to spend your month's wages on the latest trends. A classic suit is always a safe bet.

Take the same approach when it comes to your hair. Have a critical look as soon as you land the interview to allow plenty of time to get your locks lopped if necessary. A neat overall appearance is more important than your hair's actual style, and this goes for beards too. Ensure your fringe is trimmed so you're not squinting at the interviewers through a curtain. If your hair is long, tie it back on the day for a professional look that'll keep you from any nervous twirling or flicking.

If you're preparing for a remote interview, the same rules apply. For a video interview, test your framing beforehand to get an idea of what the interviewers will see and plan your outfit accordingly. Don't wear the same pattern as your wallpaper, and ensure your outfit looks smart from the shoulders up (no relying on shoes to make a T-shirt and trousers look more professional, for example). Even if it’s a telephone interview, it's a good idea to dress smartly. It’s hard to get in the zone if you’re still in your PJs.

Feel comfortable

The right clothes for the occasion can give you a shot of confidence when you need it most – just ask Cinderella. If your default dress code has been informal until now, you’re probably going to feel a bit strange in a suit to begin with, but as soon as it's on, you’ll start to look and feel the part. Strategic clothing choices can also help you feel comfortable – for example, choose something with a high neck if, like many of us, you tend to blush at your collarbone when you’re nervous.

To ensure you're at ease when you step into the interview room, avoid wearing anything you’re not comfortable in. You'll want to be focused entirely on nailing your responses rather than tugging at an ill-fitting shirt, or fidgeting because you're too hot.

Get used to your new outfit by wearing it around the house once or twice before the interview, and don't forget to break in your shoes if they're new. If you need to wear a tie for the first time since you left school, make sure you brush up on your technique before the day. It's a good idea to have a dress rehearsal a few days beforehand so you know your outfit is comfortable and appropriate for the occasion.

Suited and booted may not always be the right attire, for example if the interview involves a site visit. Check your invitation to see if it mentions dress code. If it specifies a certain shoe type for practical reasons (no heels, for example), treat this as a mini-test of your ability to absorb details.

It's the little things

The small details can make a big difference. Here's a quick checklist to run through beforehand:

  • Make sure your fingernails are clean and any nail polish is neutral and unchipped. If the company's dress code states no nail varnish, you’ll appear a better cultural fit with bare nails.
  • Keep jewellery simple. Too much bling can catch the light and be distracting. If you've been asked to deliver a timed presentation and there isn’t a visible clock, take your watch off and keep it in front of you – it'll look better than checking your wrist every five minutes.
  • Ensure shoes are polished and clean. Pick something you can walk in, in case you're offered a tour of the premises. Avoid flip-flops and casual sandals, even on a very hot day.
  • Make sure you're familiar with your bag or briefcase beforehand. A panicky fumble through its various compartments in the interview room could be a stressful experience.
  • Go easy on the fragrances. You want to leave the panel remembering your performance, not your perfume or aftershave. Stick to the neutral scents of freshly washed clothes and hair, and you can't go wrong.

How to prepare for your interview

Now you look the part, it’s time to go and get it.

Many people find job interviews uncomfortable because they don't like being put on the spot, but by thinking through the likely questions and planning some great answers, you'll be ready for anything. Even the most off-the-wall curveball question can be used to your advantage if you have an understanding of why you're being asked (hint: they don't really expect you to know how many taxis there are in New York).

Go through the job description and think about what questions they may want to ask you, then you can plan your answers accordingly. Make sure you research the company, too, to ensure you come across as informed and keen. If the company has invited you to give a presentation on a specific topic, even better – this gives you a real chance to show what you're made of.

Here's how to be well prepared for a job interview.

Pre-interview research

Do your homework on the company. There’s no point enthusing about how much you love their products, brand or strategy if you’re tripped up by a basic question about their recent performance. Happily, thanks to the wonders of the internet, this is a straightforward task. Look at the company’s website, paying special attention to any performance reports, news articles and press releases. What’s their ethos, their tone of voice, their level of formality?

Find out whether they've been in the news lately. Check out their social media feeds, and take a look at your interviewers' pages too, if you have their names. It's also advisable to research the wider industry. What’s the current climate? What are the company’s competitors up to? Show your knowledge of trends, predictions and history.

By this stage, you could probably recite the job description in your sleep, but you’re not finished with it yet. As part of your job interview preparation, go through all the specifications and jot down some notes about why, and how, you’re the right fit in every way.

Preparing for interview questions

There are a few common themes in almost every interview, which gives you a good idea of which interview questions to prepare for. Make sure you have an answer ready for things like "Why should I hire you?", "What makes you the best candidate for the job?", and the classic, "Why do you want this job." Look at the job description to understand what qualities they're looking for and base your answers around those, peppering in real-life examples from your career to date. If the interviewer can picture you actually doing the job, this should help your chances significantly.

It will be a rare interview indeed if you don’t get hit with "Tell us about yourself", so make sure you prepare a succinct yet informative answer. The interviewer wants a concise career summary, not a full life history.

Don't panic if you get a left-field question like "What’s your favourite sandwich?" – simply answer with honesty and good humour. They’re probably just testing how well you respond to an unusual question under pressure, so you're not going to blow it by favouring salami over Spam. Similarly, if you get a brain-teaser question, made popular by Google, stay calm and explain your thinking and process. There might not be a right answer, but they want to know how you'd go about finding out.

If there are specific circumstances around your application that you know will be questioned, make sure you have answers on the tip of your tongue. For example, if you’re applying for a job in a different industry, the interviewer is likely to want you to explain why you’re making this career change, and why now. Similarly, if you’ve taken a gap year, think about which elements of it are most likely to impress. In general, employers are positive about gap years. They're a great way to gain all sorts of valuable life skills, and if you financed the gap year yourself, that says a lot about you.

Here’s a closer look at what you might be asked at interview.

Questions to ask

Candidates are often so relieved to reach the "That’s it from us. Do you have any questions?" stage that they dry up and can’t think of anything. To make yourself stand out as an engaged and interested candidate, be sure to prepare a few questions to ask the interviewer. Good things to focus on include the day-to-day reality of the role, questions about the wider company, and the opportunities to grow and progress.

Write down your questions in a notepad and bring it along, with a pen. If the interview day involves any tasks, you may need these for jotting down your thoughts. You might also need to make a note of any details they give you about the job or the next stage of the selection process.

Creating your presentation

If you’ve been asked to give a presentation, you should be pleased. Trust us. You’ll have the attention of everyone in the room and the chance to show just what a fantastic candidate you are. Here are a few interview presentation tips – again, it’s all in the preparation:

  • Read the brief. As well as the content, check out details like allocated presentation time and whether you’ll need equipment.
  • Find out who you’re presenting to. This will help you pitch your presentation accurately. Some panel members may have less relevant expertise than others, particularly in technical roles, so jargon could be alienating.
  • Keep your structure simple. Include an introduction, your key points and a conclusion, and you're good to go.
  • Make it memorable. Make sure you finish on a high note, with a memorable and punchy conclusion.
  • Proofread your work. Give the brief another read to make sure you’ve hit all the key points. Demonstrating you can follow a brief is just as important as the actual content. It's also a good idea to get someone else to proofread your presentation, just in case you've missed anything.
  • Check your tech. If you want to use PowerPoint, find out in advance what equipment will be available and how best to upload your presentation. If this isn’t in the invitation letter, drop them a line – no one will think less of a candidate for being thorough.
  • Keep your visuals minimal. Unless the job involves creating whizz-bang presentations, you want the audience focused on your words instead of your slides. If you'd rather go without altogether, that's fine too.
  • Prepare for the questions you’ll be asked afterwards. Make sure you can explain your choices. For example, if you've left something out, be clear on why. Be ready to outline your thought processes, and to address any risks or difficulties your ideas bring up.
  • Share handouts after the presentation, not during. It's hard to resist the temptation to read ahead, even for the most experienced interviewer, and you want their full focus to be on you. Handouts will also act as a useful reminder when the panel comes to weigh up candidates.
  • Practise, practise, practise. You’ll feel far more confident once you’ve got a few dress rehearsals under your belt, and practising out loud will ensure you get the timing right.

What to take to an interview

You don’t want to stagger into your interview dragging a suitcase-sized bag of might-come-in-handy items – just focus on bringing along the things you really need. Avoid last-minute panics by getting everything ready the day before, including your interview materials and any necessities like train tickets, a waterproof if you need one, and those all-important directions.

Make sure your phone (and laptop if you're presenting) is fully charged before you set off, with travel and parking apps locked and loaded, and the interviewer's phone number at the ready just in case something crops up en route. Bring your chargers with you too, just in case.

Most organisations will provide water at the interview, but it's a good idea to take a bottle with you anyway, just in case you start to dry up and there isn’t a glass within reach.

The paperwork

Take your interview invitation, as this will have all the practical details you need to arrive in the right place at the right time. It's a good idea to take a photo of it on your phone as back-up – we’re all less likely to lose our phones than a piece of A4.

Whether you’ve been asked to or not, always pack a few extra copies of your CV in case you need to hand them out. It can also act as a handy aide-memoire if you have to fill out any additional forms while you’re there. Take the job description with you too – this can be useful to refer to, especially at the end of the interview when you get the chance to ask your own questions.

The bells and whistles

You’ve packed the essential paperwork – now it’s time for the showy-off stuff. It's a good idea to pack the following if you have them:

  • Testimonials
  • Awards and certificates
  • Press clippings
  • Key targets and results
  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Letters of commendation

If you're going for a creative post, you’ll already know to bring your portfolio. Make sure it’s smartly presented, and do some serious editing before you pack. Which examples show your work in the best light, and which are the most relevant to the job? There won’t be time to showcase everything, so choose wisely – you can always give them a link to your website if they're interested in seeing more.

You may also be asked to provide proof of identification or residence, so make sure you have your driving licence, passport or visa ready.

Just in case

'Expect the best, but plan for the worst' is a good philosophy when it comes to interviews, where an everyday minor mishap can easily become something really stressful. Reduce the risk of being caught out by packing an interview survival kit – a comb, pair of tights (if applicable), mints, plasters and tissues should cover most things. A nervous spill of coffee down the shirt en route is not unheard of. There are two approaches. One, avoid coffee. Two, slip a spare tie or scarf into your bag.

Top tips for interview preparation

There's a lot you can do to help put yourself in pole position. With background research, planning and an outfit so neat even your old headteacher would approve, you'll stand an excellent chance.

Here's how to prepare for a job interview:

  • Find the right outfit – and make sure it's clean, pressed, comfortable and ready to go.
  • Research the company and industry so you're ready to demonstrate your interest.
  • Figure out which questions you're likely to be asked and plan your replies.
  • Think of a few questions you'd like to ask at the end.
  • Put together a simple but effective presentation, focusing on the key issues and tailored to the panel's knowledge levels.
  • Prepare your portfolio and any other key documents you need, like certificates and testimonials from happy clients.
  • Pack the night before, including a few key bits and bobs for emergencies.
  • Charge your phone, laptop and any other gadgets, and bring your chargers with you.
  • Leave in plenty of time.

Not at the interview stage yet? Don't worry, you soon will be. Search for your dream job in our current vacancies and take the first step. If you need some further support and assistance a Hire a Hero Career Coach can help you.

Credit: Monster