How to prepare for interview

Written by: Tony Noble
Published on: 10 Mar 2014


These days, just getting to the interview stage for your dream job can be an accomplishment.

You’ve worked out where the venue is, how to get there and how long it will take. You’ve printed off a copy of your CV to take along. You’ve decided what to wear, remembering it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed, within reason – the fresh meat dress is probably best confined to an interview as Lady Gaga’s backing singer. Aim to be formal for most interviews.

If it’s been a while since you’ve worn your suit, try it on in advance, allowing time for emergency shopping. If it’s too tight, then you won’t be comfortable. If it’s worn, marked or just plain dated, it looks like you haven’t made the effort and you won’t feel confident. Some people really rate well-polished shoes, so make sure they are presentable. Now, is there anything else missing? Well, there’s just the small matter of research…

The knowledge

Employers expect candidates to have made some efforts to understand their company and the job they are applying for. Aim to find out some facts about the company – when was it established, has it experienced mergers in the past, what is it best known for? Although no one expects you to know about the whole product portfolio, interviewers will have an expectation you know about new products launched within the past year and can identify flagship and highly profitable products, as well as the main ranges. You might want to think about what has made these products successful, or how similar products in the portfolio complement each other.

A broad appreciation of how many people work in the company and the approximate turnover just helps communicate your efforts to get to know more about the organisation. Make sure you know what a typical day would be like if you were successful.

This kind of information may be readily available from colleagues, trade magazines or the internet. Study information that has been sent by the company and be prepared for questions about what you have read. If you are using a recruitment agency, you should find it will share its knowledge of the interviewer’s style and priorities, will often be aware of the company culture and can provide details of successful strategies and approaches candidates have used in the past.

An agency should have a clear idea of the type of person that employer is looking for and can brief you on how well you fit that profile. This extra bit of detailed knowledge can sometimes give you the edge over another equally qualified candidate, so it’s well worth taking seriously.

Avoid the slip-ups

Be prepared for those tricky questions in advance. Your worst habits or failings? They are not always weaknesses and can be strengths. What don’t you like about your current job? Why have you failed to win previous jobs you have applied for? What about your co-workers – describe their strengths and weaknesses? What should your boss do differently? Yikes. All these questions are potential traps to find out how well you think on the spot and whether you have any weak points.

Put yourself in a positive frame of mind and try not to appear critical of either your previous post or your colleagues. Plan how you would respond to certain questions and write down answers to help you rehearse. Refine the answers until you are clear about what you want to say. Think of examples where you solved a problem, took the initiative or turned a difficult customer into a satisfied one. Being able to recount actual stories makes you more memorable and gives the interviewer a reason to believe what you say is true, as opposed to a bald statement of fact.

Moving on

It is always best to be over-rehearsed rather than underrehearsed, but try to appear relaxed – though not off-hand, as that’s something quite different – and natural. Make sure you have some questions of your own ready. Asking about your own potential development within the business and future opportunities shows you are ambitious, but it needs to be tempered with an awareness that not every business can offer a succession plan in a short time frame. Understanding the new product pipeline and what might be coming next can demonstrate both interest and enthusiasm.

Don’t be afraid to ask for details of the next stage of recruitment and the time frame in which you are likely to be notified. A closing, more directed, question at this time that advances mutual understanding is likely to be well-perceived, particularly if you are applying for a sales role.