Candidate Interview Tips

Preparation is the key to good interviews. You will need to know your own CV backwards, and have a certain amount of knowledge of the company and the role you have applied for.

Firstly, make sure you know the address, who you will be meeting, and check the basics such as parking facilities. Find out what format the interview will take, and whether there will be any tests. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before the interview- forewarned is forearmed. Find out as much about the company as you can in advance. Generally their company website is the best source of information, but a Google search may reveal relevant information from other sites. If you are applying for a senior role within a limited company, then download a copy of their company accounts from the Companies House website.

Competency Based Interviews

Many formal interviews nowadays are conducted using competency based interview questions. The theory is that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. The interviewer will therefore be seeking examples of past behaviour that provide him/her with concrete evidence that you have the necessary competencies to succeed in the job. The same set of questions will typically be asked of all candidates, and a scoring system may be employed to gauge how well the candidate applied their own skills and experience to the question. Because the same questions are asked of each candidate, competency based interviews are deemed to be fairer as all candidates are treated the same, and given the same opportunities.

The interviewer will typically ask a series of questions such as ‘Give me an example of a time when…’ or ‘Tell me about a situation when…’ It is often possible to anticipate which key competencies the employer will be looking for by studying the job description. Often, particularly in the Public Sector, the key competencies are explicitly listed in the job description. Make a list of these, and think of examples of when you have displayed these key competencies, ideally in a work situation. If you can’t think of a work situation then use a situation from your personal life; this can be equally valid. Try to think of four or five examples, and it is likely that you can adapt each of these to display several key competencies.

When in a competency based interview, it is important that you take your time and ensure that you have a relevant example before you start talking. Don’t be afraid to pause for thought and adapt one of your stock situations to the question. If you feel that you have displayed certain key competencies by using an example, then spell it out and list them- interviewers may miss them if you don’t.

Other Interviews

Most interviews, particularly for temporary positions, are much less formal. If in doubt, then prepare for a competency based interview, as situational examples can be used in any interview. Stock interview questions include:

‘Tell me about your weaknesses’

You can start by saying that you don’t believe that you are actually ‘weak’ in any area, but acknowledge that there are one or two areas that you could improve. These should be weaknesses that are actually strengths, such as ‘I don’t suffer fools gladly’, ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’ ‘I’m too committed to my career’, etc.

‘What would your colleagues / references say about you?’

This should be seen as an opportunity to stress your main capabilities and achievements. Obviously, keep it all very positive!

‘Tell me about yourself’

This can be a difficult one to answer, and as with most questions, preparation is the key. Try to summarise your main capabilities and experience in a concise manner. Stress the positives, but don’t be afraid to point out areas in which you would like more experience; this shows good self-awareness. Prepare a career summary, stressing promotions and key achievements. Judge the situation, and if you feel it is relevant then you may want to mention your life outside work; family, interests etc.

General Interview Tips

It may sound obvious, but dress appropriately; first impressions last. Turn off your mobile phone. Take a smart, dark coloured folder which is firm enough to write on. This folder should include:

  • A copy of your CV
  • A smart pen
  • A list of questions to ask
  • Blank paper
  • Proof of professional qualifications
  • Proof of eligibility to work in the UK such as current passport or Home Office ID Card

After the interviewer has finished asking their questions you will often be given the chance to ask some questions yourself. Make sure that you have a list of questions prepared. These may include:

  • Questions about the role itself or questions about career prospects within the company
  • What’s the next step?
  • When can I expect to hear?
  • You may also want to take this opportunity to tell the employer how keen you are on the role / company, or to mention any points that you missed earlier in the interview

Finally, try to relax.  When you go into an interview well prepared, you should find it easier to be yourself.  You will come across as more confident, and you will be far more likely to leave a good impression. 


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