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How to make the most of interviews

interview advice hays.nlInterview can be stressful - particularly second interviews and competency-based interviews (CBIs), but preparing for them will boost your confidence and help you to show interviewers what you can offer their organisation.

No matter how well-qualified you are for a job, your personality and presentation at interview are very important. Whatever your confidence levels, you can develop and practice the skills that are needed to succeed in interviews.

Get organised – be prepared

  • Know who it is you are meeting, where the building is and how to get there
  • Bring your contact details, spare CV, pen and notepad
  • Have information ready to impress the interviewer with your research
  • Do your homework – find out about the company, read trade magazines, visit competitors' websites, etc.
  • Study the job specification, match it to your CV so you can provide evidence that you meet the criteria

Your first impression

  • Wear a smart but comfortable suit
  • Remember that you're making an impression as soon as you walk through the door
  • Be courteous to everyone, from the Receptionist to the MD – you never know who might influence the final selection of candidates, or even the job winner
  • Look at all interviewers (if a panel) when greeting them, smile and carefully remember their names so you can address them throughout the interview
  • If the sun is in your eyes or the chair is wobbly etc. say something rather than squirm and fail to concentrate

When they are asking you questions

  • Relax and imagine you're having a conversation with a friend
  • People get so caught up in their feelings they forget to listen to the questions; slowing the pace will help you hear the questions and answer them correctly
  • Before you respond to more difficult questions, think about your answers and how you want to express them. This will help you speak more confidently
  • You could practise talking slowly and evenly before you go. Record your answers and listen to your pace and tone
  • Body language demonstrates how comfortable you are with your subject matter. If you're enthusiastic about what you are saying, smile and let your hands do the talking
  • If you said something you did not mean and are worried it could damage your chances, rectify this by restating what you actually meant. Don't hold back, it could be your only chance to get the point across
  • Be factual and honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Show that you recognise your weaknesses and that you are striving to improve them
  • If you get stuck on a question, do not dwell on it for too long but politely ask if you can come back to it later

When you have the opportunity to ask the interviewer questions

Some questions that may be appropriate to your interview include:

  • What are the other people in the department like? How would their roles impact on mine?
  • What would my core responsibilities be?
  • What training or induction is given?
  • What sort of one-off projects might I be given?
  • How much interaction would I have with other departments, or with clients/suppliers?
  • What scope is there for taking on extra work, or being involved in any other aspects of the company?
  • What plans do you have for expansion and how would these impact on my role?
  • Where are the opportunities to progress within the company?


  • There may be an explanation of how the process will continue. If not, ask.
  • Try to find out when you should hear back but do not be pushy as some recruiters will not want to commit themselves to timescales until they have had time to consider all candidates
  • Make sure the appropriate people know where you can be reached
  • At the end, thank your interviewer for his or her time and shake hands
  • Remember to say a personal goodbye to each person you talked to
  • Do not forget to acknowledge the receptionist as you leave, particularly if you have been looked after while waiting


  • Call your recruitment consultant and let him or her know how it went
  • Your consultant is employed by the company to liaise with you, and can also handle any queries or objections raised, or persuade the employer to wait while you supply more information
  • Some interviewers may give you their direct line in case you have any further queries.Take advantage of this if necessary but do not overdo it.
  • Allow a reasonable amount of time before getting in touch. At least 24 hours.
  • Write a letter confirming your interest and thanking the company for its consideration. A timely but subtle reminder like this could pay dividends

Competency-based interviews

Competency based interviewing (CBI) is based on the premise that past performance is the best way to predict future performance, so employers use the interview to gather evidence that a candidate has the ability, skills and motivation to match the ‘competencies’ outlined in the job and person specifications. Employers will establish a competency framework that divides the job into key criteria and generate a hierarchy of prioritisation to separate the ‘essential’ from the ‘desirable’. As the use of CBI is on the rise as it is now widely recognised as providing the best indication of a candidate’s suitability for a role, it's worthwhile to understand how these interviews work.

In contrast to traditional interviews, which focus primarily on the information contained in the CV (e.g. work history and education), CBI goes much deeper into the dynamics of specific attributes needed to succeed. You will accumulate points based on a scoring system against each competency, which are tallied up at the end of the interview and often further evaluated at second interview / assessment centre stage. Instead of simply describing your responsibilities and experience, you will be expected to give concrete examples of what you have done that illustrate each of the competencies they ask about. Because of this, it's imperative to do ample prior preparation.

Competencies vary from role to role but certain key areas such as teamwork, leadership, planning, organisation, communication, commercial awareness and problem-solving often come up. They might get their 'evidence' of your competencies by asking you, for example, to:

  • Tell me about a project you generated on your own
  • Give an example of when you improved the efficiency of your team
  • Describe a situation when you had to convince colleagues of a particular course of action

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