Job interviews. They’re a crucial part of the hiring process and a golden opportunity for you to really sell yourself. But there is an art to getting them right. If you’re new to interviews, our guide gives you practical advice on everything you need to know. From how to do your research, what responses to give to typical (and not so typical) questions, advice on handling rejection, and body language dos and don’ts.
How to prepare for a job interview
Do your research ahead of the interview
First things first: preparation. Preparation is the groundwork that gives you a level of confidence before you’ve walked through the door. You’ve no doubt researched the company already, but ahead of your interview, you’ll need to fine-tune your facts. Here’s how:
Educate yourself on relevant industry or the company’s news
Interviewers expect candidates to know about their recent news, whether it’s a new product announcement, a change in managing director or a move into a new marketplace. Filter your online search results to focus on the last quarter for larger companies or the last year for smaller companies where there is typically less content. Start in the press release and news sections of a company’s website and expand into industry articles and LinkedIn company profiles. During the interview, emphasise the positive company and employee developments you have seen. What tech products have they recently launched? What client projects have they recently worked on? Tech companies often have tech blogs with the latest developments, read through the latest stories and seize the opportunity to mention them during your interview.
Learn about a company’s mission, culture, and values
Interviews are designed to assess your personality fit for the company as well as your skills and experience. Most large organisations have information on their website about their ethos and values. If you know in advance what sort of personal qualities a company is looking for, take time to think about how your skill set complements a company’s core values. Follow them on social media to get a timeline of activity and insight into a company’s “personality”.
Know who the company’s key players are
Don’t worry, you won’t be expected to recite the CVs of all the Executive Board members in the business. Knowing too much about the senior management because you’ve been avidly following their every step could come across the wrong way. But, if you’re applying for a job in tech, you should know who the CTO is, or even the senior software engineers within the business. Larger companies will often have short biographies of key members of staff on their website so have a sneak peek. You can always check out LinkedIn profiles too, a good place to get a feel for the person who is interviewing you and what their interests and background are.
Understand more about their clients and products
As a bare minimum, you should know what sort of products or services the company provides, and who their largest clients are. Don’t expect to find sales figures or a detailed breakdown of finances as this is usually confidential. Most companies will publish case studies or issue press releases about projects they have been involved in which will help with your research. Twitter and LinkedIn are good sources for discovering what a company’s key focuses are. For tech roles, knowing what tech stack a company uses is critical. If this information is not available, ask what programming languages, front and back-end tools and databases are used during the interview. These types of questions also convey genuine interest and enthusiasm to hiring managers.
Prepare an elevator pitch
Check out credible reviews from past employees
Although it’s probably not something you’ll want to bring up at an interview, sites like Glassdoor can give you the inside scoop on what it’s like to work at a company. Employees post details of their salaries and benefits which can be a useful benchmark when negotiating your own package. Review sites are often skewed towards disgruntled employees though, so take everything you read with a pinch of salt.
Preparing for practical tech interviews
For software development IT or coding roles, there are often additional elements within the interview to assess your coding, IT and/or problem-solving skills. This may be a video/phone screening call, a pre-interview test, or a remote/in-person technical assignment. These tests are designed to directly demonstrate your technical skills. The prospect of these can feel intimidating so it’s important to prepare properly. Practice by holding mock interviews with peers or colleagues, and research common tech questions for your role to ease anxiety. You can also run through online tech or coding challenges well in advance, to perfect accuracy and speed. For example, using resources like HackerRank or CodeFights. Practice regularly and learn how to tackle the types of questions you will face and be ready to explain the logic behind your answers to the interviewer. It’s also good to have a relevant project ready to discuss that aligns with the same level of complexity of the job you’re applying for.
Practise your interview responses
Continue your preparation by running through some popular interview questions. Practice responses that include the key points you want to get across. Here’s some typical questions and suggestions on how to answer.
Tell us about yourself
This is a popular interview icebreaker and a good opportunity to use your elevator pitch. It’s tempting to ramble in response to an open question but stay relevant and succinct. Begin by talking about your personal interests and hobbies. Then highlight your latest education placement or job role, why you chose your career path, and the highlights in your journey so far. Describe any voluntary, or relevant work experience or internships you’ve had and point to specific achievements.
Why do you want to work here?
Consider what it is you like about the company. This could be its ethos, its innovative use of technology, or commitment to sustainability. Relay your reasons in a way that conveys your specific knowledge of the business. For instance, “I see this as an opportunity to be involved in an industry I am enthusiastic about; your track record in technological innovation is something that excites me.”
What are your weaknesses?
With this question, an interviewer wants to see how self-aware you are. Bring in a real-life example, for instance, if you have ever become overly invested in a project, explain that your enthusiasm led you to spending too much time in one area, but that you’ve since developed your time management skills. You may also be asked when you last made a mistake to see how you overcome errors. Briefly explain the mistake, then focus on how you navigated past it, learned because of it and how you do things differently now.
What is your greatest achievement?
Here, the person interviewing wants to determine how you perceive success and discover more about your proven abilities. Your answer should be recent, relevant to the position and related to your education, work experience or voluntary work. Think about a time when you received good feedback, achieved an award, or gained new skills. Be as detailed as you can as this indicates honesty and adds depth and interest for the listener. An interviewer may want to dig a little deeper, so have more details at the ready.
Tell us about a time when you handled conflict
Conflict happens and businesses know that. They don’t expect you to say you haven’t experienced conflict, but instead, how you managed it. This offers an insight into your individual characteristics, and how you may fit in at their company. Remain balanced in your response and focus on the positive result that followed. Use an example of when you had to deal with a disgruntled customer, or a time when you disagreed with a colleague. Clarify how you listened to the other party before reaching a resolution together.
What motivates you?
Motivations are personal. Learning new techniques, helping others, achieving results, or solving problems are typical motivators. Introduce examples that draw on your work experience or studies. Interviewers want to assess your suitability for the role, discover more about you, and consider the type of employee you may be. Try phrasing your response like this: “My motivation is seeking variation. When I was working towards my IT degree/working as a junior software developer, I enjoyed getting involved in different groups and initiatives. Variety drives me and brings out the best in me.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Read the job description thoroughly and link it to the goals you want to achieve in your career. For example, explain how you see yourself as an IT lead in the future and would like to take advantage of the company’s management training programmes to help you progress to that level.
Be ready for wacky interview questions
In some interviews, including those for technical positions, you will be asked more off-beat questions designed to take you by surprise and reveal more about who you are to the interviewer. Tactics are changing all the time, but here are a few examples of what you can expect:
How many bricks are there in Buckingham Palace?
Obviously, nobody is going to know the exact answer to questions like these, or similar ones like how many slices of pizza are eaten in the UK each year or how many people in London are using Facebook at any one time. The answer isn’t the point of these questions. Employers partly want to put you on the spot, and partly see your reasoning. A good response may be that you would calculate this by measuring the dimensions of the palace, considering internal walls and courtyards. You would then work out the dimensions of a brick and divide one into the other. The key is not to flap, but to explain your reasoning logically without blurting out the first number you can think of.
If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
Again, the employer doesn’t care if you think of yourself as a zingy orange or sophisticated blue. The way to approach this question is to highlight a quality you know they are looking for and pick a colour to match it. So, if you see yourself as calm and organised, you might say you’re blue or pale green. If the job requires lots of creativity, you might say that as you’re always full of ideas and energy, you’d be yellow or red.
Can you tell us a joke?
This question is designed to push you out of your comfort zone and see how well you think on the spot. The best answer is something short and non-offensive, or the type of joke which children tell. For example, how do you catch a rabbit? Hide behind a tree and make a sound like a carrot. It’s simple, short, and easy to remember. Don’t start telling long-winded stories and steer away from bad language or a joke that relies on insults as a punchline.
How many ways could you use this piece of paper?
This is a test of creativity. Interviewers don’t want you to say that you could write on it, they want as many ideas as you can come up with in the allotted time. It doesn’t matter how crazy your ideas seem, just keep them coming. Say you’d fold the paper up and make a hat or a boat to sail in the pond. Once you suggest a few ideas you’ll find they start to flow more easily.
How would you redesign a popular mobile app?
This is not necessarily a wacky question but it’s the type of question you should prepare for if you’re going for a technical position. Look again at the company’s products to see what this type of question could be centred on. In this instance, the interviewer wants to gain a good idea of your technical abilities and see what programs, tools, apps, and coding you understand. Make sure you include all the languages you know. Explain in technical terms what it is that works on the app currently, then detail how you would refresh it using a different system or program you know and outline its benefits and features and what the results could be.
Getting the basics right during the interview
Remember the interview essentials
After your research and response preparation, it’s time for the interview. The main trick during an interview is striking the balance between showing that you meet the requirements of the role, while selling yourself in the best possible way. Here’s some useful pointers:
Look the part
Today, most employers have workplaces with a variety of dress codes, but it is always sensible to turn up in smart dress or business clothing. This instantly conveys effort, respect, and professionalism and can give you confidence. Invest in or borrow a good suit or set of clothes that are formal and clean.
Tell a strong story
All companies appreciate personality; they want people who fit in with a group and make great team members. Telling a positive and memorable anecdote will help get this across. Explain how you solved a problem with your current or last employer, or how you tackled a project as a student. The story doesn’t have to relate exactly to the role you are applying for but make sure it includes how you added value, helped others and/or made an impact.
Know your worth
Explain your value in a short sentence or two to convey confidence. Practise this elevator pitch at home before the interview and be ready to drop the pitch at any point in conversation. If you can (at certain intervals) go back to why you are such a valuable employee and express yourself concisely and engagingly.
Master the interview ‘close’
A strong close after an interview is powerful. Here’s how to perfect yours:
At the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. Make sure yours are thought out, and demand answers you can’t find anywhere else. For example:
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- How is performance measured in this job?
- What would be my success criteria for the first six months?
- What kind of professional development would I have access to? For instance, is there any specific training for software engineering or coding courses?
- What current challenges/issues are your IT team facing?
These questions can be good end-of-interview conversation starts, they will get the interviewers thinking and leave a positive lasting impression.
Reiterate your interest and value
Reaffirm your interest in the role. Interviews work both ways and if you don’t inform the interviewers that you are still interested afterwards, it may seem like you’re not invested in the opportunity. Also, briefly reiterate what it is that you will bring to the role and why this is so essential to the organisation, ending with this is very effective.
Follow up on email
A courtesy email thanking interviewers for their time and stating how you enjoyed learning more about the role and the company puts you ‘front of mind’ for interviewers. It may not mean you get the job, but it helps you stay in the minds of decision-makers. Politeness goes a long way, and if you’ve been polite enough to thank the interviewers, you could quite easily find yourself working for them soon.
Perfect your interview body language
We’ve all heard that good communication is not what you say, but how you say it. Body language is extremely important during an interview. Here’s some direction on how to present yourself.
Firstly, don’t get so hung up on your body language that all you’re concentrating on is the way you’re sitting, standing or speaking. You may come across as uncomfortable. You’ll be noticed as soon as you walk through the door so don’t just turn on the charm for the interviewers; they may ask the receptionist what they thought of you too.
Maintain appropriate eye contact
Maintaining good eye contact reflects your interest and engagement during an interview. If you’re being interviewed by a panel, make an effort to maintain eye contact with each member equally. If you find it uncomfortable, try not to stare at the floor as this can make you seem less confident. A useful trick is to focus your eyes just above the interviewer’s.
Sit up straight
If you don’t sit up straight in interviews and look as though you’re lounging or slouching, you may give the impression you’re not serious about the interview and are too relaxed. Try not to fiddle with jewellery, your watch, or buttons on your jacket if you feel nervous – instead, keep your hands folded in your lap. Leaning forward, but not excessively so, will demonstrate that you are showing interest.
Practise your handshake
Usually, the only physical contact you’ll have with the people interviewing you is the handshake at the start or end of the interview. This handshake should be firm – not too strong, but not limp and weak as this may seem apprehensive or passive. If you struggle with handshakes, ask a friend or relative if they can practise with you before the interview.
Appearing miserable or glum is a surefire way to make a poor impression. Employers want to believe you’re happy to be there and interested in what they have to say. They’re not expecting to see you grinning inanely, but a smile to accompany your handshake when you first walk in (and if an interviewer tries to tell a joke) is always a good move.
Succeeding in group interviews
Not all interviews are one-to-one scenarios. Sometimes there is an interview panel and sometimes you will be put into a group task situation. Group interviews are a common part of the graduate recruitment process and are the ones many candidates fear the most. So, what are employers looking for with group interviews and how can you do well in them?
How you interact with others
One of the biggest myths about group exercises is that observers are trying to spot who is taking the leadership role. Assuming this leads to candidates all pushing their own opinions forward, talking over each other and trying to dictate the flow of the conversation. Unless you have been told that you will specifically be assessed on your leadership style, this is the wrong approach. Observers are usually looking at how you interact with other people in the group.
Your communication skills
Group observers want to know how you communicate. This means knowing when to be quiet and listening as much as it means getting your point across effectively. Try not to waffle and keep your ideas clear and concise. Try to build on opinions or observations made by other people to show you’ve been listening. Don’t dominate the discussion, ask other people for their input.
Awareness of group dynamics
There’s often someone who takes a dominant role in the group, while more reserved people can fade into the background. A good way of showing you are aware of the group dynamic is to directly ask the quieter members what they think, or if they can add any other ideas into the mix.
Your ability to keep the group on task
Group interviews usually involve being given a task, and a set amount of time to complete it. Keep an eye on the time and try to keep the group focused so all elements of the assignment are completed by the deadline. Summarise what has been discussed and decided at regular points during the activity. If your task is practical e.g., “build a bridge out of spaghetti”, leave plenty of time at the end for testing.
How you handle surprises in group interviews
Interviewers often like to throw groups a curveball, either by presenting them with an exercise completely unrelated to the job they are interviewing for or changing the rules halfway through. If this happens, don’t get flustered; take a moment to refocus. Don’t waste time discussing the changes, just try to move on using the new information you have been given.
Post- interview: managing job rejection for future success
If you have not been successful after your interview, it can be disheartening. However, we all know rejection is a part of life, and it can be turned into a learning experience. Here’s some ways to manage rejection and use it productively for your next job application.
Don’t take it personally
Firstly, think of it statistically; for every job you apply for, there will be potentially hundreds of other rejections. Also, try to see a rejection as you taking one step closer to achieving your dream role. Think of it like this: if the company thinks you’re not right for the role, would the role be right for you? Also, if you reached the interview stage, you already did well and made a good first impression – so take this as a compliment and know that you and your skills are clearly appreciated and desirable.
Ask for feedback from interviewers
After your rejection email or call, always ask if the interviewers can offer any advice or feedback on what you did well and what you can do better at for future applications. You can even ask them why they chose another candidate and what it was that they did differently/better. If their decision was simply down to a mismatch in personality/culture fit, don’t feel you need to reinvent yourself – this is all personal preference and other employers may think you’re perfect for their team.
Capitalising on post-interview feedback
Your next step is to turn your feedback into action and use it to adjust your interview strategy. Here are three examples of feedback and how you can respond:
Feedback: “You don’t have enough experience for this role.”
Your response: Gain more experience or knowledge through upskilling yourself. There are lots of inexpensive options out there like Udemy, Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning, or you can even learn for free at your own pace through the government’s National Careers Service.
Feedback: “You didn’t come across as confident enough in your interview.”
Your response: Interview nerves can get to all of us. Practise some mock interviews with friends or family to help you prepare, reinventing your firm handshake, eye contact and your elevator pitch.
Feedback: “You didn’t answer the questions in enough detail.”
Your response: This is a tricky one as you’ll never know what a company will ask before you get there, but practice makes perfect. Go back and rethink how you answered the questions and how you would approach them better next time.
Feedback: “You don’t have enough technical experience. “
Your response: Remember that feedback is not a criticism, and can be highly useful for your career development. If you get ‘lack of experience’ feedback then use this to build your skill-set. In this instance, begin networking more with other programmers, work on your problem-solving skills and be open to more independent learning on programming languages and coding courses.
Reaffirm your strengths
Remember you still have good qualities and strengths, even though someone else got the job. It does not mean you were not good enough, perhaps you were just not the right fit for right now. Use your rejection to build resilience which will serve you well for your next interview.
Treat each new role as a new opportunity
Move forward in your job search by using rejection to filter out roles that you now realise may not be suited to you right now. Think about the sort of companies you’re applying to – do they mirror your values and mindset? If you’ve only been looking at big-name brands, maybe consider start-ups or scale-ups where you can grow with the business.
Create a new mindset
Refresh your outlook for the next interview. Always take time to reset between applications and ensure you are putting your best foot forward for the next, even if this means taking time between interviews to reflect. Remember, no two interview processes are the same.
Essential interview takeaways
Understanding what interviewers are looking for, researching a company in advance, and practising your responses are key to succeeding. Remember that you don’t need to be perfect! Hiring managers are not always looking for the finished article, above all, they want someone with the right attitude, enthusiasm, and potential for developing and achieving within their organisation. Good luck!