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Ace The Interview

10 Dec 2013
Michelle Lownie

Ace the Interview Advice on How to Succeed at a Job Interview

The fact that you have been invited to interview is a sign that the selectors are already impressed with what you or your CV has to say. The next step is to show them that you are as good as your application has suggested. This article will address the following:

1. Interview preparation

2. Making a good first impression

3. Body language

4. Answering and asking questions

5. What to avoid

Interview Preparation

Everyone approaches a job interview with some degree of apprehension. Nerves are perfectly natural; the trick is not to let them weigh you down. The main thing to remember is that the employer has asked to see you because they think you are capable of doing the job. Their time is precious and they will be hoping, just as fervently as you, that you are the perfect solution to the vacancy. At the interview, your main aim is to reinforce the excellent impression made by your CV. You do not want to be stuck for words, so it is important to think about what you are going to say, how you are going to say it and how you are going to act, beforehand.   Here are a few proven strategies that will help you take control of the interview and ensure that the whole process goes smoothly.

Think about yourself: It is important to remind yourself of the messages you have conveyed through your CV and to be prepared to discuss anything you have included.

Read through your CV and imagine you are the interviewer. What questions would you ask in their position? Also ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want this job?
  • Why should this organisation select me?
  • What are my ambitions?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What have I gained from my educational / professional qualifications?
  • What skills have I gained from my work-related and extracurricular activities?

Think about the job:  It sounds obvious but it is important that you know what job you are applying for. You will struggle to explain how your qualifications, skills and experiences relate to the opportunity on offer if you do not have a clear understanding of what the job entails.  

You do not need to know exactly what you would be doing but an understanding of the types of activities you would be involved in will help.  Ask yourself:

  • What does the job involve?
  • What skills will I need to perform the job well?
  • What skills, interests and motivation do I already have for the job?
  • What examples can I give from work, academic study or outside interests to show I have the skills the employer is seeking?

Think about the organisation: This will demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for working for this particular organisation and will enable you to prepare some questions of your own for the interview.Most employers will expect you to display some understanding of the business, its size, products/services and the sector in which it operates. Memorising the year's financial performance is not necessary but it is important to read recent information about the organisation and to be aware of its competitors. Read their graduate recruitment brochure, have a look at their website and, if possible, their annual report. Many employer websites have press archives of articles that have been issued by them or have appeared in the local/national press.  Questions to ask yourself:

  • What do I know about this organisation/function/subject?
  • What attracts me to this organisation/function/subject?
  • What relevant work experience/degree modules/research project have I done?
  • What experience do I have of relevant technical skills/techniques?
  • What kind of training/additional skills would I like to gain?

Making a good first impression

First impressions are important. An interview may last for 30 minutes or more but studies have shown that someone forms judgements about you within four minutes of meeting you and that these judgements affect their subsequent impressions. Research shows that first impressions are made up of the following:

  • 55% visual impact, ie dress, facial expressions and body language;
  • 38% tone of voice;
  • 7% from what you actually say.

All is not lost if you are very nervous at the outset but try to create the best first impression you can - a warm smile and firm handshake will help.


  • Look smart and professional. When it comes to dressing to impress, always err on the side of 'traditional' rather than 'trendy'. In accountancy and finance, a suit is always recommended. Ensure that you maintain impeccable standards of personal hygiene but avoid using overpowering deodorants, aftershave or perfume. Your hair should be neat and tidy and your shoes and clothes clean. Avoid inappropriate jewellery. Visible body piercings, ankle chains or personalised necklaces may not be suitable. Men should restrict jewellery to cuff-links and a signet or wedding ring, and should avoid short-sleeved shirts and gimmicky ties or socks. Women should avoid very short skirts, low tops and heavy make-up. Make sure that your interview outfit is ready the night before your meeting.
  • Make sure that you plan your route and allow plenty of extra time to get there - you may be delayed by traffic or other reasons.
  • Take with you:
  • The interview letter, with the name(s) of the interviewer(s) and their address and phone number
  • A map of how to get there - consult an A-Z if you have not been sent a map
  • A copy of your CV
  • A note of the key points you want to make and any questions you want to ask;
  • Money, in case you are running late and need to get a taxi or to make a phone call if necessary
  • Mobile phone but remember to switch it off when you arrive
  • Be polite and courteous to everyone, including the receptionist and anyone else you may meet.
  • Take a copy of your CV with you. Even the most efficient companies can mislay or forget to bring a document.
  • Be courteous, smile and shake hands firmly.

Body Language

Body or non-verbal language might be defined as ‘what we say without saying anything'. Much of the impact you create at interview is based on your visual and non-verbal presentation. You may be superbly qualified for a job, but you must also look motivated and interested. The way you act, your posture, gestures and facial expressions, will reveal a lot about you.Top tips on body language:

  • How you walk, sit, and act - sit reasonably upright - slouching or leaning too far back in your chair can give the impression that you are too casual about the whole thing. If you tend to flap your hands around a lot when you speak, try to hold them together. However, don't cross your arms as it can make you appear defensive. Moderate hand movements are perfectly acceptable and can enliven the conversation;
  • Eye contact - good eye contact is essential and is an excellent way of conveying your interest in the job. Looking downwards or at anything other than the interviewer can make you appear disinterested and insincere. Maintaining good eye contact can also help you gauge the interviewer's reaction to what you are saying (to see whether you should be expanding on your answers). With panel interviews, the best advice is to look at and answer the person asking the questions, with a glance from time to time at the other interviewers;
  • The style, tone and delivery of your voice - try not to talk too fast and keep your tone moderate. This can be difficult when you are nervous but take a deep breath before you start to answer a question and work on keeping your answers concise. Rehearse your answers beforehand and monitor your speed and tone. Don't use slang and watch out for too many ‘ers' and ‘ums'. Practising beforehand, especially in front of someone else, can help you identify any bad habits;
  • How confident you appear to be - try to relax. An interview is also about deciding if you will fit into the organisation so try to smile and establish a rapport with your interviewer.
  • Panel interviews - You may be interviewed by more than one person.  To do well in a panel interview you will need to identify the important figures on the panel and which role each is fulfilling. The chairperson is easy to identify as they will generally make the introductions. You will also need to identify the person whom you will be working for directly - make sure you give them plenty of eye contact.  When you are talking to the panel, remember that you are talking to all of them and not just the person who posed a particular question - your answer has to be the correct one for each panel member! If there is one particular panel member who everyone else seems to agree with, you should make sure you impress him or her.

Answering and Asking Questions

To do well at the interview you will need to convince the interviewer you are technically qualified to do the job. You will also need to show that you are sufficiently motivated to get the job done well and that you will fit in with the company's organisational structure and the team in which you will work. It is vital that you think about the type of questions you are going to be asked. Thinking about the questions you are likely to be asked and practicing them with someone will make it easier to remember when you get to the interview. Use the third person when talking about the job. Avoid sounding as though you assume the job is yours. Relax, be honest, and keep in mind the points that you want to make about yourself. Always emphasise the positive.  Be prepared for the following questions:  

  • Tell me about yourself? Keep your answer to one or two minutes. Don't ramble. If you have a profile or personal statement at the top of your CV use this as your starting point.
  • What do you know about our business? Research the company's products, size, reputation, image, goals, problems, management style, people, skills, history and philosophy. Be informed and interested. Let the interviewer tell you about the company, let them define their business in their terms.
  • Why do you want to work for us? Don't talk about what you want; first talk about their needs. You want to be part of an exciting forward-moving company. You can make a definite contribution to specific company goals.
  • Why do you want this job? Think carefully about this question. Stress the positive aspects which have attracted you to applying for this position. Do not mention the negative aspects of your current job or the job in question.
  • What qualities do you think will be required for this job? Their advertisement for the job may help you a little bit, but you should also think of the other qualities that may be required. These may include leadership ability, supervisory skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, problem solving, analytical skills, etc.
  • What can you contribute? This is your chance to shine. Tell them about your achievements in your previous position(s) which are relevant to the new position you are applying for.
  • Why do you want to work for this company? Emphasize the positive reasons why you want to join their company, but avoid aspects such as more money or shorter hours. These would not endear you to a prospective employer.
  • What do you know about this company? This is your chance to impress the interviewer with your knowledge of their company. Give them a run down of their products/services, sales figures, news, company figures, customers, etc.
  • Why should we employ you? The answer to this question will be based on your previous experience and achievements which relate to the company. At the end you could add that you think there is a good fit between you and the job, and do ask the interviewer for their opinion.
  • What do you like and dislike about the job we are discussing? Likes: stress things such as a new challenge or the opportunity to bring fresh experience to the company. Dislikes: Imply there is nothing to dislike about the job, which is why you are so interested.
  • Why did you choose a career in accountancy? Be positive about your reasons. If you have changed careers make a logical argument as to why you did so.
  • How much does your last job resemble the one you are applying for? What are the differences? The interviewer is trying to see how well you would fit in to the position you are applying for. So you should stress the similarities rather than the differences. When it comes to discussing the differences it will help your case if you can show that either you have done something similar in the past or that you can quickly pick up the new skills.
  • Why did you join your previous company? Did they live up to your expectations? Why are you leaving now? Always be positive about your reasons for joining and leaving a company. Be very careful that you do not say anything negative about your present employer. If you do, the new company will wonder what you will say about them when you leave. You might want to stress that you are looking for a new challenge and that you feel that the company who is interviewing you fits the bill!
  • What are you looking for in a new job? Make sure your answer fits in with the company who is interviewing you. A suitable reply would be that you are looking for a new job where you can apply your existing skills and learn new ones.
  • What would your ideal job be? Again, remember where you are! Describe the job in terms of the criteria they have used to describe their job. An ideal job might include things like challenging work, a fair rate of pay for the job, nice colleagues, good career prospects, good team atmosphere, opportunity to learn new skills, apply old skills, etc.
  • Are you considering any other positions at the moment? If you are say so, but do not give too many details away - it will weaken your negotiating position later. If you do not have any other job offers at the moment just say that you have a few irons in the fire.
  • What level of salary are you looking for now? Be very careful when you answer this question - you do not want to appear to be greedy. If you are applying for a specific vacancy you could ask them what the salary range is. Once they have answered you could say "I think my experience would place me at the top end of your range, don't you?" If they ask you this question fairly early on in the interview you could delay answering by saying "It is hard to discuss salary without first knowing a little bit more about the job and the responsibilities."

Difficult Questions

Employers may ask questions deliberately designed to see how you behave and react in certain situations. Giving a positive, fluent answer isn't as difficult as it might seem. With a little advance planning, it's perfectly possible to anticipate common general enquiries and prepare a coherent, effective response. In fact, you can turn these questions into an opportunity to take the initiative and 'sell' the exact message you want.

Never answer a question you don't understand with a knee-jerk response. Always seek clarification before answering and if you don't know an answer, its much better to admit this than guess.

Asking questions

Remember that interviews are a two way process. At the end of the interview, the employer will usually ask if you have any questions about the job or company, so always prepare a few in advance. This is a good chance to clarify any points of doubt - after all, you need to make sure that the job is exactly what you expected and what you want. 

Prepare two or three questions that you would really like answered. This can be a good opportunity to reveal positive aspects about yourself that the interviewer's questions may not have elicited. Good questions to ask are those that demonstrate your eagerness to develop within the organisation and take on responsibility. Questions about training or what the process is for progression in the company are also a good idea but make sure these are relevant to the organisation (saying you would like to develop to managing director as quickly as possible in a company of ten people is not realistic and may put an interviewer off). This is also a good opportunity for you to demonstrate your research into the organisation by asking questions about relevant articles you may have read, for example: "I read in the newspaper last week that you are expanding into Europe. Is the company thinking of expanding into any other markets?". 


  • Show an interest - ask about the job, organisation, employees, products and processes;
  • Don't ask about pay, pensions or other perks - it is not appropriate at this stage;

Questions could include:

  • What are the opportunities for career progression?
  • What are the training opportunities?
  • What will be my responsibilities?
  • Where will I fit into the overall organisational structure?
  • Who will I report to and where does he/she fit in the structure?
  • Who will report to me?
  • Where is the company going? Upwards? Expansion plans?
  • What are the chances of advancement/promotion in this position? When?
  • What is the next step?

Close on a confident note

Leave the employer with a good final impression. Smile, thank them for their time, say you enjoyed discussing the job and that you look forward to hearing from them soon. If you are interested in the job then tell them!  Don't add any afterthoughts as you leave the room.

Final Words of Advice

Things to avoid!

  • Being unprepared for the interview.
  • Poor/limp handshake.
  • Talking too much. Listen carefully and answer the questions you are asked.
  • Saying unfavourable things about previous employers - the employer will be wondering what you will say about them when you leave their employment.
  • Not being able to communicate clearly and effectively.
  • Speaking too loudly or too softly.
  • Chewing gum, touching your face, playing with your hair.

Be positive

  • Approach the interview with confidence and a positive frame of mind. The person interviewing you has made time to meet you because they believe you have something to offer and can do the job you are being considered for.
  • If you are very nervous, you may want to investigate ways to relax before your interview eg: taking a few deep breaths or using visualization exercises / positive affirmations.
  • Interviewers like to see enthusiasm but will not expect a word-perfect performance; if you make a mistake, just forget it and move on.
  • Believe in yourself. Prepare properly, relax, be honest, and use this opportunity to shine!


Michelle Lownie
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