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How to prepare for an interview

19 Oct 2021
Sarah Ferguson

How to prepare for an interview

So, your CV impressed, you've aced the job application, and now you've been selected for an interview. But how do you prepare for an interview effectively?

Whether this is your first interview or your hundredth one, there are still many strong interview techniques that you should be aware of. 

We caught up with Sarah Ferguson, Business Manager at Eden Scott. Sarah works closely with our candidates, giving them valuable guidance on how to prepare for an interview.

In this blog, we're sharing Sarah's best tips and tricks for nailing your next interview.

We'll discuss:

  • How to enter an interview 
  • Using the STAR interview technique 
  • Questions to ask an interviewer 
  • How long to prepare for an interview 
  • How to prepare for a Zoom interview 
  • What to do after your interview 

How to prepare for an interview | #1 - Entering the interview 

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. That's why one of the most critical interview techniques is knowing how to begin an interview.

How early should you be for an interview? 

Make sure you arrive at the interview at least 10 minutes ahead of your start time. That means being physically at the interview location, not just at the venue, as finding the right room could take some time. 

Showing up early shows that you care about the interview and have used good time management skills to make your appointment.

However, don't arrive more than 15 minutes ahead of schedule. This might cause inconvenience for your interviewer and could actually convey that you misunderstood your appointment time. If you arrive too early, find somewhere quiet and spend some time reviewing your interview answers.

How should you greet your interviewer(s)?

When you arrive at your interview, you might not necessarily be greeted by your interviewer at first. Instead, a receptionist or a team member might welcome you. If this is the case, show your greeter the same level of politeness and respect as you would the interviewer themselves. 

When you're called to the interview room, feel free to initiate introductions. Introduce yourself, and thank your interviewer or interviewers for taking the time to meet with you. 

If you have more than one interviewer, look everyone in the eye and greet them individually so that they feel included. This shows that you are a friendly and approachable person - great qualities in a potential team member.

How to prepare for an interview | #2 - Interview technique: STAR method

You're very likely to be asked situational questions at interview. A situational interview is designed to explore your practical experience. For example, you might be asked, "tell me about a time when you had to deal with a disgruntled customer", or, "describe a situation when you exercised leadership in a past role". 

The best way to nail situational questions? By using the STAR interview technique. 

What is the STAR interview technique?

STAR stands for

Situation - Describe the scenario and when it happened

Task - Explain the task you needed to perform and why 

Action - Outline how you responded to the task and any special considerations you made 

Result - Demonstrate what happened as the result of the action you took 

Using the STAR interview technique keeps your answers to the point and timely. It also helps interviewers to gain a clear understanding of your experience.

STAR interview technique example

In this example, the candidate is interviewing for an HR role. They have been asked the question: "Tell me about a time you encountered a conflict of interest at work."

Here's how the candidate might answer the question using the STAR interview technique.  

Situation 

Recently, in my current role as an HR manager, I was asked to mediate a conflict between two employees. However, one of the employees was a former colleague I had previously worked with for several years, meaning there was a conflict of interest. 

Task

I needed to ensure that the conflict mediation could go ahead without bias. I also needed to ensure that a member of staff with the appropriate training could conduct the mediation. 

Action

I declared my conflict of interest to the HR director. We discussed an appropriate course of action and agreed that an outside HR consultant best handled the mediation. I helped to source a suitable mediator. 

Result

The conflict mediation was successful. The external mediator provided feedback directly to the HR director and the two employees. I was briefed on the outcome of the mediation, but to ensure no conflict of interest, I did not ask for details of the mediation process itself.

In this example, the interviewer has given clear and complete answers, demonstrating their experience and understanding of the essential rules that govern the industry they work in.

Sarah recommends preparing for at least 6-8 situational interview questions using the STAR technique to formulate your answers.

How to prepare for an interview | #3 - Questions to ask an interviewer 

At the end of the interview, most interviewers will ask: "do you have any questions for me?" 

This is your opportunity to clarify any questions you have about the role and the organisation. Sarah believes that it's vital to ask questions at this stage, as it shows that you're engaged in the interview process and that you're serious about the role. 

However, the questions you ask should be thoroughly thought through, and make sure they add value to your experience. 

Don't ask questions about the role that was already in the job description or explained at the start of the interview, such as the responsibilities and salary. 

Sarah recommends having a list of at least 6-8 questions prepared in a notebook. That way, even if the interviewer clarifies several questions throughout the interview process, you'll still have some questions left to ask at the end. 

Here are some examples of good questions to ask an interviewer:

  1. What results would you like to see from me within 3, 6 and 12 months?
  2. How quickly would you expect me to be performing in my role?
  3. What training opportunities do you offer?
  4. If the job is remote, what is your remote onboarding process like?
  5. What do YOU enjoy about working for the company?
  6. What are the biggest challenges I may encounter during my first three months in this role?

How to prepare for an interview | #4 - How long should you prepare for an interview?

Candidates often wonder how long to prepare for an interview. The answer is: it's different for everyone. It might take you a few hours or a few days to feel adequately prepared. 

Instead of thinking about how long you should prepare for an interview, think about what to prepare. 

Sarah recommends preparing the following things ahead of your interview:

  1. A summary of your experience, your skills and your interests 
  2. Up to six situational examples, using the STAR method 
  3. At least 6-8 questions for your interviewer 

How to prepare for an interview

How to prepare for an interview | #5 - How to prepare for a Zoom interview

Many initial interviews are now taking place over Zoom or Teams. For fully remote roles, the entire interview process can now take place online without ever meeting your interviewer in person. 

While most of the interview tips here apply to Zoom interviews, Sarah has a few extra pieces of advice to nail an online interview. 

1. Test your mic and audio 

An hour or more before your interview, check that your mic and audio is working using the Zoom or Teams testing function. That way, if there's a technical error, you have a chance to rectify it before the interview starts.

2. Choose a professional background 

If you're able to, find a room in your house that is tidy and displays objects of interest, such as art prints or well-organised books. If that's not possible, try to find a well-lit blank wall to sit in front of. If all else fails, use the blurred backdrop on Zoom or Teams. 

3. Be the first on the call

Show up early to the interview, just as you would at an in-person interview. Be at your desk roughly 10 minutes ahead of the interview start time. 

4. Minimise your video display 

It's easy to get distracted by your own face at online interviews, so do yourself a favour and minimise the box displaying your video so that you can be more responsive and present, concentrating only on the faces of the interviewers themselves.

Also, Read 

How to prepare for an interview | #6 - What to do after your interview 

What should you do after your interview? If you're applying through a recruitment agency like Eden Scott, call your recruiter as soon as you have left the interview or as soon as you get home.  

Remember, it's in your recruiter's interest to find you a suitable role at a company where you feel comfortable. By calling your recruiter while the interview is fresh in your mind, you have the opportunity to debrief and reflect on what went well and what could have gone better. You can also clarify any questions you might have missed - the recruiter will discuss this with the interviewer on your behalf. 

If you're not going through a recruitment agency, it's a good idea to send a thank-you email to your interviewer. You can use this as an opportunity to clarify questions and concerns. 

What next? 

Are you looking for your next career opportunity? When you apply for a role through Eden Scott, you gain access to interview experts who will work closely with you to prepare you for your interview. 

Upload your CV or explore current job opportunities

Author

Sarah Ferguson
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