The only way to produce your best live, one-off performance is through meticulous preparation, from choosing the clothes you’ll wear to anticipating interview questions the panel might throw at you.
Be ready to sell yourself
Prepare thoroughly for questions about your skills and work history. Make sure you keep a copy of your application form so that you have a record of what you've already told them about yourself. They’ll be using this as a reference and will almost certainly probe you for more details about what you have written there. Your application form is also useful because it will be structured to show them how you meet the requirements of the job – this will help you focus on what’s important to get across in the interview.
Draw up lists of your main aims, proudest achievements, core skills and the kinds of projects you’ve worked on. Go over them again and again (and again), so that you’ll be able to recall them instantly when asked. This will also help boost your confidence, because it will reassure and remind you that you really do have the skills and experience they are looking for.
Have an answer for everything
Most interviews include several questions which are entirely predictable, so make sure you look into these (we’ve listed a few common interview questions here) and get your answers down pat.
Anything you can do to take pressure off yourself in a stressful interview situation will help you come across as the relaxed, confident employee they are looking for, and preparing for obvious questions gives you one less thing to worry about. It will also leave more of your brain available for thinking on your feet when the panel throws something truly leftfield at you.
Make sure you have prepared how you will respond to queries about any weak spots in your work history as well: a sacking, a spell out of work or a very short stint in a job will rarely escape an interviewer’s attention, but it doesn’t have to be fatal. They will be aware that everybody has difficult periods or false starts, but they will still want an explanation that reassures them you have nothing to hide and that the problem was specific to the situation and not about you personally. If you can genuinely talk about lessons learned and how it has made you a better worker, even better!
However ordinary or oddball the question, bear in mind that interviewers really only want to know three things: whether you can do the job, why you want it and whether you will fit into their organisation. Every answer should speak to one or more of these concerns.
Know all about them
As soon as you’re invited to an interview, begin learning as much about the organisation as you can (its mission and goals, culture and values) and your potential role in it. Be familiar with its website and other digital channels, media profile and any company literature you can get your hands on, such as their annual report. See if you can network with any of its current or former members of staff to get an internal perspective.
Knowing them inside-out will come across in how you answer their questions, but there will also be an opportunity at the end of the interview to ask them some intelligent questions (e.g. about company culture, strategy, their approach to problem-solving, etc.). The harder you make them think about their answers, the better they’ll remember you.
Practice to make perfect
If you can, rehearse the interview with a friend acting as the interviewer, and get them to ask a mixture of obvious and more obscure questions. A dry-run will soon show you which questions are causing you most problems, so you can apply yourself to developing and practising stronger answers to them.