By the time you are invited to attend an interview, you are likely to
have already done a lot of work towards securing the job you want.
Researching the job market, developing your resume and submitting
applications all consume significant amounts of time and effort. But, as
the rest of this section explains, there is more to be done before you
attend the interview. Interview preparation includes making sure you are
well-informed and knowledgeable about:
- The interview process;
- The employing organisation;
- The role for which you have applied; and
- The people involved in your interview.
Interview preparation is quite simply about making sure you are ready to be interviewed.
a. The interview process
When you’re invited to attend an interview it’s important to be clear
on where this interview sits in the overall recruitment process and its
purpose. For example, is it a short, screening interview to help the
employing organisation to create a short-list? Or are you already on a
short-list and this interview could lead to your becoming the preferred
candidate? If it’s a second or subsequent interview, what is its
particular purpose? For example are there aspects of your background or
experience that your interviewer wants to explore further because they
are not quite sure about your suitability.
Being clear on the type of interview you have been invited to attend
is important because it helps you prepare adequately, including being
mentally ready for the interview meeting. For example, if you have made
it to the ‘long list’ of candidates selected from their resumes and the
interview is with a recruitment firm, your task at the interview will be
to convince the interviewer that your application should make it to the
‘short list’ of candidates who will be invited to meet with their
client – your prospective employer. You are likely to be offered a
relatively short amount of time to do this and you are likely to be
meeting with a highly-skilled interviewer who will want to focus on what
you have said in your resume.
On the other hand, if the prospective employer has not engaged a
recruitment firm, your interview is with someone from the employing
organisation who may or may not be a skilled interviewer. You need to be
ready for either! Candidates have fallen at the first hurdle because
they politely waited for a nervous interviewer to stop talking only to
later discover that they were deemed unsuitable for the role because
they had not said much at interview!
In the course of obtaining a clear understanding of the interview
process, you should make sure you ascertain what, if anything, you are
expected to bring along to the interview. A portfolio of work examples
is important in some professions and it’s critical that you make sure
you assemble one that will meet the interviewer’s needs. Check too that,
whether in hard copy or electronic form, it is organised in a way that
enables you to present it confidently at interview. A good candidate’s
standing can be seriously compromised by anything less.
If you’re not clear on the type of interview, where it sits in the
recruitment process or what you are expected to have with you, it’s
important to ask. For example, the following, straightforward questions
are useful for eliciting relevant information when you are being invited
for a first interview:
- How long have you allowed for the interview?
- Would you like me to bring anything along?
- Who will be interviewing me?
An interview process overall can involve several steps before the
hiring organisation makes their final selection. A first ‘screening’
interview, an interview with the person to whom you would be reporting
and another interview with the ultimate decision-maker. The larger your
prospective employer the more likely it is that the ultimate
decision-maker is other than the person who would be your immediate line
manager. On the other hand, if you are applying for a role with a small
firm of professionals your first and only interview might be with the
business owner with poorly developed interviewing skills!
In combination with other preparation outlined in this guide, knowing
about the interview process before you attend the first interview
increases the likelihood that you will make the most of the time made
available to you. You will always need to be ready to deal with
uncertainties but a few simple questions will help you to be as clear as
possible about the interview process.
b. The employing organisation
Knowing about the employing organisation is an important part of
interview preparation because it provides you with a basis for talking
about how you, a prospective employee, could add value. It enables you
to move beyond generalised answers to making links between what you have
done and how you could apply your experience in the role on offer.
Your preparation should always include a detailed examination of the
recruiting organisation’s website. It’s also prudent to do undertake
broader web research. Have they been in the news recently? Any latest
developments? If possible find out who the most senior managers/owners
are and extend your research to those individuals. Also, for any
particular industry there might be a peak body or industry association
where you can research the broader context.
For example, a recent graduate did his homework and learned that his
preferred employer was about to expand into Asia. At appropriate times
during his interview he made sure to mention his familiarity with the
region due to an extended period of travel and his experience of living
away from home. This candidate was successful against competitors with
far more career experience because he convinced his interviewer that he
could help the organisation achieve a key business objective.
In combination with the other interview preparation outlined in this
guide, being well-informed about the employing organisation allows you
to think about how you could help them achieve their business goals and
to consider how you can refer to this in the interview.
c. Your new role
Being well-informed about the role for which you are to be
interviewed is important because it helps you focus what you say about
yourself in interview on what will be of value to your prospective
You should read the ‘position description’ carefully. If you have not
been provided with one, make sure you request one – you unnecessarily
disadvantage yourself by not doing so. Information such as the
responsibilities of the role, the knowledge and experience expected of
the successful candidate and the objectives the incumbent is expected to
achieve provides you with a basis for tailoring your answers to
interview questions. You are much better placed to speak about how you
could apply your specialist technical skills in the employing
It’s important too to interpret from the position description (often
referred to as a ‘PD’), the generic skills that are likely to be
expected. Critical thinking, leadership and collaboration are examples
of generic skills that are relevant for many professional roles. For
example, if the PD refers to working in teams then your capacity to
collaborate with others will be important; if the PD refers to
innovation then the generic skill of creativity is likely to be
During your preparatory work, it’s also important to read carefully
any other written material associated with the vacancy – for example,
the wording of an advertisement will have embedded clues about what is
most important to your prospective employer. Read them carefully and you
will find that most job adverts contain these clues.
Being clear about the scope of the role, the limits of its
responsibilities and the ways in which your performance would be
assessed takes you a long way towards being as prepared as you can be
When you are invited to attend an interview make sure you know who
will be interviewing you and, as far as possible learn something about
them as it helps you be as prepared as you can be for interview.
First, be clear about whether you are to be interviewed by the
employing organisation or by a recruitment firm. The latter is common if
this is a first screening interview and the employing organisation is
other than small.
Next, get to know if it will be an individual interviewer, more than
one person or a panel interview. Be aware that some interviews involve
both the employing organisation and a recruitment specialist. Knowing
the number of people involved can be critically important if you are
more comfortable one-on-one or have never experienced a
Your preparation should include accessing whatever information you
can about the person or people who will be interviewing you. Company
websites and social media can be rich sources of relevant information.
Is your interviewer a professional in your field? Or do they have a
background that is completely different from yours? Knowing more about
who they are and their background helps you think about how you will
approach what you have to say. For example an IT specialist about to be
interviewed by an HR specialist would be wise to avoid technical jargon
and IT acronyms and might advance their case significantly by
demonstrating their understanding of the people aspects of IT work.
Similarly, demonstrating an understanding of business aspects of the
role would be important to financial or business interviewers.
Interview preparation skills checklist
Here are the factors you should have considered by the time you head off for that important interview:
- Are you clear about the organisation’s business overall, the
markets in which it operates, the main competitors and its reputation?
- Have you clearly understood the role for which you have applied and
what you would be expected to achieve in the role?;Do you have a good
grasp of the skills required for the job – both technical and generic?
- Did you establish the purpose of this interview (short-listing,
final decision etc.) and the style of interview (individual manager,
recruiter, panel etc.);
- Have you thought carefully about how your skills, experience and
potential could be valuable to this employer for this particular role?
- Have you worked out where the interview is to take place and how long it will take you to get there?
- And right before you head into the meeting – have you remembered to turn your phone off or on to silent?