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Preparing for Interview

This lesson is a part of an audio course Interview Skills by Ross Maynard

You have applied for a job, and been offered an interview. In preparing for that, you have created your interview skills balance sheet. The next step in the career development project is to prepare for the interview itself.

Preparing for Interview

You should prepare for interview just as you would prepare for any project, particularly one that involves working with other people.

Working on your interview skills balance sheet should give you a sense of confidence that you do have good experience and good skills and would be a good hire for many employers. Next, make a project plan for the interview. That plan should include the following elements:

  1. The interview instructions. Study the interview instructions in detail. Where is the interview taking place, and how will you get there? We'll come back to these points presently.

  2. Background. Do some preparation about the organisation – its Mission Statement; main products / services / markets, and so on. Find out some interesting facts and prepare as if you had to do a five-minute talk about the organisation.

  3. Who is interviewing you? The letter from the organisation should hopefully tell you, If not it is perfectly reasonable to contact the HR department and ask them who will be interviewing you. Look the interviewers up on LinkedIn. What is their background? What do you think they will be looking for?

  4. The job description. Study the job description carefully. Map its requirements against your balance sheet. This is a vital task as it will show how strongly you are suited for the role.

  5. Your results. Review projects you have worked on and prepare to discuss the results. What was the situation or challenge? What was your approach? How did you deal with others in the project? What were the results or outcome of the project?

  6. Prepare possible interview questions: Why this role? Why this organisation? How would you approach the role? We'll cover some possible interview questions later in this course.

  7. Plan for the inevitable "what is your weakest area?" or "what have your failed at?" question. We'll come to that later too.

Plan Your Appearance

Your project plan should also include how you are going to prepare yourself for the interview.

  • Your appearance should be appropriate to the culture of the organisation you are applying for. Don't wear a pinstripe three piece suit for an interview with an engineering for, and you probably shouldn't wear an open-neck shirt and sports jacket for an interview with a fancy city lawyers.

  • You can check out the culture of the organisation you are applying for by looking at their website and YouTube videos, speaking to people who work there, or, if you can, visit the location where the interview is taking place to check out the travel and the local area. You'll see people going in and out of the buildings and can check the dress-code. Of course, travelling to the location ahead of the interview is not always possible.

  • For me, the eternal question for a male interviewee is should you wear a tie. I haven't worn a tie in a work situation for over 10 years, but for most interviews, it is probably a good idea. At least wear one to the interview and if, while you are waiting, you see that the staff at the organisation are not wearing ties, then take it off.

  • Your hair should be tidy but not too styled, and the same for make-up.

  • Above all, you should feel smart and confident but comfortable and not too trussed up.


As I mentioned earlier, your interview project plan should include your travel plans for the day.

  • First, check the location of the interview. Sometimes an interview can take place in a location that is not the premises of the company concerned. The employer might hire centrally located offices for the interview to make it easier for candidates. So make sure you are travelling to the right place.

  • Compare ways of getting to the location and choose the least stressful. For me, that would be travelling by public transport: preferably train or metro. If driving, I always worry about hold-ups on the road or finding a suitable parking space.

  • Check out the location you are going to. Use street view to get a picture of the place you are looking for and nearby landmarks. If you are driving there, find a suitable parking location, and a backup location if the first one is full.

  • It is important to aim to get their early – at least 30 minutes. That gives you some catch-up time if there are delays. I remember one interview where I totally misjudged the journey time and arrived an hour late. They did interview me, but I didn't get the job!

  • Arriving early is also useful to sus out the vibe around the organisation. Go into a nearby café and subtly listen into the conversations of people who look like they are staff from the organisation. You'll begin to get a feel for the culture of the organisation.

  • When you arrive in reception, get a feel for the vibe of the place. Do the people that work there look positive and cheery or rather downtrodden? I believe you can tell a lot about an organisation from the feeling you get in reception.

Types of Interview

In this course, I am mainly focussing on the face to face interview. That is the sort of interview you will likely face when you get onto the shortlist for a job – although online interviews are becoming more common as we practice social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, you may also experience other types of interview:

  • Typically a first stage interview will be by telephone or online. The purpose of this initial interview is to select a shortlist of candidates for a full interview. The interview may be carried out by an HR person or a recruitment consultant. You should prepare as I advise in this course, and I cover online interviews in a later lesson in this course.

  • Another method commonly used to select candidates for the face to face interview is the online questionnaire. These may be a personality questionnaire or aptitude tests, or both. There are no tips and tricks that can get you through these. Just make sure you have a strong internet connection and be honest in the tests. They are designed to catch you out if you lie, so just be straight with it.

  • I have read a couple of articles about AI being used for candidate selection. I haven't seen this in real life yet, and I am not sure how AI would be deployed other than to scrutinise CVs and application forms. I think we are someway from interviews being conducted by computer.

  • When you get through the first level of interview, you may be invited to an assessment centre. Typically, these are residential centres where you undergo individual interviews, group exercises, and aptitude tests over several days. Assessment centres are becoming rarer because they are expensive to run. I personally have been on two assessment centres for jobs in the past. Although hard work, I found both to be very positive experiences. As a candidate, you are tested very thoroughly, but that does help build your confidence in your abilities and, because you get to know the interviewers during your time there, means you can have a much more fulfilling interview experience.

Preparing for the Interview Action

Now you have finished this lesson, start work on your interview project plan. Check the job description against your Interview Skills Balance Sheet. Plan your route and your outfit for the day. Rehearse possible questions, and consider positive responses to "difficult" questions – where you have a gap.

And when you have done that, relax and visualise the benefits of getting this role in this organisation.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we arrive at the day before the interview.

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Written by

Ross Maynard