The Ultimate Job Interview Guide

The Ultimate Job Interview Guide

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Introduction

A lot of job roles will require you to have specific qualifications. NCC Home Learning offers a variety of online courses which you can undertake, which will ensure you are prepared for your potential job role.  But then it will be time to move onto finding the job of your dreams – and this can be a nerve-wracking process; it is easy to be overwhelmed.  Here we take you through all the essential advice needed to succeed in your next job interview.  With this guide, we are confident you cannot fail.

How to get a job interview

Getting a job interview is about the application form, your CV and the personal statement you submit.  How you complete these sections of the application can work to get you the interview, or not.

First, and most crucial, is to learn about the company before you apply.  Do you want to work at the company? Will you be happy there? The recruiters will receive hundreds, maybe even thousands, of generic applications each year.  They can sniff out an applicant who has sent out 50 identical applications in one sitting. Think: what does this say about you? It tells them that you don’t care that much about where you work.  It shows them that you haven’t selected them as a company, you just want to work anywhere.  Don’t get us wrong; you will be like most of the field of applicants.  However, you are looking to stand out.

What does it mean to look different in your application? Most obviously, you will need to refer to the job description and person specification that will accompany the details about the job.  This is essential.

Then, you will have looked on social media for the company and looked at the website.  You have seen what the company communicates about its values and goals, and you will have tailored your skillset to match with this information.  You will have referred to projects or services they have provided and explored how this inspired you to apply or how you feel you could have contributed.

If all this sounds like too much work for the position you want to fill, then you had better make sure at the very least you change the name of the person receiving the application and any references to the company.  The rookie error that would undoubtedly get you dumped in the bin is to send letters of application citing a competitor to the company you are applying!

If you are asked to submit your CV, make sure this CV is professional and accurate. Your literacy skills are on show, so you should ensure this CV is error-free.  Keep the CV brief but do include something of your whole self by adding a section on your goals and a section on your hobbies and interests.  There are templates in word processing packages that will help you professionally organise your CV.

How to reply to interview invitation

If you are invited to interview – congratulations! This means the company is willing to invest some time and money in getting to know you better.  You should acknowledge receipt of this invitation and accept or decline.  Even if you have decided that this job is not for you, this does not discount the possibility that you might want to work for them in the future.  Therefore, show respect and communicate your decision not to attend and why you have made this decision.  It would be best if you also accepted the invitation, using this communication to ask any questions you have about the interview process you may have.

How to prepare for an interview

To be forewarned is to be forearmed.  This is a saying that holds in so many situations, but particularly when attending an interview.  It is important that you understand how the interview will proceed; what they expect of you at that interview; who will be interviewing you; when you will be given a decision; if they expect you to complete any tasks before the interview or during the interview process.  Feeling like you know everything that is likely to happen will help alleviate some of the nerves you will experience going into this stressful situation.  It is fair to ask a recruiter to give you an idea of the interview format, so you have a chance to prepare.

Another tip, especially for highly competitive positions, is to find out about the people on the interview panel.  Do some research about the career they have forged so far and what seems to be important to them.  If you can reference this in your interview and draw them into a discussion, you will most definitely stand out from a crowded field of applicants.

It is also a good idea to set up a dress rehearsal with some friends and family.  Encourage questions about the role and the company, which you do not know before they ask them.  Then, ask them for feedback on how clear and concise you were in your answers.  Rehearsing the answers out loud and receiving feedback is a sure way to help you be even more concise at the real thing.  More importantly, rehearse talking through your CV and your experience and skills.  You need these firmly in your head if you are going to succeed.

What to wear to an interview

First impressions do last.  This is another saying that is entirely applicable to the interview process.  People often fail to understand how much they communicate without even speaking.  We have a cover like a book and people read this, whether they should or not, and make judgements.  They will look at your shoes, the way you have done your hair, the clothes that you wear – and they will decide what this says about your personality and your attitude to the post.

clothes for job interview

The expectation of what you should wear is different depending on the company or organisation to which you are applying.  This is where you need to do your research and seek advice about expectations.  There are few places where a formal suit, whether trouser or skirt, is unacceptable, so this is a good fall-back position.  However, seek clarification if you can, particularly if you are applying for a practical job and you may be expected to cook, or paint, or build a wall – you just never know!

How to introduce yourself in an interview

Remember your body language and how your body communicates more than the words you use.  Everyone can say, “Hello, nice to meet you, my name is…” but not everyone can telegraph confidence without arrogance or sincerity without appearing passive.  Remember to smile and offer a hand for a handshake.  Try not to grin inanely and get your top lip stuck on your teeth.

The person greeting you at the interview will know you are nervous, and they will understand that they are expected to take the lead in the beginning moments of the process.  Avoid trying too hard in these opening moments and appreciate there is time for you to show your personality when the questions begin.

man preparing to shake hands

How to calm your nerves for a job interview

You will be nervous when attending a job interview. Even if you do not mind if you get the job or not, they are judging you, and so it will matter.  Nobody enjoys being rejected.  In short, some nerves are appropriate.  If you don’t have any at the interview, you may not get the post, because you could appear too nonchalant, as if you do not care.

To keep these nerves in check is important.  We get most scared when we are entering a situation that we do not know.  Fear of the unknown leads to an imagination of the worst.  This means that you are going to feel better if you find out about the company, the interviewers and the process before you attend.

It is also a good idea to avoid obsessing about small details.  When you have decided on your outfit and your means of getting to the interview, then allow these decisions to stick.  You are going to wear Suit A, and you are going to catch Train B.  Job done.  Don’t overthink.  When we start to niggle at these small details it is likely we are allowing the nerves to take hold and they can quickly avalanche out of control.  If you feel it coming on, then distract yourself.  There is nothing to be done in this moment to shape the outcome until the interview itself.

One way to feel better is to spend time pampering yourself.  Not only will this mean you scrub up well for the interview, but you will feel special too!

What questions should you ask in an interview

It would be best if you prepare some questions to ask at the interview.  This shows a lot about your understanding of the role and your desire to bring the right qualities to the company.  Avoid questions that are obsessively focused on salary and benefits, though it is essential to ask these too.  Prep some questions that will show you see a future with the company, so any ideas about continuing professional development, chances to learn skills for higher positions, the opportunity to gain experience outside the department you are applying for, and more.

Step by step guide on how to nail your interview

There is much advice here on how to prepare for your interview.  Before we get to the interview itself, let’s summarise some of the steps you should take before the day itself.

  • Step 1: Do some research about the company and the people who will be interviewing you.
  • Step 2: Ask any questions about the interview process that will allow you to perform on the day confidently.
  • Step 3: Work out your outfit and your route to the interview, and then settle on these details.  Remember how easy it is to obsess on these points and allow nerves to get out of control.
  • Step 4: Prepare some questions for the interviewer about the company, about your experience with the company, and any potential future opportunities.
  • Once completing these steps, you are ready for the big day.  Here are the steps you should take during the interview itself.
  • Step 5: Aim to arrive too early at the company and stake out a coffee shop close by to wait, if necessary.  This way the fear of arriving late will not be an issue.
  • Step 6: Introduce yourself formally and remember to smile as naturally as you can, considering how nervous you might feel.  Remember to take control of your body language.
  • Step 7: Shake hands and allow the interviewer to take the lead and guide you through the beginning parts of the process.  Continue to monitor body language, making sure you communicate confidence without arrogance.  Use active listening strategies such as appropriate eye contact, repeating significant details and asking questions about these details, where it works to do this.  A simple nod will do a lot to tell the person talking that you are paying attention.
  • Step 8: Sit well.  Avoid crossing your arms, as this is a defensive pose.  Avoid sitting too far forward, as this can appear aggressive.  Sitting upright in the chair with your legs crossed at the knees, and your hands on your knees is a neutral position that works in the interview situation.
  • Step 9: Answer the questions asked.  Take a beat of 10 before answering if necessary.  This will feel a long time to you, but it will stop you chatting yourself up a storm while you think of the better answer to the question.  A reasonable delay tactic is to ask them to repeat the question, even if you heard it.  It is also fair to ask someone to clarify a complex, detailed or vague question if necessary.  Speak for as long as needed to sell your skills and your experience, while answering the question.

What questions can you expect to be asked?

The type of questions you may be asked will rely entirely on the position sought.  If this is a technical position, then you should expect there to be some questions exploring your knowledge of the technical requirements.  It is, therefore, a good idea to look through a seminal textbook or look for some sample questions, and then seek the appropriate answers.  It is possible that they will set you a problem that you will need to solve.

When going to an interview for a job where you will be expected to lead, then there will be questions about man-management strategies.  It is also possible that they may ask you scenario questions.

Whatever the questions, the aim will be to give you the opportunity to express how your experience and skills will help you fulfil the role.  Therefore, the best way to prepare is to have a thorough understanding of your abilities.  Your most important job in this interview is to convey how your past achievements in previous positions make you the most suitable person to succeed in their company.  You need to know your value proposition – why it is so important that they recognise your unique skills that will help this company to succeed.  The questions asked should help you deliver this sales pitch to those hiring you.

The best answers to any question will reference specifics.  You will make clear the skills you have that address the point in the question, a particular example of where you demonstrated this successfully and the outcomes of your efforts.  Specific and particular are the operative words here.

If the questions the recruiter asks does not allow you to communicate an important idea or facet of your skillset, then this is the time asking a question becomes essential.  It would help if you asked them something that allows them to hear that you are talented in this area.  For instance, if you are a leader and you are also a sports coach for a local team, and you want to show this, why not ask: Would there be room for me to organise a company football team to help bring different departments together?

How do you know if your interview went well?

There are some key indicators that your interview has gone well.  First, they may ask you how soon you are willing to start.  This is an excellent sign that they have moved on to planning your onboarding with the company.  They may say to you that they are interested in speaking to you again, maybe for a second interview, or perhaps to tell you that you have the job once they have finished all the interviews.  It may be that you sense that you have gelled with the interviewer and have come to an understanding through the course of the interviewer.  A good sign would be if the recruiter smiles a lot and seems excited when you answer, or maybe even just relieved.  Finally, if the interview goes on a lot longer than you expected, then it is possible that you have captured their interest.

Two points could be a sign that things have gone well, though they could also be standard questions on a list, so be wary.  One such question is if you have any other interviews or opportunities available to you.  This might mean that they are keen to act quickly and are checking out how much room they must make a decision.  They may also ask what salary you are hoping to receive.  It is probably best to have prepped an answer to this question, even if they ask everyone.

What to expect in a second interview

If invited to a second interview then congratulations, you have survived the cull of most candidates for the post.  The field will now be drastically reduced, and the company is looking to get to know you as an individual.  They have already decided that you could do the job, they are now looking to see if you will fit in the company and be the best person for the position.

Companies have different ways of dealing with the second interview, but you can be sure that they will delve much deeper into specifics.  It would be best if you prepared with a detailed understanding of the company and its values.  The second interview, like the second date, is testing out compatibility rather than suitability.

How to accept a job offer

Some jobs may be happy with a yes or no on the phone, at which point you ask any questions you need answers to and offer your gratitude for the opportunity.

However, most positions will expect you to write a letter confirming your acceptance of the post.  When writing this letter keep it brief.  This is not the place to set out your hopes and expectations for the position – and your benefit demands.  This is the place you thank them for the opportunity and your desire to do a great job. Before you send the letter edit, proofread, edit some more, get someone else to correct, because this is likely to communicate to your employer whether they have made the right decision or not.

How to deal with job rejection

Dealing with rejection is tough, but it is essential to be respectful when receiving the decision.  It is also a good idea to seek feedback on what you did or did not do that meant you were not appropriate for the position.  This will help you moving forward in other job applications.  Like everything in life, going through an interview takes practice.  You should not be too downhearted if you are rejected, it was just not the opportunity for you.

Summary

Most of the secrets to success in job interviews revolve around preparation.  You need to know the company, know your CV, know your skill-set, know what will happen on the day, and know anything that will help you.  The sure-fire way to make certain your rejection is to believe you can wing it.  The job interview is a performance – so rehearse!

If you would like some more tips on how to master your job interview, check out this complete guide to success from CV-Library.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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