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Interviews and Assessments

The Interview Process

The selection process for a job will usually involve an interview - it may even include more than one interview. Some people enjoy the challenge but most dread interviews. For shy, introverted people it can feel like an uphill struggle. Therefore, interview preparation is vital. The more you prepare, the more confident you will feel and the more you will succeed.

A key thing to remember is that while it is a test, the interviewer does not want you to fail! The opposite is in fact true - they are investing a lot of time and effort in this process so they would love you to succeed!


Get to know the company - it's assumed at this stage that you’ve done some research on the company already, otherwise, why would you be applying for the job?

A lot of interviewers, though not all, will ask what you know about the company. It’s their way of examining how much interest you actually have in working for their company. This is one area where the internet is invaluable. Most large companies will have a detailed section on their website about the company, comprising of various subjects – history, size, locations, structure, culture and share price (if they are a limited company). You won’t need to be able to recite it all, just show an understanding. However, what will really impress is if you can talk about company information you have found away from their website, like news, recent events, marketing or charitable/volunteer work for example.

See Researching Employers

Know your CV  - This may sound obvious but it's surprising the number of people who can’t remember how long they spent in a particular company or the details of their career history in an interview situation.

This is the document that got you this far and it’s what the interviewer wants to know more about. If you have the ability to remember everything on your CV, fantastic, otherwise, take a highlighter to mark your key achievements, important dates and figures and any other points, relevant to the particular vacancy.

Ensure your LinkedIn profile matches your CV, especially dates, key skills and experience.

Anticipate questions -  Interviews can take various styles. Some can seem like informal chats, while others are more structured. You need to be prepared for both.

By preparing answers for questions beforehand, you’ll be a step ahead and it will give you an opportunity to examine your CV in the way that the interviewer will. Preparing for interview questions and answers will also ensure that you can show your skills and expertise in the best light.

The STAR Technique

Employers look for examples of when you have demonstrated the competencies that are outlined in the job specification. To showcase your match with these competencies, the STAR technique is effective. Once you hear an interview question that starts with "Tell me about a time", "Can you give me an example", "Describe a situation", you can use STAR  to showcase your experience.

‘S’ for Situation: Set the context for your story

'T’ for Task: What was required of you - describe the challenge at hand and what needed to be done.

‘A’ for Action: Describe what you actually did (60-70% of the answer should be focused on the actions you took and what you contributed to the task.)

'R’ for Results: Highlight the positive results of your actions- what you accomplished, what you learned, how your managers and team responded, and how your organisation recognised you.

Wherever possible, quantify your achievements and improvements —e. g. “resulted in a 20% improvement in sales".

Prepare a bank of 8-10 STAR stories that you can use during the interview. You can use experiences from college assignments and projects, work experience, internships, positions of responsibility such as class rep, peer mentor, fundraising, sports, volunteering, travel abroad, scholarships, extra courses undertaken, hobbies and interests etc to develop these.

Example. Q - "What is your biggest weakness?" -  Be honest and look at your "weakness" as a challenge. Talk about the steps you've taken to overcome your weakness - this shows you are proactive and resourceful enough to overcome them. Avoid highlighting weaknesses that may stop you getting the job e.g. if you are applying for a HR job don't say your weakness is "I'm not a people person".

General Background - Often the first question asked at an interview is for a summary of your background.

If this is your first job, focus on your extracurricular activities, education and qualifications. It is quite acceptable to repeat major points you have outlined in your CV or cover letter.

It’s important to show your personality at this point as employers are not just examining your skills, they are also looking for how you will fit into their team culture.

If you are involved in volunteer work, mention the areas where you’ve made a contribution.

Qualifications - A specific question often asked is "Why do you think you are qualified for this position?". Qualifications, in this context, relates to all qualifications which could make you suitable for the position including educational, employment-related and personal.

In most cases, this can be the question that will win or lose you the job, so your answer needs to be clear and memorable.

Tip: Review the people in the team you are applying for on LinkedIn - check out their experience and expertise and the terms they use to describe their responsibilities and achievements. 

Experience - Here is where your research pays off. Discuss your past experience in a way that is relevant to your potential employer, include details of your education, charity and community work.

Reasons for applying - If you are applying for your first, or one of your first jobs, your answer should describe:

  • What you find appealing about the position
  • How you prepared yourself for a career in the organisation and
  • How you believe your present job /experience equips you for the position in question.

Career Objectives - Be prepared to discuss your long-term aspirations. The best approach is to show you have thought about your career in these terms and have taken some action towards realising your ambitions.

Crisis Management - sometimes interviewers ask candidates questions designed to test their reactions to certain crisis situations.

The interviewer wants you to show how your common sense, forward planning, use of initiative, interpersonal skills and problem solving abilities help you to manage tricky situations. Employers are looking for evidence of a calm, practical approach under pressure.

Try to find out what's the most common type of dilemma for employees in the job you are seeking and formulate an intelligent response.

Scary Questions - e.g. Why is there a gap in your work history?

When the interviewer asks about the employment gap illustrated in your resume, it can make some candidates freeze on the spot or just feel embarrassed. Regardless of the reason for your employment gap, aim to explain how it was a learning experience for your career.

For example: I left my last job because of (abc reason). In the recent (weeks/months), I’ve had to face the hard reality of a tough job market. However, not once did I allow it to affect my success as a professional etc. If you volunteered, took a course or upskilled, this is a great place to say so. Focus on what you learned and added to your skillset. " Despite the gap in my work history, I am confident in my skills and expertise. In my previous job, I (insert accomplishment story).

Competency-based interviews

Competency-based or  Behavioral interviews are used to show how you would demonstrate certain behaviours and skills in the workplace.

You will typically be asked to give an example of a situation or a task that led you to take a certain course of action. Probing questions will then be used to determine the course of action you took and how these actions affected others around you.

When answering, remember that the interviewer wants to know what you as an individual delivered and achieved, so avoid over-using examples that are ‘we’ focussed.

Questions to ask the interviewer(s)

It is really important to have some questions prepared that you can ask the interviewer, otherwise it may imply a lack of interest in the job. Here are some suggestions:

  • What would my core responsibilities be?
  • What training or induction is given?
  • How much interaction would I have with other departments, or with clients and suppliers?
  • What scope is there for taking on extra work, or being involved in any other aspects of the company?
  • What plans do you have for expansion - how would these impact on my role?
  • Where are the opportunities to progress within the company?
  • Why is the position available?

Important: Make sure that you do not ask a question about something that has already been covered in the interview!

Practise out loud

Try answering some of the typical interview questions out loud or ask a friend to do a dummy interview with you. It's surprising how different something can sound when you say it out loud, compared to when it's going around in your head. Hearing it aloud will allow you to adjust your answer and take the fear out of saying it aloud for the first time in the real inteview situation.

Preparations other than your CV

Now you’ve got your prep sorted, all you need to do is arrive 10 minutes early for the interview.

  • Have you thought about how you are going to do that?
  • Where is the interview taking place?
  • Will you be taking a car or public transport? - How long will the journey take?
  • What time of day is the interview: will traffic be lighter or heavier?

If you can, try to make the journey to the interview location beforehand, unless you are already familiar with the area. Doing this will ease your anxiety on the day.


Decide what you are going to wear well in advance of the interview. Make sure the items of clothing are washed / dry cleaned and ironed the day before.

Wear your smartest outfit, as long as it is comfortable. If you think any of your clothing looks shabby, buy a replacement - it could be a worthwhile investment.

An interview is never just about what you say - it is also about non-verbal communication. Positive body language makes those around you feel comfortable and at ease. Remember to have positive and open body language using hand gestures and eye contact while avoiding distracting habits like touching your face or tapping your foot.

Practise Power Posing - In her TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy says, "Power posing - standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success." She suggests taking this pose for two minutes before the interview.


Bring your documentation, a copy of your CV, directions and the address of the company and your interviewer’s name (in case you forget it). To be fully prepared use a mobile map app such as Google Maps.

As mentioned above, arrive at reception ten minutes before the interview. If you misjudged the traffic and arrive 30 minutes early, take a walk in the locality. If you show up too early it can cause a poor first impression. If you feel nervous while you wait to meet your interviewer, breathe in through your nose so that your stomach expands, hold for at least 5 seconds and then breathe out. That will relax you.

Ensure your mobile phone is turned off so it doesn't ring or vibrate during the interview. Your phone interrupting your interview will distract you and is seen as completely unacceptable.

When the interviewer approaches you, greet them with a firm handshake, look them in the eye and smile. There’s a good chance you will engage in small talk on the way to the interview room. This can lead to a temptation to be funny. It’s best not to attempt this as you do not know what their reaction will be. Safe small talk about the weather, the journey or the office will suffice.

The Interview itself

All your hard work and preparation has led to this - your moment of truth. Be confident, be friendly but most importantly, be yourself.

Sometimes it can be easy to miss the questions being asked by the interviewer due to nerves, so try and concentrate on the question and feel free to take a few moments to prepare what you are going to say.

Avoid verbal signs of nervousness for example saying "like", "ummm" or “you know”.

Look the interviewer in the eye.

Read more on Interviews here

Follow-up Actions

If you were interviewed directly, send a thank you email, expressing enthusiasm and interest in joining the company. Sent in the evening or the next day, this email can be an important factor in employer’s decision-making process. There is a possibility you will be offered the job on the spot, at the end of the interview - if you are, and are unsure, be confident enough to ask for time to think about it.

If you are using a recruitment company, give immediate feedback to your recruitment consultant after the interview. This needs to include any areas you felt you may have fallen down on - perhaps you have a nagging doubt about a specific answer you gave or forgot to highlight a certain valuable skill or experience. Your consultant can cover this for you in his or her call to the employer.

See also Interview Preparation


Video interviews are becoming increasingly popular in the recruitment process. Methods include:

  • One-to one video interviews via Skype
  • Automated video interviews
  • Self-recorded video applications which vary according to the particular company

Video interviews are cost effective. They are also a time-efficient way of screening potential candidates. They eliminate travel time and reduce personnel costs. Recordings can also be replayed and reviewed several times during the decision-making process.

Video interviews give the employer an in-depth insight into a candidate’s mannerisms, communication skills and personality.

Like any other interview, you need to prepare for it!

Skype interviews - candidates can generally perform the interview from the comfort of their own home and therefore be more relaxed and confident. However, impressing an employer over Skype may prove to be more difficult than you think.

How NOT to do a Skype Interview ...

Video: Skype Interview Fail - Foil, Arms & Hog

Employers can use a video interview to assess a number of key competencies, such as your technological abilities, your interpersonal skills and even your organisation skills. There are a lot of factors to consider and prepare for before attempting to make a lasting impression on an employer with a video interview.

Tips for a successful Skype interview

Practise on Skype before the interview - Don’t begin your first Skype job interview without first practising on Skype before it. Explore Skype. Learn how it works and what it can do. This will increase your familiarity with Skype and make it work effectively for you. 

Keep eye contact -  It is important to look into your PC/Laptop camera and not at your screen - this is one of the most common mistakes made. Maintain eye contact just as you would in a face-to-face interview.

Sit a bit farther back from the screen than you normally would so that your face and upper shoulders are in the frame. Also, place the computer slightly higher than usual so that it's capturing you face-on and you're not looking down at it. The camera will record your facial expressions so try to loosen up and relax as much as possible. Smiling makes you look positive, confident and enthusiastic about the job. Remember to blink and try avoid nervous gestures such as twirling your hair or picking at your nails during the interview.

Practice makes perfect - try to spent some time practising with a friend by having them Skype you for a mock interview.

Dress for the occasion - Just because you’re interviewing from home does not mean that you can throw a blazer over your pyjamas! You might feel silly sitting at home wearing a suit and talking to a computer, but it will make all the difference. Not only will the interviewer think you look great and will already be picturing you in his/her workplace. It will also help you to mentally prepare and get into a professional mode of thinking.

Pay attention to the details - It’s the little things that matter and in the case of Skype, little things tend to mount up. Make sure you have a strong signal on your computer and that your wireless network doesn’t cut out on you with a slow connection. Be sure that your computer also has plenty of battery power too.

On a computer, your employer's first impression of you is your Skype username and profile picture. If you have a silly or inappropriate name, versus a professional one, think about how that reflects on you. It is also advisable to keep your account photo professional. If you don’t have good microphone, you may want to pair a Bluetooth headset with your computer for better audio. If in doubt, make a few test calls to see what the recipient thinks about your sound quality.

Don't shout, but do speak loudly and clearly. Sometimes with video calls there may be a delay with the picture so a clear speaking voice is extremely important.

The Interview Environment - Don’t decide to host your interview at a noisy cafe or when the kids/dogs are home running around. Make sure to silence your cell phone and email alerts. Plan to schedule your interview in a well-lit, quiet, and neutral space. The focus of the interview should be on you and not your home. If you have any awards or certificates, one or two of the most significant achievements might be good to have in your background, but don't overdo it! Having the correct lighting will help your interviewer see you at your best. Overhead lights that are very bright or florescent tend to wash your face out or even darken your face. The best lighting is natural light from a nearby window. Look towards the natural light and/or use a table lamp so that it illuminates your face.

Remember that the interviewer can see you and on video interviews it is easy to tell if someone is not paying attention. Do not be tempted to check your Facebook or email during a long question, but be aware that it is very obvious.

Source: Morgan McKinley


An Assessment Centre is not a place - its a process designed to assess whether or not an interview candidate has the particular technical skills, personal skills and potential that the organisation is looking for. Assessment Centres are used to supplement interviews and obtain information about the qualities of candidates. For some employers they can be a strong predictor of future job performance.

After passing the initial interview and aptitude tests you will most likely be invited to an assessment centre for the next stage of recruitment testing. Sometimes this is done in a single day but often candidates will be asked to spend several days taking tests and sitting interviews at assessment centres.

More on Assessment Centres

Psychometric Testing

It's impossible to give the full picture of your skills and personality in a job interview situation. Your CV and qualifications say a certain amount about you, but your strengths may actually lie in areas which are not covered by academic or other qualifications.

Some skills are better measured using carefully constructed psychometric tests. They can be viewed as an additional opportunity to demonstrate your capacity, rather than another hurdle in the interview process.

Psychometric tests help you to understand more about your strengths and how these might shape your career and personal choices. Equally, they give employers a better overall evaluation of potential job candidates and help them to identify the best fit for the role.

Detailed information on Psychometic Testing is available here, including links to practice tests.