How to interview for a job

So your CV made it through to the next round, but what next? Here's how to interview for a job.

girl being interviewed

I'm so keen, I've stuck a pen to my finger.

If you want to storm your interview, meet your new best friends Mr Job Description and Mr Person Specification. Between them, they have loads of clues as to what answers will tick all the right boxes with your interviewers.

What’s a job description?

A job description gives you an insight into what the job entails and often lists the skills they’re looking for in a candidate. Using this information, you can work out the sort of things you’re going to be asked about in the interview and tailor your answers around them.

They may well ask you to give examples of work experience and qualifications relevant to the skills required, so think about your career history (and any volunteering or things you did at college or uni).

What’s a person specification?

A person specification describes the sort of employee the organisation is looking for. This includes everything from appearance and attitude to how you answer the questions. So if it really is your dream job, it’s worth putting in the effort to meet their expectations.

Research the job

The job description and person specification are really useful, but sometimes can be a bit vague, badly written, or don’t exist at all. Luckily, it’s not the only thing that can help you prepare for your interview.

  • Learn about what the company does, some of the services or products it supplies and who its customers are likely to be.
  • Look at the company website, particularly its corporate information. Search online to find out about anything else that may be useful, like charity work, awards and sponsorship, for example.
  • Read any information the company has already sent to you – they may test you on this.

If you can, it may help if you:

  • Ask someone you know who works there to dish the real dirt – although, keep any juicy information to yourself!
  • Go to the yearly ‘milk round’ meetings that big companies set up at the larger universities. Chat to their representatives.
  • Take a walk past the premises so you can get some idea of the scale of the company.

Prepare some questions for the interview

A job interview isn’t just about them deciding if they like you; it’s also your opportunity to decide if you like them.

These are some things you may want to think about:

  • Is it a big or small organisation? Do you prefer being an anonymous foot solider, or do you want direct access to the boss?
  • How is your job going to change over time? What are the promotion prospects? Will they provide training?
  • What benefits do they offer? Will you get free gym membership or health care?
  • How flexible are the hours? Will they expect you to put in loads of overtime for no extra money?
  • What is the organisation’s financial position? Is it profitable or could it be going down the pan?

Usually, you’ll get to ask questions at the end of the interview. If something you think is important hasn’t been covered, now’s the time to mention it. It will show the interviewer that you’ve really thought about the job.

Do you have to prepare a task?

Not all interviews are simply a series of questions; you may also be required to do one or more tasks. Sometimes these will be things you get to prepare in advance, other times you’ll be asked to do them on the day – although they shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.

They help you demonstrate your knowledge of a subject, skills that you’ll need for your role and also your interpersonal skills, such as presenting. Although, if you are asked to give a presentation, don’t automatically rush to use PowerPoint – even if it is available. A more creative way of doing your presentation can often score extra brownie points.

Decide what to wear

There was a time when a smart suit, clean shirt and polished shoes was appropriate for all job interviews. Nowadays, with casual wear becoming common place in many companies, suits are no longer automatically required. In fact, in some creative industries turning up for an interview in a suit can be a bad thing. If you’re sure you really do need a suit and you don’t know where to start, read our guide to how to buy a suit here.

Judging what to wear can be difficult, but if you are unsure it’s better to dress smart. It’s easier to tone it down if the interview isn’t as formal as you expect than to smarten-up because you’re wearing jeans and everyone else is suited and booted. And, don’t be afraid to add a touch of personality with some accessories or jewellery.

Picture of interview by Shutterstock.

Next Steps


Updated on 29-Sep-2015