How to prepare for an interview: a refresher guide

Morgan McKinley 05.08.2015

Going for an interview can be particularly nerve-wracking for those who have been with the same employer for several years. In this case, the thoughts of entering back into a much-evolved job market can be daunting to those who've not had the opportunity to brush up on their interview skills for many years.

So, where do you start?

Before you embark on any interview process it is essential that you refresh your interview skills and put yourself in as strong a position as possible to impress your interviewer and potential future employer when you meet with them for the first time.

I speak with people in this situation all the time - some of whom may not have interviewed in as many as 15 years. Below I have listed the advice I give to all professionals but particularly to those who find themselves trying to dust the cobwebs off their interview skills after a few years.

Control the Controllables

Firstly, the most important thing to do prior to any interview is, as I say, to ‘control the controllables.’ You cannot control the interview environment that you will step into, or the questions you will be asked on the day however, you can control every element of your own preparation and put yourself in as strong a position as possible to do the best interview you can. I believe the four main pillars of interview preparation are as follows:

1 - Researching the Company 

You will most likely have done this to a certain degree prior to applying for the job, but once you have been invited to interview it is important to research the company in much greater depth. Use resources like:

  • the company’s website
  • recent news articles to give yourself a better understanding of the company and what they do.
  • find out who their key competitors are
  • who their biggest clients are
  • information on their history or how they came to be what they are today

 

Consequently this research can also evoke genuine excitement and greater interest for you in the company – a factor that comes across very well and can give you an edge when speaking with your interviewer. 

A lot of companies will also have a careers section on their website that can be a great resource for helping you prepare to meet with the company. They often provide information on what it is like to work for that company and what kind of people they are looking to employ. In addition to this, you can also come across various tips and information that will point you in the direction of what your interview experience will be like and what areas of questioning your interviewer may focus on. For example, sometimes company websites will mention company philosophies or core values and oftentimes you will be asked questions based around these. 

2 - Research the Job

You will most likely have a detailed job description outlining the key responsibilities and requirements of the position you are interviewing for. This can be one of your most useful tools when in preparation as many of the questions you will be asked could be largely based around many of the responsibilities listed.  The key thing here is to study the tasks/activities associated with the job and draw out examples of previous experiences you have had that illustrate you could successfully complete those tasks if you were to be given the job tomorrow.

3 - Know your CV

This may seem very obvious but you would be surprised how many people can get caught out on the simplest of questions around their CV - know it inside out and back to front. Be prepared to discuss your experiences from your first job all the way through to your current position and where possible illustrate the progression and development between each role. Depending on your industry or the company you are interviewing with you may also be asked questions around your education so be prepared to speak about this and why you chose to study what you did.

4 - Research your Interviewers

Prior to your interview you will be provided with the names of those who you will be meeting on the day, get online beforehand and see what information you can find out about them. If they have LinkedIn pages, have a look at:

  • what kind of background they have come from
  • what companies they have worked for previously
  • what their current role is within the company you are interviewing with

 

Identifying any common denominators between yourself and an interviewer can not only help you relate to them but also prove a useful point of casual discussion before or after the interview. 

Researching your interviewer/s can also help guide you as to what questions you may be asked. If you are meeting with someone with a highly technical background it is likely that you may be asked technical questions where as if you are meeting with someone from HR it is more likely that you will be asked more general or competency based questions.

Practice

If possible, try to get as much practice as you can before your interview. If you are working with a recruiter, meet with them and have them run through your CV with you. They can ask you similar questions to that of what you will likely be asked in your real interview and you can work on any areas of questioning that you could potentially improve on.

Find examples of practice questions online, have a read through these and think about what would be the best way to answer them. Morgan McKinley provide an online resource, our Career Ally Hub where you can find interview tips and an interview simulator that can take you through all of the commonly asked questions in either written or audio formats that can also help you practice for your interview.

The Day of the Interview 

Make yourself familiar with where you will be interviewing. If you haven’t been to that particular location before have a look on Google Maps and see if you can find the building you will be going to. Some people I work with would even take a test drive to the location of the interview beforehand so they know exactly where they are going on the day. This can be a great idea as it can also ease any pre-interview nerves when you are already familiar with where you’re going. Plan your journey well and ensure you have left yourself plenty of time to get there before the start of your interview.

A question I probably get asked the most in relation to interviews is “what should I wear?”

Personally, I would always advise anyone going for an interview to ensure that they are ‘suited and booted’ or dressed smartly.  This is for a number of reasons, first and foremost so that you look professional and create a positive impression for your interviewer but also because those who dress themselves smartly can find it to be a big confidence boost and helps them hold themselves better during their interview. 

However, to throw a spanner in the works, we now work with a huge amount of clients who have an informal or relaxed dress code. In this case, I personally advise professionals to air on the side of caution, I believe it is better to turn up over-dressed to your interview than too casual. The different consultants I work with in Morgan McKinley sometimes advise differently though and they would advise to match the dress code of where they are going but again airing on the side of caution and ensuring that you are dressed a level above whatever the company dress code may be.

Relax 

It’s only natural for those going for an interview to feel a few nerves beforehand. I always say a few nerves are a good thing as they show that you care! It is however very important to ensure that you are not too anxious and that any nerves you have don’t affect your ability to answer the questions you’re asked.

The preparation you have done should generally buffer against any nerves you are feeling as you will have a good idea yourself of what you will be saying and how you will answer the various questions you may be asked. I find something that helps is remembering that the interview process these days is very much a two way street. It’s not only a chance for an employer to find out more about you - but also an opportunity for you to get to know them and reminding yourself of this can help calm your nerves. 

Working with a Recruiter 

What can working with a recruiter do to help you with your preparation? A lot! 

To go back to the four pillars of interview preparation I mentioned, we should always be able to provide you with background information to the company and the role itself. It is likely that we will have been to the offices, so we know how to get there and we will also be familiar with the dress code and general atmosphere around the office. It is also likely that we will have met with the hiring manager so we will have a good idea of what they are like and also what they are looking for in an interview.  As I mentioned previously, we can also bring you in for a mock interview and work with you after this to figure out the best way to structure your answers. In my experience people find this to be very beneficial to them as it is a similar environment to that of your interview and you can gain a lot of confidence from receiving advice and some general tips from your consultant.

Getting back into the job market

One of the most important things about getting yourself back onto the job market is to not get disheartened. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t get the first job you interview for after you start looking, this rarely happens and you would be very lucky if you did! Any interviews you attend regardless of whether you are successful or not are always a good experience for you to have (even if they go terribly!) and you can use them moving forward to refine and improve your interview skills. If you don’t get the job at the end of the process, stay positive, keep looking around and remember that it can take time to find a role and company that is the perfect match for you. 

All in all, when getting back into the interview game it is essential to ‘control the controllables’ and arm yourself with as much information and preparation as possible before going to meet with any company or hiring manager. If you have done this, you have given yourself every chance of having a strong interview and impressing your potential employer. Further to this, you may well be on your way to kick starting your new career!

If you would like some more interview tips then take a look at our Interview questions and Answers or if you would like some advice on changing your role please contact me on my details below. I'd be delighted to assist you.

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