Nine steps to interview success

An invitation to an interview means you’re well on your way to securing yourself a job. But selling your skills face to face or on the phone is very different from selling your skills on paper. Here are the main steps to help you think on your feet and prepare for all eventualities.


Getting an interview is a huge achievement – it means you’ve convinced recruiters that you’re capable of doing the job. However, you’ll be one of many candidates vying for the position.

While you can’t alter the calibre of the other applicants you can make sure you’re thoroughly prepared. Our step-by-step guide will give you the best possible chance for interview success.

1. Make the best first impression with recruiters
Handshake, smile, eye contact: check! You don’t need to be told that the impression you give in the first few minutes of the interview is of critical importance. Find out how to leave a lasting impression right from the start.

Even the most professional interviewer is a human being first and a professional second. But however nervous you feel, you must not enter the room looking and feeling like a victim. There are just three things to concentrate on at the start of the interview: your eyes, your mouth and your hands:

Eyes: make contact, but don’t stare!

A great deal of communication between two people takes place through the eyes, so look at the interviewer. Aim for an open, confident gaze rather than a fixed stare, but do look. Remember, they liked you enough to invite you for an interview, so they will be happy to see you. The interviewer is not your enemy – there’s nothing they want more than a successful interview. Maintain a decent level of eye contact throughout the interview, but especially at the start.

Mouth: a smile will get you off to a good start,/strong>

With the odd exception, interviewers are normal people who will respond positively if you appear in the interview room with a smile on your face. You may feel more like crying than smiling but resist the temptation. Don’t force yourself but do give it a try. What usually happens, unless the interviewer is a Vulcan, is that they smile back. The ice is broken and you have leapt the first hurdle.

Hands: get your handshake right

Ah yes, the handshake. You normally get one at the start and this little act can have immense consequences. A flabby wet handshake, a limp lettuce or a bone-crusher all leave their mark on the interviewer’s psyche and it can be several minutes before the effect wears off. Go, if you can, for the middle ground – firm and dry. If you don’t know what kind of handshake you have, practise on a friend.

You need to start thinking about your first impression before you even get to the interview. Yes, a huge part of the employer’s first impression of you will be determined by your outfit. It’s important to wear suitable clothing, be neat and tidy, and smartly dressed.

2. Find out what kind of interview you’ll face
Employers use different kinds of interviews at different stages of the recruitment process.

Telephone interviews are often used at an early stage to check candidates meet the basic requirements and to filter out those who aren’t serious about the job. Many organisations use competence- or competency-based interviews, in which you’ll be asked to match your skills to those needed for the role, eg communication skills, problem solving and teamwork.

Panel interviews – in which candidates are interviewed by several people such as HR staff and department managers – are also common in some career sectors, such as teaching and public service.

TOP TIP: If the recruiter hasn’t already told you what kind of interview you’ll be having, contact them to find out. Once you’ve established what to expect you’ll be able to prepare for the kinds of questions and scenarios you could experience during the interview.

3. Research the employer again
Return to the employer research you did when you made your original job application and build on it. Fresh research will remind you what attracted you to the job and will help you anticipate interview questions.

Look on the organisation’s website for details of recent work or clients that interest you and think about how you could contribute to what the employer does.

4. Think about yourself
Recruiters want to know what unique skills you can bring to the role. Think through your work experience and the skills and interests you’ve developed at university and how these relate to the job and area of work.

List your achievements and activities and make notes on the skills you learned and how you used them, and also what you contributed to different situations.

TOP TIP: Review your CV or application form: think of how you can expand on any examples and skills and consider some alternatives. Which examples would be the best ones to highlight for the particular job?

5. Prepare yourself
Interviewers will expect you to show a keen interest in their organisation, so use the research you’ve already done to think up at least three questions to ask about the employer and three questions about the job itself. You can write these down to take into the interview as a reminder.

6. Plan your day
Good first impressions count for a lot. Plan for your interview day in fine detail – it will help you relax and shows employers that you are organised and committed.

Make sure you know how you should dress, plan how to get to your interview and book your travel tickets in advance. Charge your mobile phone and leave yourself time to read through your application again carefully.

Print out a fresh copy of your CV or make a new copy of your application form to take with you, and organise any supporting information you’ll be taking with you.

7. Be in control of yourself in the interview
It’s natural to be nervous in an interview, but if you know that you are prone to particular fear-induced reactions that could jeopardise your chances, think about these before the day so that you have chance to find a way to overcome them the best you can.

When you are in the interview, remember that it’s fine to pause before responding to questions to gather your thoughts, and if you’re unsure about a question it’s also fine to ask for clarification.

TOP TIP: Use your CV or application as a prompt if you dry up: take a copy into the interview and use it to choose good examples of your skills.

8. Stay professional to the end
Although it can be tempting to run screaming from a bad interview or skip joyously from a good one, recruiters will expect to you to be professional throughout the time you’re meeting with them, including after you’ve left the interview room itself.

If you’re shown around the office or have the chance to chat with other members of staff, remember that their feedback may count towards the organisation’s overall evaluation of you, so don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t in a formal interview situation.

TOP TIP: Need to let off steam or sing for joy? Make sure you are a couple of streets away from the employer’s office before you let rip – you never know who is watching! The same is true for comments online.

9. Learn from the experience
Spend some time after your interview thinking through the experience. Make some notes for yourself before moving on. This will help you prepare for the next stage of the process and get ready for interviews with other employers.

Getting feedback from interviews where you have been unsuccessful can be invaluable and most recruiters are happy to provide it. However, don’t be too disappointed if it is very general.