How to ace your next job interview

How confident do you feel about interviewing for a job? Whether they’re for an external or an internal role, interviews can be harrowing, especially when it’s for a job you’re really interested in. You want the interviewer(s) to realise how perfect you are for the role yet you don’t want to come across as arrogant or conceited. So what’s the answer?

First, get your body language right: follow the usual drill of no high fashion outfits or bright colours, a nice firm handshake, eye contact, upright and open posture (e.g. no crossed arms) and so on. (For more on how to make a great first impression, see my blog How to put your best foot forward.)

Remember that interviewers often make up their minds during the first 90 seconds, so have your answer to the first question ready. The first question is normally some variation of ‘Tell me about yourself‘ so have your ‘elevator speech’, your confident and clear 90 second summary of what you do and who you are that (just happens to) make you perfect for the vacancy.

When answering other questions, use examples to bring out your best qualities that show you’re the ideal candidate. Arm yourself with a selection of examples of what you’ve done and how you’ve done it to highlight your positive traits, skills and experience. Because these are truthful examples of what you’ve actually done, and because you are talking about them very matter-of-factly, you won’t sound overly boastful.

You don’t have to limit yourself to workplace examples, particularly if you don’t have years of work experience behind you. Think back through your life, not just your working life, and select examples that highlight the skills, experience, knowledge and characteristics you believe the interviewer(s) is looking for. For instance, if you are a loyal and hard-working person and you think this is a necessary qualification for the job, describe a time when you have been loyal and hard working in the past; this might be in a voluntary capacity, in a part-time job, on a school or college committee, or caring for a relative or sibling.

Of course, not everything about you is going to be perfect. When you need to give an example that conveys a less-than-perfect impression, add: ‘From this I learned …’ or ‘I have continually improved on that by …’ This shows that you don’t just make mistakes and move on but that you actually learn from them and use them to improve your performance.

Do your homework about the role by thinking about the sort of person who would be perfect for the job. This tells you how to paint the best possible picture of yourself and which clear examples to provide.

  • What should you know how to do? For example, how to motivate a tattered work team; how to operate a fancy newsletter-designing program; how to conduct a risk assessment.
  • What knowledge and information should be at your fingertips? For example, how to set priorities and organise your day so you get everything done; why safety hazards and risks need to be recorded and monitored and ways to mitigate them; how to gather, display and analyse statistical information.
  • What previous experience would be an advantage? For example, working with members of the public; managing remote employees; turning around sub-standard performance; working in a fast-paced and unpredictable environment.
  • What will the perfect candidate be like as a person? For example, should the perfect candidate enjoy working in a hectic, noisy environment; be pleasant and cheerful even to the most grumpy customer; be the sort of person who patiently and painstakingly looks after the details?

Do your homework about the organisation. This shows you’re keen to work there and helps you slant your examples in the right direction. When the role is external and someone in your network works there, invite them for a coffee (if they’re in your area) and pick their brains.

Should you fluff a question, keep calm and breathe. Answer the next question well.

As the interview comes to a close, make it clear you are keen on the job and the organisation. You can even ask something like: ‘Are there any areas of concern you have about my ability to excel in this role?‘ If there are, try to answer them. If there aren’t that’s fantastic. Some interviewees then say:’When do I start?!‘ but you need to be comfortable with that approach and use it judiciously.

Discussion questions

Have you thought about keeping a log of your achievements and accomplishments that illustrate your employability skills and knowledge? There are eight key employability skills that describe generic competencies for effective participation in the workforce: Communication, Initiative and enterprise, Learning, Planning and organising, Problem solving, Self-management, Teamwork, and Technology. How do you keep track of your other management skills, for example, developing effective work teams, encouraging innovation and continuous improvements, and leading and motivating people?