Top tips for a successful job interview: Part 1 - before the interview


The fact that you have been invited to an interview suggests that the employer believes you have the necessary skills and experience to do the job. That's a pretty good start and a confidence boosting nugget of fact to keep in mind.


All you have to do now is to live up to that expectation. And the key to achieving that is simple. Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.


Research employer


Of course, you will have already researched the employer when you tailored your CV and covering letter before applying for the role. And now that you are preparing to meet the employer face to face, you'll need to carry out much more in-depth analysis.


Start with their own website and social media presence but remember to also look at their competitors to compare and contrast their respective offerings. Extend your research to industry news websites as well as wider media to understand the nature of their business, key trends within the industry and challenges facing the sector. Develop a good understanding of their products / services and customers.


Understand the requirements of the role


Go through the job description again in real detail. Understand precisely what is required in terms of skills and experience and, importantly, how you meet each requirement. In addition, think of 2-3 examples from your past roles that illustrate your skills and experience and how they serve to provide compelling reasons for the employer to hire you.


Research commonly asked questions and prepare responses


No doubt the research above would help you anticipate and answer most questions that an employer may ask you at your interview. However, it's also worth searching online for commonly asked questions within specific industry sectors. It would also be a great idea to reach out to your professional network (e.g. on LinkedIn) – you may discover that you know someone who has worked for or is currently working at the employer where you are about to attend your interview.


Be prepared for unexpected questions


Despite all the preparation, there are occasions when you'll be thrown a curve ball. The point here is not that you need a perfect answer to an unusual question, but how you deal with unexpected circumstances. Do you remain calm under pressure? Do you use logic to work through a problem? Can you think creatively? Can you address a situation in an abstract way if necessary?


Many startups, tech companies and big consultancies are fond of asking unusual questions. While they will vary in specifics, you can Google these 'killer' questions to get a general thrust of what the employer may be seeking to establish by asking these uncommon questions.


Dress for the role


Dress for the role you are applying for and keep it formal. Avoid jeans, t-shirts and trainers. Keep jewellery and accessories to a minimum. If in doubt, opt for a suit – single-breasted, navy suit with a crisp, well-ironed white / blue shirt combined with polished black shoes for the men and a similar trouser / skirt suit combination for women would fit the bill for any interview.


Take examples of work with you


Depending on the role, you may want to take along examples of your work / portfolio to share with the employer. Not only will this afford you an opportunity to demonstrate how your skills meet the requirements of the role, it will also allow you to showcase your expertise in a broader sense.


Think of questions to ask the interviewer


It's best to think of questions you may want to ask your interviewer at this stage. Make them good, interesting and intelligent. Avoid asking questions that have already been answered in the job advertisement or the job description. Ask questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in the role, career development opportunities, the company's strategic goals, specific training and development support, company's culture, company's products / services, etc.


Of course, it's perfectly possible that the answers to some or many of your questions may be covered during the interview process. Therefore, be prepared to think on your feet during the interview so that you still have further good questions to ask.


Plan your travel


Punctuality is essential. Do not be too early and certainly not a minute late. If possible, do a dry run to mitigate any potential obstacles that may cause you to be late on the day. Allow for traffic jams and train / bus cancellations or delays. And if you do run into unexpected delays remember to call the employer to let them know.


Practice makes perfect


Once you've completed your preparation, try a practice interview. Ask a colleague, friend or parent to conduct a mock interview. It will certainly give you an opportunity to clarify your thoughts and establish what you do and don't know about the employer and the role. And if you can find a seasoned interviewer to take you through your paces, you may well be prepared for those occasional curve ball questions that may be thrown at you at the real interview.


This is the end of Part 1. In Part 2 we will explore top tips for when you attend the interview and in Part 3 we will look at what you need to do after you have attended the interview.