Career Advice » Interviews » The ultimate job interview guide

The ultimate job interview guide

4th January 2022

Our ultimate job interview guide will tell you everything you need to know about job interviews, including how to prepare, tips for a successful interview, as well as common interview questions and sample answers.

In this job interview guide, you will find:

What is a job interview?

A job interview is a conversation between a job applicant and a potential employer during which the employer will ask the applicant questions and assess if they are suitable for the job. Sounds simple right? Well, not entirely. Interviews come in lots of different types and styles.

Different types of job interviews

When preparing for a job interview, the first thing you need to do is find out the type of interview you have been invited to. The employer should have given you a heads up as to what will be involved. If not, contact them to clarify. Once you know the type of job interview, it will be easier to prepare. There are various types of job interviews. We are going to explain them and offer tips to help you be successful on the big day.

Individual (face-to-face) interviews

Face-to-face job interviews are by far the most popular form of assessment. It is a two-way communication process – you will be able to find out more about the job and what it will entail, and the interviewer will decide if you are right for the position. The interviewer will delve into your CV/job application and address any issues they may have or ask you questions about your work experience to find out if you are suitable for the role. Face-to-face interviews generally last between 30 minutes and one hour. The main advantage of a face-to-face interview is that it will allow you to build rapport with your potential employer more easily. Creating a great first impression is key to being successful at interview. However, due to the pandemic, face-to-face interviews are on hold with employers switching to video interviews instead.

Top tips for face-to-face interviews:

  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer – a lack of eye contact will make the interviewer feel uncomfortable and shows you lack confidence.

  • Body language is key – no slouching and no crossing your arms.

  • Try to relax. The interviewer will pick up on your nerves. Talk slowly, calmly and remember to smile.

  • Present yourself well – this means dressing appropriately for the interview.

  • Ask questions! Ask about the role in detail and about the company. Is this the right fit for you?

Phone interviews

Face-to-face interviews take up a lot of time, so employers may want to conduct a telephone interview first to weed out those who are unsuitable based on the job description and experience required. Depending on how the phone interview goes, the employer may invite you to a face-to-face interview. Phone interviews may be very short – approximately around 15 minutes and generally used to speed up the interview process and minimise time-wasters.

Top tips for phone interviews:

  • Find a quiet place – minimise background noise/any distractions.

  • Plan – check out our common interview questions and answers.

  • Dress smartly – just because the interviewer cannot see you does not mean you should be doing it in your pjs. Dressing smartly will help you feel more professional.

  • Have your CV/job application at hand – the interviewer may ask you questions based off this.

  • Remain focused – don’t multitask. Take your time and answer the questions fully. It is important to remain focused or you will sound disinterested to your potential employer.

  • Smile – this may sound silly but smiling will help you sound enthusiastic.

Video interviews

Video interviews are becoming increasingly popular especially now due to the current crisis and are used as an alternative to telephone interviews to filter out candidates. However, this interview type is not without its problems. There may be time delays and WIFI issues. Some people may be uncomfortable on camera putting them at a disadvantage. But preparation is key!  The interviews are usually live and it is similar to a face-to-face interview as your potential employer will ask you questions to check your suitability.  

Top tips for video interviews:

  • Choose your location wisely – use a quiet location, turn off your TV and make sure the room is tidy and clean.

  • Dress professionally – although you are at home, you still need to create a professional first impression – this means dressing properly.

  • Use positive body language – no slouching or moving too quickly.

  • Test! Before your interview ask a friend to video call you to test the call quality, your computer, camera, sound and WIFI.

Panel interviews

Most commonly used with large companies, the panel interview involves a group of interviewers taking turns asking you questions. This may seem daunting so it’s vital to prepare for your interview in advance! Treat all interviewers equal as you may not know who is in charge – they will all have an opinion about you and decide whether you get the job or not.

Top tips for panel interviews:

  • Take note of each interviewer’s name and refer to them by it.

  • Maintain eye contact with everyone – if one member of the interview panel asks you a question, focus on them but involve the others by making eye contact with them from time to time.

  • Conduct mock interviews – get your friends or family involved and practice your answers to common interview questions such as ‘why do you want to work for us?’ Practicing will help strengthen your performance when it comes to the real thing.

Group interviews

During a group interview you are interviewed at the same time as other candidates. This is an ideal interview type for companies who are looking to recruit multiple people. Group interviews can range in formats but typically will consist of a group discussion, where candidates will be asked questions and asked to present themselves. Group interviews may also involve candidates completing a group activity such as a problem or puzzle solving task. The interviewers are looking to see how you act in a group setting and how effectively you work in a team.

Top tips for group interviews:

  • Arrive early! Keep in mind you are likely being assessed the moment you step into the assessment centre or office.

  • Prepare a brief introduction about yourself in advance.

  • Dress smartly.

  • Put your phone away!

  • Actively participate in all discussions and activities.

  • Do not interrupt other candidates when they are answering.

  • Ask questions about the role.

Different interview styles

There are many different interview styles employers use when it comes to interviewing candidates. Every job is different, the interview style will change depending on the company and the job role. The most common styles of interviews are explained below.

Competency-based job interviews

Competency-based interviews, also known as behavioural, situational and structured interviews are designed to test your skills and competencies.

This style of interviewing allows the interviewer to ask questions to find out how you performed, behaved and acted in your previous roles using specific employment-related situations. It is a popular technique allowing employers to asses candidates based on previous experiences. 

The interviewer will have a set list of questions focusing on specific skills and your answers will be assessed and marked by the interviewing team.

These questions are designed to gain insight into how you behave and react within certain situations and how you might handle certain future scenarios within the new job. They require you to talk about past situations, describing how you conducted yourself within the situation and what the result was.

Typical competency-based interview questions are:

  • Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team and achieved a positive result?

  • Describe a situation where you had to work against a strict deadline?

  • Describe a challenge you faced within your past job and how you handled it?

  • Tell me about a time you worked on a team project and the challenges you faced?

The best way to answer these questions is to use the STAR technique. STAR is an acronym for: situation, task, action and result. First, explain the situation and when it took place, then describe the task and the objective, what actions did you take and finally, what happened as a result of your action.

Case interviews

During a case interview, you will have to analyse and solve a business scenario or problem while interacting with the interviewer. You need to investigate and solve the problem then present your findings to the interviewer. The case study is usually based on a problem the business/interviewer has worked on in real life. A typical example of a case interview question is: “Your client is (business name) and their profits have been declining over the last few years. Can you help find the root cause of the decline and turn the situation around? This type of interview is not there to trick you.

Top tips for case interviews:

  • Think logically about the task at hand.

  • Ask the right questions.

  • Take notes and don’t panic if you get stuck. Sometimes there is no clear solution.

Unstructured interviews

Unstructured interviews, also known as informal and casual interviews, is where the interviewer asks questions which have not been prepared in advance. Think of it more as a free-flowing conversation between you and your potential employer. In the interview, the questions arise spontaneously, and the questions are asked to gage your understanding and capability. This type of interview tends to focus on your personal qualities.

Top tips for unstructured interviews:

  • Despite the conversational feel, you still need to remember that you are at a job interview. You can still be asked questions about your skills and strengths and should therefore prepare your answers in advance.

  • Keep in mind specific experiences and qualities you want the interviewer to know about and make sure you bring them up in conversation.

Semi-structured interview

A semi-structured interview is a style of interviewing in which the interviewer asks only a few set questions while the rest are unplanned. The unplanned questions will be customised based on your answers. The interviewer will ask more open-ended questions, allowing for a discussion rather than a question and answer format.

Top tips for semi-structured interviews:

  • Review the job description and skills required and think of examples of when you have used these skills.

  • Research the company. Know exactly what they do and ask the interviewer questions about the company and position.

Portfolio-based interviews

Prevalent in the creative industry, portfolio-based interviews are your chance to showcase your skills. You will be asked to take your portfolio along or show it online. If you are a writer, this will include articles you have written. If you are a graphic designer, your portfolio will include some of your designs. This style lets you take control of the interview – talk about your work and focus on what you want the interviewer to know about your skills and experiences.

Top tips for portfolio-based interviews:

  • Tailor your portfolio for each job and show your best work.

  • If it is a digital portfolio, make sure all links to access it work before the interview.

  • Practice talking about your portfolio and individual pieces of work to a friend. This will help you feel more confident when it comes to the actual interview.

What is the best way to get a job interview?

Simple ways to get a job interview:

  • Create a CV that stands out from the crowd.

  • Research companies you want to work for and reach out to them.

  • Know your strengths.

  • Follow up after every job application.

  • Network. Go to industry events and connect with influencers in your industry on LinkedIn.

How to prepare for an interview

The key to a successful interview is preparation! You know how the saying goes… fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Below are some top tips to help you prepare for an interview.

Research the company

Before the important interview, do your homework on the company. Don’t leave it until the last minute – take your time and focus your research on the employer, looking specifically at their background, history, their products or services and their performance over the past year or two. Check out the company’s website as this will give you an insight into how the company wishes to be viewed and will also provide more detailed information on staff, departments and any annual reports. Also look at news stories from the past year to see what has been happening from a news angle with the company – looking at what they have achieved or what challenges they are facing.

Research the industry

Once you have gained a better understanding of the company, look wider and research the industry within which it operates. Think about the following:

  • What is happening within the sector?

  • Who are the competitors?

  • How are they performing in comparison?

  • What are the key issues facing the industry?

Research the role

To do this you will need to read the job description thoroughly. Think about how your skills/experiences would help you fit this role and what you could bring to the company.

Go over your CV or job application and look at doing the following:

  • Memorise the content on your CV.

  • Expand and make notes on all your achievements and skills contained within your job application.

  • List all examples and situations in which these were gained or employed.

  • Read over the job description and personal specification again and try and match each criterion to your application.

  • Prepare your elevator speech! This is a carefully planned statement detailing why an employer should hire you. It is called the elevator pitch because it should not last any longer than the 30 seconds it takes to ride an elevator. Key things to include: introduce yourself, summarise what you do and what you want. It should be a short recap of who you are and what you do.

Prepare possible questions and answers

Research common interview questions and how best to answer them. Common questions to prepare include: “tell me about yourself” and “why should we hire you?”

Look at the job description and skills required for the role and keep these in mind when preparing your answers. Find examples of common interview questions and answers below.

Finally look at more practical preparations:

  • Check the date, time, location of the interview and how you are getting there.

  • Plan your outfit in advance. If you are unsure what to wear, smart casual is always a good shout.

  • Do you need to bring anything with you? A copy of your CV maybe. Any other documents? Review the list and pack your bag in advance.

  • If you are unsure of anything, contact the company for clarification.

Common interview questions and how to answer them

Planning your answers to the most commonly asked job interview questions will help you feel more confident when it comes to the interview day. You cannot be sure of every question the interviewer will ask but you can at the very least prepare for the common questions that will most likely arise. Here are the ten most common interview questions and answers.

  • Question: Tell me about yourself?

  • Answer: This is usually the opening question. It’s important to create a great first impression so you must plan your answer. Bear in mind, your answer should not sound rehearsed. The interviewer wants a short and sharp overview. Highlight your qualifications, achievements, work experience and skills you possess which are relevant to the job. If you have just graduated or left school focus on your academic qualifications and how this relates to the job. 
  • Question: What do you know about this company?

  • Answer: Be prepared by researching the company beforehand. Examine the employer’s website to get a feel of what they do, read their about us section, their values, their mission, their products or services and their people. Who are their clients, their competitors? Look at their annual reports. Is there anything particularly interesting? Make notes on whatever you find and practice answering this question. The interviewer wants to know you’ve done your research and can describe the company well.  
  • Question: What are your biggest strengths?

  • Answer: This is a very common question and one you should definitely prepare in advance. Avoid saying things like “I am a hard worker”. Instead, create a list of your skills, read the job specification again and identify which are relevant to the job. Try to think of three core skills you possess and examples to demonstrate your key strengths.
  • Question: What are your biggest weaknesses?

  • Answer: This question can be tricky. You are being asked to be critical of yourself in front of a potential employer. But no one is perfect. If handled correctly, this question is really an opportunity to highlight to the employer how well you know yourself and how you are proactive at identifying areas of weakness and addressing them head on. Turn a negative into a positive. Do not use cliché answers. Whatever you are finding difficult, identify this and explain the steps you are taking to remedy it. For example: if you find it difficult to talk in front of crowds, explain how you are overcoming this. Maybe you are attending a training course or have recently attended an event where you were asked to speak and how you are overcoming your weakness. Whatever it is, be honest with yourself.
  • Question: What is your greatest achievement?

  • Answer: This question is bound to come up during an interview. It is the perfect opportunity to really impress the interviewer. It is best to choose an achievement which relates to the job you are interviewing for. Be factual and truthful. If you have just graduated, maybe your greatest achievement is completing a bachelor’s degree whilst working full time.
  • Question: Can you give an example of a time you coped with a difficult situation? How did you handle this?

  • Answer: By asking this question, the interviewer is trying to figure out your character and how you behave and react in difficult situations. Choose your example wisely. Explain to the interviewer how you behave under pressure and your strategy to approach this. Use the STAR technique (situation, task, approach, and result) to answer this question. Focus on how you handled the situation. 
  • Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • Answer: This is a key question. The interviewer wants to know if they hire you are you likely to stay put. The interviewer is asking about your future career and your goals to see if you have ambition or drive. Be honest and realistic when answering this question. Think about how your goals fit with the job you have applied for. Explain the career path you envision for yourself and the steps you need to take in the next five years to achieve this.
  • Question: Why did you leave your last job? Or why are you leaving your last job?

  • Answer: It is vital that you remain positive. There is nothing worse than complaining about a previous employer during an interview. It is also best to avoid suggesting that you are leaving because you want a higher salary – even if it is true. The best way to answer this is that you are leaving because you want to pursue new opportunities or maybe even that you want to change industries. Generally, you should always be leaving to move toward a better opportunity.
  • Question: Why do you want this job and why should we hire you?

  • Answer: Why do you want this job? It is important here that you give the employer a sense that you are passionate and interested in their business, their company and what they do. No employer wants to think that you would work just about anywhere – even if that is correct. The best way to answer this question is to fully research the company in advance. Understand who they are, what they do, what they sell, where they are headed, as well as understanding the achievements they have reached and the challenges they face. Then think about what you will bring to the company in this context. You must outline how you will benefit the company and not focus on what the company will bring to you.

  • Answer: Why should they hire you? This question is providing you with the ultimate opportunity to sell yourself! Make sure your answer addresses what you have that the company needs, what you can bring to the company and what makes you unique. Why should they hire you and not another candidate? Look at the job description and what skills and knowledge you have that will help you be successful in this role. Consider any achievements you made for previous employers too.
  • Question: Do you have any questions?

  • Answer: The most common answer to this question is no. But you MUST avoid this. Take the opportunity to ask a few questions, this will show your potential employer that you are really interested in the job. Remember, the questions should relate to the job, the company or anything else raised during the interview.

10 questions to ask in an interview

  • What are the responsibilities and accountabilities of this position?

  • How is performance measured?

  • Can you describe what an average day or even week would look like?

  • Will there be opportunities to progress?

  • What aspects of this job would you like to see performed better?

  • What is the office/company culture like?

  • What do you enjoy most about working here?

  • How do I compare with the other candidates you’ve interviewed for this position?

  • What are the next steps?

  • Is there anything you want me to clarify about my experiences, qualifications or personality?

Questions NOT to ask in an interview

Steer clear of asking the following questions:

  • What is the salary?

  • Are there any other company benefits?

  • What are the weekly hours?

  • Can I work from home?

  • What does the company do?

  • How much sick pay will I get?

  • Did I get the job?

Top 10 job interview tips

Want to make a great impression? Of course you do. Give yourself the best chance of success by following these top tips on how to nail a job interview:

  • Be prepared. Research the company and industry. Read the job description, person specification and prepare your answers to common questions in advance. Practice answering to your friends.
  • Bring your CV with you or have it at hand. The interviewer will have already looked over this, but it will do no harm reminding them of your credentials.
  • Arrive early, but not too early if it is indeed a face-to-face interview. As this can be just as detrimental as arriving late.
  • If it is a video interview – check your WIFI connectivity, audio and test with a friend.
  • Make eye contact with the interview/interviewers as this shows confidence.
  • Your body language says it all. No slouching, keep your back straight and sit up. No fidgeting, avoid crossing your arms and remember to smile!
  • Listen carefully, take your time answering questions and make sure you also ask questions! Find out if this is the company for you. Can you see yourself working here?
  • Stay confident and remain calm. If you have done all your preparation, this will be a lot easier!
  • We have said it a million times already and we are saying it again. Dress professionally! Dress for the job you want.
  • Always follow up after a job interview! The best way to follow up after a job interview is to send an email to the interviewer thanking them for their time and that you look forward to hearing back from them.

Interview follow up email sample

Dear [insert interviewer name],

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about the [insert job role] and for considering me for this position. I’m very excited about the opportunity to join [company name].

It was a pleasure to learn more about the company and [insert company strategy and challenges they are facing].

After our conversation, I’m confident that my background in [insert work experience] and skill set [insert specific skills] will enable me to fulfil this role effectively.

Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[Insert your name]

What NOT to do during a job interview

Avoid these 10 common mistakes during a job interview:

  • Arriving late – even being one minute late is considered rude. Plan your route carefully and time it right. If it is a video interview the same applies, do not dial in late.
  • Being underprepared – interview preparation is key to getting hired. Research the company, the role and how you would fit in there.
  • Dressing inappropriately – dress professionally for the job you want.
  • Lying – you will most likely be found out.
  • Going over your CV – the interviewer has read your CV, now is your chance to showcase the other qualities you possess which makes you the perfect fit.
  • Bad mouthing your previous employer.
  • Asking about remuneration – avoid asking questions about salary and company benefits.
  • Giving one-word answers. A simple yes or no will show you are not fully engaged. Use the STAR technique to answer questions.
  • Not taking the chance to ask questions.
  • Displaying negative body language – avoid crossing your arms, slouching and fidgeting.

10 signs that you nailed an interview

Do you think your interview went well? If you experienced some of these signs, then chances are, you just might be right!

  • The interviewer is particularly enthusiastic. 
  • They try to sell you on the job and the company.
  • The interviewer talks about company benefits.
  • They ask your start date availability.
  • You get a tour of the office, if applicable.
  • You are introduced to staff members.
  • They give you information regarding the next steps.
  • The interview takes longer than expected.
  • Your follow up email gets a quick response.
  • They ask for your references.

Second job interviews

Made it to a second interview? Congratulations! Now is your chance to really impress. During the second interview you will be asked more detailed questions about your qualifications and abilities. Employers need to be sure they are hiring the best candidate so will look to find out as much as possible about all candidates before making their final decision.

Key things to expect during your second job interview

  • More in-depth questions. The first interview was focused on your skills, experiences and was a chance for you to show the employer your personality and how you stand out. The second interview will focus more on your experiences and on how you would approach specific situations or challenges in the role. It is likely you will be asked more competency-based questions such as your problem-solving abilities, your career goals and how the job fits into them.
  • Interview presentation. You may be asked to put together a presentation detailing why you are the right candidate for the job. Emphasise the benefits you can bring to the company – your experience, your training and development. You might be asked to prepare a presentation around a specific topic. Make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you before you start putting your presentation together. Keep slides to a minimum and practice presenting in front of friends.
  • Office tour. If you have been invited for a second interview, the interviewer may show you around the office introducing you to potential colleagues, the team you might be working with and where you might be sitting if they hired you. Be polite, friendly and pay attention. Can you see yourself fitting in? Do you still want to work here?
  • Discussion of your availability and salary. It is best to avoid talking about salary during the first interview. But the second interview is the perfect time to discuss your remuneration. The interviewer will likely ask what your current notice period is and the date you could start working if they hired you.

Top tips for nailing your second interview:

  • Learn everything you can about the company!

  • Dress to impress – you may meet senior managers or team members who you would be working with.

  • Prepare for in-depth questions – go over what they have already asked you, they may ask again. Make sure to prepare different examples of your accomplishments and how your experience is suited to the job.

  • Practice your final pitch – this is your last chance to amaze. Emphasise why they should hire you and demonstrate that you are a good fit.

  • Have your references handy – it is likely you will be asked to provide them.

In need of some more advice? Head on over to nijobfinder’s career advice area where you’ll find everything from tips on creating a killer CV to advice on starting your new job.

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