According to research, 62 per cent of recruiters cited “appearing disinterested” as the biggest faux-pas, followed by “arrogance” (49 per cent), “bad-mouthing their current or previous employer” (44 per cent) and “failure to answer questions effectively / ineffective listening” (25 per cent). Here are some guidelines to ensure you make a top impression.

Presenting yourself

  • Make sure your handshake is strong and firm.
  • Wear a smart suit and be as “polished” as possible (smart clean shoes, no pop-socks, short fingernails, ironed shirt, no piercings or visible tattoos if possible).
  • Take two printed copies of your CV along, just in case. If you have a copy in front of you during the meeting, still maintain eye contact for 90% of the time.
  • Relax as much as possible – enjoy the interview. Let your personality come through – allow the interviewer to get a feel for you as a human, to enable them to trust and recommend you to work in the organization.
  • Build good rapport, be friendly but professional.

What to say and what not to say

  • Never criticise previous bosses or employers. Talking about your previous employer in derogatory terms is never advisable, even if you had the boss from hell. Not only does this make you look unprofessional, the interviewer will also assume that you will say the same things about them in the future.
  • Be forthcoming with your answers if you are asked open questions such as ‘tell me about…’ Be explicit about your interest in the role and company, but don’t waffle.
  • This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Do not act quietly or mysteriously! Talk about your achievements in your previous positions which are relevant to the new position and explain how you would use your experience to your new employer’s benefit.
  • Impress them with your knowledge about the company. Read their website – what do you think of it? Scour the news, look at their job vacancies, look at their Facebook and other social media profiles.
  • Write a list of your attributes and experience that will directly benefit this job. What can you contribute? How can you help “move the needle”?
  • Avoid divulging too much information about your personal life. Only share information that is deemed relevant to the job in hand.
  • Be honest. Don’t pretend to know the answer to a question when you really don’t, you aren’t expected to know all the answers. Interviewers are not trying to catch you out – they simply need to determine if you can solve problems. If they ask a question that you do not know the answer to, explain the steps you would take to find out. Be forthcoming, let the words flow, be explicit about your loves and dislikes, show your profile as a candidate and as a human.
  • Smile! Sounds simple, but when nervous or concentrating hard, it is amazing how many people forget to do this. It is the easiest way to build rapport. Be positive.

Likely interview structure and questions to think about

Most interview questions can be broken down into three categories: general, competency or scenario-based. It is likely you will be asked questions such as, “tell me about yourself”, “what motivates you?” or “tell me about a time when you worked effectively as part of a team”. Practice answers to these questions, and you will be sure to impress.

  • Why do you want this job? (Think about why the interviewer might be in his / her job when phrasing your answer!) Be positive about the job and your current and previous jobs. Think of other motivators for leaving apart from money, short hours and similar, self-serving reasons.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How would your manager get the best out of you?
  • What is your understanding of the role for which you are applying?
  • What experience / qualities do you have that relate to this role?
  • What did you enjoy most about your last job?
  • Why do you want to join us?
  • Why should we give you the job?
  • Tell me about your relationship with your last boss.
  • Have you ever worked with anyone that you didn’t get on with that well, and how did this affect you?
  • What is your greatest achievement to date?
  • Do you prefer a team environment or working alone?
  • If you think back to your last annual review – whether it was with HR or your line manager – what was highlighted as your best skills? What was an area of development?
  • What would be a deal breaker for you if you were offered a job?

Possible questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the meeting

Your recruitment consultant should advise you on the opportunities for progression in the company. Questions regarding this should be limited accordingly.

  • Where would I fit into the organisational structure?
  • Can you tell me a little about the company culture?
  • What are plans for the company in the next 3-5 years?
  • How would my performance be assessed and rewarded?
  • Would you potentially offer training?
  • If you are interested in the job, say so, or at least say you will give feedback to your consultant and thank the interviewer for their time.

Competency-based questions

A general interviewer will typically be looking for examples of the following only a handful of competencies: communication skills, planning and organisational ability, stress tolerance / resilience, flexibility and teamwork. Often, the questioning starts with an open question eliciting an example from you, and then funneling down into more detail and the “how you did something”. Take the time to read through these sample questions and think of some answers:

Competency: communication skills:

Can you think of a time when you turned around a complaint and the company received praise? Tell me about that.
Tell me about some times when you have been able to summarise key points from a complicated message
No one can always retain popularity. Can you tell me the last time you upset someone? What happened?
In joining a new organisation how do you get to know others?
Describe a time when you had to communicate difficult or complex information to someone at work.
How did your audience feel about the information you gave?
What if anything would you do differently?
What does good communication mean to you?
What happens to your communication style when you’re under pressure?

Competency: planning and organizing:

Can you give me an example of the greatest organisational feat you have encountered in your career?
How did you approach this?
What systems or processes did you employ in order to assist you?
What was the outcome / feedback?
What went wrong? Tell me about a negative comment feedback on the task?
What did you learn?
What in your career has helped shape your organisational skills?
How important is it to you to be using your organisational skills in your everyday role?
How do you decide what to attend to first? (the interview will be looking for evidence of prioritisation)
What do you do if you have several urgent task and limited time?
What steps did you take to ensure things were accurate?
How important is it for you to check your work? Why is it important to you?
What to you typically do when you spot a mistake in a document or email?
In your present job, what is your top priority? How did you establish that?
How important has organisation been in your role?
Talk me through how you plan on a day to day basis.
What systems do you use?
How do you prioritise tasks?
What contingency plans do you make?

Competency: ability to work under pressure / stress tolerance

Have you ever had a run of bad luck at work? How did you respond?
Tell me about the most challenging experience you have faced in your career to date. How did you tackle it?
What has been your biggest failure? (success)
How do you think, feel and act when under extreme pressure? Can you give me an example? How would your colleagues know that you were under pressure? How do you de-stress at these times?
Have you dealt with tricky characters? Describe the extremes of personalities that you have communicated with. How do you handle them? Would this affect you personally or professionally?
When did you last lose your temper? Describe the reasons.
When in the last year have you been most upset with yourself? Why?
Tell me about a time when you were recently under a high level of pressure?
How did you feel at the time?
What impact did that have on your behaviour at the time?
What would others around have noticed about your mood or behavior?

Competency: working as part of a team

What have you done to build good working relationships with others?
What is your most natural role to play in a team?
Tell me about a time when you have resolved conflict in a group? (If necessary) from where did the conflict originate?
Tell me about a time when you have consciously participated as a group member rather than a group leader. What did you actually do?
Do you ever accommodate to awkward people in order to get the job done?
What do you like or dislike about working in a team?
Can you give me an example of a time when you had to work as part of a team?
How did you feel about being a team member?
What did you find most challenging?
What would your team members say about you?
What factors do you typically consider in deciding what information to share with your team members?
Give me an example of a time when you thoughts of a way to improve you work process? What motivated you to do this? What was the outcome?

Competency: flexibility

Tell me about a time when you’ve personally had to handle significant change
Describe a time of uncertainty or change you have faced.
Describe a time when pressures threatened your ability to work effectively.
Tell me of a time when interruptions from others have affected your work.
Describe a situation where you had to changed your approach half-way through a project or task following new input into the project.
Give us an example of a situation where your initial approach failed and you had to change tack.
If we gave you a new project to manage, how would you decide how to approach it?