How to be brilliant in interviews

No one, I repeat no one, relishes the interview process. Ok, perhaps a tiny minority do, but I’m assuming they already think they are brilliant and are not reading this! In this blogpost, I pull together all the excellent pieces of advice I have come across over the years to help you approach your next interview with renewed confidence and allow you to be at your absolute best.

Preparation is everything 

As part of your interview prep, take time to research the company. You can set up Google alerts for news about the company or sector. Also, do your homework on the person interviewing you. If you find out what drives and motivates them, it can help you connect with them and show an understanding of their point of view.

Prepare your opening lines in readiness for the inevitable version of “Tell me a bit about yourself”. Distil your story so it concisely conveys your motivation to do the job and the experience and value you are bringing. Also, go through the job description with a fine-tooth comb. Identify the competencies they are measuring the candidates against and prepare answers that showcase the skills and experience you have that aligns with each of them.

Finally, plan in advance some killer questions you can ask at the end. Have a read of this brilliant article in The Harvard Business Review with some great suggestions of the type of questions to ask: 38 Smart Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

Be positive and enthusiastic 

Before the interview think of some positive things to say about the company’s products, style, culture, website or any award or recognition they have received. Find ways to weave this into the interview. If the company sells products, identify one which resonates with you and find out more about it. It shows an interest and engagement with the company that might elevate you above the competition.

You have as much to give as you have to gain

When you go into the interview, make sure you are clear on exactly what you bring to the role. Where will you add value where others won’t. Also, be clear on what you want in return. It’s your opportunity to ask the questions that are important to you. Remember that this is a 50/50 conversation, by asking questions and listening attentively to the answers you can gauge where the company stands on the things that matter to you. The interview should be your chance to test if the company and the role align with your values.

Every encounter matters

This is easy to forget and another opportunity to differentiate yourself from your peers. Treat every call, message and email as part of the process. There will be multiple touchpoints throughout and you want to strive to give the best possible impression of you at each and every one. Before the interview, audit your presence on social media platforms. Make personal profiles private and ensure LinkedIn aligns with your CV and the role.

Take your time

To ace the interview, you ideally want to remain calm and in control of the situation. There are a few strategies you can use to keep cool, calm and collected throughout.

If you need clarification or context to a question – always ask. It demonstrates maturity and confidence to do so and allows you a bit more time to formulate your answer. On that note, always take a few seconds after each question to mentally compose your answer. Select your example that best fits the question, keep it concise and don’t be tempted to go into too much detail. Pause at the end of your answer, the interviewer will ask for more detail if they need it.

To enable you to answer their questions with confidence, for each of the competencies that you identified in the job description, come up with a rock-solid example demonstrating this.

How to address the gaps

In the final section I wanted to include some tips on how to deal with any gaps in your employment. In their book ‘She’s Back’ Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan want to change the narrative about career breaks. Here are their top tips on how to frame it.

  • I’m refreshed, re-energised and refocused
  • I’m so much more productive
  • I’ve broadened my skills, knowledge and experience
  • I’ve learnt different ways of getting things done
  • I have increased empathy and a fresh perspective on customers and clients

Think about which phrases resonate the most with your own story and make it part of your narrative. Their advice is “Back it up with examples. What was ‘new and good’ about your break? Help an employer understand. Be brief. Be brave. Know your own value. And negotiate the hell out of your return”.

Jane McKenna is a partner coach at Careering into Motherhood. Jane helps women navigating career change or maternity leave to uncover their story, reconnect with their professional identity and find career happiness through 1:1 coaching, group programmes, online courses and workshops. You can get in touch via her profile page, visiting her website .