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The first job interview; prepare to succeed

The first job interview; prepare to succeed

Securing a first interview is a major step on your journey to finding a job. The good news is that if you have succeeded in getting an interview, the company is really interested in your profile and your experience. It’s likely that you’ve made the cut from around 300 or more candidates down to perhaps 10 or less. That’s an achievement in itself and you should be encouraged.

In one of our previous posts, ‘Five ways to greatly increase your chances of getting a new job’, we gave an overview of how to prepare for the first interview. This post is the comprehensive guide that we promised to write as a follow up. Follow these steps and you will be better prepared and more confident than most of your competition.

Use a recruiter

You should consider using a good recruiter to help with your job search. Someone who knows the market and the client can give you a real edge over other candidates the company will be meeting. At all stages of the application process, your recruiter will be fighting your corner, giving you advice, preparing you for interviews and offering unique insights into the client and the people you’ll be meeting. Using a bad recruiter could damage your chances however, so you must find someone good. We’ll be posting another blog soon about how to engage with a good recruiter and what you should expect. We’ll also tell you how to spot a bad recruiter.

Find out about the interview process

Is this going to be a two or three stage process? What will this first stage involve? Will it be an informal chat with HR? Will there be online tests? You need to know the answers to all these questions otherwise you could get caught out; leading to a sub-standard performance on the day.

If you are using a recruitment firm then your consultant should give you all this information. If you’re going direct to the employer, you need to ask for this information if it isn’t given to you. Phone up the contact you have at the company and ask them about the process and the different stages. The meeting will be more productive if you have had a proper chance to prepare for it. Any employer who spends valuable time interviewing will be disappointed if the interviewee turns up ill-prepared. On the other hand, a candidate who has researched the company, knows the process and is enthusiastic will be very well received.

Understand the type of interview you will be attending

Depending on the format of the interview, you’ll need to prepare in a specific manner. There are several types of interview. The initial interview could be on the telephone or via Skype. It could be face to face in an office or informally in a coffee shop. It could be with HR, the line manager or a senior director, depending on the company. It may be competency based, it may involve tests; the list goes on. The important thing is that you know what to expect and that you prepare for the interview specifically.

For competency based interviews, see our recent post for a comprehensive guide to preparing for and attending the interview. For all interviews, there are several things you need to do in order to be successful.

Get to know the company

You must research the company fully before attending the interview. This is non-negotiable, you have to do it. Turning up and meeting someone from a company you know nothing about is a complete waste of your time and the time of the person interviewing you. Imagine it from their point of view. They are looking to hire someone and they want that person to be interested in working at the company. If you don’t know what the company is about, the products or services it provides, or where it is going then you will fall flat on your face. I have interviewed people who knew more about the company that I did, and it impressed me greatly. By the same token, I have asked candidates what they knew about the company, and some have looked blankly, others have taken a fairly broad guess. Nothing shines like a prepared and enthusiastic candidate. Do your research.

There are loads of places to look for information. The first would be the company website. Read the ‘About Us’ section and then go on from there. If you are interviewing with a multi-national, then it’s acceptable to have an overview of the main company and in-depth knowledge of the area of the business that you’ll be working in. The news section is also definitely worth looking at. Here you’ll find the latest company developments. Has the company recently won an award, launched a new product or hired a new senior member of staff? News stories are a good source of content for questions you want to ask in the interview. You can generally glean a lot of information from this section of the website so make sure you read plenty of stories, going back at least a few months if not longer.

You need to know the history of the company. With so much consolidation in today’s markets, it may well be that the company has acquired a key competitor, maybe even a company you previously worked for. Read in the wider business press as well. Is the company rumoured to be on the takeover trail, or is it a target for a takeover? Read the relevant industry press also. There are trade publications for every type of business, many of them online. You have to stand out as someone who knows what is going on. This goes for any role you might be applying for, it’s always good to show that you are able to research information, take it in, digest it and form thoughts around it. That is after all what you will be expected to do in your job.

There are other websites to look at also. LinkedIn is a key site on which to conduct research. Look at the profiles of company employees, are they consistent, what do they say about the company? Glassdoor is a site that allows employees to rate their employer, and to leave one positive and one negative comment. Some companies have hundreds of reviews and this is typically down to the size of the organisation; more employees, more reviews. These reviews are very useful for forming an overall opinion of the company, along with your other research. Be aware that some people may have an agenda though. It’s generally easy to spot reviews that are extreme either way, as they stand out from the majority.

You should be able to get a good idea about the company through reading a number of reviews. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a question about any points that keep coming up. For example, if lots of reviews mention a lack of career progression then ask a question, phrased in the right way, to explore this. Don’t say, ‘Lots of employees on Glassdoor say that the company holds people back.’ Instead, try asking, ‘I noticed during my research on Glassdoor, that some employees mentioned it can take a while to see career progression. Is this a fair reflection?’ It might be that there is a period of time before high potential employees are identified and steered onto a progressive track. Remember that you are interviewing the company as well, and you need to know if something you value might cause an issue if it doesn’t meet with your aspirations.

Get to know the people

The recruiter will tell you who you are meeting. Through LinkedIn you can then do some research into the person to find out who they are and what they have done in their career. You may find that the person previously worked at your current employer, or they went to the same school. These are all common areas of interest and you are bound to find something that you share. Be aware that the other person will see that you have viewed their profile on LinkedIn. If you are uncomfortable with this then you can change your privacy settings, so they only see an overview profile, or you can in fact appear totally anonymous. I think it’s fine to leave the settings as they are, so that the person can see you have viewed them. It shows initiative.

The other benefit of looking at someone on LinkedIn is that there should be a photo. If you know what the person looks like, you can confidently approach them when they come to reception to meet you. If the company is in a large office, sometimes reception is a busy area with lots of people coming and going. Very large buildings often have several companies within. Do you remember the taxi driver Guy Goma who went to the BBC for a job interview and was then interviewed on live TV after he was mistaken for the technology journalist Guy Kewney? Hopefully this won’t happen to you, but every bit of research you do will help the day to go smoothly.


Practice makes perfect. Go through your CV and the job spec. Draw out the key areas and concentrate on these especially. If the role requires a focus on new business wins, then make sure you are well versed on your own new business wins and how you went about securing them. Use the STAR methodology to answer competency based questions, as discussed in our post on competency based interviews.

Get a friend to help you by asking questions on the areas you think will be the most important. Keep practising your answers until you feel comfortable. The more you practice, the better you will come across on the day.

Plan your route

If you have never been to the office before then plan a route so you know you will arrive promptly. You can do this on Google maps, AA Routefinder or of course your satnav. If time allows then carry out a dry run at a similar time of day. It is hugely stressful to be rushing to get to the interview, and you are unlikely to regain your composure until well into the interview itself, which is likely to damage your chances of impressing the interviewer. If you get caught in traffic or your train is cancelled whilst travelling to the interview, phone the company the moment you realise that you can’t make the agreed time. You cannot control everything and the person will understand, as long as you let them know in good time.

If you are driving to the interview then make sure you know where you are going to park. If the company has a car park then you may need to book a visitor space. Research other car parks in the area so you have a back-up should something go wrong. Above all, leave plenty of time to get there. It’s better to sit in a café around the corner for 30 minutes than be running up the road with seconds to spare.

What to wear

This very much depends on the type of company you are going to visit and the role you are applying for. In nearly all cases, business dress is the safest option. It is unlikely that you could be over-dressed for an interview. The exception would perhaps be the creative industries, where a slightly more casual look is acceptable. If you are using a recruiter, ask their advice. If not, phone the company to check.

In summary

Understand the interview process so you know what to expect and how the interview fits into the overall structure. Know the type of interview you’ll be attending, so you can prepare thoroughly. Research the company fully, you need to know what the company does and where it wants to get to, as you’re hoping to be a part of that success. Research the interviewer. Use the information online to give you an edge, find some common ground or come up with killer questions that will impress. Practice, practice, practice. Focus on the key job requirements and practice answering questions around these. Know where you are going for the interview, how you are going to get there and how long it takes. Dress appropriately and if in doubt, go smart.

Good luck with your interview!

Please use the comments section to tell us about your interview experiences, good and bad. Thanks for reading.

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