Do you want to improve your performance in interviews? In this article I’ll provide tips I share with interview coaching clients, to help you prepare and perform at your best.
Interview coaching can really help boost your confidence, helping you prepare for key questions, rehearse how to talk about your professional experience, skills and motivation, and handle any nerves you might be feeling on the day.
I provide one-to-one interview coaching for my clients, and I’ll mention more about this later in this article. However, I also thought it would be useful to share some of the advice and techniques I use, so that they can help you prepare for job interviews.
Do you need interview coaching?
I’ve helped hundreds of people with their interview technique, and offer coaching sessions to focus on topics including:
Interview confidence | Interview preparation | Practice interviews
Preparing for interviews
Preparation is key in helping you feel at your most confident when you walk into the interview room, so don’t skip on this. Even if you’re a seasoned interview pro, there are always things you can do to put your experience, skills and motivations across in the best way on the day.
Some of the most important steps in preparing for interviews include:
Researching the employer
You should already have conducted some employer research before submitting your application. Now is the time to revisit that, remind yourself what they are all about, what they told you in the job advert, on their recruitment website. What does their organisation do, and for whom? What news can you find about them? What do they say about their company culture? You won’t be expected to quote from their annual report, but showing you understand who they are, their clients, customers and how they are different to their competitors will make the interviewers take you more seriously.
Understanding what to expect in an interview
Review the job advert. Is there a job description or person specification? Study it in detail again. The same steps you took in preparing your application should be revisited to understand what exactly they are looking for. Highlight keywords in the advert, make notes of qualities, skills, experience, anything which suggests either what they want from interviewees, or tells you about who their current people are. Do they have employee case studies listed on their site? What do they say about themselves? Is there a theme?
Start with a blank page, and make a list of all the skills, qualities and experience they are looking for, the requirements of the job. Start with those which are essential, working down to those which are desirable or which you are less clear about.
On the other side of the page, against each one, you now need examples of where you can demonstrate that. Things you can talk about in the interview if asked. We’ll come on to how to provide these examples a bit later in the article, but for now, think of examples, situations you have been in where you have demonstrated that skill or quality.
This approach is not about predicting exactly what questions you will get in the interview, its about understanding something more important: what they need to you to be good at. Preparing in this way means that however they pitch the questions you will have something to say.
Types of interview questions
In this section we’re going to cover the kinds of interview questions you will typically face in a standard panel interview. By preparing for the main types of questions, you will have the opportunity to consider in advance how you might answer them, and what evidence you can use to demonstrate a particular skill or quality.
While it’s impossible to predict all the interview questions you’re likely to be asked, trying to do so is, to be honest, a fruitless exercise. You can buy books covering hundreds of interview questions and how to prepare for each one – but remembering them all could be exhausting! A more pragmatic approach is to do most of your preparation based on the broad areas they will want to know about. These are:
- Your motivation – for the company, the job, are you a good fit?
- How you meet the job requirements
- To a smaller extent, the practicalities – when are you available, do you need to relocate? Issues such as salary and benefits are usually dealt with at a later stage.
Your motivation for the job
By recruiting you they would be investing time and effort in training, HR resource, line management time and many other things. The hiring manager wants to know that you understand what the job is all about, that you genuinely want to work for the organisation, that your values align with theirs, that you won’t disappear after a few months to a different job.
Questions aimed at uncovering your motivation often sound like:
- Why did you apply for this job?
- Why are interested in our organisation?
- What do you know about us?
- How much do you know about our industry/sector?
- How do you think we differ to our competitors?
- Why did you change jobs?
- What drew you to working in xxx?
There’s no shortcut to answering these questions. Do your research and if possible speak to people who know the company or work there before the interview. Be honest about what drives you. Hiding what your real motivations are may be easy in an interview, but extremely hard after a few months in a job, so if you get the sense that you don’t align with the company on things that are important to you, consider whether it’s really for you.
In answering these questions they will expect to see some evidence of self-awareness, that you understand what’s on offer and be able to articulate why that motivates you.
How you meet the job requirements
Competency interview questions
Behavioural (often called competency) interview questions are often used to discover how you meet the job requirements. This style of interview question is based on research that shows it’s more difficult for a candidate to lie about real events than hypothetical events. A line of competency questions will ask you about a time when you have demonstrated a desired skill or quality, then probe for a specific example. This means it’s important to consider real moments when you have done this, and be able to visualise in detail what happened.
Competency questions often sound like this:
- Tell me about a time when you worked as part of an effective team?
- Give me an example that best demonstrates your ability to deal with clients?
- When have you shown resilience?
When answering these competency interview questions, a good approach is to follow a structure called STAR. This turns your example into a short story, and gives real impact to your answer. STAR means:
This story telling approach is also a bit like when you watch a film. At the beginning, there’s all the scene setting, where are we, what’s happening, who is there? The middle is where it gets more exciting, when the action starts. So in your examples, make sure to give more emphasis to the actions you took. We also need an end result – how did the story end? Don’t leave the interviewer hanging.
Is there an ‘I’ in team? During interviews, yes!
When answering competency questions, try to avoid using ‘we’ a lot, especially when answering questions about teams. They are recruiting you, not the team. This isn’t about stealing the glory from your team, it’s about being specific. State clearly how you contributed to the team effort, what specific tasks or responsibilities you took on etc.
If you can be specific about figures, do so, as it lends weight to your answer and sounds more factual and objective. What percentage did you sell over target? How many clients did you deal with? How much did revenue increase?
Strengths interview questions
When I talk to clients about strengths interview questions, they often think about question ‘what are your greatest strengths?’ However, true strengths questions are more subtle than that, require a different strategy to answer than other types of interview question.
A number of years ago, strengths interviewing was developed as a way to get a true and spontaneous response from interview candidates, and avoid them being too rehearsed or prepared. The question style is quite different, and strengths questions often look like this:
- What do you most enjoy doing?
- What does a really good day look like for you?
- What do you find most challenging?
- What do people come to you for help with?
- What are you naturally good at?
- What stays longest on your to do list?
Unlike competency questions, there is no obvious right or wrong answer here. What are they looking for? They are looking for an honest answer. It’s not wrong to tell them what you find challenging, everyone finds some things challenging.
I won’t go into detail in this article, but strengths interviewing is based on looking for those things which you do well, AND that you enjoy. There’s no point in hiring somebody who is very efficient at something, but couldn’t care less about what they’re doing. They aren't likely to be motivated in the job. Equally, there is no point in hiring somebody who doesn’t like performing certain activities or using certain skills. Even if they learn to be slightly better, they aren’t likely to thrive.
Preparing for strengths interview questions is harder and they are more difficult to predict in an interview. So the key thing is to be clear on what your strengths are, so you can be honest. Consider the above questions, and write down your responses. Think about those things you are naturally good at, or that you’ve learned to be very skilled at, and also enjoy. Consider what you help other people with, that comes very naturally to you? These are likely to be some of your strengths. You can also take the Jobmi strengths questionnaire to get a free strengths profile.
One tip is that although strengths questions don’t usually ask for a specific example, you can often use one if it illustrates your point well. So once you’ve thought about what your strengths are, think about examples of where you have used them. You could also apply the STAR formula to these when describing them.
Situational judgement interview questions
In some ways more tricky are situational judgement questions, which give you a hypothetical situation and ask - what would you do? They are usually rarer than competency questions but there has been an increase in employers using these in the last few years, especially in video interviews. it’s worth preparing for them because going blank on the day can ruin your interview. An example of a situation judgement question is:
“You are informed that one of your established clients is about to go elsewhere as another service supplier has offered a more attractive deal. Providing them with a more attractive counter offer will require you to get approval from someone in the senior management team. However, they are away from the office on leave for the next two days. What do you do?”
Situational judgement interview questions are aimed at testing your problem solving skills, and usually there’s no one ‘right’ answer – they will be assessing your ability to analyse the problem and consider options, then decide what the most appropriate option is.
Take a moment to consider the problem before diving in with an answer. Have you faced a similar situation in the past? If you have, don’t be afraid to mention that as part of your answer. Verbalise some of your thought process as you go, so even if you don’t draw what the interviews feel is the ideal conclusion, you can show you took a logical approach.
Do you have any questions for us?
Many interviewers ask this at the end of the interview, so be sure to prepare some questions you would like to ask them. You will only have time for one or two, but have a few ready in case they have already answered some during the interview.
Avoid questions about salary, benefits, or questions ‘have I got the job?’- which will almost certainly guarantee that you haven’t. You could ask questions like:
- What would I expect to be focusing on in the first few months in this role?
- How do people develop within the organisation?
- What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing the organisation?
- What support is there for training?
- What do you enjoy about working here?
- What career development opportunities are there for someone in this role?
- When can I expect to hear from you? - This reaffirms your interest.
Handling interview nerves
Having some interview nerves is quote normal. We want to come across at our best, show ourselves as confident and competent. However when preparing for an important interview it can have the opposite effect of making us feel anxious, we can doubt our ability or trip ourselves up on the day.
Going into your interview feeling confident is vital, and this is a key area where I support interview coaching clients. as a starting point, it can be helpful to remember these truths if you are worried that you're not going to do well or are concerned about 'the competition'.
- You have been invited to interview because they saw something good in your application. They already thought you were better than most applicants. Isn’t that a great feeling? Take confidence from it.
- They want you to do well at interview. Think about it. They only select a small number of people because they don’t have time to interview everyone. The hiring manager wouldn’t waste their time interviewing people they knew weren’t right. A day of interviewing people is tiring, so they want to find the best person in the fewest interviews as possible. They have been selected you because they think you could be that person.
- They have a job on offer, but they want something in return. During the interview they will want to see and hear evidence that you have what they want. So, put yourself in their shoes and think about how you can make your experience and skills sound as relevant as possible. Help to make the selection decision easy.
Preparation is one of the key things that can boost your confidence, so that you understand the job and company as best you can, and you you have practised talking about yourself, your experience, your motivation and it feels natural.
I use evidence based interview coaching techniques to help you get into the right mindset for your interview, so that your performance on the day is what you want it to be, and you create the best impression on your interviewers.
The importance of practice and interview coaching
One thing I always advise my clients to do is practice questions out loud before the interview. It always sounds different than it does in your head, and you will notice if there are any obvious gaps or things you struggle to remember or articulate.
If you can practice with another person, even better. It replicates the feeling of being put on the spot and having to explain your points. I’ve provided interview coaching for many hundreds of people and it’s very common that even in a rehearsal situation, there can be a feeling of nerves and having to ‘bring your A game’.
Interview coaching support
Would you like interview coaching to help you prepare for your interviews?
As you’ve probably seen by now, preparation makes all the difference. I’ve helped hundreds (if not thousands) of people with their interview technique, and it’s always amazing to receive the emails where they tell me they got the job!
I offer coaching sessions to focus on topics including:
Interview confidence | Interview preparation | Practice interviews
Scott's help with my CV helped me land an interview with a prestigious company and after his interview coaching, I was able to approach the interview with confidence. I was offered my choice of 2 positions within the company!
I am delighted to say I have been offered the job! Just wanted to thank you for briefing me providing tips for the interview.
Scott has totally turned how I feel about job-searching, CV construction and interviews on their head. He's helped me develop my confidence to a point where it's never been before and I feel ready for anything. I can't recommend him and his programme enough.
I'm Scott Foley, and for over 15 years I have been supporting people through career transitions, providing career change coaching and helping clients figure out what they really want and find work that inspires them again. When it comes to career change, it's hard to see the wood for the trees. I can help you get the objectivity and fresh ideas you need to make positive steps forward. I'm passionate about supporting others, and seeing that breakthrough moment give me immense satisfaction.