Maximising Your Interview

All interviewers will have prepared their interview strategy, and so should you as the interviewee. First impressions count, as the old adage goes, and often the first 4 to 5 minutes of an interview shape the decision that the remaining time is spent justifying. Being well-prepared helps you approach the interview with confidence, so you start off on the right foot and give yourself the best chance to impress.

When preparing for the meeting itself, start by going online: research the company website, press releases, corporate results, the interviewer’s career background and industry commentary. By reading and reflecting on a broad range of sources of information on your prospective employer, you can start to build up a picture of the company’s aims, priorities and culture.

The body of the interview will be seeking evidence of how your skills have made a positive impact. If this is your first job in the industry (or even your first job out of school, college or university), any work experience or extra-curricular activity can be used here. The key is to identify in advance what examples and experiences you are going to use to evidence each of your skills and how you made a difference – this is much better than an ‘off the cuff’ response.

If you are new to the sector and you don’t have relevant work experience to draw upon, check out our guides on The Mortgage Advice Journey and The Mortgage Application Process to gain an insight into some of the technical aspects of the role you may need to be familiar with.

Fundamentally, interviews try to establish an individual’s preferred style of working to help predict their behaviours in future situations:

  1. Can you do the job – what is the level of your knowledge, skills and experience?
  2. Do you want to do the job – do you have sufficient drive and motivation and does this move fit logically into your career goals?
  3. Will you mesh well with the team – do you have the right values and outlook?

What are the questions most likely to be asked?

Often the ‘warm up’ question, but a vital time to for you to set the tone for the meeting. Give some back story on what led you to consider the opportunity, and importantly highlight what you could bring to the role.

In almost every interview a question about your key strengths or skills will arise.

Being British does make us a little reticent to talk up our qualities but an interview requires this more than at any other time. It is advisable that you consider the two or three greatest achievements in your working and/or educational life so far, and then look at what skills you used to achieve them. Get accustomed to seeing these as your greatest strengths – and make sure you convey these during the interview.

For those who are progressing up the career ladder, it’s important to be able to identify and quantify what value you have added to your company in previous roles. Identify ways you have increased sales, reduced costs, influenced and supported more customers, instigated change and assisted colleagues – where and how have you benefited the company?

Think about this carefully before the interview. It is important to be relevant to the skills and abilities required for the role you have applied for.

Be prepared for follow up questions such as:

What was the outcome?

Is there anything you would have done differently? (Similar to questions about our your weaknesses).

We’ve all got weaknesses – how you outline them, the mistakes you have made or opportunities that have been missed is important, and portrays your human side.

It’s a delicate question and requires a well-considered response. You really need to think about what your response will say about you. Certainly, showing self-awareness, responsiveness to feedback, and an ability to learn from errors is the cornerstone of responding in this type of question set. It also demonstrates how you have evolved and grown in a previous role.

Worth bearing in mind too is that sometimes our greatest weaknesses can be our greatest strengths in overdrive. So a weakness may not need to be eradicated entirely – just toned down.

Employers are looking for new hires that make well-considered logical decisions – career moves can be indicative of one’s broader behaviour and values. Those who make moves to gain broader skills or to tackle bigger challenges are easier for firms to imagine growing with them, as opposed to those whose motives have been purely financial.

If you have a series of quick moves on your CV, you need to be prepared for these to be delved into. Honesty is definitely the best policy.

You should, for your own wellbeing, have some well thought-out career goals. You should know what skills you wish to develop and how this translates in terms of job title and company and sector. As with the previous question, having a career plan reinforces the fact that you are a stable and ‘considered’ individual.

You are likely to have at least one question on how you inter-relate. The interview itself will portray much of what the interviewer wants to know about your personal and social skills, but you should be able to describe your relationship with your manager and colleagues and, if relevant, anyone you manage.

If you do have ‘an issue’ then you need to provide a balanced rather than a one sided assessment.

What questions should I be asking?

Remember, an interview is a two-way selection process, and it’s just as important that you are able to make an informed decision about the opportunity on offer as they are about you. Here are some suggestions for questions you can ask to gain a better idea of whether this is the role and company for you.

What you are seeking here is clarity i.e. does the interviewer/manager really know the reasons for the job, and are they logical? For example, if it’s a new role then you need to be convinced that the rationale for creating the position is sound and that you are going to have the support and resources required to do the job properly.

If the job is to replace a person who has left the company, what were the reasons behind the move? It’s a great sign if they were promoted to a new role in the same company – not so good if they moved on from the company after a short period of time. If they are still with the company it may be worth asking if you could speak with them about the role. It’s an unorthodox request but can provide you with another perspective and educate you about any challenges you may encounter.

This question is another way to find out about the challenges the role may present. Often the answer will give you the meat of the job and will outline the immediate issues, challenges and expectations. If this is different from what has been described you need to resolve the differences. If it’s the same, it gives you some confidence that the role will be as described.

In understanding how your performance will be assessed, you will better understand (again) the key issues of the job and what factors will be used to appraise your output. This is a ‘reasonableness’ check for you.

If you think that the role may be too easy or too hard, and the appraisal mechanism or resources available don’t reflect this, then this should affect your decision or at least provide you with further questions. You will also get an idea of what achievements will be noted on your CV in 6-12 months and whether this aligns with your goals.

As mentioned previously you should always thoroughly research the company you have applied to before your interview, and be prepared to to show that you have done so by asking insightful questions.

Your research may have revealed that the organisation competes in a business niche or sector with specific challenges and issues, which may be positive or negative. By phrasing the question as above you indicate that you have done some research and understand some of the issues but are interested to learn more – all good traits to display in an interview.

The nature and seniority of the role will determine the way you ask this question, but essentially you are trying to understand whether it’s usual for the organisation to promote from within. You want to hear both reassuring words about the organisation’s commitment to you and your career and have recent examples provided to you to back it up.

You’re asking them where they see their strengths, which is obviously important for your ability to learn from them, and to see if there are any unexpected issues arising from the ‘qualities’ response.