The Complete Interview Guide

Interviews. Those dreaded meetings, (often for candidate and employer alike) to test subject knowledge, skills and company fit in one hour or less. So how should you approach the interview process to avoid stage fright and make the most of what should be a two way, ‘getting to know you’ meeting?

Before the interview – know your stuff

Thanks to the internet, being prepared for an interview has never been easier. In a few clicks you can access the company website and social media feeds, research related news coverage and get a feel for the brand and organisation you’ve applied to work with.

Ideally you’ll have done much of this initial investigation ahead of submitting your CV, but it’s good to revisit as information changes rapidly. Alongside the standard Google search you should also:

• Search blogs for company mentions and where appropriate look at customer forums, alliances and any other third party sites for less corporate updates

• Speak to your network to find existing employees or those who might be able to give you more information about the role you’re applying for

• Research competitors and the market in general

Just as important as knowing about your potential employer, is making sure you’re clear on the facts you’ve presented to them:

• Know your CV and rehearse how you will explain your skills and experience

• Which stories could you use to animate the facts you’ve supplied?

• Who could you mention as references?

• What didn’t make it onto your CV but could support the skills they need?

Being well prepared reduces interview nerves and combined with the practical steps of deciding what to wear the night before and leaving yourself plenty of travel time, will get you off to the best possible start.

At the interview – be the best version of you

Interviews can be likened to speed dating. Both parties sit at a table, trying to make the best possible impression, aiming to be happy, friendly and confident and hoping that something will click.

What are employers looking for at interview? It depends who is interviewing ...

Senior Executives:

• Leadership qualities: Decisiveness, passion, work ethic, integrity

• High level, fact based information, not too much detail

Hiring Managers:

• How well could you perform the key tasks (technical/business and soft skills)

• Clues around how you’d fit with the existing team

• Information about your aims and ambition to assess your long-term suitability

Human Resources:

• Tick all the experience needed boxes

• Meet qualifications of the job

• Overall fit with the company and culture

“Regardless of who your interviewer is, companies are looking for three things - skills and experience, knowledge of the role, company and industry and personality fit.”

Manage the interview process

Like it or not, humans form opinions of each other rather quickly. In the time it takes to walk from reception to the meeting room, you and your interviewer will have already started to gather information about one another. Try to build rapport, smile and engage in conversation.

Your goal is to present yourself as the most qualified candidate, so use every opportunity to show how well you fit the job requirements, asking questions along the way and showing your enthusiasm for the company and it’s culture.

Have your answers ready

Often an interview will combine traditional, CV and competency based questions so give some thought to how you might answer each.

Traditional Questions

• Tell me about yourself.
• What appeals to you most about this position?
• Why do you think you’d be good at this job?
• What are your key strengths?
• What are your weaknesses?
• How would your colleagues describe you?
• What do you know about this company?
• Don’t you think you might be too experienced for this job?
• Where do you see yourself in five years time?

CV Based Questions

Your interviewer generally only knows what you’ve told them on your CV, so be prepared to expand on the outline you’ve given, talking about previous roles, teams, departments and companies, in a way that supports your current application.

• Tell me about the business your previous employers were in?
• What department did you work for and what did it do?
• How big was your team?
• Which roles/departments did you work most closely with and why?
• What was your specific role?
• How did your role contribute to company success?
• Why did you decide to leave/stay so long/consider a move?

Competency Questions

Interviewers need to assess your skills and experience directly against the core requirements detailed in the job specification.

Can you give me an example of a time when you have...
... used initiative? 
... worked as part of a team? 
... worked to tight deadlines? 
... developed a new concept? 
... increased revenue? 
... stood up for what you believe in?
… (job specific) applied the principle of Project Management gained through your Prince 2 qualifications?

Structure your answers

The STAR approach can provide a structure to your answers – think STAR!

Situation – Set the scene 
Task – What were you asked to do? 
Action – What did you do? 
Result – What was the outcome?

General hints and tips

What we hear is only the tip of the communications iceberg, so it’s worth remembering the other factors that contribute to our assessment of others.

• Be on time
• Offer a firm handshake
• Make eye contact
• Take time to think about your answers, talking slowly and clearly
• Make sure you highlight your strengths, don’t assume they know them
• Avoid bad language/slang terms
• Use concrete experience to illustrate your points
• Strike the right balance between listening and talking
• Don’t discuss salary unless they bring it up
• Don’t smoke before you go in
• Cover tattoos or inappropriate piercings
• Turn your phone off and keep it out of sight
• Go armed with good questions
• Thank them for their time at the end 

What should I ask at interview?

  • "What made you choose to work here?"

  • "What common characteristics do your top employees share?"

  • "How would you describe the culture of the business?"

  • "What are the current challenges facing within this department?"

  • "How will my performance be evaluated?"

  • "What opportunities are available for professional development?"

  • "How will my role drive results for the company?"

  • "What would you like to see the successful candidate accomplish in the first 60 days?"

  • "Do you know the timescales for the hiring decision?"

Good luck!

Talk to Denholm

We are a search, recruitment and employer brand consultancy that specialises in commercial marketing, sales & digital opportunities. If you'd like to find out more, call us on 0131 554 6191 or email