Dear Matthew: How do I succeed in a job interview?

Written by: Matthew Turner
Published on: 30 Jul 2014

BD’s career doctor advises a nervous candidate how not to fluff his lines

Question: I have an interview coming up. Both my previous jobs have been through someone I know in some way and this is the first time I am in the situation of not knowing the interviewer, or even that much about the company. Because of this I am really nervous but I really want to get the job. How do I get in the right frame of mind?

Answer: The majority of people get nervous in an interview situation. Yet preparing for an interview is the single most effective thing you can do to calm nerves and enhance the likelihood of success in getting a job. It will improve your ability to answer interview questions appropriately and confidently and to make a good impression.

Firstly, devote time to researching the practice. This will help you talk more knowledgeably about why you think you are a good fit and demonstrate your keen interest and enthusiasm for the job as well as showing professionalism and diligence.

Assume most candidates will have checked out the company’s website. You should also look at doing internet research for staff or building studies and informal research through talking to people who know the company to find out more about their way of working.

Gather basic statistics such as company size, turnover, market specialisms and key people. Then there are questions such as what does the company see as its unique offer? What are the projected trends in its market? What is it like to work there?

By using relevant facts and figures within your answers at interview, you will show you understand the organisation’s priorities and challenges.

Then you should research the job itself. If there is an opportunity to talk to someone about the role before the interview, always take advantage of this. You can then find out more about what the role consists of while having an early opportunity to build rapport and sell yourself as an ideal candidate.

Then, and most important, you need to prepare how you will sell yourself.

Rehearse answers that show you meet their requirements, drawn from the ad or job description or your own research. Wherever possible, use real-life examples to illustrate your relevant skills and experience in action. Remember that regardless of the role, employers are usually most interested in hearing about how you have added value to a practice. This means where you have solved problems, come up with and implemented innovations, built (or re-built) relationships, identified opportunities, generated business, driven greater efficiency. These are relevant regardless of whether you are entry-level or interviewing for a partnership role.

It is important not to get bogged down in providing too much detail in your answers. Rehearse out loud and pare them to the minimum, usually a few sentences. They will ask for more information if they need it.

You also need to think forward to addressing your skills or experience gaps. Where you think they may be looking for something that you don’t have, don’t ignore it and hope for the best. The best bet is to be proactive and think about how you might close the gap or perhaps minimise its importance by actions such as reading up now on the area in question, investigating courses that could help you bridge the gap quickly or identifying transferable or complementary skills (this kind of approach is the best way when taking knowledge of certain software, for example).

Once you have prepared your skills and experience in bite-sized chunks, you need to test it out with someone who can give you honest and constructive feedback. After all, it is very difficult to be objective about yourself and know whether your interview preparation is likely to hit the spot in terms of its content and delivery. This may be a career coach who can help you with all aspects of the interview process or a trusted friend or colleague.

This may sound excessive but an interview is a win or lose situation with no prizes for coming second. So if this is a job you really want, then do everything you can to maximise your chances. Thorough preparation is key and through this you will gain confidence for the interview.

Almost all interviews give the opportunity to ask questions. Prepare a couple of intelligent questions as it is much better to ask something rather than saying nothing. Keep it enthusiastic (so don’t ask things like ‘do I get more holiday if I work here for a number of years’). Remember, you are assessing them too.

The final consideration is all the practicalities of the interview. It is important to be clear about what to expect on the day. Ask what type of interview it is likely to be (one on one, panel). How long the interview is likely to be and whether there will be subsequent interviews? Will you be shown around the team, meet potential colleagues and so on?

If you can, find out who will be interviewing you on the day. Try and get names and job titles. It is a good idea to see if they are on LinkedIn where you may be able to read their background and profile and see their photo. If it’s an interview panel, then each member is likely to bring a slightly different perspective. Think about what this is likely to be and how you can address these in your answers. A team leader may have a different perspective from a partner or the HR person.

Finally, and it may sound basic, but messing this up can make all your preparation a waste of time. So double-check location and travel arrangements to ensure that you arrive in plenty of time.

And under no circumstances smoke or eat onions beforehand.

Good luck!

Architect Matthew Turner of has worked at a range of offices as well as being a client adviser, project manager and competition juror

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