How to nail an interview (to land that promotion or score that new job)

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By Therese Lardner

After supporting hundreds of people through a career transition or job search, I know that nothing strikes fear into the heart of candidates quite like an interview. Whether it's an internal interview for promotion, or the chance to win a new role with a different company, most people tend to react with sweaty palms and nerves. So this month I thought we'd try to ease the most common fears, with a look at some of the questions I'm most frequently asked by candidates.

1. What questions will they ask me?

To really get your head around this, look closely at the job ad and/or the position description. Look for headings like "You must have", "Essential criteria", "Key skill areas". Highlight all the key knowledge, skills and behaviours they're looking for. You're likely to be asked question in these key areas. The questions might start with "Give me an example of a time when you…" This should be your indicator that the interviewer is looking for a specific example of a time when you tackled that problem/situation in the past.

So, you'll need to go into an interview armed with examples from your recent working history that demonstrate your ability to meet their requirements (the areas you highlighted in the job ad and/or position description). The average interview lasts for about 45-60 minutes, and in that time an interviewer could ask about 6-8 targeted questions about the areas you've highlighted. Common areas covered in an interview include (beyond technical capability of course):

  • Results orientation
  • Time management
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem solving
  • Team work
  • Leadership/management

Be sure that that your examples have three basic parts: a beginning (the context of the situation); a middle (the action that you took to resolve the situation); and an end (the outcome of you taking this action). If your response is missing any of these elements, the interviewer is likely to prompt you with a question like: "What action did you take in that situation?"

Avoids words like "we" and "could/would/should" as these will reduce the positive impact of your answer and may put some doubt in the mind of the interviewer. Your examples should be specific to you, and based on what has actually happened, so words like could/would shouldn’t be used.

More traditional questions can include:

  • "Tell me about yourself" (even in an internal interview, which can be tricky to answer)
  • "What are your strengths?"
  • "What are your weaknesses?"
  • "Why should be hire you?"
  • "Why are you interested in this role?"

Most larger recruitment firms will have advice on answering commonly-asked interview questions on their website. A simple Google search on "interview questions" will return lots of results for you to look through.

2. I’m going to an internal interview – won’t it be strange to have my current manager in the interview?

In a word, yes. I would suggest acting like you don’t really know them in the interview. Shake their hand when you walk in and try not to assume that they know any of the detail in your examples. Explain the situation the same way you would to someone whom you hadn’t met before. The interviewer will most likely have an interview guide document that outlines each question they need to ask and the type of response they're looking for. The more detailed you are in your answers, the more likely it is that you'll tick off the key elements that they’re looking for.  The key in internal interviews is to be detailed and specific.

3. Will there be more than one interviewer?

Oftentimes, yes. This is called a panel interview. This type of interview is popular with larger organsiations, and may include your potential/current (if an internal interview) manager, a representative from HR and a member of your potential team/another team within the organisation. Try to give each interviewer equal eye contact, even if only one person is asking the questions. You may also have more than one interview for the same role, perhaps with more senior staff within the organisation as you progress through the selection process.

4. How can I best prepare for an interview?

Practise, practise, practise. Again, take a close look at the job ad/position description and work through the key areas that you’ll be asked about. Prepare some examples against this key areas; you could use the same example across two or more of the key areas, but ensure that the ‘action’ (middle of the story) is quite different, as the interviewer will have a list of types of things they’re wanting to hear in your answer. If you deliver exactly the same story a number of times with no different details, you may not be ticking their boxes.

Practise delivering your examples. Ask your partner/friend to help out, by asking you a question and then listening as you deliver your example. This is a great test of how much jargon you’ve included in your example. It’s ok to include some technical info, as the technical experts in your interview will be looking at this, but if you deliver it in a way that your partner or friend can’t understand it, odds are at least one person on the panel won’t understand it either.

Do some research to understand the company. If it’s an internal interview, learn more about the team/project/business unit/product etc.

5. I get really nervous and forget what I’m going to say/blush/stumble over my words. How can I get past it?

I hear this so often. Remember that the interviewer will expect you to be a little nervous, otherwise they may think you’re not interested in the role. Often the interviewers are nervous as well! Most interviewers (unless they’re from HR, or they’re a recruiter) don’t conduct interviews every day. It might be as new to them as it is to you. An interview is a two-way conversation, not an inquisition. It’s ok to ask questions as you go along if you need to, and don't be afraid to ask for some time to think of the best possible response and ask them to repeat the question if need be. The role of an interviewer is to allow you to perform at your best at an interview, or else they’re wasting their own time.

My two top tips here are:

  1. Breathe. If you’re not breathing properly, your brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs = words not coming out right/slips of the tongue etc.
  2. Smile. Our voice sounds different when we smile, so always remember to smile (even when doing a phone interview). It indicates that you’re keen on the role (even if you’re terrified on the inside).

6. What are the perfect answers?

Some answers are more appropriate than others, but there are no textbook responses. Most interviewers would see straight through them anyway. Ask yourself the question “If I heard this in an interview, what would I think?” If the answer isn’t positive, go back to the drawing board. Ask for feedback when you’re practising with your partner or a friend. Honest feedback while preparing can save you saying something you’ll regret at interview.

So try to relax(!), remember to breathe and if you’ve done your research and you’ve practised your responses, you’re on the right track. Beyond all this, be yourself and let your personality shine through, because the interviewer will often also want to know that they can work alongside you eight hours a day (or more!)

Good luck! 


More expert advice from Therese:

Therese Lardner is an industrial and organisational psychologist with extensive experience in all areas of the employment cycle from recruitment and selection to development, employee engagement and career transition. She currently works for Lee Hecht Harrison in Brisbane. Click here to ask for Therese's expert advice on landing your perfect mining and resources job or moving up the career ladder in your workplace.