Interview Tips

Congratulations, your CV got you that interview, now you need to effectively sell yourself to the prospective employer. Use our guidelines to really get ahead of the game! For more information and advice on having a successful interview, contact your nearest Lab Support office.


Preparation for the interview

Do some self-evaluation

  • Develop a clear understanding of your education and experience
  • Identify your skills and abilities and interests. Assess yourself in such terms as intelligence, customer service orientation, creativity, leadership qualities, communication skills, interpersonal skills, technical skills, etc
  • Be prepared to give examples that will bring these qualities to light. Analyse your strengths, weaknesses, personal aspirations, work values, attitude and expectations

Research the job and the organisation

  • Learn as much as you can about the nature of the job and the company itself – size, products, structure, sales, funding source etc. Check out their company website if you can.

The Interview Itself

Familiarise yourself with the typical questions

  • Be sure you answer the question. If the question isn’t clear, ask for clarification. Take the time to think about your answer.
  • When practical, elaborate on your responses.
  • Don’t hesitate to be the initiator. Introduce information you think is important. Don’t be afraid to ask pertinent questions relating to the position and the organisation.
  • Consistently emphasise your positive, strong points.

Typical Interview Format

  • Introduction phase that usually sets the tone of the interview
  • The formal interview – this is usually some direct questioning about your background and qualifications. Sometimes you will be asked to respond to an open-ended question such as “Tell me about yourself” – use your CV as a mental guide.
  • Interviewer presents information about the organisation – during this time there may be an opportunity to ask questions. Try to relate this information to your background, skills and goals.
  • Summing up time – add any information you might have omitted earlier. Ask questions if there had been no previous opportunity to do so. Find out the next step – will there be another interview? When? How soon could you expect to hear from them?


  • Remain calm
  • Remember the importance of body language
  • Speak clearly and appear interested and enthusiastic
  • Be yourself – without boasting, try to sound confident and capable of doing the work
  • Dress in good taste – appearance does count, particularly in first impressions

What are Employers Looking for

To be successful in the workplace today, employers will evaluate you on the following:

  • Technical, hands-on expertise
  • Computer skills
  • Communication skills – verbal and written
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to contribute and succeed as a team member
  • Openness to change
  • Interview and CV
  • How mentally alert and responsive the candidate is
  • Is the applicant able to draw proper inferences and conclusions during the course of the interview?
  • Has the candidate used good judgment and common sense regarding life planning up to this point?
  • What is the applicant’s capacity for problem-solving activities?
  • How well does the candidate respond to stress and pressure?

Preparation for an Effective Interview

This is a self-help exercise to aid you in organising your thoughts in preparation for a successful interview. Elaborate as much as you can, but be specific. The questions in brackets can guide you in responding to the primary question.

  • What information do I have concerning the company, organisation, and/or job? (Where did I obtain this knowledge? Why am I interested in this position?)
  • What is my educational background? (How is my background relevant to the job? Classes? Degree?)
  • What is my work experience background? (How are my experiences relevant to the job? What skills did I use in previous experiences that are relevant to this job? What did I contribute in my past jobs?)
  • What are my career goals? (How are my goals related to the organisation?)
  • What are my personal skills and abilities? (How do these skills relate to the future job? What are specific examples of how I used these skills?)
  • What interested me in seeking this job, organisation? (How are my career goals related to my interest in the position? What knowledge do I have concerning the job, organisation? How does my background relate to the skills in this position?)
  • My strengths are…(How did they develop? In what activities? How are they maintained?)
  • My weaknesses are…..(How am I improving them?)
  • What additional information would I want the interviewer to be aware of? (Summarise if appropriate or add information that seems essential)
  • Questions that I may want to ask the interviewer, i.e. what are the opportunities for promotion? What kind of training is provided?

What Happens During the Interview

All interviews fit a general pattern.

While each interview will differ, all will share the same kind of format. The typical interview usually lasts 30 minutes to an hour, although some may be longer. A typical structure is as follows:

  • Small talk
  • The employer may tell you about the company and the job they are trying to fill
  • A mutual discussion of your background and credentials as they relate to the employer
  • Time for you to ask questions
  • Conclusion of interview

It starts before you even say hello

The typical interview starts before you even get into the room! The recruiter begins to evaluate you the minute you are identified. You are expected to shake the recruiter’s hand upon being introduced. Don’t be afraid to extend your hand first. This shows some assertiveness. It’s a good idea to arrive at least 5 minutes early – you can use this time to relax.

How’s your small talk?

Many recruiters will begin the interview with some small talk. Topics may range from the weather to sports and will rarely focus on anything that brings out your skills. Nonetheless, you are still being evaluated. First impressions often are the most important, so this phase of the interview can be very critical. Recruiters are trained to evaluate candidates on many different points. They may be judging how well you communicate on an informal basis. This means you must do more than smile and nod.

The recruiter has the floor

The main part of the interview starts when the recruiter beings discussing the organisation. She/he may spend a great deal of time talking about the position and the company while discussing your background. Or, it may work the other way. Be prepared for either scenario. When the recruiter begins talking about your CV or asking for clarification, it’s time to put emphasis on your positive traits. You should indicate through thoughtful answers why you are an excellent candidate for the position.

It’s your turn to ask questions

By asking intelligent, well-thought-out questions, you show the employer you are serious about the organisation and need more information. It also indicates that you have done your homework.

Don’t ask questions simply to impress the recruiter. Ask a few questions and indicate that you still have some things you’d like clarified, but you realise time is almost up. The recruiter may suggest meeting later in the day or writing for more information. The important thing is to be aware of time constraints on the employer and allow the recruiter to decide whether to extend the interview.

The end counts too

The interview isn’t over until you walk out the door. The conclusion of the interview usually lasts five minutes and is very important. During this time the recruiter may be assessing your overall performance as well as how you handle yourself during the last few minutes.

It is important to remain enthusiastic and courteous. Often the conclusion of the interview is indicated when the recruiter stands up. Shake the recruiter’s hand and thank him or her for taking the time to meet with you.

Expect the unexpected

During the interview, you may be asked some unusual questions. Don’t be too surprised. Many times questions are asked simply to see how you react. For example surprise questions could range from, “What is your favourite book” to “What time period would you like to have lived in?” These are not the kind of questions for which you can prepare in advance. The employer will evaluate your reaction time and the response you give, but there’s no way to anticipate questions like these. The best advice is to think and give a natural response.

Turning the tables

You’ve sat through most of the interview and have answered all the recruiter’s questions. You know you’ve made a good impression because you prepared for the interview and your answers were articulate and decisive. You’ve come across as a very bright, capable candidate when the recruiter asks you something you didn’t anticipate: “Do you have any questions?”

Prepare questions in advance


You should have a list of questions prepared for this crucial part of the interview. Every question you ask should demonstrate your interest and confirm your knowledge of the organisation. You can get information about new products or policies by reading general magazines or trade publications. Ask questions about new products, how research and development is structured at the company, management strategies, how the company has changed and potential product growth.

Questions not to ask

Don’t bring up salary or benefits in the initial interview. This is a major mistake. The majorities of companies recruiting are very competitive and will offer approximately similar salaries and benefits. The interviewer might however, bring up salary.

Don’t ask questions that have already been answered during the interview. If you have prepared a list of questions and some of them have been addressed during the interview, do not repeat them.

Interview knockout factors:

  • Poor personal appearance
  • Strong perfume or body odour
  • Overbearing, overaggressive, etc.
  • Inability to express yourself clearly – poor voice, diction, grammar
  • Lack of interest and enthusiasm, passive, indifference
  • Lack of confidence and poise, nervous, ill at ease
  • Unwilling to start at the bottom. Expects too much too soon
  • Makes excuses. Evasive. Hedges at unfavourable factors
  • Lack of tact
  • Lack of maturity, lack of courtesy
  • Fails to look interviewer in the eye
  • Limp handshake
  • Indecision
  • Sloppy application form
  • Merely shopping around
  • Little sense of humour
  • Lack of knowledge of field
  • No apparant interest in the company
  • Emphasis on who you know
  • Cynical, lazy, intolerant, strong prejudices, narrow interests
  • Inability to take criticism
  • Late to interview without good reason
  • Asks no questions about the job
  • Indefinite response to questions
  • Never heard of organisation/company – no knowledge of organisation/company

Handling Panel Interviews:

Employers – including many in public sector organisations or in private-sector companies providing public services – increasingly opt to use panel interviews as part of the selection process. A little preparation makes the prospect far less daunting.

Remember the 6 P’s:

Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

All for the best

A melting pot of views:

Firstly, don’t fear panel interviews – they’re not there to trip you up (as many suspect); panels are often convened simply to get a wider range of views about potential recruits without having to keep inviting candidates back, or so that a range of operational staff and their HR colleagues can compare notes on the same interview performance.

Peer support:

Occasionally, panel interviews may be arranged so that a line manager has the support of his or her colleagues in order to secure authorisation for the post.

Positive mental attitude (PMA)

Over thinking:

Don’t over-tax your mind looking to spot which panel members has been planted with a brief to trip you up – not only would that be bad practice on the part of the employer, it’s likely to turn good people off the idea of working there – instead, think positive: only if they liked you and felt you could do the job would they commit the time of so many off their key people.

Remember, remember:

Be sure to include a recall of earlier interviews as part of your preparation – you may not meet the same people but it’s likely that at least one panel member will have been given notes – don’t struggle to find something new to say; keep your answers consistent

Eye contact

Share your attention:

No matter how many of the panel speak directly to you, maintain eye contact with everyone; it’s fine to focus mostly on whoever has asked the question you’re answering – but don’t neglect the others (they may be your potential work colleagues; you want to give a good impression)

Body language:

Panel members who say little or nothing may be watching (deliberately or absent-mindedly) your body language while the person asking the question maintains eye contact with you

Silent for good reason: You might be nervous – but so might some of the panel; if individual panel members report to others on the same panel, they may be worried about saying the wrong thing in front of their manager