Chapter 1 – Introduction

Most employers are seeking people who are confident, reliable, enthusiastic,motivated, hard working, committed and loyal. By understanding what an interview panel are looking for in a successful candidate you will be increasing your chances of success dramatically. Before I go into any interview, I always try to put myself in the shoes of the interviewer.

What are they looking for in an employee, what are the key qualities required to perform the role, and what does the job description say? Once I have the answer to these questions, then I can start to prepare effectively for the interview.

What is an interview?

An interview is a tool used by the employer to assess a candidate’s potential to perform a role. Unless you are an internal applicant who is seeking a promotion or sideways move, the interview will normally be the first time that the employer has the opportunity to meet you.

They will want to assess whether or not you have the qualities to perform the role competently, the experience that you have so far in a similar role, and also whether they like you as a person and whether you are likely to fit into the team environment.

Many interviews now will be structured around the fact that the interviewer will only assess you against your responses to the questions that are asked of you. This type of approach is more common for roles in the public sector.

For example, when I interviewed candidates for positions in the Fire Service, I wasn’t permitted to take into account what the interviewee was wearing. He or she could have turned up in jeans or trainers, but I wasn’t allowed to take this into consideration when assessing the candidate’s motivations for joining.

Despite these restrictions, any person who turns up to a job interview in jeans or trainers, unless specifically requested to, doesn’t deserve to get the job. Why? Simply because I believe it shows a lack of motivation and commitment for the job, even before they’ve started.

A job interview is your opportunity to shine. It is your chance to show the employer that you are the person for the job and that you will do all that you can to perform above and beyond expectations if successful.

Just by being at the interview you should naturally be enthusiastic about the prospect of working for the company. Why be there, if your heart is not in it? The psychological element of an interview is very important.

Preparing emotionally for the interview is just as important as researching the company. Being in the right mindset will help you to perform at your best. There are many things that you can do to ensure you are in the right frame of mind, both immediately prior to the interview, and in the weeks and days leading up to it.

Some of these include walking, running, swimming or general exercise, eating healthily and also avoiding alcohol or junk food. To the majority of people, these small changes won’t seem worth the effort. However, through personal experience, these small changes can make a massive difference to your mindset and self-confidence.

Matching the job description and/or the person specification

Before you start preparing for the interview you must get a copy of the job description and person specification for the job you are applying for. The vast majority of employers will assess you primarily against these important documents.

Your first task is to try to think of areas where you match the job description and person specification. You will see on the following page that I have provided you with a sample job description for a Customer Services Representative role.

Following the job description you will notice that I have provided you with a number of ‘key evidence areas’. These areas are the ones that I suggest a candidate who is being interviewed for this post focuses on during his or her preparation. It is vital that you can provide evidence of where you match the job description for the role that you are applying for.

Customer Service Representative

Main job tasks and responsibilities

• Deal directly with customers either by telephone, electronically or face to face

• Respond promptly to customer inquiries

• Handle and resolve customer complaints

• Process orders, forms, applications and requests • Direct requests and unresolved issues to the designated resource

• Keep records of customer interactions and transactions

• Record details of inquiries, comments and complaints

• Record details of actions taken • Manage administration

• Follow up on customer interactions

Key evidence areas

• Provide examples of where you have dealt with customer queries and complaints in a professional manner. Make sure the example provided demonstrates that you have kept in contact with the customer and checked that they are fully satisfied with your resolution and service.

• Give examples of where you dealt with a customer quickly and competently. This might be where you have responded to a customer’s request within a timeframe that is far shorter than the set standard.

• Provide more than one example of where you have processed a customer’s order. Explain exactly what you did and how you followed company policies and procedures.

• Provide details of where you have recorded conversations with customers and also where you have kept an organised log of your dealings with them.

• Provide evidence of where you have followed up on a customer query. This demonstrates very good customer service.

Personal appearance

This carries far more weight than people think. First impressions are so important. It says a lot about who you are. Remember that you only get one opportunity to create a first impression. Unless it is specifically not required you should always dress in proper business attire such as a suit and tie or equivalent if you are female. Your shoes must be clean too, and if you need a haircut, then get it done a few days before. I always advise people to prepare the night before the interview and lay everything out pressed and ready for the morning. Even down to your underwear, which sounds ridiculous, but it is all about limiting the stress that you will already be under on the day of your interview. The last thing you want to be doing is rushing around for your clothes or shoes on the big day only to find you threw away those smart shoes months ago!

Travelling to the interview

• How are you going to get to the interview? • Do you know where you are going to park? • Are the trains or buses running on time? • Do you need a congestion charge ticket if in London? These are all obvious questions but important nonetheless. Again it is all down to preparation. Remember to take a contact number with you just in case you are going to be late for the interview. Then you can call them well in advance to tell them you will be late due to a breakdown or traffic congestion. If you are travelling by car, don’t wear your jacket. Hang it up on a coat hanger so that it is not creased when you arrive for the interview.


This can be related to the above subject but is still just as important. Make sure you leave with plenty of time to spare before your interview. It’s far better to arrive an hour early than 5 minutes late! I usually arrive 30 minutes before my interview and sit in the car and re-read the job description for the role or information about the company that I am applying to join.

The interview format

Just by virtue of the fact you have been offered an interview indicates that the employer believes you have the potential to work for them in that particular role. They will have already carried out a screening process based around the qualities and attributes relating to the post that you have applied for. The interview is designed so that the employer can see you in person and look at your demeanour, presence, personality and appearance along with the opportunity to ask you questions based around your application form and the role that you are applying for. You may be competing against up to 30 applicants, so it is important that you stand out in a positive way and not for the wrong reasons. The basics of interview etiquette are key to your success, and you need to prepare for these as much as you do the interview questions themselves. Most interviews will follow the following format: Introduction and icebreaker The interviewer should give you a brief overview of the interview and possibly the role that you are applying for. Dependant on the interviewer, you will be given the opportunity to tell the panel about yourself. Your response should be prepared beforehand and you can use this as an opportunity to sell yourself.You should cover brief topics relating to your experience, qualifications, outside interests and ambitions. If you tell the panel that in your spare time you are working towards a qualification that can relate to the role you are applying for then this can only be a good thing. Try to keep your introduction as brief as possible and don’t go over two minutes in length. The interview itself This is the area in which you are asked a series of questions relating to your application form and the post that you have applied for. This is where you should do most of the talking and if you have prepared well enough you will be able to answer most questions, although it is not unusual to find yourself struggling to answer one or two. In this situation it is always best not to waffle. If you really don’t know the answer to a particular question then just say so. The opportunity to ask questions This is a time for you to ask some questions to the panel. You should usually have two or three questions that you want to ask at the end. I have seen a few people fail interviews at this final stage. I can remember one particular person applying for a role as a firefighter. I was interviewing him for the role and he had answered all of the questions near perfectly. At the end of the interview I asked him whether he had any questions to ask the panel. Here’s what he said:

“Yes I do have one question. How have I done? I personally think that I’ve had a fantastic interview and would I be very surprised if I’ve failed. Can I have feedback now please?”

The above question should never have been asked. It displayed arrogance and it also put the interview panel in an uneasy situation. Make sure your questions are relevant but always avoid asking questions relating to leave or salary (unless you are specifically asked). Ask questions that relate to the role or development opportunities within the organisation. You may have researched the organisation and found that a new project is being developed. Ask them how the project is developing and what plans they have for the future. Don’t ask questions where you are trying to be clever or questions that are too technical. If you try to catch them out they won’t be impressed and they may come back and ask you a similarly difficult question. Questions to ask > If I am successful, how long will it be before I start training? (This shows enthusiasm and motivation.) > During my research I noticed that you have just launched a new product. Has it been successful? (This shows a caring attitude towards the company, and also that you’ve carried out your research.) > Even though I don’t know yet whether I have been successful at interview, are their any books or literature I could read to find out more about the company? (This shows commitment.) Questions to avoid > How have I done during the interview? Have I passed? (This question demonstrates impatience and a slight level of arrogance. The interview panel will need to time to discuss your performance before making their decision.) > How much leave will I get in this role? (I don’t need to explain why this is a bad question!) > How quickly can I progress through the company in terms of promotion? (This question, whilst demonstrating a level of enthusiasm, shows the panel that you have little intention of staying in the role long.) > I have a holiday booked in four weeks time. If I am successful, can I have the time off? (You haven’t even started and you are asking for time off. Wait until you have started in the role before discussing your leave requirements.) The end of the interviewMake sure you remain positive at this stage and thank the entire panel for their time. This is a good opportunity to shake their hands. If you do shake their hand then make sure it’s a firm grip and look them in the eye. There’s nothing worse than shaking a person’s hand when it feels like a wet lettuce! At the end of every interview I always leave the panel with a final statement. Here’s an example:

“I just want to say thank you for inviting me along to interview. I’ve really enjoyed the experience and I have learnt a tremendous amount about your company. If I am successful then I promise you that I will work very hard in the role and I will do all that I can to surpass your expectations.”

This statement is very powerful. This is the final thing the interview panel will remember you for. When you leave the interview room they are probably going to asses/discuss your performance. Just as first impressions last, so do final impressions also.

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