Attending a job interview can be a daunting task. Generally, we don’t like to talk about our positive characteristics and skills, “blowing our own trumpet” as it were. We also find it uncomfortable answering questions that we are unprepared for so, this, together with the anxiety of having to impress new people, we find job interviews unnerving and highly stressful. Most people also don’t realise that the interview is an opportunity for both the prospective employer and applicant to evaluate whether they are prepared to enter into an employment relationship together.

In this article we will discuss a few key aspects to job interviews:

About the employer and the job

  • Sending your resume
  • Interview skills – preparation and formulating questions
  • Your skills, knowledge and positive attributes
  • Interview tips
  • About the employer and the job

Before an employer advertises a job, they have done their homework as to the job, the skills and knowledge of the person that can do the job as well as the type of personality that is likely to fit into their organisation.

Before you attend a job interview, you also need to do your homework. You should find out as much as possible about the organisation, what products and services they offer their customers, the history and other interesting facts about the business and its values. Most of this information about the company can be found on the internet.

Research about the company can be done by looking through the company website, visiting the company or contacting them telephonically to ask questions. If you know other people that work for the company this may provide more insight. Knowledge of the company will also provide you with information to formulate your questions for the interview.

You should also have a good understanding of the position, the skills and knowledge and personality that the company is looking for.

Finding out about the company also should allow you to answer the question “would I like to work for this company”, going through the interview process to turn a job down at the last minute, is a waste of time for both you and the company.

Here are some aspects of the company and job that you can research:

  • The company – its history, time in business, where the head office and branches are
  • The company products and services – the products and services the company offers and how this impacts on the position that you are applying for.
  • The company structure – A bit about the structure of the company will assist you to find where the position falls into the structure, and if not, you can explore this at the interview.
  • The values – values are integral to ensuring that you fit in well. Working for a company that has divergent values from your own may result in you being frustrated, unhappy and leaving. Wording, blogs, other articles about the company can lend insight into the company values.
  • The job itself and the ideal candidate they are looking for – this is divided into skills and knowledge and attitude or personality. Reading the advertisement or clarifying this with the agency or HR department may assist to have a better perspective on this.

Sending your resume

Now that you have found out about the Company and the job, you are ready to prepare your resume. You resume creates the first impression about you to the company advertising the vacancy. It is your ultimate selling tool!

  • Keep it short and sweet!
  • Make it appropriate to the job that you are applying for – adapt your resume to show off the skills that you have that support the job you are applying for.
  • Show why you are the ideal candidate for the job!
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes before you send it off.

Include a short covering letter or e-mail which motivates your application and is specific to the job you are applying for.

Add a small, head and shoulders, professional, photograph into your resume.


  • Include written references unless you are asked to.
  • Make your resume too long.
  • Fake anything! Don’t leave out positions or extend dates of employment to cover times when you were out of a job or at a job that you do not want the prospective employer to find out about.
  • Add a photograph that is unprofessional – for example a photo of you drinking a glass of wine or relaxing on the beach or at a night club!

Did you know: Prospective employers can find out all information about your past employment history when you give them permission to gather information on your background. Various sources hold all your employment, credit and qualification history which can be verified by potential employers. If you provide inaccurate or fictitious information and they discover this, you will not be considered for the job as it is viewed as dishonest.

A resume should provide a summary of your past experience (note I say summary and no more!). It is also useful to add a list of your skills or competencies.

So you have successfully secured an interview. You now need to prepare yourself for it. Some interviews are one-on-one and some are group or panel interviews, meaning that you may be interviewed by a number of people which can be intimidating. Here are a few tips on interviews.

Tip 1: Creating a good first impression

The way that you dress for an interview is extremely important. Whilst your resume creates the first impression of you, your presentation and professionalism creates the first visual impression. Dress for success! Wear an appropriate outfit for the interview. A suit or smart outfit will create a good impression.

Tip 2: Preparing your story

Your story is something that sets you apart from the other applicants. We all think that our story is boring or unimportant but your story defines who you are. Your story is about how your life has evolved, your dreams, your challenges and how you have learnt from and overcome these. Sharing this story with your interviewer provides a powerful technique that helps the interviewer understand what drives you. Put your story together and practice it and you will find it will stand you in good stead in years to come.

Here is how to prepare your story:

  • Segment your life into chapters – look at the major events that have shaped your life, what you have found challenging, your accomplishments and goals.
  • What are your memorable moments – focus on the factors that have shaped your life, people that have had a major impact in your life and how they impacted on you positively and negatively and what you have learned from it.
  • Describe your passion – what has emerged as your passion and how does this relate into your life and work.

Your career path – how did you get to where you are? Who helped you? What choices did you make to get yourself to where you are today? Where are you at with your career goals? Have they changed or are they still the same? What projects have you been responsible for and how did this impact on you and your vision?

Here are some ideas to start your story on:

  • A crisis in your life and how you recovered from it and learnt from it.
  • Savings that you have made for a company.
  • A particularly stressful time in your career and how you dealt with it.
  • A key event that has caused you to change direction in your career.
  • Failure in your job and how you learnt from it.

Tip 3: Your skills, knowledge and positive attributes

Any potential employer wants more insight into your skills and expertise as well as your personality and value system. Employers go to great lengths to make sure that the person is a correct ‘fit; into their organisation.

Skills and expertise (competencies)

This is about what you know and can do. Obviously an employer needs to know that you are able to do the job, they will determine this through your previous experience in positions held, your past education as well as other means such as previous employers. Assessing competencies (your skills and expertise) is easier than assessing the ‘fit’.

Personality and value system

‘Fit’ refers to whether you (and your personality) will fit into the organisation and the team. Are your values aligned to those of the company? Will you get on with the other team members and, if a manager, will your style of leadership fit that in the organisation.

Establishing ‘fit’ will be done by asking questions. Here are a couple of examples:

  • What is it people don’t like about you?
  • What books have you read lately that you enjoyed?
  • What types of community projects are you involved in?
  • What mistakes have you made and how did you learn from them?
  • What style of leadership do you think is important to manage a large team of staff?

Tip 4: Questions

At an interview, prepare for questions by the interviewer. Any good interviewer will let you talk and ask questions to solicit information from you. The questions are posed to evaluate if you are the right person for the job, the right skills, knowledge and fit.

They will ask open questions, meaning that they will require an answer from you.

Don’t feel pressured by this, here are a few tips on questions:

  • It is quite OK to take some time to think about an answer before giving it. Don’t worry about a silent moment!
  • If you are not sure how you want to answer the question, ask if you can come back to it later.
  • Put yourself into the interviewer’s shoes, what do they want to hear in your answer and then answer the question in terms of this. I am not saying lie but modify your answer so that the interviewer can identify with your answer.
  • Use examples to answer questions, here is an example: Question: Please could you tell us about a project that you have been involved in and if it was successful? Answer: I was involved in a customer service survey project and I was required to compile a customer service questionnaire then contact 50 customers to gain their feedback. I managed to have an 80% success rate. I prepared the report with recommendations and it was used to make a number of changes in the business.

Your questions

You will also be given an opportunity to ask questions. Prepare questions that provide you with a good idea of the job and company that you are applying at. Here you can bring in your research for

example. I know that you company’s mission statement is XXX how does this translate into the business units? Remember you also need to determine if this is a Company that you would like to work for and fits your choice of job and Company to work for. Here are some examples of questions:

  • People who succeed in your company, what skills and personality types do they have?
  • What are the values of your company and how do they translate into every day work?
  • What results do you expect of the successful candidate? Over what period?
  • What is the Company’s philosophy on career advancement and development?
  • What are the major achievements that your Company has had in the last 2 years?
  • What is the most important focus in your company?

Tip 5: Checking the time and location of the interview

To ensure that you don’t arrive in a panic or arrive late for your interview you should confirm the date, time, location and venue of your interview. If you need to drive to take public transport to the venue, allow yourself enough time to get there. Being late for an interview (even with a valid excuse) will immediately create a an impression that you are not dependable.

Tip 6: What to take with you

Take a copy of your resume, references and any other appropriate documents that may be called for.

Tip 7: Arriving at the interview

When arriving at the interview, announce yourself and take a seat until the interviewer is ready for you. If offered a glass of water, accept one. Nervousness can make your mouth dry; sipping a glass of water in the interview will help.

Tip 8: The interview

Understanding the structure of an interview will help you understand how the interview will proceed.

One of the most important aspects to a successful interview is finding commonalities between yourself and the interviewer, the sooner you find how you are connected the less pressurised the interview will be. Here are a few tips to find commonalities:

  • Look up the names of the people that you are meeting on Google; you may find they have a profile on LinkedIn for example. Find out more about them and identify areas that you have in common. Perhaps even a past company that you have both worked for.
  • Your industry is a commonality; use this as your connection. People that you may know. Similar passions.
  • Listen to the interviewer. When the interviewer mentions anything such as kids, pets, favourite place, see if you can use this to connect with. If you look around the office you may also see commonalities, for example posters, awards or qualifications.

Whilst finding commonalities is important, don’t bombard the interviewer with questions. Just make casual conversation. As you slip into conversation let the conversation take you to the various aspects of the interview.

Most interviewers will follow set steps:

  • Introductions and making you comfortable – at this stage the interviewer will introduce themselves/ves and make you comfortable with small talk. Listen carefully at this stage as you may find important information from the interviewer that you can connect with.
  • Opening – The interviewer will give you a summary of the company and the position and give you an overview of expectations.
  • Interview – Is the main part of the interview. We shall look at a possible structure:
  • The interviewer will start by asking you to give a summary of who you are and your experience, here you can tell ‘your story’.
  • The interviewer will probably ask you questions about your resume, past experience and also check to clarify their understanding of your past experience. Once they have completed this they will move onto questions.
  • These questions will be decided on before the interview and will focus on soliciting your opinions and how you act in certain situations as well as how you have responded in the past to certain situations and your ‘fit.
  • They will ask you if you have any questions, at this stage you can ask the questions that you have prepared for the interviewer about the company and the job. I don’t recommend that you ask about the salary / package unless it is brought up by the interviewer. This can be discussed at subsequent interviews.
  • Closing and where to from here – the interviewer will give you an indication of the next actions. When will they be back in touch with you and any other things that you may have to do or send in to support your application. At this stage, thank the interviewer for their time and show appreciation for the opportunity.

Tip 9: Follow-up after the interview

If your interview had a positive outcome I recommend that you thank the interviewer. If you have been in e-mail contact with the interviewer, send a short e-mail thanking them for their time and that it was a pleasure meeting them (and the panel) saying that you are looking forward to the outcome of the interview. If the interview was arranged by a recruitment agency, contact the agency with feedback and ask them to thank the Interviewer on your behalf.

By: Tana Breytenbach

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