When it comes to interviews, be prepared and don't forget to smile, says Caroline Tolond

When it comes to interviews, be prepared and don’t forget to smile, says Caroline Tolond


Caroline Tolond is the RSC’s careers adviser

Q.  I have a telephone interview coming up and, if that is successful, I’ll need to attend an interview on the company’s site. However, it’s been a while since I last had an interview, can you give me an insight as to what to expect and how to prepare?  

A. Firstly, congratulations on securing the interview, it is a good sign that your application style is effective. Interview nerves are normal, but there are ways to prepare and strategies you can employ to make a positive impression at interview. 

Whatever type of interview you are attending, preparation is vital. Review all the information you have been sent about the job as well as your application and consider why you are applying for the post. What skills and experiences do you have that makes you suitable for the post? Pick out specific examples from the last five years which demonstrate your recent experiences relevant to the position. 

In addition, you should research the company you are applying to join. Most will have a website and annual review, but it is also worth looking through the business news so you are aware of recent developments and who their competitors are. That’s the preparation in a nutshell. 

With telephone interviews, the tone and pace of your voice, as well as how you respond to questions, will change depending on the setting in which you take the interview.

Try to find somewhere quiet where you can have all the relevant paperwork to hand, and smile during the call itself. This last point may sound odd, as it’s a telephone interview and they can’t see you, but smiling will lift the tone of your voice and make you sound more positive in your responses. 

At a face-to-face interview first impressions are critical so arrive on time and dress smartly. Think about how you come across not only verbally but through your body language. Sit up rather than slouch in the chair; make eye contact and smile to help establish rapport with the interviewer. 

Expand but don’t ramble 

The interview itself can be thought of as conversation with a purpose, so even if an interviewer asks a question that begs a yes/no answer try to give a little more than that. If you feel you are rambling, draw your answer to an end with a summarising remark.  

Your answers should be positive, for example ’What attracts me to your job/organisation is...’ while avoiding being negative about your current or previous employers.  

Get in the driving seat 

If you are facing a competency based interview then the questions are likely to be structured around the skills that employers are looking for. In this type of interview it can be helpful to structure your answer around the ’CAR principle’: 

  • Context - briefly what was the situation/problem?   
  • Action - what actions did you take? 
  • Result - what did you achieve? 

You can find more example interview questions and advice on how to approach them in the many interview skills books available online, in bookshops and your local library. Finally, if you aren’t offered the position it is useful to seek feedback so that you can improve your technique. 

Typical interview questions

  • Tell me about a time when...Looking for evidence from the past to show how you would behave in a given situation. 
  • What would you do if... how you would behave in the future?  
  • What do you know about our organisation/ department/ job? Have you prepared?
  • Are there any questions you want to ask? Good topics to ask about include the job, long term prospects and the organisation