Getting ready for a job interview will make all the difference, so do your homework first, says Laura Woodward

Q: I have been invited to an interview next week and I have been told that I will also have to undertake some psychometric tests. I don’t know what to expect and I have not had an interview for 10 years. Help!

A: Firstly, congratulations on getting an interview. You’ve already completed the first stage so try to relax and be positive. The key to the whole interview process is preparation – research the role and the organisation, and try to anticipate what questions you might be asked. 

Ask yourself a question

An interview will often start with some general questions based on your CV, so revisit your application to remind yourself what you said. You may be asked to give a brief overview of your career history or talk about your career highlights to date. Note the words ‘brief’ and ‘highlights’ – the interviewer does not need to know everything, and often this question is there to help you relax. 

The interviewer will want to know why you’ve applied for the job, so do spend some time thinking about this – why do you want this particular role, and what makes you well suited for it? Remember to focus on the job you’re applying for, rather than any negative feelings you have about your current role.

You should also learn about the organisation and what has attracted you to it. Company web sites will have lots of information and if you know anyone who works at the same place make sure you have a chat with them too. You don’t need to know everything, but demonstrating you’ve taken the time to research the business is a good start. 

The interviewer is trying to determine if you have the right skills and experience for the role, so there may be questions on your technical skills if this is relevant. Many interviews will also include a section on competencies, such as communication, problem solving and team working. These questions tend to ask for a specific example that demonstrates your competence, or how you would deal with a particular situation. The interviewer will be looking to see how you go about doing things as well as the results. The job description should give you an indication of the skills and competencies you might be asked to demonstrate. 

Try to give as much detail as you can in your answers. For example, saying ‘I taught a first year course at university,’ is ok, but adding what the course was, where you taught it, how you taught it, how many students attended and any improvements in retention or pass rates will make for a much better answer. And make sure you use ‘I’, rather than ‘we’ as it is what you did that the interviewer is interested in.

Testing time

Psychometric tests are used to test a variety of things, but in recruitment, it is likely that your knowledge and aptitude will be assessed (note that these are not the same). Recruiters will often test your aptitude as this can indicate how you might perform a similar task relevant to the role. Aptitude is innate, and therefore it is difficult to practise for this type of test. For higher level roles you might be asked to undertake a personality test to understand your preferences for doing things, or how you might fit into the organisation’s management team. 

There are many books on psychometric tests, and they do include sample tests. These are helpful if you want to know what to expect, but practising for an aptitude test won’t necessarily make you better at it. You should be given some information about what to expect beforehand, and if not, you should ask. When the test is administered you will be given full instructions, and will often get to do a practice question before the test begins.

Finally, remember that an interview is also an opportunity to quiz your prospective employer, so if you have questions about the organisation or the position, now is the time to ask them – the answers may affect your decision if you are offered the role. And good luck!

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question — or have your own career conundrum for Laura — Please write to