The definitive guide to job interviews in the financial sector

1. Introduction

Our definitive guide to interviews has been designed to assist you in your job search across the financial, accounting and legal sectors.

It will take you step-by-step through all aspects of preparing for and performing well in your next job interview.

2. Interview preparation

No doubt you have several reasons why you aren’t able to prepare properly for that looming interview. You’re probably too busy. You probably have too many other commitments.

But unfortunately, if you really want that job, you need to take time out to prepare – even if it’s just 20 minutes a day during the week before. Failure to do so can be costly.

a. Four fundamental tips

i. Research the company

It can often be a daunting task trying to read through and remember lots of information about a company, especially if it is a large one with a long history. In your research, make sure you go beyond the first page of the website.

For example, look at the chairman's statement of the most recent annual report and accounts. Read the latest news releases that the company has issued. Try to find some articles which talk about the organisation. And, if you can, speak to people who actually work there.

Finding out what others have said will give you a more rounded view of the company and the opportunities and challenges it faces.

A good route in - and out - is to look for things that genuinely interest you about the organisation you are hoping to join.

Not only will this strategy increase your chances of remembering the detail, but it will also mean that you are more likely to speak in an enthusiastic, engaging and authentic manner. It will also make the task of researching that little bit more enjoyable.

ii. Research the role

Here the key is being able to fully articulate why you're interested in the role in the first place. In doing so, you will also be demonstrating that you have a good grasp of what the job actually involves.

Often candidates will confuse questions about the company with queries about the role. They are very different topics, so make sure you keep them separate and respond accordingly.

If you are working with a consultant, make sure they've provided you with more than just the role profile. Is there any additional background? Have they had a briefing with the recruiting manager? How did the vacancy come about? Is it a new position? If not, who left and why?

These are all important questions to ask.

iii. Research yourself

This is perhaps the hardest area to research.

To do this well, you need to be very self-analytical. Many candidates can struggle as they are self-evidently too close to the subject. This is why the competency-based element of the interview is often the hardest.

You need to be reflective. You need to step back and think about your current or most recent role.

  • What were the challenges on a daily basis?
  • What were the opportunities?
  • What did you enjoy the most?
  • What did you like the least?

Using the STAR approach - Situation, Task, Action and Result - as an illustration, don’t fall into the common trap of focusing too much on the situation and not enough on what action you took and what your contribution was to the result.

These are the key elements that the interviewer is interested in.

For competency-based interviews, make sure you research examples rather than questions. One example may be a good response to several different types of questions. But make sure you use each example only once.

It may seem an obvious point, but draw your answers and examples from your own experience. Don’t be tempted to invent, borrow or exaggerate.

Think about appraisals you've had in your current or most recent role and build your responses around these.

iv. Rehearse

If you have the time and the opportunity, practise some answers out loud. This will help highlight areas you may need more work on. Don't overdo this, however.

You want to sound spontaneous and natural, not over-prepared and robotic. It can be a delicate balance to strike.

If you are working with a recruitment consultant, run through some of your answers either over the phone or face to face.

Feedback here can be very useful, and the use of a professional sounding board will help improve your performance in the interview.

A good consultant will know the company, know the types of questions that other candidates have been asked, and may well have recruited for the same or similar role in the past.

Their help could prove invaluable. So use them.

b. Interviews: The Power of Personality

If you are currently preparing for a job interview, you will be in the fortunate position of having access to thousands of articles on the internet which offer advice.

As if this isn’t enough, you will also be able to download countless presentations, videos and podcasts. But it’s not all good news.

There is a very real risk that under this mountain of hints and tips you may forget the most important part of any successful interview – you.

i. Standing out

There are innumerable guides about how to prepare for and excel in interviews. 

But the risk is that you are so well-prepared and so well-rehearsed that you come across as staid, wooden and robotic.

Even worse, as soon as the interviewer bids you farewell, you are forgotten.

So what can you do to make sure – for the right reasons – that you remain memorable?

ii. Empathise

Many candidates fail to appreciate the interviewer may have sat through a number of interviews that day or that week. This can count against you. The interviewer may be tired, bored or losing concentration.

But on the other hand, it can also give you a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and bring your personality more into the discussion.

Not only will you help the hiring manager, you will also increase your chances of living longer in his or her mind.

iii. Whys not whats

When talking through your CV, focus on the whys.

Whats, wheres, whens and hows are important, but the interesting and insightful thing for the interviewer is almost always the whys.

Explaining the whys – essentially your motivations – helps demonstrate your character. It highlights your personality.

For example, if throughout your career you have made decisions that purposely put you out of your comfort zone, then focusing on the whys will help demonstrate this.

Your goals, aspirations and drivers reflect your type of personality.

iv. Be yourself

Yes, it might sound trite and clichéd. But it’s very important. Don’t be frightened to be yourself. Companies don’t hire CVs, they hire people.

But beware. Make sure it’s the best version of yourself. ‘Be yourself' is not an invitation to be complacent or unprofessional.

Also, don’t try to second guess what the interviewer or the company is looking for. Your assumptions may be wrong.

And you might inadvertently build a picture of yourself that is hard to back up in practice, or just plain false.

v. Be positive. Be passionate.

Yes, people are looking to hire you for your skills and experience. But they are also looking to hire you as a person.

The chances are you will be working in a team environment.

Therefore your new boss will expect you to be a social as well as a technical asset.

Be bright and positive. Demonstrate you enjoy what you do.

vi. Unique to you

In advance of an interview, not everyone is fortunate enough to receive personalised, tailored and expert guidance. Relying on generalised and sometimes bland advice, downloaded from the internet, can often be more of a hindrance than a help.

Again, you run the risk of coming across as ‘plain vanilla’.

You may think that ‘soft’ factors like personality come second to the hard reality of skills, experience and qualifications. But within a highly competitive market your personality could be the key point of differentiation.

Your personality is arguably your own individual culture. And if it complements that of the hiring organisation, it could be the difference between success and failure.

It is something that can’t be researched, learnt or coached. It’s unique to you. And you should view it as a strength, not a weakness.

So next time you sit down in front of a hiring manager, don’t forget to bring yourself.

c. Why there's no 'we' in interview

You'd be surprised at the number of candidates who come up short in an interview simply because they've peppered their responses with the word 'we'. You might dismiss this as semantics, but from an interviewer's perspective overuse of 'we' can be fatal.

When in an interview, especially one where competency is the basis for determining suitability, you must take care to use 'I' wherever possible. Interviewers don't just want to look you in the eye, they want your answers to be full of them.

This is easier said than done. 'We' is a verbal trap that we all fall into it, regardless of our seniority or abilities, especially when under pressure from probing questions.

In a corporate environment, where more often than not we are functioning within a team, using 'I' often goes against the grain. It can appear boastful and egotistical, and you risk being accused of taking credit for other colleagues' efforts.

But in an interview it’s a crucial element of making the best impression.

i. Pitfalls

When you use 'we' rather than 'I' to describe your responsibilities, you run the risk that the all-important elements of your contribution and achievements – e.g. project delivery, process improvement, crisis management – are lost in the eyes of the interviewer.

Don't forget: their aim is to form an evidence-based case for offering you the job.'We' weakens your response.

It blurs the level of responsibility you held. It dilutes any impact that came from your actions. To counter this, every example you give should clearly outline one of your key strengths.

Even when it has been a team effort, your answers should specifically outline your role in the team. Here, modesty will do you a disservice.

ii. Preparation

Ahead of the interview, be aware of this semantic trap when you are pulling together examples illustrating key strengths relevant to the role. This may include achieving excellence, managing projects, time-management, etc.

Take care to frame your answer properly, outlining the wider context of your existing company and/or team, as well as the different stakeholders involved in your answer.

But once done, be quick to move to the part of the narrative where you took the lead, where you took action, and make sure to demonstrate your part in delivering success.

Ensure your sentences start along the lines of: 'My part in...', 'I was responsible for...', 'I took the initiative by', etc. Apply this approach even when demonstrating your effectiveness as a team player.

The crux of this answer should still emphasis your part in the wider context, what strengths you brought, how you complemented the team, how you helped ensure everyone moved towards the same goal.

iii. Prevention

Being aware of the 'we' trap is one thing. In order to avoid it successfully, you need to practise. Rehearsing your responses with your consultant should eradicate any lapses, but also seek out a friend or partner to use as a sounding board for your answers.

Awareness, preparation and practice should ensure you're in a better position to impress. It may be a useful lubricant in polite society, but an interview is no place for false modesty.

iv. Don’t be in denial

Perhaps the worst thing you can leave an interviewer with is the impression that you haven’t prepared properly.

Not only does it highlight poor organisational skills, it suggests that you don’t really care.

Don't be in denial about your interview – do your research.

You might not be able to answer every question as you would like, but the interviewer
will still be able to tell you’ve put the hours in.

In a competitive marketplace, this could be the difference between failure and success.

3. Interview introduction

First impressions really do count. Making the best personal impression you can on your interviewer is crucial in securing any position.

Employers will expect you to:

  • Dress smartly
  • Arrive on time
  • Relax and be yourself
  • Listen carefully to questions

More than this, be on the front foot and take the initiative. Make it easy for the interviewer. Get up from your seat, shake hands firmly, maintain eye contact and smile.

Don’t forget that your ability to make a strong impression not only helps you in the interview, it also demonstrates you have the right skills and behaviours to be successful in the role – this is particularly important if it’s a management or external-facing position.

4. The CV walkthrough/role description

This phase of the interview tends to focus on two things:

a. The interviewer running through the details of the position

As the interviewer talks through the role, be careful to avoid the 'nodding-dog' syndrome - where you think it's not a section of the interview that requires your attention.

This is in fact a great opportunity for you to demonstrate you have researched the role - and the company.

Being able to say: "Yes, that chimes with what I've read about the firm...", backed up with specific examples, creates a powerful impression.

This part also represents a chance for you to ask questions about the technical aspects of the role.

It's much better to do this here, when they are relevant, than store them up at the end.

It will also make the interview more of a conversation.

This will demonstrate your interest through engagement, assertiveness and strong listening skills. It will also help put both you and the interviewer at ease.

b. CV walkthrough

Your CV walkthrough is a chance to bring alive the skills and experience you feel are relevant to the role and explain why you are keen on the position. Ultimately, it's your chance to tell your story.

And it is a story: start at the beginning and bring the interviewer up to the present day.

Provide a synopsis of your earlier career and education, outlining why you chose the career path you did.

Walk through each, explaining what your duties involved, what you achieved and what you enjoyed about each role.

Focus on elements that are relevant to the position you are being interviewed for - and state them clearly.

End your story by outlining why you believe the role on offer represents the next stage in your career.

5. Different types of interviews

Employers use interviews to confirm that an applicant has the required skills, knowledge, and attributes to succeed in the position available.

Interviews assess many levels of an individual’s character and career, including cultural fit, team dynamics, and their willingness to contribute to the organisation as a whole.

An invitation to interview means the employer believes you have the potential to do the job.

Few people look forward to an interview, and that may explain why we rarely spend much time finding out what the interviewer has in store for us.

Employers use a wide range of techniques and strategies to assess potential employees.

By checking what they have planned for you, you may at least avoid some unpleasant surprises.

a. The single interview

This is a one-to-one meeting between interviewer and candidate.

Favoured by smaller companies, this is often the least threatening type of interview because it usually resembles a normal conversation between two people.

Likely Interview Questions

  • Can you describe your key strengths & weaknesses?
  • How do you feel you could add value to this organisation?
  • Do you work well in a team environment?
  • What type of personalities do you get on well with and least well with?
  • Would you say you work well on your own?
  • Do you prefer to work on your own or in a team?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Describe yourself in three words?
  • What would you say your greatest achievement has been?
  • What are your ambitions?
  • What motivates you?
  • What is your perception of this role / company?
  • What would you say your most difficult decision has been?
  • How would you deal with criticism?
  • Is change a positive force in the work place?
  • Would you say you work well under pressure? Give an example
  • Which is more important, meeting a deadline or completing an accurate piece of work?
  • Have you ever challenged the view of a superior to positive effect?
  • What would you say are the most important attributes of a manager?

The traditional interview style, if approached properly, gives you the best platform to outline why you are the best candidate for the role.

You should, however, be aware of some potential pitfalls.

Difficult Interview Questions

Why are you leaving your current position? or Why did you leave your last position?

Essentially, the employer is looking for potential problems you have had in the past that you may bring with you.

The best way to deal with these types of questions is to cite reasons such as career progression, quality of life or remuneration and link these to the positive aspects of the new role you are hoping to secure.

In these situations, never launch into a tirade about how much you hate your current role or how incompetent you view your manager, however true these statements may be.

Always be upbeat.This projects a much more confident image.

What can you offer this company?

The interviewer wants to know how you can solve their problems. By ensuring your CV is focused on matching your skills to the employer’s needs, you will have accumulated all the material necessary to answer this question.

Here, you also have the opportunity to differentiate yourself in two ways: firstly by emphasising your strengths and, secondly, by demonstrating that you have researched the employer’s business prior to the interview.

Give a balanced answer that highlights exactly how your strengths match the job requirements and show an awareness of what the company does.

Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?

In recent years this has become something of a standard interview question.What the employer is hoping to establish is your degree of ambition.

Beware, though: this question is often a double-edged sword.The job may carry little prospect of career development.

If you are keen to progress, this may not be the appropriate role for you, so you should establish what opportunities there are and if it is possible (and indeed expected) to progress into other roles.

Always answer in general terms and avoid staking a claim for the interviewer’s job.

Above all, ensure that during your interview preparation you have established what your own job requirements are, as well as those of the employer.

b. Panel interviews

In a larger organisation you may find yourself being interviewed by several different people.

This type of interview is used as a way of gathering a range of impressions about you, with the interviewers meeting up afterwards to compare notes.

c. The remote interview: how to ace a telephone interview

Telephone and video interviews are increasingly used to screen candidates during the first round, a growing preference to the more expensive face-to-face format.

You should put the same effort into preparing for them as you would for the more conventional interviews.

You may greet with a whoop and a holler the news that the next stage in your job application involves a telephone interview rather than a face-to-face meeting.

Sitting at home in your pyjamas, your notes sprawled in front of you, chatting on the phone, may seem like the easy option.

But the telephone interview, if not approached in the right manner, can be riddled with risks.

i. Set the scene before a telephone interview

First, you need to get the basics right. Make sure you are in a quiet room and unlikely to be disturbed. If you can, choose a landline rather than a mobile phone. You don’t want the interview to be plagued with a poor signal, or to be cut off halfway through.

Always have a glass of water at hand.You will be doing a lot of talking. And you don’t want to be impeded by a coughing fit.

Have a notepad and pen within easy reach. If required, you can jot down aspects of the role and tie them into your answers as the interview progresses.

Don’t rely too much on notes.You should prepare just as thoroughly as you would for a face-to-face interview.

Have them there as backup but don’t read them out verbatim. You will sound stilted and awkward.

ii. Speak clearly during a telephone interview

Most jobs within the financial sector involve dealing with clients over the phone - whether they are internal or external. So the telephone interview is your chance to showcase these skills.

To help, don’t sit slouched in your pyjamas. Have a shower and get dressed before the interview.

You don’t have to wear business attire, but prepare as if you were due to meet someone. This will put you in the right frame of mind.

While speaking make sure you are sitting upright, even standing. This will increase alertness and clarity.

And smile. This can be ‘heard’ by the person at the other end.

iii. Telephone interviews involve listening actively

The interviewer will not have the benefit of direct feedback based on your body language.

So when they are talking for long periods you need to let them know you are engaged and paying attention.

Ensure you make regular, positive noises - ‘Oh, I see’, ‘That sounds interesting’, etc.

You can’t just nod your head during a telephone interview.

iv. Your telephone interview dialogue

Fourth, be careful not to lapse into long, rambling answers. You too don’t have the benefit of reading the other person’s body language.

And avoid interrupting or talking over the interviewer. Like any good interview, your responses should be detailed but concise. Don’t fall into the trap of filling up any silences with pointless padding.

Be interactive, communicate through your tone and pitch.

Above all, try and establish a dialogue, a conversation, rather than competing monologues.

v. Diligence

The telephone interview can be a fantastic opportunity for showcasing many of your skills and personality.

But only if you prepare for it in the same diligent manner as you would a face-to-face meeting.

6. Different Styles of Interview

Interview styles tend to fall into three categories: traditional, technical and competency-based.

Regardless of the style, however, there are certain ‘sections’ common to most interviews – namely, the outline of the role and a walk through of your CV.

Being prepared for these sections builds a strong platform for interview success.

a. The traditional interview

This style has been around the longest and will look to explore your strengths and weaknesses.

You will probably be asked to talk through your CV, questioned on your suitability for the role and quizzed about your career aspirations.

The traditional interview style, if approached properly, gives you the best platform to outline why you are the best candidate for the role.

You should, however, be aware of potential pitfalls.

b. The competency-based interview

Competency-based interviews can be uncomfortable experiences for many candidates.

Questions which begin ‘Tell me about a time when…’ can instil fear in the most experienced and self-assured of applicants.

These types of questions are pretty common these days, particularly within the financial sector. But a little preparation and practice can go a long way.

So to help you, we’ve pulled together a competency-based interview toolkit. It may even turn an area of weakness for you into a real strength.

i. What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview is a structured interview designed around the key competencies of the role you are being interviewed for. It is designed to explore your career history in details, rather than the more general questions of a traditional interview.

All candidates being interviewed for the role are likely to be asked the same questions.

The interviewer will be looking for you to provide actual examples of times where you have undertaken or demonstrated the key skills of competencies the role requires.

Most of the questions will be structured using the following format:

  • Can you tell me about a time when...
  • Describe an occasion when you have…
  • When has it been important in your role to…
  • Can you give me an example of a time when...

ii. Practice makes perfect

To help your preparation, we’ve pulled together common competency themes and included example questions which are often used in an interview.

Crucially, we’ve included some advice on how to answer each question successfully.

As a general rule thumb when answering, use the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action & Result – to construct your answer.

Around 30% should be focused on Situation & Task, 70% on Action & Result.

iii. Teamwork

Q. Can you give me an example of a time when you worked well as part of a team?

HOW TO ANSWER – Be specific and provide details regarding the size of the team and what you do that is so important to the team.

It could be your experience with particular processes, systems or clients but remember that they are interviewing you not the team.

Remember to use ‘I’, not ‘we’, when answering.

Q. Can you think of a time when you have had to face difficulties within the team?

HOW TO ANSWER – Remember that the interviewer is only concerned you handled things well.

You need to ensure that if you have been involved in a dispute with a team member, you handled things appropriately and you kept any issues outside of work.

Make it clear that it did not affect the daily running of the team or any lines of communication.

If you had an issue, you tackled it by initially approaching the individual and trying to resolve any problems, rather than immediately highlighting it to management.

Q. What types of people do you not work well with?

HOW TO ANSWER – Do not cite a huge list when highlighting a particular type.

Make it clear that it is not that you don’t work well with them, just that you find it more difficult.

For example, unproductive workers are quite frustrating as you tend to take pride in your work and find it disheartening when others don’t show the same level of dedication.

iv. Accuracy

Q. Describe an occasion when you’ve had to work with a high attention to detail.

HOW TO ANSWER – Be specific and try to avoid saying something along the lines of ‘I do this every day’, as they need to hear what you do and, if possible, that you understand why things have to be accurate.

Q. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.

HOW TO ANSWER - Again, don’t think that if you admit to making a mistake that they will automatically discredit your application. They want to know that you took accountability for your mistake and ensured that the things were rectified.

Everyone is human and mistakes happen. Good interview technique would suggest you also say what you learned from this rather than just moving on.

v. Time management

Q. Describe an occasion when you had to deal with conflicting priorities.

HOW TO ANSWER – ideally, you need to provide an example of a time when you have had to deal with perhaps three or four different tasks.

It may appear obvious, but you need to be able to demonstrate that you can prioritise well, look at the deadlines of each task, the importance, and whether this is something relating to clients or for internal use.

Q. Tell me about a time when you successfully met a deadline.

HOW TO ANSWER – This is a fairly straightforward question, but be specific and demonstrate you understand the need to plan your day and allow time to meet particular deadlines.

Q. Can you give me an example of when you missed an important deadline?

HOW TO ANSWER – Demonstrate that you had anticipated the deadline in plenty of time, advised all affected parties and, if possible, asked for help from other people within your team or worked over lunch or after work to meet the deadline.

Again, if you can show that you learned something from this, it will help.

Q. What is more important to you: meeting a deadline or accuracy?

HOW TO ANSWER - In an ideal world, both are as important as each other; however, you need to be able to choose between them.

Generally, accuracy is the most important especially with financial services companies’ regulatory requirements and their emphasis on professionalism.

Besides, there is no point in producing work if it is full of mistakes, as you will need to do it again.

vi. Client services

Q. Describe a time when you have provided outstanding client service.

HOW TO ANSWER - Think of situations where you have completed tasks or taken responsibility for dealing with clients’ issues through good practice and diligence rather than because it was part of your role.

Q. Give me an example of when you had to deal with a client complaint.

HOW TO ANSWER – The interviewer wants to check that you handled things correctly and that you took responsibility for the issues, gave realistic timescales and provided the client with a successful resolution to the problem.

Q. How do you gain the respect of managers/clients?

HOW TO ANSWER – Highlight that you always ensure queries are dealt with in a professional and knowledgeable manner, work is produced to a high standard and expectations are met and often exceed.

This could be through meeting deadlines earlier or providing additional information that will aid the client or manager.

vii. Communicating & influencing

Q. Are you persuasive? Give me an example of a time when you have had to persuade other people to your way of thinking.

HOW TO ANSWER - Provide a specific example of a time when someone initially opposed your idea or opinion, but you managed to convince them of its benefit or logic.

Q. Can you build rapport easily? Tell me about a time when you have built rapport with a client or colleague.

HOW TO ANSWER - The interviewer will be looking you to demonstrate that you know the important aspects to focus on when dealing with clients.

To successfully build rapport, it is important to be professional, mirror the client or your colleague’s manner and approach, as well as establishing some common interest.

viii. Problem Solving

Q. Can you think laterally? How do you cope with solving problems? Are you flexible enough to cope with change and challenges?

HOW TO ANSWER - Outline the situation and the problem, the various approaches you might have taken and the one that you adopted. Why did you choose to tackle the problem this way and what was the result?

ix. Challenging Situations

Q. Do you panic when under pressure? Can you respond to challenges and set yourself goals in a difficult environment?

HOW TO ANSWER - Briefly outline the task and the difficulties, show the steps that you took to cope with the situation. If other people were involved, be specific about what your particular role was.

State the result. Don’t worry if the outcome was not 100% successful but show what you learned from the experience.

x. Organising Skills

Q. How do you go about organising activities? Are you good at planning ahead and predicting possible problems? Can you lead others and delegate tasks when appropriate?

HOW TO ANSWER - Outline the situation, especially your role, describe any problems which arose and how you tackled them, say what the result was and what you learned from it.

xi. Enjoy the challenge

By now, you should have a solid bank of responses on which to draw during a competency-based interview.

This will give you confidence and ensure you have strong answers which highlight your skills, experience and personal attributes.

As well as being more successful, you may even enjoy your next competency-based interview.

c. The technical interview

This style is much less common than either the traditional or competency-based interview approaches.

The technical interview tends to focus on the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ specifics of a role and assesses the candidate’s suitability largely in terms of a close, technical fit. There is less attention paid to the candidate’s softer skills and longer term career aspirations.

The technical interview is often utilised when employers are hiring for interim, temporary or contract roles.

d. The presentation interview

The inclusion of a presentation stage within the recruitment process is becoming increasingly common - and not just for senior positions.

With companies more cost conscious than ever before, HR departments and hiring managers want to ensure they select the very best applicant for the position.

As well as providing an extra layer of assurance, a presentation can be a powerful indication of a candidate’s level of performance within a new role.

Delivered well, the right deck of slides can demonstrate presence, confidence, systematic thinking, problem solving, attention to detail, engagement, corporate polish - and of course, great communication skills.

While the prospect of delivering a presentation within an interview environment can be a little daunting, the right level of preparation can transform this into an opportunity to shine.

If you keep in mind the key features of a successful presentation then you could be one step nearer securing your dream role.

i. Structure

Directly after the front cover, dedicate your first slide to the presentation's agenda.

The agenda should follow the simple rule of:

  • Outlining what you are about to present to your audience
  • Presenting to your audience
  • Summarising what you’ve just presented to your audience

Make sure you follow the agenda throughout the rest of the presentation.

Use the agenda points as headings for each respective section.

And include page numbers. They are invaluable if you have to return to a slide, e.g. when prompted by a question.

Especially if you’ve provided your audience with handouts in advance.

ii. Content

The topic of the presentation will almost always be set by the hiring company and can cover a whole host of subjects.

Common topics can include:

  • Outline your first 100 days in the role
  • Describe your management style. What makes a good manager?
  • How will regulation X / legislation Y impact on our business?
  • Give details on how you would launch / market product Z

Depending on the level of guidance given, you should look to the job description as a good starting point.

This will outline the fundamental competencies and qualities that the employer is looking for. These should inform your presentation.

A good recruitment consultant can help finesse the quality of your content, bring it into sharper focus and even provide an audience to present to – but the responsibility for researching, writing and editing the content rests ultimately with you.

After all, it is your skills and abilities that the employer wants to see.

iii. Length

Make sure your slides are not packed with information. Limit yourself to no more than four or five short points per slide that you can expand upon. Don't try and fit in too much.

You will probably spend around one or two minutes talking to each slide, so you are being ambitious if you think you can get through 20 slides in 10 minutes.

Write in point form, not complete sentences. Long, wordy paragraphs will be difficult for your audience to read and even more difficult for you to deliver.

And your audience will spend too much time trying to read the slide rather than listening to you.

iv. Design

Do not include information, images or animation that aren’t necessary to your presentation. If in doubt, leave it out.

Capitalise only when necessary. Block capitals can be jarring, difficult to read and can come across as shouting.

Use colours that match or at least complement the company's logo. Use a font colour which contrasts sharply with your chosen background and makes the slide easier to read. Use colours consistently throughout the presentation.

If you are including a lot of numerical information then use graphs rather than words or even tables. A picture paints a thousand words – or in this case a thousand numbers.

Always proof your slides for spelling mistakes, unnecessary repetition and grammatical errors. Where possible, ask a third party to look over it - ideally, your recruitment consultant.

v. Delivery

Don't underestimate the impact of a strong opening. Making an immediate impact will lock in your audience and give you a good base for the rest of the presentation.

Throughout the presentation make regular eye contact with your audience. Don't speak too quickly. If you think your delivery is too slow then it’s probably about right.

Make your ending as strong as your beginning. Don't just trail off mid-sentence. Use an effective and strong close. Your audience is likely to remember your last words.

Use a conclusion slide to summarise the main points and, if appropriate, outline next steps.

End your presentation with a simple questions slide, inviting your audience to challenge your key points. This provides a visual aid during this section and avoids an abrupt ending.

Above all, rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. This will build confidence, strengthen delivery and reduce the need for extensive notes, which in themselves can create a wooden performance.7. Questions to ask

Whether traditional, technical or a competency-based interview, there are a number of questions you can and should ask at an interview.

The answers will enable you to gain a deeper understanding about the nature of the role, the team and the company.

  • How has this role come about?
  • What are the major challenges if I’m successful in securing this role?
  • Can you give me an indication of the training provided for the role?
  • How will my career likely progress within this role?

At first glance, this section of the interview seems the most straightforward and benign.But it can be an area where an interview can be won or lost.

First of all you need to ask yourself: what is the motivation behind me asking them in the first place? Asking questions should be driven by a desire to find out information, not to impress, surprise or unsettle the interviewer.

There is voluminous literature on what constitutes a 'killer' question. But there are no silver bullets.

You should be looking to clarify, confirm or collect information, e.g. opportunities for development, what does a typical day look like in the role, culture of the team, etc. You should not attempt to interview the interviewer.

It is more useful to advise on what questions not to ask and when not to ask them. For example, avoid enquiries surrounding salary, holidays, start dates and current or previous incumbents.

Contrary to accepted wisdom, this does not always demonstrate assertiveness; it can sometimes come across as crass. Leave your recruitment consultant to discuss these points on your behalf.

As already mentioned, don't store up all your questions for the end. Often, the remark: "So, do you have any other questions?" is partly rhetorical, an attempt to draw the interview to a close.

By all means ask one or two more, but limit these to cultural, high-level questions. Technical questions should have been covered when discussing the role profile earlier.

8. Ending the interview

After the interview is finished be sure to tell the interviewer that you are interested in the job. This may seem like an obvious point, but you’d be surprised at how many people – relieved that the interview is all but over – forget to state the obvious.

Don’t overdo it, though. Keep it simple, e.g. “Well, thanks for seeing me. I’m very interested.” Or “I’m certainly impressed and look forward to hearing from you.”

Or “From what you’ve told me today, this role is exactly what I’m looking for.” In some respects this is the most important behaviour, as it will be the last thing the interviewer will hear from you.

It is difficult to dislike someone who likes you.

9. Dealing with interview problems

a. Your interview: What to do if your mind goes blank

It may not rank up there with public speaking as people’s number one fear, but losing your train of thought in a job interview can be a terrifying experience. As well as feeling embarrassed, it can also seriously dent your chances of securing the role.

By recognising that this could happen and having a simple but effective means of dealing with it, you will feel much more confident during the interview. Handling the situation with assurance can even boost your chances.

Like most pieces of good advice, it’s quite simple.

If you have prepared well – researched the company, memorised your CV, jotted down some competency-based examples – but suffer from a sudden bout of amnesia, then follow these simple steps:

  • Remain calm (this is the hardest bit)
  • Take time to collect your thoughts. This is perfectly acceptable
  • If your mind is still frozen, simply ask if you can come back to this question at the end. The interviewer is unlikely to refuse
  • Take a note of the question (mentally or on paper)

Perhaps most importantly, don’t allow this to knock you off your stride. Put the question to one side and focus on the remainder of the interview.

More often than not, by the end of the interview your mental block will have cleared and you will be able to answer the question. If you still cannot offer a response, calmly and politely apologise and ask the interviewer if you can provide an answer after the interview.

This can be done via your recruitment consultant or, if you don’t have one, you may be able to email HR or the hiring manager directly. This last approach isn’t an ideal strategy but it’s certainly preferable to leaving the question unanswered.

It also shows some degree of initiative and responsibility. Like many things in life, it’s not so much what happens that counts. It’s how you deal with it.

b. How to Beat Interview Nerves

The fear of public speaking, the fear of failure and the fear of rejection are all regularly cited among people’s greatest fears. It’s no wonder then that for some the prospect of a job interview can be terrifying.

An interview can conjure up visions of a poker-faced panel firing a barrage of awkward questions at you, while you sit, squirming and sweating, racking your brains for appropriate answers.

Although the reality of an interview seldom matches this nightmare, being sucked into a vortex of nervous apprehension can hamper your preparation.

It can also undermine your performance in an interview. Worst case scenario, it may even ruin your chances of securing the job.

So what can you do to eradicate the worst effects of interview nerves?

i. The good, bad & helpless

Firstly, all nerves are not all bad. Just like stress, nerves can be used to your advantage. In a flight or fight scenario, nerves give you adrenalin. They give you an edge and help you focus.

If you’ve prepared properly - and we’ll come to that in a minute - then you can use nerves to help boost your performance, not hinder it.

Simply by recognising and accepting your nerves as a good thing can help keep them under control. Nerves become destructive when they spiral out of control, when they are based on and arise out of a feeling of helplessness.

In an interview situation, this is often due to lack of adequate preparation.

ii. Preparation

I won’t dwell here on the practical elements of good interview preparation. We have written elsewhere on the topic – Five Steps to Interview Success – and my focus here is on changing your mindset, not honing your research skills.

And I won’t talk about specific ‘interview management’ techniques, as this too has been covered by us in the past - What to Do if Your Mind Goes Blank.

What I’d like to highlight is the way you choose – and it is a choice – to view your interview can have a massive influence on how nervous you will feel about it.

The crux of this lies in breaking down your interview into two key parts - neither of which should stir up uncontrollable fear or terror among even the most timid of candidates.

iii. You’re the expert

It is a fact which can allude even the most experienced of interviewees - namely, that a large part of any interview concerns a subject that you know better than anyone else, i.e. you - your skills, your experience, your education. In short, your CV.

If anybody should be confident of this topic, it should be you. Recognising and accepting this self-evident truth should lessen your nerves - or at least turn them to your advantage.

iv. You’re the interviewer too

If the first part of an interview is about you - your CV - then the second part is about them - the company, the department, the team and most of all the role to which you are applying. In short, the job description.

And it is here that you change from being the interviewed to being the interviewer. It is your opportunity to quiz others on particular aspects of the role, the opportunity for career development, the culture of the company, etc.

As someone asking the questions - as someone on a fact-finding mission - you should have little to fear. You are, in large part, the one now in control.

v. Settle for success

Preparing properly for an interview and presenting yourself in a professional and polite manner are still the foundations of any successful interview.

But if you are still plagued by nerves, then viewing the interview for what it is – you being interviewed on a subject only you know best, and you interviewing the company on whether the role is right for you – should help settle even the most teeth-chattering of nerves.

10. Conclusion

You should now have all the tools you need to perform to the very best of your abilities during the job interview process. Above all else, thorough preparation is the best way to ensure success.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. But a little preparation can go a long way. And you may even find you enjoy your next interview.

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