Careers and Employability Service

How to perform well at interviews


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Getting an interview is an achievement in itself. Only a small proportion of applicants are selected for interview (often about 10%) so you have already made a positive impression to have got to this stage! Many people have a fear of interviews, so here are some tips to help you make the most of this opportunity.

The purpose of the interview

Firstly, it is for the interviewer to see if you match the requirements of the job. These will naturally vary with different jobs but are likely to include:

  • Your personal qualities
  • How well you express yourself
  • Your motivation and enthusiasm

The recruiters will already have an indication of these from your initial application but now the interview will assess you in person.

It is also your chance to meet somebody from the organisation and assess them: are they offering what you want?

There aren't any right or wrong answers to interview questions: how you come across is as important as what you say. Be yourself – if you have to put on a completely false act to get through the interview, is this really the right job for you?

Preparation for the interview

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

Abraham Lincoln

Preparation is the key ingredient for interview success. Careful planning and preparation will make sure that your interview goes smoothly and will also help to calm your nerves!

  • Research very carefully the career area for which you are applying.
  • Remind yourself why you are interested in this career, and this employer: enthusiasm is important.
  • Re-read your application form as if you were the interviewer. Try and anticipate the questions they will ask. Think about any awkward points that might be picked up on, and how you will handle them.
  • Prepare some questions to ask the interviewer.
  • Plan how you will get to the interview. Leave plenty of time in case 

    The ability of an interviewee to articulate their work experience is more important than the nature of this experience - being aware of competenciesdeveloped through casual work and that this IS of interest to employers.

    Key messages: apply early, research the firm and the chosen career path and link your experience to the competencies sought.


    of traffic jams or delayed trains.
  • Dress neatly and smartly.
  • Take a small, neat notepad and pen to write down important information the interviewer may tell you, and after the interview, the questions you were asked, so you can work out better answers to any you fluffed.
  • Research the employer - here are some things you may be able to find out from the employers web site or via Google.
    • What is the size of the organization?
    • How long has it been in business?
    • What are its products and/or services?
    • What sort of reputation or public image does it have?
    • Who are its main competitors?
    • Where is it based? Single or multiple locations? UK or multinational?
    • What is the organizational structure like?
    • What are its future plans and prospects?
    • What is the organisational culture?
    • What types of training, development and appraisal are offered?


Interview skills

Arriving for the interview

Try to arrive ten or fifteen minutes early. This doesn't just give you the opportunity to visit the loo – time spent waiting in the reception area can be very useful if there are publications about the employer or their field of work to read. Be polite to everyone you meet, including receptionists, porters and security staff.

First impressions

These are very important - they set the tone for the rest of the interview. A survey of 273 managers by found that interviewers take on average less than 7 minutes to decide if a candidate is right for the role.

Factors influencing whether an interviewee is viewed as employable were

  • A candidate’s timekeeping (96% of managers agree this is influential)blink.gif (2535 bytes)
  • Level of a candidate’s interview preparation (93%)
  • Ability to hold eye contact (82%)
  • Personal appearance (73%) 
    (two thirds of employers said they were put off by tattoos)
  • Quality of banter or small talk (60%)
  • Strength of handshake (55%)

The five most important factors interviewers considered when hiring were:

  • Work experience (36%)
  • First impressions of the candidate (24%)
  • Education (12%)
  • Professional qualifications (10%)
  • References (9%)


According to a survey of 1000 recruiters by Fly Research three quarters of interviws are lost within three minutes of entering the room. Research by Springbett found that 85% of interviews were decided in the first two to three minutes:
  • 25% of interviewers were put off by a weak handshake or lack of eye contact
  • 24% by poor body language
  • 18% by poor posture (e.g. slumped shoulders suggests lack of confidence) or presence
  • Only 20% waited until the middle of the interview to test a candidate on their knowledge of the industry and aptitude for the job
  • According to research selectors make snap judgments about your trustworthiness, attractiveness, likability, competitiveness and aggressiveness and spend the rest of the interview confirming or denying these opinions.
  • "Smiling appears to be a central ingredient in successfully interviewing for a job."

    One study found a smiling person was rated as more attractive than the same person with a neutral expression. 
    This was only true when the smiling person was looking at the other person; when the person was smiling but looking sideways, the neutral expression was rated more favourably. So to attract someone, smile and look at them, and don't smile too much at others!

    Shake hands firmly and warmly, but wait to be invited to sit down. Handshakes are also commonly given at the end of the interview. Handshakes originated as a way for knights to show that they didn't have concealed weapons. A firm handshake is perceived to communicate sociability, friendliness and dominance: normally desirable qualities in candidates whereas weak handshakes may communicate, introversion, shyness and neuroticism. Also as the handshake is at the start of the interview, it can set a positive tone for the rest of the encounter. In practice interviews with 98 students, those who gave a firm handshake were more likely to be offered jobs. Women who gave a firm handshake were perceived more positively than men who gave a firm handshake.
  • Smile and keep up good eye contact with the interviewer.
  • You may be offered tea or coffee. If you feel this will help you to relax, then fine, but otherwise it is quite OK to refuse politely.
  • Try to relax - don't perch on the edge of your chair, but don't slouch either.
  • Speak clearly and not too fast. Give yourself a moment to think about your replies.
  • Don't fidget and try to avoid meaningless phrases like "you know", "I mean", etc.
  • See our body language in interviews quiz for much more detail on this.


Interviews are, in general, poor predictors of job performance. Schmidt and Hunter found that standard unstructured interviews only accounted for 8% of the difference in performance and productivity over chance when selecting candidates by this method. However structured interviews where candidates are all asked the same questions had a 24% selection accuracy: three times as effective as unstructured interviews.

A trainee accountant once told me about his interview. The interview had seemed to be going well when the interviewing partner had asked about his interest in cricket. They were discussed the merits (or otherwise!) of the England cricket team when the partner asked him if he could bowl. He said he was the opening bowler for his club, at which point the partner mentioned that the firm's team needed a good fast bowler and asked him when he could start!

The standard method of selecting candidates for jobs is to make list of key competencies required in the job and then to match these to the candidate's application. However two US researchers (Higgins & Judge) followed 100 university students trying to get their first job. They analysed their CVs for qualifications and work experience and talked to the interviewers afterwards. Surprisingly the main factor in deciding which ones were selected was whether or not the candidate appeared to be a pleasant individual.

Research by Sears and Rowe has found that interviewers tend to favour candidates with personalities, attitudes, values, and backgrounds similar to their own.

The successful candidates had:
  • Smiled and made a lot of eye contact
  • Shown a genuine interest in the interviewer and given genuine compliments
  • Praised the company: find something you genuinely like about the organisation.
  • Asked interesting questions: for example "What is your personal experience of working for this company?"
  • Talked about subjects unrelated to job, but that interested the candidate and interviewer. See the panel to the right.

How to overcome interview nerves

Always remember you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Winnie the Pooh

  • You are expected to be nervous! If you are not, it suggests that you may not want the job very much. Having said this the interviewer will expect your nerves to diminish after a few minutes.
  • Try to think that it's not that important: there will be other interviews in future and it's not the end of the world if you don't get this job.
  • Preparation is key - the more preparation you have done, such as working out answers to common interview questions, and doing careful research on the organisation and job, the more relaxed you will feel.
  • Some people swear by visualisation. The night before, visualise yourself undergoing the whole interview, step by step, and imagine everything going really well, you answering questions confidently, and ultimately getting the job.
  • Dress smartly but also comfortably as this will make you feel more confident.

    steepled hands
    Steepled hands

  • Adopting power poses beforehand can make you feel more confident at interview. Expansive body postures such as standing upright with hands on your hips, leaning over a desk with hands firmly on the surface, or steepling your hands can increase testosterone, decrease stress, and make you feel more in control, more confident and more assertive. Practicing power poses right before an interview can also increase performance. Research at Harvard Business Schoolfound that holding power poses for two minutes before interview led candidates to be evaluated more favourably and increased their chances of a job offer by 20%. So if you’re worried about a job interview or presentation, strike a power pose a few minutes beforehand (not of course at the interview!) but in the washroom, or before leaving home. See our body language quiz for more about this
  • Start the interview in a positive manner and it is likely to continue in the same way.
  • Don't worry too much about making a mistake: nearly everyone fluffs one question and research suggests interviewers prefer candidates who come across as human to those who appear "plastic perfect".
  • Professor Sian Bellock investigated why our performance reduces under pressure"Getting people to write about their worries beforehand ..... can really help ...... Writing about your worries almost "downloads" them so they are less likely to pop up and impact your performance.". So the day before your interview spend some time writing down everything about it that you are worried about.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and neurolingistic programming (NLP) are powerful techniques which help you develop a positive mind set for interviews
  • Mindfulness techniques can help greatly in reducing stress in interviews and similar situations and can also help with many other aspects of life by increased attention, focus and clarity.
  • Listen to empowering music beforehand.  A research sudy suggests that this could help boost your confidence and feel more powerful and in control.
  • BBC article on how to cope with pressure 

Should you mention a weakness at the start or end of an interview?

One interviewee, asked about her weaknesses, thought briefly and then replied "Wine, chocolate and men - though not necessarily in that order." 

She got the job!

If you have a potential difficulty (e.g. poor exam results or a disability, should you disclose this at the start or the end of the interview? According to research by Jones and Gordon of Duke University, candidates appeared more likeable if weaknesses were disclosed early in the interview and strengths towards the end.

Candidates who disclosed potential problems early on were thought by interviewers to have more integrity and strength of character and thus were not attempting to mislead them. Candidates who mentioned strengths (such as having been awarded a scholarship) later in the interview appeared more modest than those who blurted it out at the first opportunity, thus seeming boastful.

For more details on both the above pieces of research see the excellent "59 Seconds" by Prof. Richard Wiseman

Types of interview

"Questions they might expect to face at most interviews (e.g. asking for an example of team-building, or showing that they are a fast learner) are difficult to answer well if you are not used to them, and haven’t prepared a list of examples to draw from. We’d recommend students consider why we’re asking the question. For example, a good answer on team-building outlines difficulties you may have had with other team-members and show that you understand what you need to do to overcome that, rather than simply tell the interviewer that the team worked together really well."

Civil Service

Competency-based interviews

Many large graduate recruiters now used competency-based (also called "structured" or "situational") interviews in which the questions are designed to help candidates give evidence of the personal qualities which are needed to perform well in the job. Usually, you will be expected to give an example of how you have demonstrated these qualities in the past in reply to questions such as:

Describe a situation where you had to.....

  • show leadership
  • make a difficult decision
  • work as a member of a team
  • shown initiative
  • change your plans at the last minute
  • overcome a difficult obstacle
  • refuse to compromise
  • work with others to solve a problem


Structured interviews can seem unfriendly and off-putting to candidates. They do not give opportunities for discussion - when you have answered one question as far as you feel able, the interviewer will move on to another topic. The advantages of these interviews is that they are standardised - important when many different interviewers are assessing a large number of graduate applicants - and that they are based upon the skills essential for the job. See the Competency-based applications and interviews page for more detailed help with this

How not to do it:

  • Candidate had a fizzy drink just before interview and spent the whole interview burping.
  • Candidate brought a large dog to the interview.
  • Came dressed in pyjamas and slippers.
  • Wore a personal stereo and said she could listen to me and the music at the same time.
  • When asked him about his hobbies, he stood up and started tap dancing around the office.
  • Pulled out a camera and took a photo. Said he collected photos of everyone who interviewed him.
  • Without saying a word, candidate stood up and walked out during the middle of the interview.
  • Handcuffed himself to the interview desk.
  • Said he was so well-qualified that if he didn't get the job, it would prove that the company's management was incompetent.
  • Asked her about the many jobs she had had and she said ‘I get bored easily’.
  • Interrupted interview to phone her therapist for advice on how to answer specific questions.
  • Brought his mother to the interview and let her answer the questions.
  • Sang her answers to questions.
  • Dozed off during the interview.
  • Dunked his biscuit in his tea and lost it.
  • Announced she hadn't had lunch and proceeded to eat a hamburger and chips during the interview.
  • Said he would demonstrate loyalty by having company logo tattooed on his arm.
  • Said she would prefer a job offer from one of the company's competitors.
  • Said he never finished high school because he was kidnapped and kept in a wardrobe.
  • Interviewer: What is your date of birth?
    Interviewee: May the 15th 
    Interviewer: Which year?
    Interviewee: Every year.
  • Interviewer: Tell me a word that has more than 10 letters in it?
    Interviewee: Postbox
  • Interviewer: Do you know MS Office?
    Interviewee: I'm sure I'll find it if you tell me the address.

"Traditional" interviews

These are more like a conversation - but a conversation with a purpose. It is up to you to show that you are the right person for the job, so bear this in mind when replying to the questions. These interviews will probably be based largely around your application form or CV. The interviewer may focus on areas of particular interest or relevance - such as vacation jobs or projects.

Interviewers often expect interviewees to talk much more than the candidates themselves expect to. So don't be too brief in your answers - but don't rabbit on for too long either. Watch the interviewer and pause from time to time - he or she will either encourage you to continue or will introduce another question.

It's OK to pause briefly. A short gap to gather your thoughts shows thoughtfulness, assertiveness and self confidence.

Be polite, but don't be afraid to enter into a discussion and to stand your ground. Some interviewers will deliberately challenge your replies in order to stimulate this kind of discussion.

How to handle questions:

Typical questions at traditional interviews:

Questions about yourself: your background and your future ambitions:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why did you choose the University of Kent/ your degree subject?
  • Explaining gaps on your application form - e.g. year out; unemployment; travel
  • How would the experiences you describe be useful in this company?
  • What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
  • What other jobs/careers are you applying for?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years time? (This is quite a common question: read the employer's brochure to get an idea of the normal pace of graduate career development. Be ambitious but realistic)
  • Tell me about your vacation work/involvement with student societies/sporting activities

Questions about your knowledge of the employer, or career area:

  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Why have you chosen to apply for this job function?
  • Who do you think are, or will be, our main competitors?
  • What do you think makes you suitable for this job?
  • What do you see as the main threats or opportunities facing the company?
  • What image do you have of this company?



Closed questions

Selling the skills you gained from vacation jobs.

Recruiters now seem to put great weight on the ability to "sell" the skills gained in your work experience.

Many students feel that their casual shop or restaurant job is of no interest to employers but nothing could be further from the truth. Recruiters expect you to be able to explain the skills you gained serving customers, working in a busy team, being tactful when handling complaints etc.

Being aware of competencies developed through casual work IS of interest to employers. This can include voluntary work but preferably anything that demonstrates leadership skills and customer service experience (retail, hospitality, call centres etc. - anything involving putting the customer first).

Here is an example of how one graduate did this on their CV: "All of my work experiences have involved working within a team-based culture. This involved planning, organisation, coordination and commitment e.g., in retail, this ensured daily sales targets were met, a fair distribution of tasks and effective communication amongst all staff members."

These are questions which can normally be answered with a simple "yes" or "no". If you are asked a closed question open it up, as in the following example:

Interviewer: "So you're studying History at the University of Kent?"

Interviewee: "Yes, I've found it a very interesting course because ..."

See our page on types of interview questions

Give answers which are relevant and illustrated with examples:

Interviewer: "This is a job with a very heavy workload. Do you think you could cope with that?"

Interviewee: "Well, during my final year I've had a great deal of academic work and I've also been working three nights a week at my bar job and kept up my involvement with the squash club. All that has meant that I've had to be very organised but I've never missed an evening's work or an essay deadline and I reached the semi-final of the squash tournament too!"

Hypothetical questions

Some interviewers like to pose hypothetical questions, or questions that you could not be expected to have anticipated. These questions are used precisely because it's impossible to work out your answer before the interview, thus it tests your ability to think quickly, reason logically, and produce practical solutions.

You may be given an example of a situation that might arise in your work, and asked what you would do about it:

  • "How would you deal with a staff member caught stealing a packet of biscuits from the warehouse?"

    A demanding hypothetical question!

    You are driving in your two seater sports car on a wild, stormy night. You pass a bus stop, and you see three people waiting for the bus:

    1. An old lady who looks as if she is might die.
    2. An old friend who once saved your life.
    3. The perfect man/woman you have been dreaming about meeting for years.

    Which one would you choose to offer a ride to, knowing that there is only room for one passenger in your car? 

    This is a moral dilemma question.
    Should you pick up the old lady? She is likely to die, and so you should save her first.

    Or you could take your old friend: he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back. But then you may never be able to find your perfect dream lover again.

    The candidate chosen from 200 applicants simply answered: "I would give my car keys to my old friend, and let him take the lady to the hospital. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the woman of my dreams!" 
    See our lateral thinking page

  • "How would you deal with an irate customer?"
  • "Your manager goes ill for a week and leaves you in charge. You hear staff complaining about the way he runs things, and how bored they are with their job - what do you do?"
  • "The sales of Woofermeat are falling - what would you do to revive them?"

Sometimes questions may be about non-work situations:

  • "You are a shepherd in the Scottish Highlands, a dam is about to burst due to heavy rain, you come across the dam keeper with a broken leg, obtained as he was trying to reach the village below the dam to warn them of the danger. You have your flock of sheep to get in from the inclement weather. What would you do?"!
  • "How would you solve London's traffic problems?"

Don't panic! Don't try to blurt out your answer. Take a few seconds to think - this shows confidence and assertiveness rather than weakness.

Don't try to form your whole answer immediately - just try to say one or two sensible things first - in the example above, you could say that first you would examine the dam keeper's leg to see how bad the injury was. This gives you time to think further.

There may be many possible solutions to the problem. The interviewer won't be expecting a perfect answer. What you actually say in answer doesn't matter, so long as it sounds reasonable, confident and well-thought-out and you show awareness of the issues involved.

See our page on types of interview questions

How many interviewers will there be?

One-to-one interviews are the most common. In this situation your interviewer is most likely to be somebody from the Personnel department but, especially in a smaller company, may be from the area of work for which you are applying.

Two-to-one interviews may involve both a Personnel and a line manager. This can be more tricky for the interviewee as the questions seem to come faster, giving you less time to collect your thoughts between different topics. Don't get flustered.

Panel interviews could involve a panel of half-a-dozen or so interviewers. They are relatively rare but are most likely to be found in the public sector. Direct your attention to whoever is speaking: when answering questions, begin by directing your answer to the person who asked the question, but try and include the panel as a whole.

Our partner Graduates First offers a set of tools for job seekers, students and graduates. One of them is a question identifier tool that will help you get prepared for your interview. Kent students register using your Kent email address at to get access to a portfolio of free aptitude tests and tools.

Questions you can ask

At the end of the interview, it is likely that you will be given the chance to put your own questions to the interviewer.
  • Keep them brief: there may be other interviewees waiting.
  • Ask about the work itself, training and career development: not about holidays, pensions, and season ticket loans.
  • Prepare some questions in advance: it is OK to write these down and to refer to your notes to remind yourself of what you wanted to ask.

It often happens that, during the interview, all the points that you had noted down to ask about will be covered before you get to this stage. In this situation, you can respond as follows:

Interviewer: Well, that seems to have covered everything: is there anything you would like to ask me?

Interviewee: Thank you: I'd made a note to ask about your appraisal system and the study arrangements for professional exams, but we went over those earlier and I really feel you've covered everything that I need to know at this moment.

Twoway2.gif (1987 bytes)

The interview is a two-way process. 
You are choosing the organisation 
as much as they are choosing you, so ask questions!

You can also use this opportunity to tell the interviewer anything about yourself that they have not raised during the interview but which you feel is important to your application.

Don't feel you have to wait until this point to ask questions - if the chance to ask a question seems to arise naturally in the course of the interview, take it! Remember that a traditional interview is a conversation - with a purpose.

Examples of questions you can ask the interviewer

These are just a few ideas - you should certainly not attempt to ask them all and indeed it's best to formulate your own questions tailored to your circumstances and the job you are being interviewed for! Make sure you have researched the employer carefully, so that you are not asking for information which you should be expected to know already.

How not to do it: real questions asked at interview

  • What is your Zodiac sign?
  • Do I have to dress for the next interview?
  • I know this is off the subject, but will you marry me?
  • Will the company pay to relocate my horse?
  • When is pay day?
  • Would it be a problem if I'm angry most of the time?
  • Why am I here?
  • Is there a fixed period of training for graduates?
  • I see it is possible to switch job functions - how often does this happen?
  • Do you send your managers on external training courses?
  • Where would I be based - is this job function located only in ...?
  • How easy is it for new graduates to find accommodation in this area?
  • How often is a graduate's performance appraised?
  • What is a typical career path in this job function?
  • Can you give me more details of your training programme?
  • Will I be working in a team? If so, what is the make-up of these teams?
  • What is the turnover of graduates in this company?

    Can an interviewer tell if you're lying?

    It has often been said that liars give themselves away by non-verbal clues such as looking away, fidgeting, or scratching their nose, but recent research has shown that there is very little evidence for this, although these do tend to be signs of being emotionally uncomfortable. If fact people who are lying tend to talk with a higher-pitched voice, give fewer and less precise details in accounts of events, are more negative and repeat words more often.

  • How much discretion do you give graduate trainees to make their own decisions?
  • What would I be expected to achieve in my first few months with you?
  • What are the possibilities of using my languages?
  • What drives results for the company?
  • What are the travel/mobility requirements of this job?
  • What are the key attributes of your best graduates?
  • How would you see this company developing over the next five years?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere in this company?
  • What is your personal experience of working for this organisation?
  • How do you plan to deal with... (particular problem or situation affecting the company)?

Following up

Narcissistic candidates are more successful at interviews

University of British Columbia study found that narcissistic applicants are more successful in job interviews than candidates who act more modestly. Applicants from Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures that place greater emphasis on humility may struggle to find work in countries with Western values. Behaviours displayed by narcissists included making more eye contact, joking with interviewers, boasting and asking more questions. The study said that interviewers should focus more on ability than superficial charm.

After the interview, jot down some notes of the questions asked and anywhere that you felt you could have responded better. You may want to work on these points before your next interview.

Send a thank-you note. Jessica Liebman wrote in a blog that if she doesn’t get a thank-you note after interviewing a candidate: “I assume you don’t want the job; I think you’re disorganized and forgot to follow up…I’ll forget about you.”. See this Wall Stret Journal article for more about thank you notes

The interviewer will probably let you know when you can expect to hear the result of your interview. This may be within a couple of days ... or weeks.

Not every interview will result in an immediate job offer: the next stage may be a second interview or selection centre.

If you are turned down for the job, you may pick up some useful tips to improve your performance next time by telephoning your interviewer to ask politely what - if anything - you did wrong. Not all interviewers are willing to provide this feedback but it's worth a try. Sometimes the information you get will be vague and basic: often along the lines that you were a good candidate but others were slightly better.

Dear ....

I would be most grateful for some feedback on my unsuccessful application for the post of .... 

I understand that you must be very busy and must get large numbers of applicants but it would be help me greatly if you could please give me some information on why I was unsuccessful, so I am able to improve my applications to other organisations.

Thanking you in anticipation ....

You can console yourself that at least you were selected for interview. Less than one in five of applicants are typically interviewed, so you were probably in the top 20 percent!

Further information

  • Practice Interviews Interviews for teaching, accountancy, banking, journalism, marketing, personnel management, retailing, Civil Service, postgraduate study, scientific research, computing and law as well as general interviews. You will be asked common questions found in these interviews and given tips on how to answer them.
  • First Impressions Count 20-minute on-line video by the University of Bedfordshire to help students with the first stages of interview preparation. Features 4 students getting ready for graduate job interviews. An image consultant offers advice on how to dress appropriately to create a good first impression also voice training, body language and confidence boosting exercises.

    "You need to be very well prepared with examples of team leadership, planning, responsibility, communication etc."

    Student interviewed by accountancy firm

  • How to Prepare for that Crucial Interview
  • The Impact Factory - Interview hints
  • Take free tests at Graduates First
  • The Careers and Employability Service runs various talks and workshops on interview technique throughout the academic year.
  • Excel at Graduate Interviews published by Palgrave Macmillan


Careers and Employability Service - © University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7ND, T: +44 (0)1227 764000 ext. 3299

Last Updated: 15/06/2018