Preparing for an interview needs to be done with a minimum of distraction. If you're not confident, you need some time and space to get your information together and give your mind a chance to get a firm grip on the subjects and questions.

Fortunately, preparation can be done systematically, so you can guarantee yourself a bit of progress, under any circumstances.

Ironically, preparation isn't so much for your interview, but your ability to process information. It's a learning process. As you become more familiar with the subjects and how to address them, your fluency improves, sometimes dramatically. If you remember learning to read, you'll remember that even individual words and concepts were once a real struggle.

None of this, either the preparation or the interview itself, is actually difficult, it just looks difficult, and has the added weight of your expectations and worries. You can save yourself a lot of bother and grief by just getting on with your preparation. At least you'll know you gave yourself a good chance to get the job.

***** Entry level interviewees: We're giving you a special section so you can adapt the Question and Answer processes to your needs. Most of it's pretty straightforward, but entry level is different in some important ways. Read your part first, before reading the other sections.

Preliminary: Gathering of materials for preparation

You need:

  • A copy of the job ad
  • A position description, if available. (These vary in quality, but you may find you have some extra relevant skills)
  • Any information you've been able to get from contact people about the job.
  • Any relevant texts about the work. (These can be good memory aids)
  • A clear idea of the exact nature of the job
  • Any local knowledge
  • Any materials relating to special features of the job or skills.

As you can see, there's not much missing from this list. You can definitely pin down all the materials you need pretty easily.

There's no guesswork involved.

The really important thing is not to try to do all this at the last minute.

Stuffing your head full of things in a way where you don't even have time to understand the information just doesn't work.

So give yourself a decent chance at having all the information properly organized, mentally, as well as physically.

Organize your preparation

Find a quiet spot, turn off your phone, make it clear you don't want to be disturbed, if necessary.

Interview preparation has one real major asset; you learn how to make time and space for yourself, which is invaluable in pressure jobs.

We'll go through the interview stage by stage in the following chapters. At this point, if you want to be cohesive about preparation, you need a clear mental structure for preparing your interview.

Start thinking about your responses from the beginning of the interview.

We'll do this in steps, so you can see a normal interview structure:

1. Obviously there's the introduction, and the first question.

This is the icebreaker period of the interview, and you need to be feeling comfortable after the intro, with the talk flowing freely.

2. The next phase is the first real series of questions. These will most likely be about your work history.

You know enough about your work to be able to figure out the likely questions in this area. It's just a matter of what order they're in, in terms of the interview. This is all about things you know, but how you express it will matter. You will need to show relevant experience throughout.

3. Now will come the more difficult questions, relating to work situations, and showing how you do things. You'll almost certainly be asked to give examples of things you've done, and explain situations, actions, and results.

4. There's a class of questions which relate to how you fit into a workplace. This is the team-oriented class of questions, and will include further examples of teamwork, and working with others.

5. Additional questions relating to your work, often specialized questions, are quite likely throughout phases 2-4, because they're additional qualifiers to any skills. You may get a technical question in the middle of an answer, because someone either wants to spell out your answer, or to confirm your statements.

As you can see, this is a very standardized format, and it's designed like that to do a thorough testing of candidates.

This method soon separates successful candidates from the pack, sometimes as early as Part 2, where an interviewee's version of their work experience doesn't come up to scratch. Not because they don't have the experience, but because they've expressed that experience badly.

All the questions are necessary, and they're all relevant to the job.

You have the essential criteria, in the form of the job ad, and any notes you've taken as a result of further checking about requirements for the job.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • How much of my experience is relevant to the essential criteria?
  • What problems have I solved, how, and what did I achieve?
  • How do I show my workplace relationships to best advantage,
  • What are the best examples I can use to show my skills?
  • How do I show added value in my work?

There's a very long list of these possible questions. They all have answers, too, and you do know them.

Think about this:

If you were hiring someone for this job, what are the absolutely essential skills?

The point here is you already have most of the information you need. The additional info you've gathered is enough to tell you what's going to be required apart from your basic knowledge.

The interview format works very much in your favor, if you approach it from a purely practical point of view:

Simply match your relevant experience to each point in the essentials.

  • Problem solving is a standard question. Find a situation where you can show your problem solving in relation to one or more of the essentials.
  • Team and workplace relationship questions are also standard. You do have that experience.
  • Skills are best shown by examples. You will have at least a few cases where you can prove both by the work you've done and your training and qualifications what you can do.
  • The position description is often a source of valuable information about the job, so use it to fill out the blanks in your understanding.
  • Local knowledge is invaluable. What do you know about the workplace and the realities of the job? This is about as relevant as you can get, and you can show that you can do the actual job, not just fit the description.
  • The special features of the job may include some actual specialization, like customer complaints, or some technical requirement. These are good points to show a fit between yourself and the job. Spend some time looking at these special requirements, because they can be deciding factors in getting your appointment.

The rest of the process is your actual performance during the interview itself.