A job interview can be intimidating, particularly if it’s for your first job. Don’t fear! In this article we’ll explore the ins and outs of nailing a job interview, including common questions, tips for talking about yourself, and how to prepare.

The importance of preparing for a job interview

Congratulations! Take a moment to realise how far you have come. If you haven’t yet been invited for an interview, don’t worry, perseverance is an important strength to have. If you have, that is something to celebrate in itself, but remember it is important before an interview to do your ‘homework’. One part of this is to research the company – if it has a website, take a look through it, read the About Us page and get an understanding of its values. That way if you are asked any of the following questions, you can link in your knowledge of the company for extra interview points!

  • What attracted you to our company?
  • Why do you think you are well suited to our company?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Why should we hire you?

Finding out as much as you can before the interview will show your interest in the job and your proactiveness. It may also help to form a few questions to ask the interviewer about the company. It is always good to have a few up your sleeve. Often employers expect interested interviewees to ask questions about the organisation as it shows your interest in the role. Anyway, it helps to make the interview flow more like a conversation! On that note, remember that the interview should not be one-sided, it is also your chance to see if this is the right choice for you and ask any questions you may have.

How do I prepare for difficult interview questions?

A simple online search will bring up lots of sample interview questions, and although they can change by sector and some companies have their classics (like Google’s ‘why are manholes round?’ designed to see how your creative side ticks), here are some of the most used questions that often come up as variations to prepare (but remember, there can be specific questions for your sector):

1. Tell me about yourself?

This is looking for a little of your path, your experience and the values and characteristics you would bring to the job.

2. What makes you unique?

In other words, what makes you different from the other people being interviewed. This is linked to another popular question interviewers ask: ‘Why should we hire you?’

3. Why do you want to work here/in this role?

This is where your homework on the company will pay off.

4. What are you passionate about?

Consider what motivates you, what gets you up in the morning.

5. What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?

Weaknesses are difficult to make positive for an interview, so certainly this is worth preparing. For your strengths, consider what you have used as examples on your personal Skills Summary. For your weaknesses, think of something you find difficult and how you could improve on it. You could even talk to someone you know and ask what they think.

For example, if you get overwhelmed sometimes, you could say something like: ‘I have a tendency at the start of a job to say yes to everything and that sometimes this can make me feel overwhelmed, but I am learning to communicate this with my manager, so we are on the same page. Sometimes this means I might need to say no to something, but it is only so it doesn’t take away from the quality of the rest of my work.

6. Where do you see yourself in five years?

You might answer this with skills you would like to develop. Overall, the important thing here is to show you have goals and that you are looking towards future opportunities.

7. Tell me about a difficult (work) situation you have had and how you have managed it? 

First of all, if you don’t have a work-related answer to an interview question, always try to find an appropriate experience you have had in your life to relate to. By preparing in advance, you can read up on how others would answer questions like this one that you find more difficult to answer. Secondly, this question is looking for your problem-solving abilities and how you work under pressure. Don’t get too worried about it, but it is asked often so certainly prepare for it.

8. Do you have any questions?

As has already been said, this is always asked at the end of an interview and is very important. Be prepared with your own few questions to ask. A few will be answered during the course of the interview so you should have one or two left over for this question at the end this way.

Practise answering questions!

Using these questions and any you may think are important for the job you are applying for, do a practice interview with someone you know. It can feel a little awkward at first – maybe even silly – but, speaking from experience of doing interviews with and without practice, it is very useful.

You can find out more about this on the Spunout.ie website, or on this Indeed webpage. Indeed also has this helpful video that takes you through some simple but important interview tips in four minutes. The video is a little staged, but the information is valuable. Remember that the interview starts the minute you walk into the building, be nice to everybody you meet, be yourself and be confident. Although many of us aren’t used to bragging about ourselves, an interview really involves that. It’s about how you market yourself as a potential colleague. So just remember from the first hello that it is all part of your interview. If you want any other tips on interviews, Spunout.ie has a dedicated section on interviews.

How should I dress for an interview?

There is no one size fits all when it comes to dressing for interviews. Depending on the sector you are looking for a job in, and other factors, the dress code changes. If in doubt, always overdress and you can ask in the interview about the workplace dress code, but make sure you are comfortable in what you wear. For example, the youth sector is very casual so wearing business casual to an interview would be enough, whereas if you were interviewing for a job in finance it would be expected that you wear business attire, usually a suit. The one rule, despite the sector, is to dress cleanly. Meaning clean and polished shoes, clean, simple and fresh clothing, not too much makeup if you wear it, a clean and neat beard if you have one, not too revealing clothes.

Jobs.ie has an article on dressing for interviews that gives quite a good overview if you are looking for more information. This is another good article too, although the ‘What to Bring’ section is less relevant. However, remember that you are young and times have changed – much of the formality of interview attire has changed. You certainly don’t need to wear heels as a woman if you don’t usually. But again, remember to be comfortable in whatever you wear, interviews always contain a certain amount of nervousness so aim to eliminate that where possible.

When the time has come for the interview (a little checklist)

  • Take a deep breath, slow down. Be yourself, you will be brilliant. If this opportunity is meant for you it won’t pass you by.
  • Remember to be organised and on time. Put out what you plan to wear to the interview the night before. Have a good breakfast with plenty of time to relax. Plan how long it will take you to get there and how you will get there. Always aim to be at least ten minutes early. You can always take a walk or sit in a coffee shop or a library while you wait if you end up being too early. Getting to the place you will have the interview five to ten minutes beforehand is considered good practice and gives you a few minutes to gather your thoughts.
  • If you have to bring a portfolio of work (for many artists and designers this is the usual), make sure it is neat. Bringing your CV, your personal Skills Summary or a note of the questions you want to ask the employer along as a reference is also a good idea. It might be of use to the employer, but it also can help to calm your nerves and give you something to hold during the interview.
  • Make it a conversation – not a monologue! If you are offered a glass of water or something to drink in the interview, take it. It can give you a chance to gather your thoughts at points in the interview. It makes it more of a give-and-take situation and not just one-sided. Interviews will feel so much more comfortable for both parties if it is a conversation. After all, you also want to know if this is the right fit for you as much as them!
  • Stand tall – act confident even if you are not feeling it right now. Offer your hand and give a firm handshake, maintain eye contact and try to avoid bad habits like chewing gum in the interview. But you already knew that.
  • When it’s over, thank them for their time and reinforce your passion and suitability for the job. You can follow up with an email later that day or the next morning thanking them and reminding them how you enjoyed the experience and would love the opportunity to work with them. If it doesn’t work out, try to learn from the experience and ask for feedback, but don’t let it get you down too much.

Wait, my interview is online!

If you interview is by phone call or video call, this can add anxiety for some people. The best way to combat this is simply by being prepared. Increasingly interviews are being moved online and while it is different, it is nothing to fear too much. Again, preparation is key here.

  • If you are asked to do a video interview and you do not have access to a computer with a camera or (a stable) internet connection, you can explain this. You can ask to do it in another way and that is completely acceptable.

It can be strange with online interviews as there is no handshake and eye contact is more difficult, as well as internet difficulties. But in general you should treat it just as you would an in-person interview – that includes how you dress and are preparing. An added step for online interviews if you are uncomfortable with the technology is that you could practise with a friend or family member to get used to signing into the call, where you should sit so the camera is not in the light or just looking up your nose! Here are a few tips:

  • Just like before, be conscious of your online profile. Make sure your username is something professional.
  • You can use the fact the interviewer cannot see what is not on camera to your advantage. Placing sticky notes with reminder along the edge of your laptop screen can be a helpful way to remind you of what you feel is important to say during the interview.
  • Clear all distractions – for you and for the interviewer. Ensure your device isn’t going to be sounding with notifications and turn off emails and anything else that might pop up and distract you – let alone weaken your internet reception.
  • Secondly, be aware that in a video interview your space becomes an extension of their first impressions of you. If the room you are in is disorganised, they will note that, so try to neaten it up and keep it organised on the day of the interview. This includes any posters or photos that might be on the wall behind you – ask yourself: ‘What does this say about me?’ Finally, try to limit as much as possible any background noise or interruptions. Let the people you live with know that you have an interview, so they do not to disturb you or make too much noise when your door is closed. Make sure any pets aren’t going to come in either. It’s best that the interview is focused on you professionally – the organisation will get to know you when you get the job. Sometimes the best solution to possible disruptions is to get good headphones. If you can’t help it any further, which can happen and is understandable, acknowledge it in the interview. Explain to the interviewer at the outset: ‘I just want to let you know that there might be some background noise as my sister comes home from school, but I have tried to limit it as best as possible.’ Or maybe it’s flagging your internet. The interviewer will appreciate that you aren’t just ignoring the reality. If you don’t have this space, consider going to your local library, a quiet coffee shop or somewhere else to do the interview. Again, flagging this with the interviewer before is a good idea.

Finally, this video interview guide from Indeed is a helpful resource. The webinar at the end of the page is especially worth watching to gather more knowledge on interviewing.