The ultimate guide to acing an interview
26 November 2019

The ultimate guide to acing an interview

Put your best foot forward at your next big job interview with Ciphr’s essential guide to acing that interview


Ciphr editorial

Ciphr editorial

Ciphr editorial posts articles that have been written or contributed to by Ciphr's in-house team of writers, who are experts in a range of HR and L&D topics, from recruitment and onboarding to performance management, payroll, and employee experience, as well as HR software and HR systems.


Career development


Put your best foot forward at your next big job interview with Ciphr’s essential guide to acing that interview

Interviewing for a new role or internal promotion is, understandably, a nerve-wracking process for many. Ciphr’s ultimate guide to acing an interview is here to support you every step of the way, from pre-interview preparation to what to do on the big day, and how best to follow up with the recruiter and hiring manager after your meeting.


How to prepare for an interview

1. Do your research

Hopefully you will have researched the role and employer before submitting an application, but now that you’ve been invited for an interview, you’ll want to refresh your knowledge and dive into deeper detail. Start by looking at the organisation’s website and social media pages, and going over the job advert and description. Take a wider look at the industry and the organisation’s competitors, too, and you might want to check out the company’s Glassdoor page as well to get some insight into what it’s really like to work there.

Some key areas of information you’ll want to cover off with your research might include:

  • The organisation’s core products and services
  • Their key competitors
  • What you think differentiates this company from others in the market
  • The role’s requirements and how your skills and expertise will meet them

You will also want to research the people you are meeting – LinkedIn and the company’s website will be your key sources of information – as well as the office location, and your route there (whether that’s walking, by car, or by public transport).


2. Prepare for questions that you might be asked

While you won’t want answers to interview questions to appear rehearsed, you will want to give advance consideration to some topics that might arise. These might include:

  • An overview of your career history to date
  • Why are you looking to leave your current role?
  • What are you looking for in a new role?
  • What attracted you to this role/organisation?
  • What differentiates this company from its competitors?
  • What would your colleagues say are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your career aspirations for the next 5-10 years?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • What is your notice period?


3. Plan questions you’d like to ask the interviewer

You’ll also want to note down some questions you’d like to ask the hiring manager or recruiter – either about the role or team itself, or broader questions about the organisation’s culture, benefits, products, and goals. Asking intelligent, thoughtful questions will demonstrate that you’re interested in the role and engaged with the interview process, and that you’ve done your research beforehand. Don’t be afraid to write down your questions – on a notepad, or on your phone – and bring that list to your interview, so you can make sure that cover everything you want to ask.

Good questions to ask the interviewer might include:

  • What do you enjoy about working here? What’s the organisational culture like?
  • What are the biggest challenges in this role or team?
  • Why has this vacancy opened up?
  • What does career progression look like for someone in this role?
  • How does this role contribute to the organisation’s overall goals?
  • What is the salary and benefits package?
  • Does the organisation embrace flexible/remote working?
  • How quickly are you looking to make a decision about this role? What would the next steps be after this first interview?


What to do on the day of an interview

1. Give yourself plenty of time

There’s nothing worse that being in a rush for an important appointment, so, no matter how tempting it is, don’t hit ‘snooze’ on the morning of your interview. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to go over your notes, prepare yourself, and travel to the location. You should have planned your route in advance, but be sure to give yourself an extra 10 minutes to find the location, park your car (if you’re driving), and have time to collect your thoughts before heading in.


2. Dress the part

Even if you know the office embraces a more casual dress code, you’ll want to look smart and presentable for this important meeting. Opt for clothes that you feel comfortable and smart in, and are clean and presentable. While you shouldn’t be afraid to express your personality through your clothes, this probably isn’t the time to opt for something wacky or humorous – keep your choices business-appropriate.


3. Make sure you have everything you need

Before setting off for your appointment, make sure you have everything you need with you: your interview notes, a copy of your CV and cover letter, the location’s address, and your mobile phone and contact number of the person you’re meeting. If relevant, you might want to prepare and take a portfolio of your recent work. And you might want to take a few bits to add some last-minute polish, whether that’s a hairbrush, perfume or cologne, or lipstick.


How to ace the interview

1. Take a moment to breathe before heading inside

Great job: you’ve arrived with some time to spare. Take a few moments to gather your thoughts and take some deep, relaxing breaths before heading into reception; you’ll perform at your best when you are experiencing some adrenaline but are not in a state of anxiety. You might even want to try repeating positive affirmations such as “I am perfect for this position; I am their ideal candidate”, before the interview begins.


2. Be polite, friendly and positive

People say “you never have a second change to make a first impression”, so make sure that your first impression is a good one by being polite and friendly to everyone you meet – from the receptionist to any staff you might encounter in the corridors, and not just to the hiring manager and recruiter. Even if you are unhappy in your current role, try to be as positive as possible during the interview and not criticise your team or organisation; this interview isn’t the time or place to vent your frustrations.


3. Consider your body language

When you can, pay attention to your body language and the subliminal messages you might be giving off to the interviewer. For example, having your arms crossed in front of you might make you appear defensive and unfriendly. Maintaining eye contact as you talk – and listen – will give the impression that you are confident and fully engaged with the conversation. Your posture can also speak volumes: sit up straight, and take a neutral position – not leaning too far forwards or backwards – that expresses your interest. A good rule of thumb is to subtly mirror the body language of the interviewer, which can assist with rapport-building.


4. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions you’ve prepared

A good interviewer will open up the opportunity for you to ask questions about the role and organisation – ideally ones that you’ve already prepared. But if you have a question that’s relevant to what’s being discussed, don’t wait until the end to ask it – speak up and put your question to them straight away. This will show that you are paying close attention to the discussion and are listening to and thinking about the conversation carefully.


What to do after an interview

1. Follow up with the hiring manager or recruiter

You may wish to follow up with the hiring manager or recruiter within the first 24 hours after your interview either by sending them an email thanking them for their time, or sending a connection request on LinkedIn with a note saying that you enjoyed meeting them.

The interviewer should have told you if they are seeing other candidates and roughly when they might get back to you, either with an offer, an invitation to a subsequent interview, or with a rejection. If you haven’t heard back from them after this time, don’t be afraid to call or email and ask if they’ve been able to make a decision. If you do receive a rejection, ask for feedback; you’ve put effort into preparing for and attending the interview and it’s only fair that they share their views about your performance and experience. If they’re not able or willing to do that, this may be a warning sign that this is an organisation that doesn’t respect and value their people, and which you probably don’t want to work for.


2. If you didn’t get the job, apply any lessons learned to your next interview

If the interviewer has provided useful feedback, take it on board and apply the lessons you’ve learned from this experience to your next interview. Remember, if you haven’t had many interviews – or it’s been a while since you were last a candidate – it may take a few attempts to find the right organisation and role for you, so try not to be disheartened.


3. If you did get the job, start planning now

So you were offered the role and have decided to accept the offer – congratulations! Now it’s time to start preparing for your big move: you’ll need to read over the contract carefully and query anything that’s not clear, as well as hand in your notice and prepare to pass your tasks on to a colleague or replacement. You might also want to email your new line manager and tell them how excited you are to start your new role, and check in with the HR team to find out if there are any tasks you need to complete now before your onboarding begins in earnest.

This article was first published as ‘The 10 Point Interview Checklist’ in March 2016. It was updated and republished in November 2019.