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careers clinic

5 pointers to remember in an interview

Preparation, examples, telling the company what they need to know: Some basic things to remember when going for that job.

JOB INTERVIEWS DO not follow one generic template. Nor can one size fit all when it comes to interview training advice. However, here are five pointers you should be able to apply in most interview scenarios.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Go through the job spec and company website for clues as to what they are really looking for in the successful candidate. Talk to anyone you know who is already working there, or who works in a similar one. Aim to get to a point where you have isolated the key attributes, skills, characteristics and experiences the company is looking for.

Then, and only then, make a list of examples from your life that illustrate you have what it is they’re looking for. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be going for the job. In our experience, very few candidates spend time preparing like this, and instead ‘wing it’. To help with this process, feel free to use our Key Issues document easily obtained by emailing:

2. Always answer the question.

Feed the language of the question back to the interview panel, eg…

Q: How would you describe yours skills as a manager of people? A: I would describe my skills as a manager of people as excellent/very strong/one of my best assets.

The benefits of doing this include:

  • It puts the question to bed straightaway. If you don’t do this, the interview panel could spend the rest of time listening to you talk and wondering when it is you’re planning to get round to actually answering the question. Not doing so also risks appearing as if you’re dodging the question.
  • Feeding back their language builds rapport with interviewers.
  • It buys you time as you think about what examples you can use to prove your ability as a manager of people.
  • Answering the question keeps you ‘true’ to the question – people regularly answer a question they haven’t been asked, without realising how far they’re straying away from the point. They answer a question they think they’ve been asked when in fact they’ve done anything but.

3. After answering the actual question, move onto giving examples.

These prove you have the skills, attributes, experiences or characteristics they have asked about in the question. Make sure to have those examples thought out beforehand. Be certain they’re the very best examples you have in each instance. Examples are like witnesses in a court case: don’t leave the one witness at home who can actually win the case for you.

Broadly speaking, two or three examples should be plenty – any more and you risk losing the interview panel’s attention. Don’t overload them with information. There comes a point of diminishing returns in an answer where the more you add to the truth, the more you’re actually takes taking away from it.

Think of the helpful person on the road who, in an effort to give you the best possible directions to the place you’re aiming for, actually confuses you completely with the weight of “hang a right, take the next left, through the roundabout, fourth exit, keep straight for 300, no, 500 yards, take a right, over the bridge, you can’t miss it.”

4. Try to apply your skills, experiences, characteristics or attributes to the job at hand.

Remember you are not auditioning for the previous role, but for the next role. Candidates often leave this part unsaid. It’s as if they feel “the employer should be able to see how my skills apply to the role.” I disagree. I feel that if you want the employer to see something, you should tell them. Don’t leave room for ambiguity or confusion. Don’t ask the employer to discern something via telepathy: be explicit. Say “I feel that my experience, both in my professional and sporting careers, show that I’m ideally suited to the task of managing people, as you’ve outlined. You need somebody who can direct people in an effective manner – someone who can command respect.”

5. The onus rests with you, not them, to tell them what they need to know.

I refer you to Point 1, where you first identify what they’re looking for in the successful candidate. Don’t rely on the interviewer’s questions to bring you to where you want to go. You’ve got to spot opportunities to divert to the key areas yourself. You know from your preparation the exact points you want to cover: go in there and cover them.

Liam Horan of is’s resident careers writer. Sli Nua Careers offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services with offices in Dublin, Galway and Ballinrobe, Co Mayo. They are running a ‘Get That Job’ Career Workshop in Dublin on Saturday, 10 November – details here.

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