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Make a great impression

Preparation is key to performing well in an interview

Preparation is key to performing well in an interview, whether it's face-to-face, over the telephone or video, or at an assessment centre.

Once you've read this guide, you'll have a clear understanding of the types of interviews you might be asked to attend. You'll also know the types of questions you could be asked, as well as the questions you should remember to ask the employer.

Begin by reviewing the best practices for presenting yourself and arriving at the interview. Then take note on the different interview and question types so you can prepare your answers.

First impressions

It's important to make a good impression to an employer. Employers can form an opinion of you within a few seconds of meeting you, so dress professionally and present yourself in the best possible light.

Making a good first impression

What you wear and how you look can affect how an interviewer gets a good first impression of you. Check the dress code and if you're not sure always choose smart over casual. Depending on the role you're applying for, you might also want to avoid too much jewellery or make-up, use aftershave or perfume sparingly and make sure you've washed and ironed your outfit.

Different industries or sectors may have slightly different dress codes. Even so, formality in an interview situation is likely to be preferable. Even in creative industries, where day-to-day office wear may be more informal than in finance or law, you'll still be expected to dress smartly.

Be polite and well-mannered with any staff you come into contact with before, during and after your interview. Avoid speaking negatively about previous employers and/or experiences.

Three key areas to consider are your eyes, your mouth and your hands.

Eye contact

Make and maintain a good level of eye contact to demonstrate to the interviewer that you're engaged in what they're saying. Aim for an open, confident gaze, rather than a fixed stare – both at the start of the interview and throughout.


Interviewers and other staff members that you come into contact with during the process will respond positively if you present yourself with a smile on your face. While you may be nervous on the inside, smiling will help to break the ice and should make interviewers more receptive to what you're saying.

The handshake

A good handshake can make a lasting impression on the interviewer. Aim for a firm handshake with the employer that shows a commitment to the greeting.

It's natural to feel nervous. However, it's important to show you can manage anxiety in difficult situations. Remember to take a deep breath and don’t feel pressurised to rush any of your responses. The employer will look forward to finding out more about you and ultimately wants you to do well.

Practical considerations

It may seem like common sense, but don't overlook the basics. When you're sent information about your interview by the employer make sure you carefully read over the details provided.

Consider the following:

Be clear about where the interview will be. Note down the full address and postcode and where possible familiarise yourself with what the building looks like externally by researching it online.

Google Maps

Using Google Maps will be one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with the location and your journey. Use it to work out your route, including using public transport, walking or driving.

Journey time

Time management is likely to be a crucial skill that the employer will be looking for in their candidate. So planning your journey to make sure you arrive on time, or preferably early, will be essential.

Once you've arrived on time and in the right place, present yourself to reception with the name of your contact for the interview. You should have received this information in the correspondence sent by the employer before your interview.

If you're not sure of the individual's name, make sure you explain the purpose of your visit to the organisation clearly.

Making sure you're familiar with all of the above means you shouldn't arrive flustered. It will also give you time to refocus and mentally prepare yourself for the interview process itself.

Interview practice

Practice is useful for any upcoming interview, whether it's online, face to face or over the phone.

Prepare for common interview questions

The questions you'll be asked in your interviews will differ each time, and depend on the role, organisation and industry you're apply for.

Interviewers usually ask a mix of:

  • Motivation and suitability questions
  • Competency-based questions
  • Strength-based questions
  • Value-based questions
  • Questions about weaknesses, failures and resilience
  • Scenario-based questions
  • Technical questions
  • General questions

Explore these types of questions further in our full guide.

See our full guide to interview questions you may be asked

Types of interviews

Practice is essential, no matter what type of interview you're preparing for.

Interview types

Most recruiters conduct panel interviews. In a panel interview, several recruiters will interview you at the same time from a panel. Panels may consist of only two people or as many as four or more.

Try to remain as relaxed as possible and include or engage all the panel members when replying to questions.

These may include specific questions related to knowledge of a particular area, for example, engineering, computing or science. The emphasis will be on exploring your factual knowledge. You'll need to prepare thoroughly and you may be asked to take a practical test.

Telephone interviews are usually used in the early stages of an application process but could occur at any point. They're conducted over the phone but still follow the format of a standard interview, so you'll still need to prepare thoroughly beforehand.

Remember, as you can't see the interviewer, it's important to speak clearly. Also, make sure that you make or take the call in a place where you won't be disturbed. You could also prepare simple notes to use during the discussion – mind maps work well as they allow your thoughts to be organised clearly and concisely.

See our guide to telephone and video interviews.

These are becoming more popular with employers. Video interviews are conducted remotely and are often used for pre-screening candidates before the next stage of selection. These will typically be in the form of Skype or video software.

You'll be given guidelines on how to prepare your lighting and screen resolution if doing a live video interview. Or you may be required to answer pre-recorded questions that appear on the screen. Usually, you'll have a short time to prepare your answer, and then a set time to answer.

See our guide to telephone and video interviews.

A group interview involves you and several more candidates who'll be asked questions in turn. You might be asked to take part in a group discussion on a certain topic or to ask questions to other candidates or the panel.

Key things to consider include practising an introduction, arriving early to increase the opportunity to introduce yourself to other candidates, trying to build a rapport with the interviews and other candidates and listening closely to other candidates and acknowledging their contributions.

Overall, the employer is likely to be looking at how you interact with others and the role you take within a group context.

Resources for different interview types

Regardless of the type of interview, preparation is key. Here are further tips on different interview types:

  • TARGETjobs – offers a summary of different interview types
  • Totaljobs – provides an overview of interview advice and interview types
  • Prospects – outlines how to prepare for an interview, including information on types of interviews


Preparing for a presentation

Presentations are an increasingly popular element of the candidate selection process. The experience that you gain throughout your time at university will enable you to develop your presenting skills. However, while course presentations are used for demonstrating and sharing your knowledge, presentations as part of a selection process are likely to be used as a medium to assess other things as well.

Why might you be asked to do a presentation?

  • To assess your knowledge
  • To assess your communication (and specifically, your presentation) skills
  • To see how you perform under pressure
  • To assess your ability to research, plan and prepare
  • To measure your motivation

It's therefore important that you are not only secure in the knowledge that you need to share, but that you can present that information professionally and confidently. Careful preparation and planning, coupled with practice, will enable you to become more confident and thus more able to give your best on the day.

Read our full guide to presentations


Unsuccessful interviews

The job-hunting process is a challenging task. If you're facing rejection following an interview, it is important not to let this knock your confidence.

Instead, use an unsuccessful interview as an opportunity to improve for the next one. Send your contact at the organisation an email within a week of your rejection and thank them for their time. Ask what you did well, and the areas your application and/or interview weren't adequate. This will help you identify and address weaker areas and build on your strengths moving forward.

Remain positive about the experience

Preparing for interviews also gives you time to reflect on important experiences and skills you have.

If you get negative feedback after an interview, remember that it's rare to be offered the 1st job you apply for. It's likely you'll have some rejections so use resilience and self-belief to make sure you keep applying.

Boosting your employability

Being unemployed for a period following graduation or even further down the line doesn't need to be viewed negatively.

Instead, use the opportunity to continue developing your employability. Consider internships, learning a new language, volunteering in the local community or (finances-permitting) travelling abroad. All of these activities will allow you to continue developing content to improve your CV and future applications.

If you're local to the Portsmouth area, we can advise you on volunteering opportunities. These opportunities are advertised through the MyCareer jobs board that you can access with a student or graduate account.


More help and information

If you need further support and advice about interview preparation then you can speak with an adviser for interview hints and tips, or a mock interview.

To book a full mock interview, please get in touch with us, or visit us the Careers and Employability Centre.

Remember, if you're not on campus you can still access our services by booking a telephone or Google Meet appointment.

Helpful resources

There are a range of alternative resources available online that may help you prepare effectively for interviews. Please see a range of resources below:

  • Prospects – offers advice on interview techniques with links to further content on interview questions; questions to ask at interview; interview tests and exercises; and tips for telephone interviews.
  • TARGETjobs – also hosts a range of information based on the sector you are looking to get into. Visit a sector tab a 'VIEW ALL ADVICE' to find information relevant to your job search area.
  • Jobsite UK – hosts blog items on a range of interview techniques and scenarios.
  • Pinterest – visit the pinboards created by the Careers and Employability Service highlighting useful advice, links and infographics about interviews.
  • Job Applications – interview and application form insights for some of the UK's top employers.

Disability disclosure

The decision whether to disclose a disability to an employer is often a personal one and may be based on several factors such as the nature of the disability and the demands of the role being applied for.

If necessary, speak with a careers adviser or contact the employer directly before sending in any applications and/or attending interviews to discuss any support that may be required during the selection process or in the role itself.

Further disability advice

There are also numerous sources of information and advice that you could use, such as:

  • TARGETJobs provides guides on key diversity issues including gender, race and disability with advice on how to identify diversity 5 positive employers, decide how and whether to disclose your circumstances, and get an understanding of your rights.
  • MyPlus Students’ Club offers practical advice to students as they search and apply for jobs and prepare for the recruitment process. Topics covered include essentials such as disclosing a disability, requesting adjustments, gaps in the CV, lack of work experience among others. The site also lists employers who are 'great with disability' and enables them to share information about the support they offer.
  • GOV.UK provides information on government services and information and includes a section for disabled people.
  • Our disability, equality and diversity guide

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