Interview Tips

Preliminary Research

Step 1

This information relates to YOU:

  • Study the Position Description thoroughly. The information provided on the PD will generally have a list of bullet point tasks that detail what will be expected of you on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as well as Specific Requirements the employer is seeking. This is also called “Person Specification” or “Selection Criteria”.
  • Focus most of your research time on the Specific Requirements section as this spells out for you the intangible qualities that the employer requires and does generally not appear on your resume. Also, if the interview will be Competency Based, this is what the questions will be framed around.
  • Consider which specific details in your CV will be most relevant to the employer. Prepare to talk about these in detail at interview. (See the “STAR Technique”). It helps if you have a copy of your resume at hand where you can draw upon your relevant skills and past experience.

The purpose of the interview is to provide you with an opportunity to clearly demonstrate your value to the employer. The onus is on you to address the selection criteria by providing real work life examples so potential employers are confident in your skills and abilities.

Step 2

This information relates the COMPANY:

Use whatever tools you can to find out information about the company:

  • Their website, including any links to periodic newsletters as these will provide you with invaluable information as to what the internal culture is like.
    Any recent news (Google the company name followed by the word “news”).
  • People you may know who work for them or know the business.
  • Competitors – An excellent tool for searching company information is IBISWorld. This site will provide basic company information but, most importantly, names of competitor companies in the specific industry sectors – information you MUST know. (Just plug their name into the search form at the top left of the home page).

What is the turnover/ size/ structure of the company – does this relate to your background?

Who owns the company? Is it a stable environment for the foreseeable future?

Is it part of a larger group or are there subsidiaries?

Candidates who ask questions at interview relating to any of the above are immediately demonstrating a lack of preparation/commitment and will be immediately struck off the short list.

NB. Your Payroll Talent Consultant will advise whether it is relevant to research the interviewer(s). There has been mixed feedback about this approach so please ask your Consultant prior to going down this route.

The Interview

What to take to your interview:

  • Two extra copies of your resume printed on good quality clean paper and stapled.
  • A printed copy of the job description.
  • Printed information about the company (something with their logo or branding is excellent – print a screen shot perhaps).
  • The following is basic common sense however you would not believe…

Before the interview

  • Ladies dress in corporate attire and men wear a suit/tie. Always be smart and professional. Earrings are fine so long as they are not the dangly or overly reflective ones that create distraction.
  • It’s OK to arrive in casual attire if its “Casual Friday” however let your Consultant know in advance so they can advise the client. By saying this it is never recommended.
  • Never be late. Know the location, pre-plan the route and expect delays. Don’t be more than 10 minutes early – but be there early! If you know you will be late to the meeting (100% not advisable) call your Consultant. If your Consultant is unavailable you MUST advise the interviewer by calling them direct. There is really no excuse for not letting someone know you will be late for an appointment.
  • If you are a smoker, avoid smoking before an interview.
  • Perfume/Cologne – if you are going to use these products don’t overdo it and certainly DO NOT apply it within 30 minutes of the interview. Strong odours like these generally create a bad first impression.
  • Lastly – always remember to turn your mobile phone off before the interview!

At the interview

  • First impressions count. Be courteous to everyone. Treat the Receptionist or PA your first point of contact for the interview – they are often asked of their opinion and it is highly valued.
  • DON’T let your first question to the Receptionist or the interviewer be: “Where is the toilet” (for obvious reasons one would assume).
  • STAND UP! When you are asked to take a seat in Reception. Why? You are one of many candidates being interviewed and need to differentiate yourself from the pack. Besides, your attire appears different when you rise from a seated position and you don’t want the first impression to be one of the “guy with the wonky tie” or “lady with the creased trousers”!
  • Smile and always use a firm handshake – no negotiation on that one. Ask your Consultant for feedback on your handshake if you are unsure if it is appropriate.
  • Address the interviewer by their first name.
  • Maintain eye contact but don’t stare. If there are more than two people interviewing be sure to devote an equal amount of eye time to both but be sure to direct your answer firstly and lastly to the person that asked it.
  • Try not to fidget or play with your hands. Move pens, mugs etc. away from you at the beginning of the interview if you have this habit. If you are asked if you would like a glass of water – TAKE IT! You will suffer from interview nerves and a dry mouth is generally the side effect. Just be sure to keep it at a distance so you don’t spill it.
  • If you are not happy with your wobbly seat/ sun in your eyes etc. say at the beginning of the interview. Don’t remain and let it distract you.
  • You will be sitting in the same position for at least 30 minutes so be sure to assume a comfortable posture at the start of the meeting. Don’t slouch in your seat either.

The "Do you have any questions for me?" stage

With the majority of the hard work having been done already in the interview, the way in which you finish the interview can leave the most lasting positive impression if you get it right. This is your big chance to differentiate yourself from the competition.

The beginning of your closure starts at the point when the interviewer has asked all their question’s and asks:

‘Do you have any questions for me?’

TIP: Never, ever answer with a “no”.

You will be expected to ask the interviewer questions so write a long list before the interview using open questions (starting with who, what, why, where, when and how). A long list ensures, no matter how thorough the interviewer in describing the company and job, you will have some questions that remain unanswered when it’s your turn.

It is imperative at this stage that you focus your specific questions around what is important to YOU.

Asking good intellectual questions about the company and the job, whilst not trying to be too clever, is one of the best methods of showing you have commercial understanding, a sensible head on your shoulders and lots of talent.

If career progression is at the top of your list ask specific questions relating to this.

If long term stability and security are important to you ask for specific information about long term employees and what it is that keeps them in the business for example.

TRAP: This is your opportunity to demonstrate your ability to not only listen during an information session but also retain information.

Don’t fall into the trap of asking a question relating to something that was already discussed during the body of the meeting – instant fail.


“Do you have any questions for me?”


“Thank you. Yes, I do have a couple of specific questions”.

Use statements like:
“At the start of the meeting you mentioned….”
“With regard to what you said about xyz can you please elaborate on y?
“Can I ask you to clarify what you meant when you said…?”

DO NOT ask about salary, working hours or holiday entitlements at this stage of the interview. Whilst this is obviously very important to you an employer will only offer you a job if they believe you want to assist in the development of their business. Let them bring up the subject. Your Payroll Talent Consultant will have already provided you with this information so it is irrelevant for the purposes of the first interview.

The Final Stages

Closing an interview well is the secret weapon of a successful interview.

  • Regarding the next step of the interview process, ask who will be involved and when it is expected to be.
  • Understand that interviewers may not know the answer to this but don’t worry, it’s the asking of the questions that’s important!

The End

  • At the end of the interview, if you are interested in the job, tell the interviewer.
  • Be confident and professional in manner whilst shaking their hand and thanking them for their time.

“Paul/ Paula, thank you for your time today as I found the interview very useful and I would be keen to progress further in the process. From your comments, I feel I have some good experiences and skills that I could bring into this role and really make a positive difference. Thank you again”

Now is the time to call your Payroll Talent Consultant ASAP with your feedback before the interviewer does so he can speed up the process – you may have other pending opportunities you are sizing this one up against.

It would be too easy to say “good luck” at the interview however Payroll Talent believe that… “Success comes from preparation”

TIP: Don’t over prepare! Be sure to approach the meeting in a professional manner whilst allowing your true personality to come out.

Competency Based Interview

This is the most common form of interview and probably the one that potential employers will employ when interviewing you. The employer will ask questions that lead you to discuss one specific situation you have experienced that is relevant. It is imperative you don’t make this into a hypothetical question by saying, “in a situation like that I would…”

TIP: The key is to discuss one situation that actually happened.

Each question will focus on a different specific competency with the aim of uncovering how well you dealt with the situation, i.e. how strong you are in that specific competence.

The employer will want to know about 4 key areas in order to fully understand how successfully you dealt with that situation: STAR – The Situation in which the Task that was being undertaken with the Actions that were followed and the Results achieved.

Example Question

“Can you give me an example of a time when you demonstrated the ability to be a team player”?

Example Answer (in ST/A/R format)

ST – Situation/Task (I was at work last Friday when I noticed that my colleague was flooded with work. They looked stressed out and really wanted to get away on time for the Football that night)

A – Action (I empathised with them and then suggested, because I had completed all my priorities for the day, I could help to complete some work for them so they could get away on time)

R – Result (Together we completed the workload, we both got out on time and ever since then we always help each other or offer to assist anyone else in the team that looks like they need it. Office morale is really high because of it!).

There are numerous competencies so it is impossible to prepare for them all but it is possible to predict which competencies an employer may be looking for in a particular job. Studying a Position Description as well as understanding the ethos of the company (have a look or ask for their Mission Statement) may allow you to predict that certain competencies are more likely to be tested for. You have already completed this task by reviewing ‘Preliminary Research’.

Entering any interview you should have 5-6 (at least) real examples of situations you have experienced. Most examples will be relevant for a number of questions so preparing this many examples means there will be very few moments in an interview where you need to think of another example on the spot.

Below is a list of competencies and questions to help you prepare. A very popular competency that is in vogue at present is that of “Continuous Improvement”. Payroll Talents clients’ are extremely interested in candidates that have demonstrated experience in suggesting ways of improving/streamlining current processes in order to save time and/or money. Have you? How did you identify the issue/problem? What tools did you use to solve the problem? How did it solve or improve the issues around the problem? Did it save time/money? Is your suggestion still being utilised today?

Achievement Focus – persistence and strength of character to win and overcome obstacles.

  • Give an example where you had to go the extra mile to achieve a goal/ objective.
  • Tell me about a time when you have had to show persistence in overcoming obstacles to get a piece of work completed.

Adaptability – maintaining effectiveness in a changing environment.

  • Tell me about the biggest change you have had to deal with. How did you cope with it?
  • Which new job did you find the hardest to settle into and why?

Communication – adapting communication to the audience clearly and effectively.

  • Tell me about a time when you have had a very difficult client/colleague to deal with.

Integrity – belief in doing the right thing and understanding of the impact of this.

  • Tell us about a time when someone asked you something that you objected to. How did you handle the situation?
  • Describe a situation where you have had to embellish the truth to get the result you wanted.

Problem Solving/Initiative – ability to think laterally or to overcome a difficult situation/ obstacle

  • Tell me about the most difficult situation you have had to face and how you tackled it.
  • Describe a time when your solution to a particular problem has drawn management praise.

Team work – contributes whilst working in a team environment, not necessarily leading.

  • Describe a time when you have had to assist a team member with their workload.
  • Give an example where you played an important role in a project as a member of the team (not as a leader)

Other competencies that can be assessed for:

  • Analytical excellence
  • Autonomy/Self-motivation
  • Building rapport/relationships
  • Conflict management
  • Listening
  • Planning and organising
  • Resilience/Tenacity
  • Sensitivity to others
  • Working under pressure/deadlines
  • Changing work environments – how do you cope?

Frequently Asked Interview Questions

Below is a list and you will find thousands more on the internet. The most important thing here is to have an understanding of just what types of questions you may be faced with at interview and bear in mind that tricky questions are often asked simply to ascertain your ability to think on your feet! They are called ‘Curve Balls’!

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What interests you about our product/services?
  • What interests you about this position?
  • Tell me about your hobbies/interests?
  • What technical experience can you bring to our company?
  • What kind of position are you seeking?
  • What are your future aspirations?
  • What do you want to be doing in your career in one/three and five years from now?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • How would your staff /colleagues describe you?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What have you learned from some of the jobs you have held?
  • What did you enjoy most about your current/past employment?
  • Why should we employ you?
  • What are your strengths? And give me an example of recent events when you demonstrated each?
  • What are areas you would like to develop? And why or what have you done to better yourself in this area?
  • What have been your main achievements to date?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses?
  • What do you like about your present job?
  • What do you dislike about your current job?
  • Why do you want to leave your current employer?
  • Why do you think you are the best person for this job?
  • What kinds of people do you like working with?
  • What are your preferred working conditions, working alone or in a group and why?
  • How do you think you are going to fit in here especially as this organisation is very different to your current employer?
  • What are you looking for in a company?
  • How do you measure your own performance?
  • What kind of pressures have you encountered at work?

NB: Speak to your Payroll Talent Consultant if you require further information about answering any of the above questions.