Transform your interview performance

Transform your interview performance

CABA, the charity that supports the wellbeing of ICAEW chartered accountants and their families, worked with Behavioural Psychologist Richard Jenkins to explore how adapting your behaviour before and during an interview can transform your performance.

Preparing for your interview

  1. Research the company and interviewer

Being able to discuss the company, their vision and ethics, even their competition will demonstrate an enthusiasm for the organisation and industry. As well as reading their website and social media channels, you should also keep an eye on recent press articles and business news. This research may also help you generate ideas for questions you want to ask at the end of the interview.

Areas to research include:

  • What the company does?
  • What are the company’s successes?
  • What are their current challenges? (market conditions, competitors, newer technology)
  • Who are their main customers?
  • Who are their top 3 competitors?
  • What’s their USP?
  • If you’re applying for a role in finance or accountancy, you’ll also be expected to have researched the company accounts or financial data. You can contact Companies House and access the relevant documents for a small fee.
  1. Prepare answers to potential questions

You can expect to be asked questions about your CV and career history such as:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Talk me through your career to date
  • What has been your greatest career highlight to date?
  • What are your strengths/areas of expertise?

Another way to pre-empt questions, is to research the person interviewing you on LinkedIn or the company website. For example, if they’re a Finance Director they may ask technical finance related questions around saving costs / improving efficiency, whereas a HR Advisor may ask more generic, competency based questions.

Looking at the job specification can also help. Turn each requirement into a question and try to come up with 3 examples of when you’ve demonstrated the relevant competency:

For each of these examples you should identify the:

  • Concept – how did you come up with an idea/plan/suggestion?
  • Construct – what did you do and how?
  • Outcome – what was the result of your action for you and your previous employer?

It’s a good idea to rehearse your answers, in front of a mirror or with someone you trust to give you honest feedback. It might feel a little silly, but it will increase your confidence on the day.

  1. Consider the practicalities

Before your interview plan your journey and get to know the route. Find out about the available parking and take a little time to see who comes in and out of the building to get a feel for the dress code.

  1. Fuel up

Make sure you eat something before your interview. A high carbohydrate or sugary snack is perfect for giving your brain a lift. Stay away from caffeine and keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration causes your body to produce stress hormones, which can contribute to panic.

  1. Breathe

If you’re sitting down while you’re waiting to be called in, try not to slouch. Slouching compresses your diaphragm and chest causing you to take shallow, rapid breaths and stimulating a panic response in your body. If there isn’t anywhere to sit, stand still. Pacing up and down sends a signal to your brain that there’s something to worry about. This makes your ‘fight or flight’ reflex kick in and your short term memory can suffer as a result. Try a simple breathing exerciser to help you stay calm and focused.

Doing all of these things before the interview will contribute to you showing up in a calm and controlled state of mind – looking confident and competent.

Making a good first impression

Consider your appearance

It might be obvious, but it’s surprising how many people can get this wrong. Research indicates that we all make quick judgements based on a person’s appearance, and that we’ll try to gather evidence about the person based on these judgements. So it’s vital that you look as though you would represent the company well. When you aren’t sure of the dress code, it’s always better to be cautious and over-dress.

The first 3-7 seconds of your interview are crucial. When the interviewers first come in make sure you smile and say ‘good morning/afternoon’. If they haven’t mentioned your name, say it as you shake their hand. This personalises the interaction and immediately helps to build rapport.

During your interview

Even if you’ve prepared answers to potential questions beforehand, the interviewer may ask a question that you aren’t sure about. If that happens, don’t be afraid to explain that it’s an interesting question and you need a couple of seconds to think of the answer. Similarly, if you don’t understand the question ask them to re-phrase it. And if you genuinely don’t know the answer to a question be honest and say so. This makes a much better impression than getting flustered or answering incorrectly.

If you have gaps in your experience, you may be asked about this. You can turn the potential negative into a positive by focusing on your transferable skills. Turn the question on it’s head by explaining you’re a fast learner who can easily apply yourself to gain the skills necessary for a role.

At the end of your interview, avoid questions relating to holiday and salary. If you haven’t got any questions explain that your research and the interview have been very informative and you have all the information you need.

If you’re not successful

Try to get feedback on your application and interview performance. Typically, candidates are contacted 48-72 hours after an interview. If you haven’t heard anything after this time then reach out to them. If, after 14 days you still haven’t heard anything try contacting them again. Sometimes the first person they offer the job to turns it down. By remaining visible you stand a better chance of being offered the position.

For more career development advice and support, or to transform your interview performance with one-to-one support from a professional career coach, visit CABA’s careers site All of CABA’s services are available to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students and their close families around the world. They are free and strictly confidential.

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