How to ace an interview

Interviews are at the core of the hiring process. Whether you are the candidate or the interviewer, preparation is everything.

You’re excited, a bit nervous, and concerned to make the right impression. Here are our tips for getting ready to ace that first interview.


Interviewing people for a role in your team is exciting, and rather daunting at the same time. You’ve narrowed down your list of prospects, or your recruiter has presented you with suitable candidates, and now you are faced with making a choice that will have a significant impact on you and your team for the foreseeable future.

You have the hiring managers’ list of standard questions from HR, but you want to dig deeper than that. You want more than their rehearsed responses to the most commonly asked questions. The key is research and thorough preparation.

The practicalities are often overlooked when you are preparing to interview. Have you booked a suitable meeting room? Have you told the candidates which entrance to use, and how to find your idiosyncratically numbered office?

Here are some other practical matters to see to:

  • Let your reception staff know when candidates will be arriving so that they can greet them and perhaps gather some first impressions.
  • Don’t schedule appointments so close together that candidates meet in the waiting area.
  • Tell candidates where they can park or where the train and bus stations are relative to your premise.
  • Allow enough time between interviews to compare notes with others on the interview panel.
  • Be prepared to hold interviews out of regular hours for candidates who cannot take time out from their present jobs.

Now that you have the nuts and bolts out of the way, what about your preparation for the time you will spend with the candidate? Here are ways to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

Be clear on your goals for each interview – what do you want to assess in each candidate? What will help you decide if the person is the right fit for your team?

If you decide to hold a group interview, select the interview panel, ideally including a person from the organisation’s HR department.

Thoroughly brief everybody who will conduct the interviews. Send them the candidates’ resumes, cover letters and a job description, and tell them your goals for the process. Decide who will ask which questions.

Read each candidate’s resume thoroughly, and prepare specific questions for each candidate, addressing their background, skills and behaviour.

Find a common interest or a shared experience, and use it to open the conversation and set the candidate at ease. Creating rapport in this way will relax them – and you.

For an average first round interview, you will need about five prepared questions. Remember to listen more than you talk. Explain the role and the company briefly at the start, and leave room for the conversation to evolve naturally – you’re not running an inquisition!

Tell the candidates who will be involved in the interview, and their role in the company and the decision-making process.  Remember to send them a job description in time for them to prepare themselves for the interview. Letting the candidate know how you are approaching the hiring process will put them at ease. A relaxed candidate is more likely to reveal their ‘true self’ and perform better, allowing you to better assess their true potential.


When it comes to advice for candidates who are being interviewed, our consultants at Challenge are unanimous about three things:

  • Know your resume inside out. An interviewer will ask you questions on your experience. Identify your most valuable skills and incorporate them into your answers.
  • Research the company – SEEK, Glassdoor and the organisation’s website are great places to start. You should also find out about your interviewer on LinkedIn.
  • Prepare some good, relevant questions to ask your interviewer. These might include, ‘What will my KPIs be, and how do you measure them?’ ‘How can I expect to progress in this role?’ and questions about the organisation’s internal culture (check their vision and mission statements for clues).

These days most interviews will have at least some behavioural questions, so be ready for them.  ‘Have a library of examples at the ready to answer competency based questions’, says Daniele Fischl, Consultant at Challenge. ‘Know your KPIs and how you have performed against them. Identify your unique selling point for this role.’

‘Always dress as you would if you were going to work for the organisation you’re interviewing for’, advises Samantha Gates, Graduate Consultant at Challenge. ‘Make sure you’re well-groomed and look polished.  First impressions always count, so why not make the best first impression you can.’ We’ve written about dressing for work here.

Challenge’s consultants also point out what not to do.  ‘Never ask about salary or bonus schemes in the first interview. This first interview is all about determining your fit for the position and company’, warns Samantha Gates, Graduate Consultant at Challenge.

Other no-no’s include checking your mobile (turn it off!) appearing arrogant, and arriving more than 10 minutes early. Of course you shouldn’t be late either – check your route and transport well in advance. Fischl advises doing a dry run if you can.

Her final words of advice: Be polite to everyone you met going in and out of the building. You never know who you are travelling in a lift with and the receptionist is often asked what their first impressions were.

And good luck. We’d love to hear your interview stories and tips; leave them in the comments section below.