How To Impress At Interview – Know What The Interviewer Wants

By Clare Whitmell

Getting an interview proves that your CV is strong enough to shortlist you for the job. But a CV doesn’t answer two crucial questions: “Do you really want this job?” and “Will you fit in?” The interview is your opportunity to confirm both of those questions.

Attitude is critical

The most qualified or experienced candidate doesn’t always get the job. Attitude, personality and motivation are equally important. For most roles, employers want a friendly, enthusiastic and flexible applicant, with a “can-do” approach that makes them a good team-player and easy to manage.

Employers choose candidates who demonstrate an interest in them, which is why researching the company is so vital. Make sure you can explain why you want the job and ask questions that show interest. Not “How long do I get for lunch?” but “What are the greatest challenges in this role?” type questions.

Get the introductory questions right

These set the tone for the entire interview. Get them right and you’ll both relax. Answer them unconvincingly and your interviewer may start to doubt your suitability.

Prepare and practise possible answers, but avoid memorisation. This can make you lose eye contact with the interviewer as you concentrate instead on remembering the exact phrase. Aim to answer for about a minute to give enough information without talking too long  As questions can be phrased in a variety of ways, you’ll need to listen carefully to ensure your answer fits.

Some common general questions:

  • “Tell me about yourself” = Connect your background to the role.

If you’re not from the UK, this is a great opportunity to sell your language skills and knowledge of different working cultures.

“What brought you to the UK?”

“I grew up in France and studied English at university. I wanted to use my knowledge of French in an English-speaking environment, so …”

  • “What are your strengths/weaknesses?” Or, “What do your colleagues/boss say about you?” = What are you good at, and what needs improvement?

Choose a skill that’s critical in the role, and give an example of how you’ve successfully used it.

Choose a more general one as a weakness, and say how you’re overcoming it.  (For a non-native speaker of English: “I realise that I don’t always understand every English idiom, so I ask the person to rephrase, then make a note and look it up in the dictionary.”)

  • “What are your long-term goals?” Or, “Why do you want this job?” = Are you planning to stay, and are you interested in us?

Temporary jobs might lead to permanent ones, so emphasise your interest in the company. Be careful that your answer isn’t just about what you want. Balance your goals with what you can bring to the role.

“I’ve got a solid background in traditional marketing, and at this stage in my career, I want to develop my skills in online marketing. I’m really excited by this chance to ….”

  • “We’re looking for someone who’s… (i.e. ambitious)” = Do you have the right personality?

Read the job description to identify key characteristics, and give examples.

 “I’ve always set myself tough targets, and I pride myself in reaching them. For example, when I worked in telesales one summer I was determined to earn commission every shift – which I did.”

Clare Whitmell is a qualified business communication trainer and specialises in writing and presentation skills coaching. As well as regular contributions for Guardian Careers she also blogs CV writing and job hunting tips on