What Makes a Great Interview?


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Thursday, May 11, 2017

When preparing for an interview, most candidates become preoccupied with tough questions and the pressure to stand out as professional but personable.

Article 5 Minutes
What Makes a Great Interview?

However, the time running up to an interview is crucial, and every bit as influential as the responses you give under the spotlight.

Before your next interview, consider the following points to boost your chances of giving your most successful professional performance to date.

What Makes a Great Interview?


Having a great executive interview will always be built on a solid foundation of industry knowledge, and a contextual awareness of your future employer. The internet is your first stop to finding out about the company you wish to join, and that includes individuals who might be interviewing you.

High-level recruiters will be looking out for your awareness of their firm in the public domain, so remember to check press releases in the news or on the company’s web page. Consider what public announcements have been made and how the firm’s stance in the market stands to be affected as a result. This will show that you are mindful of your prospective employer’s situation and where the company may be heading in the near future.

Qualify your knowledge with meticulous detail on revenue numbers, key statistics and professional backgrounds of executives. Knowing the company, the industry and competitors will ensure you stand out as an engaged and enlightened candidate.

First Impressions

From the moment you submit your application, you can expect your profile to fall under the scrutiny of your future employer.

Being on time for an interview is not enough. Turn up at least ten minutes early, if not to give yourself breathing space, then to demonstrate prudence. If you are running late, then ring to inform concerned parties at the earliest opportunity; dealt with correctly, the issue is unlikely to impact on your performance.

Be as courteous to the door attendant and receptionist as you would be to your prospective new boss. When it comes to entering the interview room, be ready. Juggling an empty coffee cup and your mobile phone as you walk through the door will not put you in the best light.

Clothing Choice

How we present ourselves is essential for first impressions, which are “critical” according to Barry Drexler, founder of Expert Interview Coach. Drexler explains how hiring managers weigh up your appearances because they need to take every opportunity to get to know you, even before you have spoken.

Dress appropriately for the industry and position you’re going for. In a post-power suit era, even the stiffest of corporate giants have relaxed dress codes to resonate with the fashions set by fresh, techy markets.

Investment banking and similar financial domains have not changed as much in terms of interview-stage dress code. Stylist guru, Rahel Berihu advises interviewees to wear a quality, dark two-piece pantsuit or skirt suit with conservative accessories in order to maximize professionalism.

For other sectors, invest in a good blazer which can be used to dress up, simple blouses and tailored trousers alike. Try to keep colors and fashions conservative and non-distracting – the focus should be on you, not your clothes, recommends Berihu.

Dress-codes for more creative positions can have more leeway, but be sure you match the personality set by your apparel.

Body Language

However daunting it may feel to walk in front of the judging panel, taking the initiative and offering an introductory handshake will empower you and show your proactive, can-do character.

Body language will speak every bit as loudly as your words; when you are invited to sit down you will not inspire confidence if you play with any papers you may have, or gently wring your nervous fingers like you’re expecting rain. Maintaining tentative eye-contact in between staring at the floor will transmit similarly negative vibes.

Public speaking expert, Matt Eventoff, says to avoid fidgeting, grooming gestures and any element of slouching which are all a distraction from the spirit of keen professionalism that you are trying to engender.

Instead, sit comfortably but incorporate an element of leaning forward into your posture. Leaning back can communicate boredom or lack of interest, says industry author Karen Friedman. On the other hand, leaning into a conversation will demonstrate active engagement and enthusiasm.

Other Questions

Research can be helpful in predicting popular general interview questions. While guises vary, certain lines of inquiry that can be guaranteed, such as what your strengths will bring to the company.

Other likely questions may concern where you see yourself working in five or ten years’ time, an appraisal of how you managed to find a solution or way out when in a difficult situation at work, or an explanation of how you have demonstrated leadership.

Online research will lead you to these widely asked questions. Discovering the many ways that questions can be worded will give you more confidence when interview time comes.

The Curve Ball Conundrum

Often interviewers may ask a prospective new hire to explain one of their weaknesses. “My perfectionism” may be the rehearsed and unenlightening response. To dig a little deeper, many high-end employers like to throw in more peculiar questions.

Richard Branson sometimes asks interviewees to divulge something that they didn’t have the chance to include on their CV. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of women’s organization, YWCA asks interviewees to describe themselves in one word, while Brad Jefferson, CEO of Animoto wants to know what motivates candidates to get out of bed in the morning.

Throwing these curve ball questions can lift the intimidating atmosphere of an interview, allowing an interviewee to relax and open up a little more. In the meantime, keen-eyed executives can see how you behave when put on the spot.


Interviews are stressful, but there are so many ways to gain vital confidence through good preparation.

Take encouragement from the fact that your CV speaks for itself – employers want to see you and give you the opportunity to really shine through a face-to-face meeting. With forethought, practice, great presentation and a winning attitude, you have every chance of making executives realize that you are the perfect candidate for the job.

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