How to excel at interviews

Woman flexible working from home


You’ve made the decision you want to go back to work, but how do you prepare for the interview and the kind of questions which are likely to come up? Should you mention flexible working and at what point? How do you explain your career gap? Should you dress up or down? How can you excel at interview?

Here we take a look at some key ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for interviews – all great advice if you want to make sure you excel at interview stage.

Things you should do to excel at interview

Always call back

Ring back if you are called up about an interview, even if you don’t want the job. It is always a good idea to be polite and let people know that you are no longer interested or have already got a job so they know where they stand. Word can travel fast in industry and creating a bad impression for the simple want of a phone call is not a good idea.

Prepare in advance

Prepare well in advance for the interview. Go through the job specification and your application form again and think of examples you can give which back up the experience you have. Take along samples of your work to the interview if you think these will help to show your experience.
Research the company well. This can include their employment policies such as flexible working as well as the kind of work they do and the approach they take. Check out our Top Employers – all these employers are committed to flexible working and improving gender diversity – you can read about their policy and practices on our Top Employer pages.

Dealing with career gaps

Don’t panic about career gaps in your cv. Think of all that you have done while you have been out of the office place. Perhaps you have done fundraising or coffee mornings for local parent groups or helped out in a local shop or done a crash course to brush up your skills [local colleges offer free short courses to bring you up to date with technology, for example]. All of these add valuable skills to your cv in terms of networking, fundraising, planning, communication, etc. You could also say that being out of the office for a while has given you time to reflect on your career.

More tips:

Be on time!

Get to the interview on time, if not before, and look smart. If you feel you look in control, you will have more confidence and presenting a confident front is a large part of the battle in interviews. Similarly, if you are not rushed and check the address well beforehand and allow a half hour margin in case of traffic problems so you will not arrive out of breath with your mind racing.

Prepare questions beforehand

Prepare intelligent questions to ask at the end of the interview about the job itself and also the way the office runs. At this point, if it is applicable, you could ask if the company has a policy on flexible working. This way you are not presenting it as a personal issue and more as a general benefit of the company. The issue of when to bring up flexible working is a difficult one and there is much debate around it. Only you can judge what is the best approach in any given situation.
More tips:

Sort out childcare

Do have your childcare sorted or at least research the options available before you go to the interview. If you are offered the job, it doesn’t look good to them turn around and say you can’t do it because you can’t get childcare. Also consider having a back-up childcare plan if something goes wrong, for instance, if your childminder is sick are there relatives or friends your child could go to? And remember that childcare issues can get more difficult as children get older. At least nursery care fits with office hours…

Things to avoid doing!

Here are our top 3 ‘don’ts’ for successful interviews:

  1. Don’t fail to turn up if you have a childcare emergency. It is always best to ring and explain. The company may be able to rearrange an interview in such circumstances.
  2. Don’t lie about any problems you have with childcare arrangements. It is better to be honest as lying suggests you have a problem because you have children.
  3. Don’t leave the whole issue of raising flexible working until late on in the interview if it is going to pray on your mind throughout. Be upfront about it and think carefully how you are going to bring it up.

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