How to sell yourself at interview

Preparation | The Interview | Body Language | Behavioural / Competency Based Interviews | Typical Questions and Discussion Points

How to sell yourself at Interview

Many of our candidates ask us for advice on how to best present themselves at interview. If one is entering the job market for the first time, or after a long period at one company, this can often be a daunting task. Remember that regardless of your 'on paper' experience, the impression that you convey at interview is usually THE make or break factor.


Good preparation is paramount to perform well at interview. It will also give you confidence, and help allay any nerves. Preparation can be both practical and knowledge based. The following are key points that you MUST follow:

Ensure you have all relevant details such as time, date and interview location, as well as the interviewer names(s) where appropriate. It is important that you take personal responsibility for these details and chase your consultant if they have not been provided – remember that your interview is one of many that they are involved in every day.

Plan your journey and factor in the chance of delays. DON'T be late. Plenty of time should be allowed for the journey so you arrive early and stress-free. You may work long hours and be under time pressure, but if you are interviewing at another firm the chances are that your interviewer is in a similar situation. Thus a negative impression is immediately created if you affect the smooth running of their day.

Research the firm you are interviewing with, the role you are interviewing for, and your interviewer's background if relevant. Information sources include their website, libraries, friends and your recruitment consultant. Think about the firm's background, current projects, culture, mission statements etc. This inside information about the company and the type of people it wants to employ can make a huge difference to your chances. Kingsley Associates can assist you on this.

Make sure you know your CV – check dates of employment (as these may have to be confirmed) and make sure you can explain the progression succinctly.

Wear a dark suit, white shirt/top and plain tie (men). Clean your shoes, shave (if appropriate!) and ensure your hair is tidy. Make-up, if worn, should be conservative. Do not underestimate how all these factors present well to the interviewer – FIRST IMPRESSIONS LAST!

The Interview

Interviews can vary hugely, from very formal to completely relaxed. You need to strike a balance here – if the interview is very relaxed, then adapt your style to some degree, but do always remember that you are there to impress.

The last two sections, 'Behavioural / Competency Based Interviews' and' Typical Questions & Discussion Points', should help you focus your mind on the sorts of things which often come up. It is important that you spend some time considering your answers.

It is a good idea to practice your answers to questions of this type both mentally and actually. Use your consultant's skills in this area – run through your answers with him/her and together you can fine tune your responses so that you can really get the most out of this meeting. Generally:

Ensure your answers are succinct but not abrupt. Avoid waffling or going off at tangents. Although you may feel you have not had the chance to discuss all of your skills, the interviewer will have ensured they have gleaned all the relevant information for that stage.

Think before you speak! If you are faced with a technical question, problem-solving exercise or unexpected topic take a deep breath and give yourself time to collect your thoughts. This will demonstrate that you are not repeating the information parrot fashion, but have the reasoning skills essential to succeed in this market.

If you don't know – admit it! Ideally this should happen only once or twice though! Be honest and open – never lie.

Even if, halfway through, you feel the role is not for you, continue as you would for a position you love. You may wish to interview with the firm in the future for another role, or may deal with them in another capacity. Your interviewer has given their time, and wants to feel it has been well spent, even if it is only to establish you are not right for the job.

It is vital that you remember that the interview is essentially your chance to sell yourself. In order to sell effectively you first need to make sure you have listened to what is required of you, and therefore learnt which aspects of your experience / attributes / personality are sale-able to this particular interviewer. Refer back to the question, or to comments that have been made earlier in the interview, in order to show that you have listened and to make sure that your answers are relevant.

Body Language

This is extremely important, and often an ignored part of an interview. It is said that a person will form an opinion of you in the first five minutes of a meeting. This is often based on subconscious reading of your body language. Remember the following:

A good handshake gets you off to a great start. It should be firm without crushing their hand.

Don't fidget. Practice a comfortable way of sitting before you go to the interview. Don't play with your hair, clothes, pen or business card – it will seem as though you are bored and not paying attention. It will also imply nerves. If you're inclined to fidget when nervous, just make sure there's nothing on the desk in front of you once you've sat down!

Maintain natural eye contact, and in the case of multiple interviewers look at who is talking to you. When giving your answer shift your gaze between the two (or more) to involve all in the discussion.

Use affirmative actions such as nodding and saying 'yes' and 'mmm' as they speak. This will show that you can listen and understand.


You are half way there. The firm you are interviewing with liked what they saw in your CV. An interview is your opportunity to reinforce your 'on paper' experience with 'in-person' excellence.

Remember – be yourself and use the pointers above to enhance your overall performance. Also, you are assessing the company just as much as it is assessing you!

It is very important that you always call your consultant as soon as you leave an interview. If the interview went badly, it is best that you acknowledge this as the firm may feel that your honesty and ability to admit mistakes warrants another interview. If it went well, you want to let the firm know that you are keen, as soon as possible. Our client will also be calling us with their feedback, and we would rather know your thoughts before gauging their opinion.

Behavioural / Competency Based Interviews

Individual competencies – your personal attributes: Flexibility, decisiveness, tenacity, independence, risk taking, personal integrity.

Managerial competencies – taking charge of other people: Leadership, empowerment, strategic planning, corporate sensitivity, project management, management control.

Analytical competencies – the elements of decision making: Innovation, analytical skills, numerical problem solving, problem solving, practical learning, detail consciousness.

Interpersonal competencies – dealing with other people: Communication, impact, persuasiveness, personal awareness, teamwork, openness.

Motivational competencies – the things that drive you: Resilience, energy, motivation, achievement orientation, initiative, quality focus.

The STAR model will provide a structure to your answers:

Situation – describe a situation or problem that you have encountered.

Task – describe the task that the situation required or your ideas for resolving the problem.

Action – describe the action you took, obstacles that you had to overcome.

Result – highlight outcomes achieved.

Questions about…..

Influencing or Persuading Others

Tell me about a time when you were able to change someone's viewpoint significantly.

Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you disagreed with.

Interpersonal and Team Skills

What experience have you had working on a team?

What skills and personal qualities have you contributed to the teams you have been part of?

Tell me about a time when you used tact and diplomacy.

Tell me about the last time you had a disagreement with somebody.

Tell me about the most difficult person you have worked with.

What have you disliked in your past jobs?

What kinds of people do you enjoy working with?

What kinds of people frustrate you?

What qualities do you admire most in others?

Communication Skills

Tell me about a time when you were successful in getting crucial information from another person.

Tell me about a time when somebody misunderstood what you were trying to communicate to them.

Personal Adaptability, Energy and Resilience

Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was criticised.

Tell me about a time when you felt under pressure.

Tell me about a time when you felt frustrated by your work.

Self-management, self-motivation and self-knowledge

Tell me about a time when you acted over and above the expectations of your role.

What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?

What are your three major accomplishments?

What does "success" mean to you?

What does "failure" mean to you?

What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?

What are your interests outside of work?

Tell me about a major problem you have encountered and how you dealt with it?

Problem Solving and Decision Making

Tell me about a difficult decision you have made.

Tel me about an unpopular decision you have made.

What significant problems have you faced in the last year?

How do you work under pressure?

What impact do you think…..will have on our business?

How would you motivate an employee who was performing poorly?

Conflict Management and Ethics

How do you resolve conflict in the groups or teams that you have a membership with?

How would you resolve a dispute?

Tell me about a time you bent the rules. When is it okay to do so?

Personal and Career Objectives

What are your short and long term goals?

What are the most important things you are seeking in a career?

What person do you admire most and why?

Why do you want this position?

Knowledge of the Organisation and Role

Why did you apply for this position?

What skills and personal qualities are essential for success in this role?

What would you like to know about this organisation?

What do you believe you can contribute to this organisation?

What do you know about this organisation?

Why are you interested in working for this organisation?

In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?

Tell me about a time when you have been managed in a good or bad way.

What qualities should a successful manager possess?

What relationship should exist between a supervisor and those reporting to him/her.

What problems do you feel you will have fitting into the job?

Work Experience

Tell me about the best job you have ever had.

What did you enjoy most or least about your last job?

What extra-curricular activities are you involved in?

Academic Experience

If you were hiring a graduate for this position, what qualities would you look for?

Ability, Competence and Achievement

What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?

What do you feel qualifies you for this position?

Stress Questions

How do you react to criticism?

Can you accept criticism for poor work?

What causes you to lose your temper?

Aren't you overqualified for this role?

How long would you expect to remain with this organisation?

What salary are you expecting?

The Interview: Typical Questions & Discussion Points

"Tell me about yourself/career to date…………"

This may be the first question of the interview and is really an invitation to show the interviewer how well you can resent yourself and your achievements. The interviewer wants to hear you talk, and this is a great opportunity to explain your qualifications, career history, and the skills you have built up. You should probably spend a maximum of four minutes on this. Repeat it a few times to yourself, so that your response to this common question sounds impromptu.

"What do you know about this firm……………?"

It is essential that you are able to talk about the firm, what sector they specialise in, how many offices they have, how long they have been established and where their head office is based. Also, be aware of any interesting recent developments – look at the website and in the press so that you can mention it in the interview.

This creates the impression that you have taken an interest in the company, that you have actively decided you are interested in them & what they do, rather than just going for everything your agency puts you forward to.

Don't worry if you can't remember everything; it gives the interviewer something to work from, rather than trying to start telling you all about them from scratch. It is also one of the biggest complaints from clients when they are giving feedback. Everyone likes to feel people are taking an interest in their company, so create the right impression & do your research!

"Why do you want to work for us……….?"

These reasons need to be specific to this company, for example the culture, people development etc. They are asking you why you want to work for them as opposed to any other firm, so general points like the fact that they have a good name aren't what they are after. Again, you need to demonstrate that you have done some research.

Technical Knowledge

Do you feel comfortable answering any technical questions that may arise?

"What is the most difficult situation you have dealt with………..?"

This may be a recent occurrence, or another work situation. You need to be careful with this question as it can get you into hot water. Try to be succinct – define the problematic issue, explain the options, your reasons for selecting one in particular, and what the outcome was. Always end positively.

"What are you Strengths…….?"

You need to have 2 or 3 of these and be able to back each strength up with an example.

"What are your weaknesses…..?"

The same applies, you need 2 or 3 weaknesses, but you need to choose examples that can also be seen as a positive thing about you rather than just a negative thing. Again, you will need to give examples. It is crucial to be able to demonstrate how you overcome them.

"What do you enjoy about your role………?"

Why do you like the field you work in? Have a think about why you are good at your job, what skills of yours does it bring out?

"Why are you leaving your current role……………..?"

There is balance to be attained here. Think seriously about how much detail you can give without being seen to be negative. Whilst all your reasons will be very valid, too much negativity is not seen as constructive and potential employers always appreciate discretion.

Other Questions that commonly arise……..

What motivates you…?

What will you bring to the company…?

What are you interests…?

How do you think your career is progressing…?

Where do you see yourself in 2, 5 or 10 years time……..?

Have a few questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. Pick things that won't necessarily have come up during the interview, such as asking them why they like working at the company. Have about 3 or 4 well thought out questions and that will look like you are really interested. Here are a few examples:

How will I fit into the team?

Who will I be reporting to?

What are the challenges facing the company?

Why has this position become vacant?

When would your preferred candidate be likely to start?

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