Career guidance: job interviews

Interviews are there to ascertain whether an applicant has the skills and experience for the job on offer, to check for enthusiasm and interest and also to see if the applicant will be the right fit for the working environment and team. It’s also an opportunity for the applicant to see if the role is the right one for them.


People who are invited to an interview should carry out research in advance. This should incorporate both the organisation/company and the role.

Employer research

Interviewers will be looking for applicants who have an understanding of the prospective employer and the employer’s ethos. They will also expect applicants to demonstrate how their skills will match the employer’s requirements. Candidates can visit the employer’s website starting with the ‘about us’ page, check out their structure and location/s, look at any news and events that have been posted, and conduct research using LinkedIn Company pages.

Preparing for interview questions

Employer  research should help to prepare applicants for interviewers’ questions. Applicants should consider how their skills and experience fit within the company/organisation and be prepared to demonstrate this at interview. It is not enough for applicants to say that they can perform tasks in the best way, they must have examples that back this up. Good research will enable applicants to answer these questions in the best way. Applicants should also bear in mind the original person specification and try to highlight how they meet the requirements in their answers.

Apart from questions that relate very specifically to the job being applied for, other typical interview questions include:-

  • what are your strengths and weaknesses
  • why this job
  • what are your goals
  • reason for leaving last job
  • what do you know about us
  • tell us a little bit about yourself
  • what questions do you have.

What are your strengths?

Remember, employers will want to see where applicants have added value to where they have worked in the past. Examples of past behaviours are seen as keen indicators of future behaviour. Key factors for applicants to think about are the skills the employer needs and how they match them. Applicants should be prepared to give examples of situations that have required the use of these skills. The job description should help applicants to match the relevant skills needed with the ones that they already have.

What are your weaknesses?

Naturally, a job interview is an opportunity for applicants to show themselves in a positive light. This is a question that requires careful consideration. Applicants should think about how they overcome their weaknesses to ensure that their answer includes a positive slant. Again, applicants should be prepared to give examples of situations that had the potential to go badly but ended on a positive note. Applicants should not be tempted to say that they have no weaknesses as this demonstrates to the interviewer a lack of self-awareness.

Why this job?

It is best to steer clear of mentioning pay and hours – everybody goes out to work to earn money. Highlight the strengths of the organisation and the opportunities they might have to offer in terms of personal growth and career progression.

What are your goals?

It is important for applicants to demonstrate that they have goals. However, they should focus on goals that are achievable within the organisation itself. Keep the focus on skills that will develop the role, for example, taking courses that will enable the offering of enhanced services to patients.

Reasons for leaving your last job

If possible, applicants should avoid talking about previous roles/employers in a negative way. It is better to stick to general themes, such as opportunities for personal growth and the chance to work within a different environment.

What do you know about us?  

Applicants who have done their research should find this to be relatively straight forward. Try not to repeat what has been written on their website word for word. Instead, applicants should emphasise the employer’s services and activities and be prepared to talk about why they are of particular interest to them.

Tell us about yourself

This is a question many applicants dread, however, the interviewer is actually looking for evidence of how the applicants express themselves, achievements to date and ability to communicate concisely. Applicants should focus on the following elements:-

  • background – provide a brief snapshot of career and background
  • skills – structure personal skills to fit the key skills required for the role
  • aspirations- state why this employer/ role fits with their aspirations.

Any questions?

Applicants should be prepared to ask questions. This demonstrates that they have not only done their research, but are also serious about finding out if this is the right opportunity for them and that they will fit with the employer/team.

For further information about interview questions, see the National Careers Service website.

Final check-list

Preparing a check-list in advance of the interview will give applicants a confidence boost, knowing that they have done their preparation and are ready for the interview. Basic checks should include information such as:-

  • the employer’s name and the job role ( helpful for applicants who are attending lots of interviews)
  • date and time of the interview
  • address and length of travelling time – if possible applicants should do a test run and allow for extra time for any possible delays on the day
  • interviewer name and contact number – in case applicants need to get in touch with them on the way to the interview and also if applicants know who is interviewing them, they could conduct some research in advance.

Interview day

It is always best to dress smartly and conservatively for job interviews. Keep jewellery to a minimum and make sure that your mobile phone is turned off. Refresh your memory by having a final read through of your CV/job application form.  Keep a positive attitude and be polite.

Other useful information

See our Looking for work: job vacancy sites fact sheet.

See our Careers advice and options for pharmacy graduates fact sheet

See our Career guidance: creating a CV fact sheet

See our Career guidance: completing a job application form fact sheet

See our Career guidance: using LinkedIn fact sheet

Special thanks go to Renovo, a provider of career management, redeployment and outplacement support, for their help with the production of this fact sheet.

This fact sheet was last reviewed on 6 February 2020.