The letter has arrived with the offer of an interview. At first your amazed, then you’re delighted and then… terrified! Does this sound familiar?

Here are a few tips on how to prepare and cope with the stress of interviews.

Whether you have had lots of interviews or you are getting ready for your first, the key to success is good preparation.

You might be invited for an interview for:

  • A place in college or sixth form
  • An apprenticeship or training course
  • A job
  • A university course


Not all interviews are the same; they can range from an informal chat to a formal process which is made up of several stages that could take several hours and included practical or written tests.

You have an invitation to interview, time to start planning. If you have a letter or e-mail invitation, start by reading it carefully. Is there anything that you have to do before the interview date?

This might include:

  • contacting a named person to confirm that you will attend
  • completing and returning paperwork
  • submitting your certificates or getting replacements if you need to
  • providing evidence of your right to work or study in the UK

Do some research on the course, college or company; there may be an interview question that tests your knowledge about what you might be studying or where you may work. You can use the internet for your research but you could also use personal contacts if you know someone who works/studies there. Don’t be afraid to contact them to ask for a company brochure or information.

You need to find out:

  • What they do and, if possible, how the job you are applying for fits into the company
  • Think about what you would be expected to do in the job. For example, if its administration what sort of tasks might that include: filing, producing letters and reports, answering the telephone, etc.
  • Check where the interview will take place; some companies have more than one site or hold interviews at other venues.

Plan how you will get to the interview (and if you were successful how you would get there each day).

Consider:

  • How long will the journey take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Is there a long walk from the bus to the business?


Plan your journey to arrive between 15-20 minutes early which will give you a chance to re-read any notes that you have made or just take a few moments for yourself before the interview. You could also try out the journey in advance to make sure you are confident with it.

As a general rule, parents or carers should not attend the interview with you. However, if you have some extra learning needs they will have been involved in your Education Health and Care plan and may want to discuss this with support staff.

Check timetables for public transport at Traveline on 0871 2002233 or visit the Traveline website here.

What you wear can make a big impression at the interview so plan your outfit carefully. You want to make a really positive impression. As a minimum, you should choose clean smart clothes and shoes, even if the job requires you to dress casually.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Avoid wearing anything which is tight or uncomfortable even if it looks great. If you are worried about buttons gaping or trousers pinching you will not perform well
  • No sportswear, football shirts or trainers
  • Choose shoes that are comfortable, you might be asked to go on a tour of the college or business, so wear shoes that are good for walking distances and climbing stairs
  • Try to avoid extreme hairstyles or obvious body jewellery
  • Think about skirt length. A skirt that looks fine standing up might not be fine if you are sitting on a low chair
  • Makeup should be subtle, go for ‘fresh-faced’ rather than ‘glamorous’.

There are a number of different styles of interview. You may not know until you have arrived what sort of interview you will have but it may be:

  • An individual interview – where you are interviewed by one person and they will decide whether to give you the job or course place
  • A panel interview – (usual for job interviews) where there are a number of interviewers who take it in turns to ask questions. They will decide together who will get the job
  • Group interview – where there are a number of candidates for a job who are asked to have an observed discussion or undertake a task together. This is often used as a screening test and only people successful at this stage will get a one-to-one interview
  • Task-focused interview – where you are asked to undertake a series of assessments or work tasks and the results of these may focus the questions at interview.

Re-read the information you have (job advert and company information). Also look at your application form or CV - as they will ask you about what you have written.

Think about the questions the may ask, you can prepare answers to some of the likely question types:

  • What skills and qualities do you have for the job?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why should we hire you?


Demonstrate what you know about the employer questions

  • How do you think you could contribute to the performance of the organisation?
  • How do you think this job fits with other roles in the company?


Provide examples to show your competence:

  • Give me an example of where you have had to deal with a difficult work situation?
  • Tell me about how you have contributed to the success of your team?
  • Give me an example of a how you have dealt with a stressful situation?


Think about what qualities you have that make you the right person for the job. If it helps, make notes that show how your skills relate to the job or course and be prepared to talk about them.

On the day of the interview, remember:

  • Take with you the letter inviting you to interview or the interview details if it was arranged by phone
  • Make sure you should know the time and place of the interview, the job you are being interviewed for and who you should report to
  • A mobile phone or change for a payphone to ring in case you are delayed
  • A copy of your CV, your qualification certificates if you have them (or predicted grades if not), your National Insurance number and any additional identification requested. Employers often send a list of the documents that they need to see and take a copy of at interview.

Interview questions are designed to explore your skills and abilities. They give you the opportunity to talk about yourself in a positive way. The interviewer will generally not try to trip you up with awkward or difficult questions.

You may be asked:

  • Give me an example of how you have dealt with a stressful situation?
  • Give me an example of where you have had to deal with a difficult work situation?
  • How do you think you could contribute to the performance of the organisation?
  • Why do you want this job/training place?
  • What skills and qualities do you have that will help you do this job?
  • Why do you think we should employ you?
  • Tell me what you know about the company?
  • How do you think this job fits with other roles in the company?
  • What did you like best at school?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What were your best subjects?
  • Tell me about yourself?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

If you are asked a 'situational' or 'scenario based' question such as “Give me an example of when you had to deal with a difficult person and what do you do?"

They are looking for you to give a logical, well thought out answer. There is a technique which uses the acronym STAR to structure the answer:

Situation – what was the situation and why was it a problem?

Task – what needed to be done to work it out?

Action – what did you do to resolve the difficulty?

Result – What happened as a result of your action?

So, for example, if the question is: 
“Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation at work?”

The answer may be structured: 

(Situation) One of our team was off on long-term sick but we had a deadline for a piece of work which was due.

(Task) We had to share out that person's work to make sure it was completed by the deadline.

(Action) We all agreed to take on 20% of the work and monitor the progress towards the deadline on a weekly basis.

(Result) The outcome was that we met the deadline but we had all pulled together to do so, it meant that we felt closer as a team.

The key to using this method is not to choose something too complicated as an issue, and not anything that shows you or your company in a negative light. Always make the result positive and a learning example.

At the end of most interviews, you will be given the opportunity to ask questions. This is your opportunity to clarify anything you want to about the job or get in any information that you have been able to before.

You could ask:

  • What kind of training or qualifications will I get in relation to the job?
  • Who will I be working with/managed by?
  • Are there targets or achievement criteria for the job?
  • What opportunities are there for career progression?
  • Is there anything else I can tell you about myself that will help you make your decision?


When the interview is over, thank the interviewers for their time and ask (if you have not been told already) when you will hear from them.

Presentations are a way of asking a candidate to answer a question in a practical way. You might be given a topic in advance to prepare your presentation; you can then undertake research and perhaps use technology such as PowerPoint to deliver the presentation. This approach may be used for roles where presenting, teaching or training is part of the job.

If the topic is in the form of a question, make sure that your presentation answers it, this sounds obvious but it is a common mistake. For example, if you are asked to do a presentation where you review a product or service and say how you would develop it; the presentation should focus less on the critical review and more on your role in development. Skills that a presentation can demonstrate include confidence, public speaking, research, problem-solving, creativity and IT skills.

Some employers and universities like to give group challenges, or tasks, to see how well applicants can work together as a team. This is often the case for jobs which have a focus on providing a service to the public or working closely with others.

These can be fun, like building a chair out of paper or making a bridge out of straws, or serious, such as planning a new shopping centre or discussing the care of an elderly person. The employer is looking for the way in which you gel with others as a team. People often take on natural roles in a group and this sort of task allows observers to see collaboration and cooperation in action.

Skills that group tasks highlight include:

  • Teamwork
  • Planning
  • Problem-solving
  • Listening 
  • Co-operation

Tests are used to allow you to show your skills and abilities in a controlled way. If, for example, you want to work in a clerical or administrative job you might be asked to take a typing test which determines how fast you type, but also how accurate you are. The armed forces use entrance tests to decide which role you are suited to. Some industries such as electrical installation or plumbing may use entrance tests as a requirement for work in that industry.

Work trials are used mainly in skills-based jobs, where you have to be good at practical tasks. For example, this may mean spending a day or two in a workshop being observed doing the job. Work trials can also be used in jobs providing a service to the public, for example, someone applying to become a social worker assistant may have to work alongside a social worker as part of the application process.

Our partners