Your CV has done its job, writes executive coach James Sweetman. Now only the interview lies between you and the role you are after. You want to do a great interview, but fear you will dissolve into a mumbling nervous wreck.

The path to interview success starts well before you shake the interviewer’s hand. Preparation is key and preparation means:

  1. Knowing in advance what you want the interviewers to know about you
  2. Contemplating your responses to probable questions
  3. Lining up your examples to illustrate the required competencies
  4. Having a strategy for keeping your nerves under control
  5. Doing proper research on the organisation (the people who are interviewing you – they are probably on LinkedIn!) and on the industry.

In this article I will give you the inside track on the first two essentials when it comes to preparing for a successful interview. But first, let’s get clear as to what an interview is and banish some of the common and debilitating misconceptions around these key face-to-face meetings.

Common interview misconceptions

When I work with clients helping them prepare for interview I remind them of three things:

  • First, that the interviewers are not trying to catch you out. The purpose of an interview from the company’s perspective is to gather information about you, so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not you are the optimal candidate for the role. Your job is to give them that information.
  • Second, your job is not to try and second-guess what you think the interviewers need to hear, that’s mind reading and guesswork. Your job is to answer the questions as authentically and as naturally as possible.
  • Third, you are always doing your best. Nobody purposefully sets out to do a bad interview. You will give it your best shot, but as the late Maya Angelou said –‘when you know better, you do better’. And perhaps the points contained in this article will expand your definition of ‘your best.’

Five questions you are going to be asked

With a little bit of thought you can predict many of the questions you are likely to be asked. However, it’s never about learning answers off by heart. This makes you seem rehearsed, inauthentic and makes it very difficult for the interviewers to relate to you. You also pile a tremendous amount of pressure and stress onto yourself because you are now trying not to forget the answers you had written out. Remember an interview is about verbal communication, you are not doing a written exam!

In contemplating your responses to probable questions, the phrase I like to use is, put the scaffolding in place for your answers. By scaffolding I mean the key points you want to get across, the salient remarks you would like the interviewers to note down.

From my experience of helping hundreds of candidates prepare for interviews, here are five questions you are almost guaranteed to be asked.

1. What are your strengths?

By the end of the interview you want the interviewers to know your strengths, but how can they be clear as to what your strengths are, if they don’t roll off your tongue. Effective interview preparation starts by knowing your top four or five strengths.

Alternative ways of asking the strengths questions are – how will you add value to the company? ‘why should we employ you?’ or even the generic ‘tell me a bit about yourself?’ The answer to all these questions lies in knowing your strengths.

It’s not about regurgitating the competencies as listed on the job description, it’s sharing the four or five attributes that you feel you are bringing to the table.

2. What are your weaknesses?

This is a favourite question of the HR person sitting on the interview panel. This question is asked because the interviewer wants to know how self-aware you are. The way to approach your answer is to identify an area that you feel is not quite a strength yet and to emphasise how you are working on developing that area.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

This is the ambition question. Your answer will let the interviewer know if you are interested in a job or developing a career. You don’t have to be specific in your answer. You can speak about continuing to learn and grow, overcome challenges, deal with bigger clients, move into a supervisory or management role.

4. What do you know about this company?

Your answer here tells the interviewer how much preparation you have done and how serious you are about getting the job. Knowing the company’s website is a threshold competency, it’s the minimum that is expected. Do you know anybody working in the organisation already? Could you have a conversation with them? Prior to the interview set up a ‘Google Alert’ to assist you in gathering the most up-to-date information about the company.

5. Do you have any other questions?

You are guaranteed to be asked this one. Don’t ask about salary if it hasn’t been mentioned, but perhaps have a question about the company, as again this lets the interviewer know you have done your homework. There are other ways you can use this question at the end of the interview and I explore them in this video. 


What questions would you hate to be asked?

A great question to ask yourself as part of your interview preparation is what question would I hate to be asked, or what issue would I hate the interviewers to bring up? This sheds a light on an area where you may not be as comfortable. If you prepare your answer in advance, it gives you a greater sense of control. The issue may not come up at the interview, but if it does, at least you won’t be floored.

In the next part of this series of articles on interview preparation, I’ll explore the whole area of competencies and the way competencies are assessed during an interview.

For more insights into effective interview preparation – check out James Sweetman's Interview Skills Coaching page

Author: James Sweetman is a motivational speaker and executive coach focusing on leadership, presentation skills and personal development. He is also the author of five books. More information is available at