A potential employer at an interview will be interested in three main areas of questioning. You know without a doubt that you will be asked questions about: (a) your qualifications and skills; (b) your previous work experience; and (c) your character or personality. Let us look at each of these areas in turn.

Your qualifications and skills

Before you are interviewed it is helpful to have prepared a good CV. This document is useful for interviews as well as job applications as it should contain a concise list of courses taken and jobs held. Before the interview you will need to make a thorough review of your background, especially if you have taken several different courses. Fluffing your answers when you are unsure of your ground is all too apparent to an interviewer and looks unprofessional. You will then be completely familiar with what you have spent time studying, and where and when.

You almost need to be able to recite your CV in your sleep! As a result, when you are asked questions about your educational background, the information you require will come easily and concisely.

When you are being interviewed and are asked about your past studies, the employer does not want to hear you recite a list of the courses you have attended. Think why the employer should be interested in such information. The reason is that he or she wants to know what you learned from your studies.

In most cases, therefore, it is more important to get across the main subjects studied, what projects you specifically worked on, which exams you passed – if any – and which parts of the course you enjoyed most, or learned most from. Those who have not taken any exams will still be expected to talk about courses studied at school or college. You will need to work out which were your favourite subjects, which lessons you felt benefited you most, and why.

Your previous work experience

The same is true of your work experience. All your jobs and the details of what you did as your main duties need to be at the front of your mind. You should not assume that it is obvious to an interviewer what you did as a filing clerk. Most interviewers will be interested in the precise skills used in the job that could help you to contribute to the position applied for.

You may think that all filing clerks file – but what sort of documents were you dealing with? Were they important legal papers or plans, originals of letters or clients’ personal details? Perhaps you used to file things by number rather than alpha- betically, or you might have had to cross-reference materials. Did you ever have to retrieve records in a hurry, work under pressure or trace missing papers? Did you ever use particular IT programmes, answer queries from the public or liaise with colleagues from other departments? Were the documents confidential or private or did they need special treatment before filing, eg coding to aid retrieval?

All these things could be what are called transferable skills, ie skills that you learn or use in one job which can be trans- ferred to the next. The advantage to an employer should be obvious. Your skill in one area of work, in which you can demonstrate expertise, means that you will not necessarily need training to do the same thing in the next job. Again, let us consider why the interviewer is asking this type of question. The answer is, to see what kind of an employee you would make. Therefore, when you worked in a particular place is not as important as what you contributed there, since it gives the employer an idea of your capabilities.

Your character or personality

Of the three main areas of interest to an employer, the greatest importance attaches to the type of person you are. It happens again and again; even if a candidate’s educational back- ground or previous experience is not up to those of his or her competitors, by demonstrating certain advantages involving personality or character, the candidate is successful in getting the job. Why should this be so? As long as a candidate is the sort of person who will fit into the company and who enjoys his or her work, that person can easily be trained to compensate for any lack of skills or experience.

Sharing the vision

There is one further aspect for employers to consider when they are interviewing. Many candidates may seem to have appropriate qualifications, experience and personality to fit the vacancy. What else could make the difference between the best and the rest? In a downturn, employers may find that they start to attract lots of suitable applicants. They will be looking for ways to pick out the people who are offering them the most.

If candidates can show that they have thought about the job, specifically the contribution that they can make and the way that the job should be done, they cannot fail to impress. This requires spending some time thinking about the key aspects of the job. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation as far as you can tell? What can you discover about the environment in which the company is operating? Think about both the job and the organisation and try to analyse which factors might be important.