Careers advice

How to prepare for a job interview: the ultimate guide

With job interviews, it's all about preparation. Here's our one stop shop for getting yourself ready.

Last updated: 20 April 2023

What you’ll learn

  • How to prepare for the “why do you want to work here” question.
  • Creating your personal interview elevator pitch.
  • Other common job interview questions you'll encounter.
  • How to use the STAR method for answering interview questions.
  • Questions you should ask the interviewer.
  • The importance of doing a mock job interview.
  • How to choose what to wear to a job interview.
  • What to do on the day of the job interview.
  • How to follow up on a job interview.

Be proud! Getting a job interview in New Zealand’s competitive market is no mean feat, and you’ve already beaten a lot of competition to get this far. Now, it’s all about that next step.

Nervous? Good. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be preparing, and winging it isn’t smart.

To help you enter these encounters in the best possible mindset, we’ve created this handy step-by-step guide, covering everything from researching the company to planning your route to their front door.

Research and strategy are key to job interview success.

1. Do your homework on the organisation

While you can’t predict every question the interviewer will ask, if you don’t get something similar to ‘why do you want to work here?’, we’d be more surprised than an Australian lifting the Bledisloe Cup.

Ideally, you already have a firm grasp of the business, its values and its mission, as this info would have been important for tailoring your CV and cover letter. 

You don’t need to memorise every product they sell or every project they’ve completed, but demonstrating a knowledge of the company and its mission is vital.

The internet makes this organisational stalking pretty easy. Most modern businesses post their company values prominently on their website, and produce media releases on achievements they’re proud of. From these sources, you should be able to get a good idea of how the company views itself, helping you to get on the interviewer's wavelength.

Bonus tip: research their competition. This isn’t to bad mouth them, but rather to show a broader understanding and passion for the industry.

2. Prepare your personal elevator pitch

You want to go into the job interview with up to five key selling points that present you in the strongest possible light to the interviewer. This is your personal elevator pitch. Now, of course, you’ aren’t to walk into the interview and simply reel this list off, that would make you sound a teensy bit self-obsessed, No, you’ll bring these up when they’re relevant to the questions you’re being asked. That said, you might get the opportunity to get through a good chunk of your elevator pitch as an answer to a common question like “What do you think makes you suitable for this role?”

So, how do you select your list of selling points? That’s easy, refer back to the job advert where you first heard about the job. After all, this is where the employer has literally told you every single thing they want from their ideal candidate. Note down key demands from the listing, and under each of these headings, bullet point qualifications or experience from your past that show you meet their criteria. Use your Trade Me Jobs Profile here as an easy reference point for selecting which examples most closely match their requirements.

The next step is making this sound natural, and presenting it in your job interview!

Take notes from the job listing to highlight important requirements.

3. Know your weak spots

As well as presenting your strengths, you need to be able to put the interviewer’s minds at ease about any skills or experiences that might be missing from your CV. Of course, you don’t want to bring this stuff up unless you have to, but it’s better to be prepared than to be caught flat-footed.

Again, if you're missing something the company is looking for, you should be able to work this out based on what they’ve included in the job description. From here, how you deal with this really depends on what it is. Ideally, you’ll be able to substitute in a similar experience or skill that you think will show the interviewer that you’re simply offering something different, rather than something less. If you can’t find an equivalent capability to sub in here, let the interviewer know that this is something you’re working on, or that it would be something you could quickly get up to speed with.

Realistically, experienced hiring managers know that no candidate is going to tick every single box, and it’s unlikely that missing one or two of the competencies listed in the job advert is going to rule you out of contention.

4. Prepare answers for common interview questions

Every interview and interviewer is different, but there are typical questions you can prepare for. Make a list, and start thinking of how you’d approach each.

These normally fall into one of several categories:

1. Questions about your CV:

Prepare to talk about every aspect of your CV, as you never know which bits caught the interviewer’s eye. CV questions are designed to test whether you’ll be able to do the job, and expect a mixture of broader ones, e.g. ‘tell us about your past work experience’, as well as focused examples like, ‘what was your greatest achievement at uni?’.

Crucially, tie the responses about your past to the job you’re applying for – this is what your audience really want to know.

2. Behavioural interview questions

These questions work on the logic that if you behaved in a certain way before, you’re likely to act similarly in the future.

Behavioural interview questions often begin with a phrase like, ‘tell me about a time when …’. Standard examples include:

  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with stress
  • Give me an example of a time you solved a major problem at work
  • Describe how you’ve dealt with conflict in the past
  • How do you react if you don’t meet your targets?

The good news? There’s a great framework for effectively answering behavioural interview questions – the STAR method. STAR stands for: 

  • Situation: this is the context for your answer. For example, a past job, uni or a volunteer project. 
  • Task: what were you doing? If you were talking about dealing with stress, perhaps you were facing a heap of tight deadlines.
  • Action: what did you do? With stress, you could have created a priority list and worked through it to prevent yourself becoming overwhelmed.
  • Result: how did your actions lead to a successful solution? Talk about what you achieved and what you learnt.

Expect to give examples of times you've worked well with others.

3. Personality questions

These can range from the dreaded, ‘what is your greatest weakness’ to more light-hearted examples like, ‘if you were an animal, what would you be?’.

The point of these questions? No one wants to work with an ego-maniac, a Debbie Downer or someone who doesn’t pull their weight. The interviewer wants to know what you’re like. Do you have a fun side?

You can also expect them to take an interest in what you do for amusement. This helps them build a rounded picture of you, and decide if you’d be pleasant to have around.

4. Prepare questions to ask the interviewer

Job interviews aren’t a one-way street, and at the end you’ll have the chance to ask some questions of your own. 

Note – interviewers want you to ask questions. It shows you’re actually thinking about their company, and not just taking the first job that comes your way. So, have a few questions up your sleeve, and don’t be afraid to bring along a notepad – this isn’t a memory test. 

There’s a lot you could ask, but here are some popular ones to get you going:

  • What are the biggest challenges of the role?
  • What do you like about working here?
  • How will you measure success for this role?

5. Do a mock interview

Once you’ve prepared answers to common interview questions, and some role specific examples, set up a mock session. This could be with a family member, partner, friend or anyone else you trust to take it seriously.

Speaking answers out loud is very different from writing bullet points or rehearsing them in your head. While you don’t want to sound robotic and over-rehearsed on the interview day, a mock is a good opportunity to work on responses you struggle to communicate well.

Also consider your body language. Are you making eye contact? Are you gesturing naturally, or are you frozen like a deer in headlights? If you’re naturally fidgety, lose distracting items like jewellery and clicky pens.

6. Choose what to wear to your job interview

People obsess about what to wear for a job interview. Of course, it’s important to create the right first impression, but don’t lose too much sleep over it

Today, companies often include suggested dress codes in interview invitations, but if they don’t, feel free to ring and ask what they’d advise.

If in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed – you can always adjust your choices once you’ve landed the job.

If you're not sure what to wear, ask for guidance on company dress codes.

7. Work out your route to the job interview

Don’t leave this to the day of the interview. The last thing you want is all your hard preparation going to waste because you missed the bus and arrived late.

Aim to arrive 15 minutes or so before the start time so you can compose yourself and get in the right headspace.

It’s a good idea to look at the predicted weather for the day of the interview – even if the location is walkable, you don’t want to do this in the rain or high wind (cough, Wellington) for obvious reasons.

So, now you know how to prepare for a job interview. Follow these steps, add in a splash of your natural charm and charisma and you’re well on your way. You got this.

8. What to do when you arrive for your job interview

First impressions count for a lot, and you start making one as soon as you arrive at the organisation, not when the interview starts. If you’re taking a loud phone call in the lobby, or even worse come across as rude to the receptionist this information will likely find its way back to the person making the hiring decision.

We advise doing the following when you arrive:

  • Sign in: you’ll probably have received an email telling you how to sign in when you arrive, and this could either be using a digital sign-in, or with a receptionist. Remember, be friendly and polite to everyone you see.
  • Wait calmly: we totally understand that you’ll likely be feeling very nervous as you wait for the interview to start. But try to sit calmly where you’ve been asked to. We also recommend not scrolling on your phone while you wait, this isn’t a great look. If you need to do something, review your notes or the job description.
  • Greet the interviewer: when someone comes and calls you in, stand up, smile and shake their hand.

9. How to follow up after a job interview

Within 24 hours of your job interview, contact the person who conducted it and thank them for their time. It’s also a good idea to slip in a subtle reminder of how keen you are on the role, something along the lines of: “It was great to meet with you on Monday, and to hear more about the role, I love everything about the company and would be very keen to join your team. Looking forward to hearing from you”.

After you’ve sent this, it’s important not to get impatient and keep bugging the hiring manager for an update. They’ll probably have given you an approximate time frame for when they expect to get back to you, so it’s important to wait for this date before sending any more follow ups. If you do need to ask for another update, just keep it concise and simple, and simply ask for when you should expect an update