Interview Preparation:

What do interviewers want?

A major part of your interview preparation will be predicting the kinds of questions you will be asked and preparing appropriate answers.

'What do interviewers want and what will they ask?' is a common request

Although it might seem a complete mystery it is not rocket science. In fact all interviewers are looking for the same thing. They want evidence that you are the right candidate.

We worry about interviews because we fear the unknown.But actually with some simple research you can predict what they will ask and will not be taken by surprise.

Bear in mind, in general, the recruiter will be hoping that ‘you are the one’. You just need to persuade and reassure them that they are right!

As part of your interview preparation you will need to use the job-related information at your disposal, our suggestions and a little bit of guesswork to assess what the interviewer will be looking for.

To make it easier we suggest you do your interview preparation under these 5 headings (You will find this list referred to on other pages on this site):-

  • Your skills
  • Your experience
  • Your knowledge
  • Your background
  • Your personality and the sort of person you are

Knowing how to behave and what to say at the interview is even more predcitable when you know that there are some qualities that you can almost guarantee that interviewers are looking for. You can make a reasonable guess at the criteria they want.

Qualities most in demand include:

  • being flexible
  • having a caring and helpful attitude
  • enjoying working as part of a team
  • showing willingness to take responsibility
  • being positive
  • displaying enthusiasm

If you can demonstrate these qualities at an interview and back them up with evidence that you can ‘do the job’ then your chances of meeting the interview criteria are high.

The best way to discover exactly what the interviewer wants is to go through the documents you should have been sent as part of the job information package.

The job description

This will list the role, responsibilities and duties of the post you are applying to. Go through it with a highlighter pen and highlight anything that indicates the kind of person who will be right for the job.

There may be similar duties to those you have experience of, there may be skills referred to that you know you have. Even if you don’t think you match up to the job criteria completely do not worry, highlight the requirements anyway. You can prepare for how to cover any gaps later.

The person specification (if you have one)

Most, but not all employers will send out a document called a person specification. If you have been sent one this is very useful as it will itemise the very experience, skills, qualifications and background the employer is seeking.

This document is key to your interview preparation as it lists all the important interview criteria and gives a 'picture' of what the interviewer wants.

You may find it divided into essential and desirable criteria. If you do not meet the essential criteria you may find it hard to get the job, unless of course you can find a way to ‘compensate’ for them in some way.

For example you can say ‘I haven’t had too much experience of xyz but I have done something very similar’.....and explain.But for now highlight whatever criteria the employer specifies.

The job advert

Within the job advert you might find clues about the kind of person they are hoping to attract. You may need to read between the lines. Make notes from what you can glean and add to your list.

The company dossier (report) & website

Take a look through company reports and their website. There are often pages describing the people who work for the company. Underline any words that might be useful to include in your interview answers.

Often you will find a page on ‘People Development’, Human Resources’ or a Mission Statement that may include the values of the company, usually covering its staff.

These can give you clues about the company’s approach to managing its employees and stated culture (although this may be different from the reality once you actually work there).


Once you have highlighted and underlined words that appear to describe the person they are looking continue your interview preparation by transfering them under the following headings.

  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Background
  • Knowledge & Qualifications
  • Personality
  • Other

We recommend at this point get our FREE Interview Preparation Master Plan to help you.


Once you have a list of candidate requirements you can start to make notes on how well you match them. You can also begin to identify examples that will provide evidence to support your answers. This is the key to preparing your interview answers.

NB. Sometimes it is difficult to know the difference between skills, experience, background, qualifications, knowledge and personality. It is worth taking the trouble separating them out as much as you can to help focus your interview preparation.

Here’s our simple guide:-


Skills are the things you can do or the abilities you have. Interviewers often exchange the word skills for ‘competences’. Often the interviewers will have a list of skills, abilities or competences they require. The interview questions are your chance to demonstrate you have these skills.

Skills can be:-

job specific e.g. operating the tills, designing a website, filling teeth, editing a newspaper


they can be general & apply to many jobs e.g. communicating with people, presenting information, using the telephone

Your answers will need to show positively that you have whatever skill is being tested. It will be helpful to be able to illustrate your answer with an example

You can discover the Top Ten Skills Questions by clicking here


Interviewers are looking for reassurance that you have experience from your previous work, voluntary work or from your life in general. You need to explain how your experience prepares you to do the post they have vacant.

They are not looking for the whole story just the key points that will persuade them you will be able to fit in and do the job successfully.

You can discover our Top Ten Experience Questions by clicking here.


Whist many employers accept that you may not have all the knowledge to do their job they will be looking to minimise their training expenditure and the time spent training you. This means they will want to make sure that you have the knowledge you can reasonably be expected to have.

This will include technical knowledge and knowledge of that particular industry or niche. Your qualifications will be listed on your application form or CV but be prepared for any questions about why you chose them. Do not lie about your qualifications. In most cases they can be easily verified.

The other area of knowledge you will need is information about the company itself.

Do not be caught out by the question 'What do you know about us?'

Do as much research as you can via company reports, brochures and website. Ask around to see if anyone you know has worked there before so you have some 'insider' knowledge. Weaving what you know about the company into your answers, drawing parallels from your own experience will always impress.

Discover our Top Ten Knowledge & Qualifications questions by clicking here


Some jobs also want you to have the right background. For example a background in the voluntary sector, a long interest in the legal profession or with campaigning groups or an involvement in sport.

This is not necessarily having a job but being involved and pursuing activities that relate to that field. For example you might want to be a doctor and you have taken every opportunity to be a first aider, been a hospital volunteer, taken relevant courses and may have family members who are in the profession.

It doesn’t mean you can do the job but that you have an understanding of the needs of the profession.

If you really cannot think of anything you will need to get creative. When we are coaching we learn to dig a bit deeper and can generally root out something highly relevant that the client has almost forgotten about or not thought important.

Think hard and ask yourself 'what have I done in my life that makes me want to do this job / or be able to do this job?' Even better, get someone else to ask you.

Discover the Top Ten Background questions by clicking here


Fitting into the workplace is high on an interviewers tick list. In nearly all jobs even if you are based at home the interviewers will want to know that you can get on with people and are flexible enough to meet the demands of the job. Some of this is out of your control as you cannot change the people you are expected to fit in with but there are some points worth bearing in mind.

Always let the interviewer know that:-

  • you are flexible
  • you have a caring and helpful attitude
  • you enjoy working as part of a team
  • you are willing to take responsibility
  • you are positive
  • you are enthusiastic

Discover our Top Ten Personality questions by clicking here

To summarise. An important part of your interview preparation is making an assessment of what the interviewer wants. The next stage is to use our FREE Interview Preparation Sheet to help you compare your expertise to the criteria required.

When you have done this you can move on to the next stage of your interview preparation, thinking about the questions that will be asked and beginning to prepare your answers
If you are still stuck take a look at our Interview Coaching service. We would be happy to help