Posted 29 July 2021
Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Marcie Mintrose

A guide to preparing for job interviews

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Ding! goes your inbox as you finally receive that long awaited job interview invitation. A wave of excitement prevails – this is your dream job, after all – but then you start to panic: how do I prepare? What’s it going to be like? Will I impress enough or will I get too nervous? Job interviews can really vary and they are different for everyone. Sometimes, an employer will ask you in for an informal chat, other times it might feel like you’re presenting to a judging panel. Either way, with our essential guide, you’ll be prepared for any situation.

Job interviews can take many forms; IRL and face-to-face, a telephone call – or, more common these days – on Zoom or varying video-calling platforms. As a result, there are lots of new virtual hurdles to face, but rest assured that a few of the same old techniques still apply.

The thing to remember is, job interviews are just as much about you checking to see if a company are the right fit, as it is the other way around. So from practicing questions to doing your research, to help you get prepared, we’ll be breaking down the main steps to take before, during and after your interview.

Before the interview

Everyone gets nervous before an interview, even the most experienced and confident people. To help calm the nerves – and more importantly to make sure you’re prepared – there are a few pointers to consider.

📧 Respond to the invite

More often than not, the company or studio will email to ask you in for an interview, and will arrange a time and a date that suits you both. After receiving this email, make sure you respond in good time. You’ll want to thank them for the opportunity and say how much you look forward to meeting them.

If they haven’t stated, ask what you need to be prepared for. Some companies send the questions they’ll ask in advance, while others might send a task to do. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to ask how long they expect you to spend on it, what format to show it in and how to present it.

🚨 Be wary of the language used in emails like this, as you don’t want to be thrown off thinking that the interview was an informal ‘chat’, when in fact it was the opposite. Basically, always assume that ‘chat’ simply means ‘interview’ and be prepared, just in case. You don’t want to be taken by surprise.

🔊 Voice your needs clearly

Make sure you ask if you have access requirements or if there’s any part of the process you might need extra support with. Even if this sounds daunting, it’s best to try and voice any requests beforehand.

This could be asking for more time to complete assessments, using video or audio interviews, or providing alternate formats, such as a written test. And if they don’t respond well to this, it might be an indication of how they might treat you if you worked there. In the experience of Lyla Johnston, our very own editorial assistant: “I've done a few interviews where you have to do a one-way video interview, which can often be disadvantageous to neurodivergent people like myself.”

💻 Do a tech check

If the interview will be taking place online, check which video platform it will be hosted on. Some companies will prefer Zoom over Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams, for example. Take the time to download and test the technology, especially if you're not familiar with it.

Practice calling a friend and making sure you know how to do things like share screen or explore the settings to work out the best way to share video or sound.

📚 Do your research

This might sound like an obvious one, but make sure you research the company and the people interviewing you. Note down any questions you have and get a good feel for who they are and what they want from an employee. This will help form any questions you have for them.

And also remember to read over your own CV, cover letter and portfolio, just in case they have any specific questions about it.

🔍 Double check the details

Work out how long the interview will be, where it will be located, or whether it’s conducted on Zoom or Google Meets – you don’t want to be caught out on the day. Make sure you have the calendar invite ready and know the exact time it will take place.

Preparing for tasks

It’s now become common practice for job interviews to require you to complete a pre-interview task in order to demonstrate your creative skill, and to show that you’re the right person for the job. Oftentimes this will be before the interview, and they might ask you to create assets, plan some work or do some research. Others, they might ask you after the interview – so make sure you know exactly what they’re after and what tools you need to give it your best shot.

🚨 Watch out for companies that seem like they’re out to exploit you. If the work is going to take you more than a day, or requires a suspiciously large amount of labour that could become free work for them to use, question the motives behind the company’s actions.

Preparing for interview questions

We're not going to lie to you here, it's hard to guess exactly what the interviewer might want to ask you – but there are some classic questions that always pop up in an interview. These are the usual suspects that come up again and again:

• Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
• What drew you to the company or role?
• What was the last thing you saw that really inspired you?
• Where do you see yourself in three years’ time?
• Tell us about a time where you overcame a challenge in your work?
• How the role fits in with your career ambitions
• And last but not least, they’ll almost definitely ask you if you have any questions for them

✍️ Preparing your answers

Remember that your answers will tell the interviewer what you’d be like to work with. Qualities most people look for are that you’re adaptable, able to work on your own but also in a team, and that you’re up for learning.

By running through potential questions ahead of time, you can feel prepared and relaxed in the interview. We suggest recording yourself with a voice-recorder or camera, or even just practicing out loud. This way you can get used to talking about your ‘story’, and you could also get someone to test you and ask you questions; it’s always good to get feedback.

Here are a few examples of what to say, and what not to say...

Q1. What drew you to the company or role?

This is a chance to share how excited you are to apply your skills to the role. It also doesn’t hurt to include a few compliments.

Answer One
“I thought the salary was quite good, and it looked like something I might like doing so I just applied to see what might happen.”

Answer Two
“I’ve been following the studio’s work for a long time, so the chance to contribute to that was super-exciting. I’ve always found the thoughtful approach you have to design inspiring, and something I try to bring out in my own work.”

Q2. Tell us about a time where you overcame a challenge in your work?

We all face challenges at work, so use this as an opportunity to illustrate how you navigated through a sticky situation in the past. This is less about complaining and more about how you’re able to work around problems and offer solutions.

❌ Answer One
“I was working in a group with someone and their ideas weren’t very good, and I knew mine was better so I made sure we went down that route.”

✅ Answer Two
“Working in a team can be a challenge when there are differences of opinion. But during this project, I made sure conversations were constructive, everyone felt included and that we were able to capture elements of both routes without watering it down.”

😌 Take a moment for yourself

Finally, once all your prep is done and you’re feeling confident, it’s time wind down. Spend a moment to check the time and location of the interview, and if it’s face-to-face, how long it will take there. Have any devices charged and ready to pick up and go the next day.

It might sound obvious, but sleeping and eating well the day before the interview will do you wonders. So remember to fuel your body and your mind!

The day of the interview

🧠 Get in the right state of mind

There’s no point trying to cram everything in at the last minute. Instead, give yourself the best chance to be the best version of you. Take a moment to get calm before the interview; don’t forget to breathe deeply, or maybe practice some power posing! This will help settle your nerves and keep any the pre-interview jitters at bay.

👔 Dress for the occasion

How you present yourself is important. Know that if you’re meeting a creative, don’t wear a suit, because they likely won’t be. Though a good rule of thumb is to dress smart-casual and wear clothes you are comfortable in. Even for a Zoom call, it’s best to dress your lower-half in interview-ready attire, too. Just in case.

🧐 Check you have everything you need

If IRL, double – or triple – check the time and location of the interview. When you get there, have your computer or tablet to hand, and ask about how to connect to the building Wifi so that when it comes to presenting a task, you’ll be good to go.

If it’s a virtual interview, don’t forget to check your battery, internet connection and that you have a quiet and presentable background.

What to expect on the day

There might be more than one person in the room, so be prepared for that. Sometimes interviews can last 20 minutes, and other times they can be more than an hour. Below is a general order they all follow:

• Niceties, introductions and a short explanation of how the interview will work
• Questions and answers
• Presentation of the task if there was one
• More questions or they’ll tell you about next steps

💻 Be ready to talk about your work

If you’re likely to be showcasing your portfolio, you want to make sure that everything is relevant and well-rehearsed. You’ll probably want to focus on two or three most relevant projects – but make sure you have a couple more available if you need them.

If it’s a website, get it open in a browser. If it’s a book, bring a few copies with you to hand around the room. Make sure to point out the best bits of your work.

😮‍💨 It’s normal to be nervous

If the interviewer asks you some hard questions, try not to lose your confidence and assume everything’s failed. Remember that if they didn’t like your work, you wouldn’t be in the room. What they're trying to do is push at the edges of your knowledge to see how you respond to being challenged, being uncertain and not knowing the answer to things.

Not every answer is going to be incredible, people know interviews are nerve-wracking. That being said, nerves can still get the best of us. Know that it’s completely normal to trip up on your words. It can be scary, especially when you’ve done your prep and your mind goes completely blank! If this happens, stop and pause. Take your time to think. Be open and say “Can you give me a moment to think?” or ‘Can you come back to this at the end?”

❓ Ask questions

Although daunting, job interviews are not only an opportunity for you to impress the interviewers, but for them to impress you. It’s a chance for you to find out more about the role and company.

Have at least one question
about the role or company prepared as well as asking about next steps in the process. This isn’t a grilling session, but here are a few suggestions that you might find useful when composing your own:

• Find out more about the day-to-day and culture
“Is there such thing as a typical day here?”
“How big is the team I’ll be working in?”
“How would you describe the working culture?”

• Ask about diversity and equality
“Can you tell me a bit about the company’s approach to diversity and inclusion?”
“Would you say this is a diverse company?”

• Ask about their commitment to the environment
“What’s the company’s approach to sustainability and the environment?”

Know that it’s not essential to ask something, especially if they’ve already answered any questions you had.

After the interview

One of the most important things you can do after an interview is to say goodbye and then thank them for their time. The second most important thing to do is to keep calm. Know that you’ve done your best and you should feel proud of what you’ve achieved so far.

📧 Follow up

It can be a nice extra to follow-up in an email afterwards to say you enjoyed meeting them. Keep it short and sweet, and feel free to talk about one specific thing about the interview or what you learned about their organisation. Finally, mention how much you are looking forward to hearing from them.

⏭ Next round interviews

It’s normal for there to be a second round of interviews, and even a third. If invited to the next round, check in to ask if there are many rounds ahead of that one.

😊 If you’re offered the job

Hooray! You’ve been offered the job, so now what? Well, first thing’s first, thank them for the invitation and let them know of your availability. Here a few things to ask, if they haven’t stated already:

• The start date
• The salary and benefits
• When you should expect the contract

😔 If you don’t get the job

Getting a ‘no’ can be disheartening and frustrating – we’ve all been there. But know that it’s all part of the process, and the more resilient you become, the more you’ll shine to potential employers. Often, a job rejection just comes down to the fact that you weren’t quite the right fit for the position, which means that you probably wouldn’t have been happy there anyway. Dust yourself off, get back on your feet and put yourself back on the market.

Other times, you might not get a reply at all. When you’re being ghosted, just remember that this shows a lack of respect on their part. Any good company will tell you when they’re going to be in touch and they will usually stick to it. It reflects badly on them if they don’t get back to you.

🗒 Ask for feedback

Don’t shy away from asking for feedback, as this shows that you’re up for learning, you’re resilient and receptive. Here’s an example: “If you have time, I would love a chance to get some feedback / thoughts on the task / how I can improve in future.”

And lastly, know that you’ll likely remain the database and network, so however you interact with them will be the impression you leave on them. You never know; they might call on you in future.

💪 Don’t give up

If you’re still on the job hunt, then remember: don’t give up. Recharge, and never take it personally. Applications and interviews can be great opportunities for growth and reflection. Your dream role could be right around the corner.

Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Marcie Mintrose