By Interview Prep Guru Fahim Abbasi


Admission offers are won or lost on the thoroughness of the preparations you make for the interview. Before the Interview panel sees you a lot of work has gone into drawing up person specifications as well as thinking through reviews and induction arrangements. You must match this preparation.

Just as you would not run a marathon without a lot of preparation, so the wise applicant will not approach the interview without getting ‘interview fit’. Here is how. . . 

Pre-Conditioning the Interviewer

It is well established that the expectations of the interviewer about the candidate formed during the pre-interview stage can be self-fulfilling. Interviewers who expect to encounter a strong candidate treat that candidate differently during the interview from the other applicants. The interviewer who expects good answers or positive responses will create opportunities for the candidate to perform well.

Consequently, anything you can do to create the right impression will be valuable.

If the interview expects you to be good and will sense this favourable attitude and be encouraged to try even harder to present your strengths. So help the interviewer help you – use the pre-conditioning strategy in presenting yourself strongly beforehand so that you are perceived to be the best candidate.

Banish ‘Wooden Legs’

It is surprising how many people prepare themselves to fail the interview. These are the wooden legs earlier and here’s a reminder of how they work.

  1. I’m too old/young
  2. I’m too experienced/inexperienced
  3. I’m over/under qualified
  4. I’m male/female, etc.

What you should remember is that as you have achieved an interview, your interviewer has accepted whatever limitations you put on yourself. Like everyone else, an interviewer’s time is expensive.

The First Rule of Being an Interviewee: Don’t Answer Questions

This might as something of a surprise, but it is one of the most powerful pieces of advice given. Interviewers eat the answers they are fed, so as the interviewee, you must not say anything unless you are prepared to speak to it or expand on what you have said.

Do Not Answer Questions – Respond to Them

In this way you can control the information you release about yourself. In the interview situation, you are 100 per cent in control of what you say. Interviewers can work only on the information you give them, so give them the very best information about yourself.

Use a Career Statement

A career statement has the advantage of creating the right expectations in the mind of the interviewer, preparing him or her for the information that is to come later.

  1. I am a highly motivated student with a proven record of Academics.

Work on a career statement can also help answer those open questions which usually occur during the early part of the interview. The question: ‘Tell me about yourself’ is a gift to the well-prepared statement.

Talk to Yourself

No, not the first sign of madness, but an important part of getting through the interview.

You use different parts of your brain for thinking and talking. Have you ever had that experience of knowing what to say and yet somehow not being able to get it out of your mouth? At any interview, you are bound to feel some anxiety and this will not improve your fluency.

In our society it is not done to be a self-publicist, so all of us are a little out of practise in talking about ourselves, our work and our achievements. Yet the interview is structured specifically for you to do just that. Keep asking yourself those open questions –How, why, What and Tell me – and answer them to yourself.

Practise talking about yourself out loud – in the bath, whilst driving – others might think you rather strange, but who cares if you are more likely to get admission in your dream institution.

Research suggests that those who are fluent are rated as:

  1. More intelligent
  2. Having better interpersonal skills

So practise, and develop your fluency for talking about your achievements.

Henry Ford said, ‘If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.’

There is a great lesson here for interviewees because we limit ourselves by our self-image or self-concept.

This is a particularly important if you are going for an Interview with more responsibility but are not absolutely sure that you’ve got what it takes.

If you are unsure or your confidence level dips during the interview your interviewer  will pick it up. Sometimes your attitude is even communicated non-verbally.

A way of overcoming this is to develop affirmations.


Here the man categories are:

  1. Impact on Others. What kind of responses does this person’s appearance, speech and manner bring out in other people?
  2. Qualifications and Experience. Does this person have the necessary knowledge?
  3. Innate abilities. How quickly and accurately does this person’s mind work?
  4. Motivation. What kinds of work appeal to the individual and how much effort is he/she prepared to apply to it?
  5. Emotional Adjustments. How well adjusted is this person to himself, his situation and his colleagues?

Knowing the structure of the interview will help you to understand what the interviewer is looking for and also help him or her recognize it!

The Interview Objective

It is very important to be clear about what the objective of the interview is – it is not always, as you might expect, to get the admission.

A useful saying is ‘if you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else’. This is true of the interview.
Your objective could be:

  1. To get on the shortlist
  2. To get to the interview with the faculty

-a whole host of objectives are legitimate.
If you know what your objective is then you will be able to tailor you answers accordingly.

Before planning the interview, identify and write down your objective for the interview, namely: 

  1. The objective of this interview is . . .
  2. So I must slant my answers towards . . .
  3. The points I wish to get across to achieve this objective are . . .

Practise Bragging

It is part of our cultural heritage not to talk about ourselves and certainly not about our achievements. In the interview the sectors will not know good you are unless you tell them. It is the job of the candidate to ensure that the interviewer’s effort is kept to minimum, so you overcome this cultural tendency towards self-deprecation.

Exercise in Bragging

Make a list of:

  1. 5 achievements
  2. 5 skills, or
  3. 5 things you are good at, or
  4. 5 things you are proud of

Then invite a colleague to strike off, at random, two from your list of five. You then have five minutes to persuade your colleagues that the two items should go back on the list.

This exercise will provide excellent experience in talking about yourself at a time when you were achieving.

At the end of the exercise, your friend can tell you whether or not the item is allowed back on the list. The reasons you are given will be useful feedback.

You might also like to ask your friend if it sounded as if you were bragging. The answer usually given is ‘No’. You were just talking about what you did’.

Remember – interviewers will not know how good you are unless you tell them.

Look Good, Be Good

Interviewers have limited information on which to base their final decision, so how you look has a tremendous influence on your success rate. Research strongly suggests that physical attractiveness influences selection, a phenomenon so well known that it is labeled Impression Management.

If you are, male or female you have a good opportunity to get fit and, more importantly, get to your ideal weight.
Dress: The Basic Rules

Because the interviewers is usually the first person to see you from the institution when you are seeking admission, how you dress is an important part of your impression management strategy. Of course, interviewers are more interested in what you can do and the skills you possess, but attention to one’s clothes can and often does tip the balance. People perceived to be attractive and well-groomed generally receive higher ratings than applicants thought to be unattractive or inappropriately dressed.

Here are some basic rules of dress:

  1. Dress to suit yourself – style and colour – rather than high fashion
  2. Be traditional rather than avant-grade
  3. Dress as expensively as you can afford
  4. Darker colours are more powerful than lighter colours
  5. Get a good haircut
  6. Buy good shoes and keep them clean
  7. If you buy a new outfit practise wearing it before the interview
  8. Less rather than more jewellery (for girls)
  9. Co-ordinate your colours

What to Wear

Just as there are fashions in clothes, so there are fashions for styles and colours in institutions. In every institutions there is an accepted style of dress.

It is easy to get information on corporate style. First, visit the institution, a few days before the interview and notice carefully what people are wearing in terms of style, colour and accessories.

The Handshake (Not recommended for girls in Pakistan)

There is no real connection between type of handshake and personality, but there is in the mind of many interviewers. There is so little information to go on about a candidate that anything is likely to be picked up and used, particularly at the beginning of the interview when the first impression is being created. So practise shaking hands firmly.

No one is going to give you admission on the basis of a handshake, but a good friendly and firm handshake may just contribute to the overall impression you wish to create.

Body Language & NVCs

What we say with our bodies is very powerful, and you can increase your likelihood of success by ensuring that you give out positive non-verbal clues.

The major positive NVCs are as follows

  1. A higher smile rate
  2. Nodding the head when the interviewer is speaking
  3. Leaning forward while listening and when replying
  4. A high level of eye contact

All of which deliver a positive message to the interviewer that you are important – which, of course, you are.

The result of all this is that you are more likely to be given a favourable rating than a candidate who does none or very few of these things. However, it is important not to overdo things and it would be sensible to practise.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Body language is thought to contribute over 60 per cent to the credibility of what people say, so in the interview situation it is very important to get this aspect correct.

Sit as far back in the chair as possible. If you sit on the edge of the chair because you are anxious, as you relax, and professional interviewers are trained in raport skills, you will lean back awkwardly in the chair. Or if you are asked a difficult or challenging question your body sometimes recoils as if you had been physically hit. Question such as:

  1. Why were you made redundant?
  2. Why did you not do better?
  3. Why did you fail?

And similar challenges are all likely to have this effect. If you are sitting correctly you can avoid expressing anxiety in this way, and answer the questions easily and positively.

The Chair, Legs and Hand Positions


Some interview settings are devised as if in preparation for a negotiation, with the chairs of the interviewer and the interviewee directly opposite one another ready for ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ confrontation. This is not helpful because before you start you are forced into an unnatural situation: if you watch people who are friends and colleagues they tend to sit more to the side than opposite each other.

In the interview you can create a more relaxed situation by turning the chair 45 degrees when invited to sit down. This takes a little practice but can be done quite easily, and in itself displays great self-confidence: it is the interviewer’s chair in the interviewer’s room and you have moved it.

Now that the chair is positioned appropriately, you can show how much you like the interviewer by turning your trunk, head and shoulders towards him so that your shoulders are parallel to his. This will make you appear friendly, warm, receptive and empathetic.


A ‘low cross’ or the athletic position’ is appropriate.

High-crossed legs give the impression of defensiveness which is not appropriate. The athletic position is where your dominant leg is brought under your chair and only the toe of your shoe is touching the floor, while your non-dominant leg is firmly planted on the floor, parallel with the direction of the chair, with both the sole and heel of your shoe in contact with the floor.
This is very powerful position – it makes you look as if you are ready for action.
The ‘athletic position’ is not the most suitable for women, who should position the legs in a low cross, or, keeping the legs together, just cross the ankles.


Keep your hands lower than your elbows. Rest them on your thighs or clasp them in a low steeple. A steeple is where the fingers are dovetailed together with the thumb of your non-dominant hand resting on top of your other thumb. (A high steeple is when the hands in the steeple position are brought higher than the elbows – not so powerful.)

The steeple position is useful for those who fidget or who are likely to flap their hands or arms about when they speak. A rough rule in body language is that the less people move their hands and arms, the more powerful they are. This is because they are used to being listened to and they do not have to resort to gesticulation to get their message across. The technical term for this is Low Peripheral Movement (LPM); so when being interviewed, maintain LPM and you will look even more impressive.

No Tentative Language

Because of cultural imperative not to push ourselves forward, when we speak about achievement we become self-deprecating and we communicate this in a variety of ways. One of the most damaging is the use of tentative language when talking about hopes and aspirations:

  1. I feel I could
  2. I think I can
  3. Perhaps I would

The use of ‘I feel’ weakens everything that follows it. There is a world of difference between ‘I feel I could do better in your institution’ and ‘I could do better in your institution’.

It is the same with the phrase ‘I think’. It dilutes your strengths and abilities.
By avoiding these tentative phrases your statement will sound far more powerful in the ears of the interviewer. Tentative language encourages a tentative response, but you want to achieve a very definite result.

If you have difficulty making strong ‘I’ statements about yourself – see the section ‘How to be Humble’ and do the bragging exercise a few times with a friend.

How to be Humble

Because you are the subject of the interview’s interest and, by now anyway, you should be talking as much as possible about your achievements, it is difficult not to sound an egoist through the constant use of ‘I’: I did do this and I did that. Remember that it is more powerful to say ‘I did’ rather than ‘we did’, but there are some other strategies that can be employed by using such phrases as:

  1. People would say that I . . .
  2. Friends have told me that I . . .
  3. Colleagues are always saying that I . . .
  4. My father once remarked that I . . .
  5. A reference would say that I . . .
  6. My experience show that I . . .
  7. The record would show that I . . .

Multiple Questions

You will know if you have an inexperienced interviewer because he or she will fire at you several questions at once.

In such cases, remember that you have been given a choice and you can choose which of the questions you wish to answer. Usually, after your interviewer has original answer it is likely that he or she will go back to one of the original two or three questions. So exercise your right of choice to your advantage.

However, if you have a professional interviewer, (you will recognize this by the constant flow of open questions interested with a sudden multiple  question), then you use a different tack. There is a school of interviewing which suggests that an answer to a triple question gives an indication of the intelligence of the applicant:

  1. Answer one question = average ability
  2. Answer two questions = above average
  3. Answer three questions = very bright



Someone once said, ‘Play is just as hard as work but we don’t get paid for it’. The reason for this is obvious – we enjoy doing it. It is because we enjoy doing something that makes this such a fascinating question area for interviewers. What someone does with his or her disposable time can reveal to the interviewer so much about that person’s individual talents, skills and natural motivations.

Thus the wise interviewee will anticipate and prepare for questions about interests.

Questions to anticipate are:

  1. What do you do in your spare time?
  2. Why do you do that?
  3. What satisfaction does it give you?
  4. How long have you had that interest?
  5. What have you achieved through the interest?


Have You Any Questions For Us?

This is usually asked at the end of the interview and it is fraught with danger.

Danger 1: Is it a genuine invitation for a question or is the interviewer only being polite? If it is genuine, and only you will be able to tell, then go ahead, but if not just thank the interviewer for his or her time and confirm your continuing interest in the position.

Danger 2: Some research has suggested that applicants are more likely to be rejected if they break out of the role of interviewee and interview the interviewer by asking for information, opinions or suggestions.

The recommended strategy is as follows. Now that you have been interviewed, you should have a clearer idea of what the employers are looking for, so you can hone your 30-word statement to match their needs with your education.

  1. Yes. But may I say how much I have enjoyed our discussion (it costs nothing to be polite) and I would like to say now that I am definitely interested in getting admission (shows you are motivated) because ……………………………………

(amended 30-word statement).

An additional advantage is that you can then pull out anything from your experience that you have not had an opportunity to talk about but has a direct bearing on the specified key result areas. You can then say:

What you have successfully done is:

  1. Not broken role as the interviewee
  2. Been able to extend the interview
  3. Concluding the interview on a positive note



  1. How did you come to choose your degree/discipline?
  2. Why did you come to this college/university?
  3. What do you like most/least about your subject?
  4. What class of degree do you anticipate gaining?


  1. How will your studies relate to your work?
  2. How have your studies been funded?
  3. Tell me about any project work you have under taken?
  4. What is your strongest/weakest subject? Why?
  5. What you will be going contribute to the university?
  6. What have you enjoyed most at this university?
  7. How does the approach to your subject at this college differ from that of other establishment?
  8. What recent developments in your discipline have taken your interest recently?


What is your favourite subject and why? justify us?

  1. Tell us about your qualification and entire educational life?


  1. Tell me about your career aspirations?
  2. Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years time?
  3. What attracted you to this to join a particular industry/sector?
  4. How will your studies support your career?
  5. What are you looking for in a career?
  6. What plants do you have to gain further qualifications?
  7. Why are you interested in BBA or BE rather than BA or B.Sc.?
  8. Tell me something about your ambitions?



  1. How would you describe yourself? Can you give me some examples from your life to support your statements?
  2. How would your friends describe you?
  3. How would your tutor describe you?
  4. Tell us about your family?
  5. What is your father’s profession and how many professionally qualified family members you have?
  6. What are your family’s financial resources?
  7. What do you do in your free time?
  8. Tell us about your hobbies?
  9. Tell us about your extra curricular activities if any?
  10. Tell us about your future plans?
  11. What are your strengths?
  12. What are your weaknesses?
  13. What are your interests outside your studies?
  14. How do you spend your spare time?
  15. How do you spend your vacations?
  16. What newspaper do you read? Why?
  17. What have you read recently that has taken your interest?
  18. On what does most of your disposable income go?
  19. How have your interests changed since coming up to university?
  20. What motivates you?
  21. Tell me about any of your sporting activities?
  22. Besides your degree, what else do you feel you have gained from university?
  23. In what societies are you active?
  24. What positions of responsibility do you hold/have you held?
  25. Apart from your studies, what will you remember most about your college days?



  1. Tell me a little about your family.
  2. What do your parents think about your chosen career?
  3. What will you do if we do not take you?
  4. What other colleges/universities have you applied to?


The Interview:

Arrive Early

How early is early? Well, about 30 minutes. There are a whole lot of reasons why you should do this, but here are just some of them:

If you plan to arrive it will give you a time buffer against the unforeseen traffic jam; getting lost; not being able to park. If selectors have arranged to see six or seven candidates on one day and you are late, don’t expect your interview to be extended. Your lateness will be interpreted as lack of motivation, planning or self-management.

Watch the Layout

How you are expected to behave as an interviewee is not only suggested by the style of the interviewer but also by the way that the interview room is laid out.
There are three basic layouts used by interviewers.

  1. Across the table: the classic negotiation style, eye-ball-to-eyeball
  2. Across the corner of the table: the classic colleague style with face-to-face discussions
  3. Across open space: the classic country club style, friend-to-friend


The range is from formal to informal and is usually a clue to how the interview will be: structured, semi-structured, unstructured.

It also gives an indication of the interviewer’s confidence, experience and status. It takes confidence and experience to manage and status. It takes confidence and experience to manage an ‘informal’ arrangement. The interviewer is relinquishing the trappings of status such as distance (provided by the desk), and comfort (interviewees have less comfortable chairs). It is an indication this type of furniture in their offices.

The main point of this section is to suggest that whatever office layout you encounter for the interview, let it affect only your style and not the content of what you say or your delivery.
Do not Argue With the Interviewer

There is psychological jargon which is known as the second false assumption of Attribution Theory. Roughly translated it means, ‘Interviewers believe that people behave in interviews the same way as they do at work.’

This is obviously not so because both you the candidate and the interviewer are on your best (or politest) behaviour. (The jargon for the phenomenon is Motivated Distortion.) This means that you would be unwise to take on the interviewer head to head; even in you felt it was warranted.

This is the process which you an employ to make yourself as attractive as possible without challenging the interviewer:

The Process:

  1. Agree with the interviewer
  2. Softening statement
  3. State your position
  4. Show how it relates to the specific need
  5. Confirm that it is not a problem


Staying Silent

Interviewing must be quite a lonely job because many interviewers use the opportunity to talk at length to candidates. If you are fortunate enough to have this happen to you, do not worry; it will count in your favour.

Research has shown that the more the interviewer speaks during the interview, the more highly rated is the candidate! This is because if you are providing a sympathetic ear then you cannot be giving any negative information or contra-indications about yourself. So whilst the interviewer is talking, it can only be positive as far as you are concerned.

There is, however, a significant danger. Being an empathetic listener will only impress the interviewer as to how nice you are a person, not how good you may be as a good employee. If you are not careful, at the end of the interview you will be much to commend you to the job. This is where the 30-word statement comes yet again to rescue. You must not leave the interview without the delivery of the 30-word statement.

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