No two interviews are the same.  But by applying some common basic rules when attending a job interview, you can concentrate on the most important aspect: you. 

Imagine that you have an all-parties' meeting tomorrow and your client wants to reach a negotiated agreement on 3 key issues.  Or you've been tasked with preparing an annual review of your team for your board of directors, or you're going to present at a seminar on arbitration to clients and prospective clients. What do you do?   

Preparation is Key

There are no two ways about it. In each of the above scenarios you need preparation, preparation, preparation. And attending an interview is no different. The old saying, 'the early bird catches the worm', rings true even today.

So, the first steps of your preparation should include researching the interviewing company (its products and services, clientele and competitors etc) and interviewer (their profile if this is available). This displays your interest and knowledge about the company.   

  • Be familiar with your CV and be prepared to talk about both its contents and you. Examples, examples, examples are crucial to demonstrate both your knowledge of the subject matter and your thought processes 
  • Prepare answers to stock questions such as, “What are your strengths and weaknesses” and, “What do you like and dislike about your current role” and, “Where do you see yourself in five years' time?” Be prepared to give examples of actual and/or most major achievements and how you achieved them.  
  • Think of a list of 10-12 questions that are tailored to the organisation you are going to see. Some of these will be answered during the natural flow of the interview, but you should have at least a few more questions to raise at the end, should you so wish. And these questions will demonstrate how much preparation and thought you have put into this interview.  
  • You should always find out as much about the role, responsibilities, reporting line, key people that you will work with and key stakeholders who have a vested interest in your role in the organisation so that you are fully prepared as to what to expect upon joining.   

Punctuality Counts 

Aim to arrive at the building 10-15 minutes early in case you need to go to another floor or building in another location. Getting to the office early will help you enter the interview relaxed and mentally prepared. If for some unforeseen reason you are going to arrive late, always call the interviewer to apologise and let them know the time you will arrive. 


  • Always be courteous and professional to everyone in the company including addressing the receptionist. Remember to smile!
  • Always turn off your mobile phone/blackberry during an interview.
  • If you are unsure as to how to pronounce the interviewer’s name, ask the receptionist. Better still, ask your recruiter ahead of the interview!  
  • Try to attune to the interviewer’s personality and give them a firm (but not too strong) handshake and ample eye contact (which can disguise nerves).
  • Break the ice with small talk if necessary but do not be overly familiar/friendly.
  • Even if you do not like the interviewer, be courteous even if you feel tempted to reflect their attitude.  
  • Never bring a child or friend to an interview.
  • At the meeting, sit comfortably in your seat, and lean forward a little to show you are interested in the person you are facing. Don't slouch. 
  • As silly as this may sound, remember to breathe!  A few slow, deep breaths before entering the building or reception area will help release the nerves and regulate your breathing during the interview.
  • Talk in a measured and relaxed manner.  Talking quickly is a sign of your nervousness, so if you know you have a tendency to talk quickly, remember to slow down.
  • Be interested, not interesting. Showing curiosity and being engaged with what the interviewer has to say will give the impression to the interviewer that you are genuinely interested in them, the role and their organisation.  
  • Honesty is the best policy. Don’t lie during an interview or when asked about your past salary and benefits as it may cost you a job offer.  
  • If you are thinking of a response to a question, avoid 'fillers', such as "um", "uh", "eh", "ah".  Instead, remain silent until you have gathered your thoughts and formulated your answer.
  • Minimise hand or other body motions.  If you have that urge to scratch your nose or ears, don't!  This is a sign of hesitancy or nervousness.
  • Try to be yourself during an interview. Relax!  There is nothing worse than pretending to be someone else you are not and then after successfully joining the employer, they discover you a completely different person.  
  • Boost your body language and convey confidence, watch this TED Talk from Amy Cuddy:
  • Whilst it's important that the firm offers what you're seeking (salary, benefits, work life balance, travel opportunities), it's important that you set your priorities right in that 30-40 minutes window — making them want to hire YOU. So, your job is to make it as patently clear to the interviewer as possible what you can bring to the table and why they should hire you. How can you add value? Why should they hire you? Give examples where you have added value in your previous work experience or (if you are interviewing for a graduate role, during your studies or sports, musical or other activities or past times). 

Dress Code and Grooming

Always remember that first impressions count, and the first interview may be the only opportunity you have to sell your strengths. 

Even if the interviewing company has a casual dress code, err on the side of caution by dressing professionally and conservatively. These are 

  • avoid a mismatch of clothing, wear matching 2-piece suits (mid-dark grey or dark blue are the safest options for legal, accounting and other related professional roles, as are black shoes for male and female interviewees);
  • make sure your shoes have been polished/cleaned - sandals, open toe shoes or similar footwear should be avoided;
  • avoid overtly colourful or bright ties (unless you know the interviewer or team you applying to join have a penchant for such ties!);
  • avoid overly colourful cufflinks or prominent jewellery.   Those Arsenal cuff links you received for your birthday present might look good at Arsenal FC's sporting day charity dinner, but not in these circumstances; 
  • colour can make a good contrast for female candidates, for example when wearing a colourful silk scarf around the neck, or a monotone handbag (not overly patterned or unconventionally embellished), contrasted against a conservative dark two-piece suit; 
  • make sure your teeth are cleaned of the day's food and drink and fingernails are groomed.  Ladies — check there is no lipstick stuck to your teeth;
  • keep your hair trimmed and groomed, any facial hair should be shaved or trimmed.
  • if you are interviewing on your own workday which has a casual dress day, always inform the interviewer of this reason and that no discourtesy is intended by your lack of formal dress.   

Reasons for Leaving 

Prepare to take the interviewer through your CV/resume and do not assume that they have read it in much detail if at all.  Also prepare to talk about all the reasons for leaving your previous jobs. When explaining your reasons for leaving your present company, it is not advisable to highlight your dislike of your boss, your colleagues, work or environment. Simply seeking a change of environment is more professional than churning out a long list of complaints about your boss or other colleagues. Try to express past events that haven't gone well in as neutral terms as possible, take the emotion out of the tone of the language and express them in a more matter of fact (reporting) way. And highlighting the positive points about the organisation you are applying to will show the level of preparation and thought you have put into the interview.


Never ask about salary or benefits during the interview process (especially the first interview) until the interviewer raises it. If you do, this will appear to the interviewer to be the driver behind your interest in the job. Remember, in this brief time frame, it's about setting your priorities, the number one being making them say, "you're hired!" If asked about your current salary, you are well within your rights to decline to disclose this (and indeed, may be contractually obliged under your current employment contract to disclose this). However, unlike in the US, it's not illegal for employers to ask such a question in Hong Kong. If you don't feel comfortable disclosing this, focus more on what your expected salary range would be and how that accords with current market rates, emphasise that you have many skills and attributes (and highlight one or two of them) where you feel you can add value to the job in question.  

Do you have any questions?

Potentially the killer question at the end of the meeting that in most circumstances, your interviewer will ask and could make or break your interview. Whatever you do, do not come to the interview without having prepared a bunch of questions! Try to avoid the questions which are about you, such as asking about your salary and benefits, although if you really do want to ask about this area, phrase it in a way in which it asks about employees generally, such as asking them what the company's working culture like, how does the company take care of employees' welfare and wellbeing (the answer may indicate what sort of perks are available, such as gym membership, birthday leave, errand days, work-from-home policies, amongst other things).

Avoid "easy" questions that you can easily find online, focus on the role (seeking clarification on the role in question, the challenges to the role, any priority projects expected to be undertaken once you start), the organisation (the stakeholders, structure), and the team (composition, dynamics, stakeholders, reporting lines), or the interviewer themselves (what they seek 

Finally, the killer question that could make the interview, ask them for their feedback on you, "what are the top three things I can bring to this role that would make this a success [for you and me]?" Not only does this show that you are trying to add value to this role and the organisation, but this question also gets them to think about what's truly important for them to get the job done well. A word of caution, however, a particularly tricky interviewer may throw the question back at you and ask what you think. In this case, avoid throwing the question back at each other like a ping pong rally. 

"Avoid "easy" questions that you can easily find online"

Remember, you won't have stepped foot into the organisation until your day of the interviewer, so you won't know the business intimately like the interviewer. You answer could be structured like this, "Given that I don't know this firm other than from my research prior to coming here today and getting insights from you, with my perspective from the-outside-looking-in, I feel that the key skills for this role are firstly, strong time management to prioritise the high volume of work your team handles. I also feel that a lot of the matters undertaken will involve multiple fee earners within your office and across other offices, so great coordination and project management skills are key. Lastly, I sense that this role offers a lot of support to the [corporate] team so being able to work cross-teams and getting things done efficiently and on time are also important, would you agree?"  

For tips on what not to ask, click on this link to a blog post by Chris Tang.  

360° preview

Remember, interviews are a two-way process - it's as much an opportunity for you to get to know your interviewer(s) and organisation as much as  it is for them to get to know you. You will be able to ask questions regarding matters which are either not in the public arena or unclear (which again reflects your interest). By thinking of these 6-10 substantive questions that shows curiosity as to the structure of the team or organisation, how the organisation sees its own growth and where it wants to be, why the organisation is doing what it's doing, the interviewer's vision, you will increase the interviewer's interest in you and increase engagement with them. 

Post Interview 

Jot down notes on how your interview went for future reference. The purpose is two-fold, either in case you are invited back for subsequent interviews or if there are areas you feel could be improved for future interviews.   

Lastly, give your recruiter a call to let them know how you feel it went, warts and all. They can then obtain feedback from the interviewer and you can see whether your view of the interview matches the interviewer's. If you felt the interview didn't go as well as you had hoped, don't despair. It may be that the interviewer was gauging how you would cope when being asked difficult questions and could have a different viewpoint altogether.  


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