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Your CV has got you through the door, now it’s down to you to sell your skills, experience and personality.

An interview is an opportunity for both parties to discover more about each other. For interviewers, there are three clear objectives:

  1.  To identify the best candidate
  2.  Persuade them that this is the job for them
  3.  To fill the vacancy as efficiently as possible.

For you, as the interviewee, you want to find out more about the job and whether it is right for you and convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job. Be clear about your objectives for the interview and prepare well in advance with all the answers you think you’ll be asked on the day.

Good preparation and planning are keys to success in most things.

Interview preparation

Spending time preparing for the interview will increase your confidence, enable you to tailor your questions and show the employer that you are keen and know your stuff:

  • Write down the location, time and name of interviewer and take them with you for reference. You’d be surprised to know how many people miss the interview, turn up late or arrive at the wrong location because they have not properly noted the details. Make sure you have a detailed map and turn up early. If you plan to arrive on time, then you will plan to arrive late.
  • Do your homework on the organisation – this will help when it comes to asking questions and framing your answers. At the very least, look at the website and try and find useful material such as annual reports, newsletters and brochures.
  • Wider research via the internet or the university/local library will also be a useful way of accessing the relevant news articles and trade journals to get an idea of the current key issues facing the sector.
  • Network – use your contacts to see if they know anything about the company and the person who will be interviewing you.
  • Practice interviews – make the most of the careers service at the university – they will more than likely run interview workshops and share interview tips. Or ask your friends to run practice interviews and make sure they ask you challenging questions.
  • Study the section on personal qualities and core competencies carefully – how can you use the interview to demonstrate that you possess the appropriate skills?
  • Familiarise yourself with your CV, application form and covering letter – don’t risk getting caught out by questions about your background or experience.
  • Invest time to strengthen a known weakness; remember to be average is easy, to be above average takes some effort.

Answering difficult interview questions

Try to anticipate the less obvious questions you may be asked about your skills and achievements and reinforce your replies by giving tangible examples.

If you need a moment to think about your response, do not be afraid to respond with ‘that’s a very interesting question, I would like a moment to think about that’, or ask the question to be repeated.

Answer questions as directly as possible, don’t be tempted to waffle. Techniques, such as the STAR technique can help you with this.

The idea is to try and impart as much information as you can about what you have done and how you can contribute, so make sure that you have quantifiable evidence to back up your answers.

Making an impression

It is often said that the interviewer makes up their mind within 30 seconds of you walking through the door and then spends the rest of the interview justifying that decision. Behavioural psychologists call it the ‘halo (or horns) effect’.
The person interviewing you will be looking for qualities that demonstrate your ability to do a good job, but they also want to find out if you hold similar values to them, so:

  • Dress code: Make sure that your appearance is clean, smart and business-like, even if the company has a dress down policy.
  •  Be alert: Smile and try to relax as soon as possible.
  •  Maintain eye contact throughout the process, but break your gaze away when starting to formulate your answer. It shows you’re thinking carefully.
  •  Listen carefully to the information you are given and the questions you are asked and nod to show that you’re listening. Show interest in what the interviewer is saying and try not to fidget.
  •  Don’t criticise former employers or colleagues as this will reflect badly on you.
  • Don’t interrupt or argue with the interviewer.
  • Try to avoid any irritating mannerisms, such as playing with a pen, tapping on the desk, chewing gum, swinging about in your chair and so on.

Advice on asking questions

Always have some questions ready for the interviewer – it looks bad if you have not prepared at least a couple of questions. It is best not to ask detailed questions about terms and conditions until you have been offered the job. Instead, try to ask about things that will show your keenness for the position.

For example, ask:

  • What the team is currently working on and what the current challenges are.
  •  What type of training and development opportunities are normally provided.
  • How they see the role developing, rather than overt questions about promotion prospects.
  •  Why they are recruiting for this position.
  •  Asking questions about the interviewer is always a winner. People love talking about themselves. How did you get into this industry? What do you like about working for this company? Where do you see the company being in five years’ time?
  • What the next stage in the recruitment process will be – to get an idea of timescales, etc.
  • At the end of the interview, ask if there is anything else they need to know, or that you have not covered properly.

After the interview

If you are not getting asked back for second interviews, or you are not getting the job offer, you should take some time to look at your interview performance.

Don’t be afraid to ring up the interviewer and ask for feedback. Try and find out if it was simply that there was a candidate who more accurately met the job description. You could also ask for advice: what do they think would have improved your chances of success? What was the difference between you and the successful candidate?

Ultimately remember one key point. Getting to interview stage in the first place is an achievement, especially given the increasing number of graduates in the marketplace. It is unlikely that you will succeed at every interview, but it is in your power to ensure you are prepared well enough to increase the chances of success.
Remember the interview is a two-way street. They have to convince you that they’re a great organisation to work for.

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