Interviews

If you've been invited to an interview - congratulations! You've already shown in your application that you meet the job's key requirements. At the interview, the recruiter will aim to find out whether you

  • are genuinely interested in and motivated by the position and the organisation
  • can demonstrate that you have the appropriate strengths, skills, knowledge and experience to be successful in the job.

The interview is also an opportunity for you to find out more about the company, and decide whether it will really suit you, so make sure you do your research, prepare carefully and think of questions to ask. Read on to find out more about the different types of interview, various interview formats, and how you can prepare.

Types of interview

You are likely to have one or more of these interviews:

  • One-to-one interviews: could be with someone from Human Resources, or your potential line manager
  • Panel interviews: a number of interviewers (usually 3 or 4, possibly more), with different roles or expertise within the organisation take turns to ask questions. You should include all of the panel members in your responses, focusing mainly on the one who asks the question.
  • Group interviews: a group of candidates are interviewed together, allowing the interviewer to see how you interact with others, whether you can work well as part of a team, persuade, motivate, negotiate, lead and avoid power conflicts.
  • Phone interviews: often used in the early stages of the recruitment process, sometimes by agencies working on behalf of an employer. Successful candidates will then be invited to a face-to-face interview. They are also used for occupations where a large part of the job will involve talking to people over the phone, such as market research, surveys or telesales. They will usually be arranged in advance, so make sure you select a quiet location where you won't be disturbed to take the call.
  • Video interviews: increasingly used by employers and there are two main types
    • automated video interviews: this is a type of screening interview you complete using a video/webcam at a time and place to suit you. The interviewer inputs their questions online and sets a date by which the interview has to be completed. You log in, read the questions and record your answers at the time indicated. You will not be able to see the interviewer's body language and non-verbal cues, but the advantage is that you can have notes and a copy of your application available to refer to. Consider what to wear and what the employer will be able to see behind you, and try to look at the camera (not just the interviewer's face on the screen) to make the best impression.
    • live video/skype interviews: you should treat these as a face-to-face interview (in terms of preparation and dress code), and make sure you choose a suitable location where you will not be disturbed. Make sure you are familiar with the software in advance, check your webcam and microphone, and make sure you are in a well lit room. Practise answering some questions on your webcam or phone in advance, and review the recordings - try to relax so your body language and tone of voice are positive, and remember to look at the camera.
  • Casual interview: occasionally you may be invited for a casual chat about a job role. This should be treated as an interview, so prepare as you would for a more formal interview, research the company, think about the role and the person you are meeting, and wear an outfit that would be appropriate for work. The person meeting you will want to see whether you would be a good fit for their company, so review the job description and person specification, and be ready (with examples) to demonstrate how you are a good match for the role.
  • Second interviews: used to gain a further insight into your abilities and motivations; expect a second interview to be more rigorous and in-depth. You may meet a senior manager or partner in the organisation, and a second interview may be part of an assessment centre.

What format will my interview take?

  • CV/application form based interviews: questions are based largely around the information you included in your CV or application form and could vary from candidate to candidate
  • Competency based interviews: also known as structured or situational interviews and used by most graduate employers. The company will usually have a defined set of competencies (skills or qualities) required for the role, and the questions asked will encourage you to demonstrate these.  Generally, all candidates are asked the same questions (eg Describe a situation where you had to make a valuable contribution to a team). For these questions use the C-A-R model to structure your answers:
    • Context: briefly outline the situation – who, what, why, when, where
    • Actions: The main part of the answer. Describe what you did, focusing on your actions not those of other people
    • Results/Reflection: describe the result or outcome of your actions. Be prepared for follow-up questions asking you to reflect on your actions
  • Strengths based interviews: companies are increasingly using a strengths based approach to identify candidates whose strengths and preferred working style matches the job role, to ensure higher motivation and performance in successful candidates (eg what makes a good day for you?). It is very difficult to prepare your responses in the way you can for competency based interviews. The questions are more personal and interviewers will ask a rapid series of questions that switch focus quickly in order to prevent candidates using prepared answers.  Interviewers are looking for quick and enthusiastic responses
  • Case-study interviews: most commonly used for business related positions, especially consultancy or public service such as youth/social work and Teach First etc. Candidates may be evaluated on their analysis of a given problem (case-study), assessing how the candidate identifies key issues, pursues a particular line of thinking, develops their analysis, and presents their solution/ideas
  • Technical interviews: generally used for jobs in areas such as engineering, IT, science, economics, or languages, this may be a separate interview or form part of the standard interview. It will focus on your subject specific skills and knowledge relating to the post you have applied for. You may be asked about project work you have undertaken, your understanding of specific techniques and processes, or to work through case studies of real/hypothetical technical problems in order to assess not just your technical knowledge but how you analyse and approach problems. If a job involves using languages, part of the interview may be in the appropriate language(s).
  • Portfolio based interviews: for jobs in arts, media or communications you may be asked to bring your portfolio, and interview questions will centre on the works you include.

Interview questions

Interview questions

You can expect questions on a range of topics including:

  • Why you have chosen your degree and what you have gained from it
  • What you have gained from your time at university, including extra-curricular activities
  • Your reflections on relevant work experiences
  • What attracts you to the position and the employer
  • What you know about the job and the company
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Examples of when you have demonstrated particular skills, including technical skills if relevant (ie applications for IT, engineering, economics, etc.)
  • Your career goals

In order to prepare responses to questions on topics such as those listed above, it is vital to research the organisation and position, and reflect upon how you can use your experience to demonstrate that you are a suitable candidate.

Tricky questions

  • You might be asked about your strengths and weaknesses. For strengths, consider what energises you, and how this will help you in this particular job. For weaknesses, be honest but don’t select something which is a key requirement for the job. Don't try to select a "good" weakness eg perfectionism - employers are quick to see through this! Remember that the important thing is to show self-awareness, and demonstrate that you are addressing the weakness and managing your personal development.
  • Disclosure of health problems: it’s important to be clear on your rights and what support is available to you. When and how you disclose is up to you, but it’s best to think about it and prepare beforehand, rather than worry about it and hope it doesn’t come up.  There is a lot of useful information on the following websites and you can also make an appointment with a Careers Consultant (via Careers Gateway) to talk through any concerns or book a practice interview:

Your questions

You will often have the opportunity to ask questions towards the end of the interview, so prepare a few questions (as well as keeping a mental note of any more during the interview). Don't ask for information readily available on the company website, and keep questions about salary and benefits until after you have been offered the job. You might ask a couple of questions from these examples:

  • Training and development
    • What is the company’s policy on attending seminars, workshops and other training opportunities?
    • How does the company support personal and professional growth?
    • Is there a structured career path?
    • What sorts of thing do your graduate recruits go on to do after their period of training has ended?
    • Could you tell me about how my progress will be monitored and evaluated during my probationary period?
  • The role
    • Can you give me an idea of the typical day and workload I might expect?
    • Can you tell me more about the proportion of time that would be spent on different activities?
    • Can you tell me how the role relates to the overall structure of the organisation?
  • The organisation
    • How would you describe the culture of the organisation?
    • Can you describe how the company balances work and personal life issues?
    • How are decisions made here?
    • At this level, what differentiates people who succeed from those who don’t?
    • What are the most enjoyable aspects of working in this organisation?
    • What is the organisation’s plan for the next five years, and how does this department/division fit it with that?
    • How would the management structure work for this post?
    • What are the main channels of communication?
    • Can you talk about the company’s commitment to equal opportunities and diversity?
  • Performance review
    • In what way is performance measured or reviewed?
    • How does the company handle recognition for a job well done?
    • How does the company evaluate team performance?
  • Personal
    • What do you enjoy most about the work/ working for the company?
    • What do you see as the biggest challenges of your job?
    • How do you deal with the stresses and pressures of the job?

How to prepare

The job role

Review your strengths in relation to the job

  • Read through your application form/CV/covering letter and review the examples you have given to demonstrate how you fit the person specification
  • Think about other examples you might be able to use at the interview. Remember, employers are looking for evidence of skills and personal qualities
  • Practice answers to questions using the CAR or STAR model, and remember you can use these models for new questions in your interview
  • For jobs which require specific technical knowledge you may be asked questions to test this.

Events

Take opportunities to meet employers on campus to get their perspective on what they are looking for in candidates, and how the recruitment process works

  • Careers Fairs in autumn term
  • Assessment Centre event in autumn and spring terms
  • Employer-led skills sessions and presentations

Check the events page and Careers Gateway to find out what's on.

Resources

Review the above sections to help you prepare for your interview.  Read more at:

Use the interview guide in the VLE, and practise some questions.

Book a careers advice appointment to discuss your interview preparation, or a mock interview; see the Talk to us page for details.

Practicalities

  • Confirm your attendance for interview
  • Check you know where you are going for your interview and how long it will take to get there, allowing plenty of time for travel on the day.  By arriving early you will not only have a chance to calm your nerves, but also the opportunity to talk to the reception staff about the organisation, or read any literature on display
  • Get your interview clothes ready the night before. Dress smartly but ensure you will be comfortable. Think about the sector and organisation you are applying, but remember that even in sectors where employees wear casual clothes to work, you would be expected to dress more formally for interview (unless advised otherwise)
  • Have a file ready with your CV, the job advertisement, copies of your letters, and literature/research you have on the organisation etc. to take with you for last minute checks.  A pen and a small A5 notepad for notes may also be useful
  • Make sure you have something to eat beforehand.

Interview tips

Tips to help you to perform well on the day:

  • Arrive in good time
  • Make sure your phone is on silent!
  • Be aware of your body language; sit up straight but comfortably so you don't fidget; look attentive and interested; make eye contact. In a panel interview concentrate on the person asking the question, but include others from time to time.
  • Listen well to the interviewer and to what you are saying in response
  • If you don’t understand a question ask for further clarification; it is also fine to say you would like to think for a moment
  • Avoid giving unhelpful one-word answers but don’t talk too much! Make sure that what you say is relevant, to the point and concise
  • Use concrete examples from your own experiences (using the CAR or STAR model) to illustrate your knowledge and skills.
  • Be positive. Don’t make negative statements about yourself or others. Don’t use phrases such as “it was only shop work”.
  • Don’t criticise a past employer. It will leave the interviewer aware that you could make similar comments about their organisation in the future, damaging their reputation
  • Try to avoid using abbreviations that employers may not recognize eg LFA, YSIS.

When things go wrong

Here are ten reasons why employers reject candidates:

  • lack of career planning and ill-defined aims
  • poor level of knowledge in specialist field
  • inability to express thoughts clearly
  • insufficient evidence of achievement
  • no real interest in the organisation
  • overbearing, arrogant and conceited
  • no questions asked about the job
  • evasive about unsatisfactory performance
  • general lack of confidence
  • poor personal appearance

After the interview

If you are unsuccessful, contact the company for feedback on your performance. Even if this is not possible, it is worth reflecting on which questions went well and which ones you struggled with and will need to prepare for next time.