Interview skills

So, you’ve managed to drag yourself out of bed, pull on that old jumper that's been scrunched up in the corner for weeks, and fall down the stairs - all before you wake up. Now, it’s time to grab a strong coffee and have a sort through the post…

Typical! The one time you do get an envelope meant for yours truly, it’s asking you if you’d like to be stuck in a room and quizzed by someone in a suit! We all know - deep, deep down - that this a good thing, but there’s always that horrible feeling of dread that rears it's ugly head as soon as you read the word "interview", isn’t there?!

 

What do you do?

Firstly, congratulate yourself! You haven’t got the job yet, but at least your CV or application form did its job of getting your foot in the door. (If the letter says that you are not invited to an interview, you may want to have a look at our CV writing advice).

Second, you will have to confirm that you can make the interview. It’s best not to slot the interview between other commitments - it will only stress you out!

If you can’t make the date, don’t panic! Just ring up the company (or employment agency) using the contact name you have been given, and explain that the date or time you have been allocated is unsuitable. Asking if it is possible to change the interview time/date is not unusual, and it is highly unlikely that you'll be penalised for it.

 

Be prepared

One tip is to be prepared, as sometimes you may be offered a quick telephone interview at this point to confirm that you are suitable for the position offered.

Remember! This interview isn't just an opportunity for you to sell yourself to the company, but it also allows the company to sell itself to you. This way, you can really make sure that the job is for you. If your school doesn't offer mock interviews, see if you can rope a friend or relative into helping you prepare.

 

The night before

Set your alarm! Make sure you have decided which clothes you are going to wear and that they are clean, ironed and - most importantly - suitable for an interview! Always dress smartly and comfortably - getting it right will make you feel more confident, calm and hopefully reduce the amount of fidgeting you do. In most cases, there is no need to wear a suit; often a smart outfit will be just as good, if not better!

Make sure you know exactly where you are going - and remember to take the telephone number of the company you are visiting just in case you get lost, or are delayed for any reason.

 

The big day

Wake up in good time and make sure that you eat breakfast, even if you are nervous! It will ensure that your stomach isn’t talking to the interviewer more than you are in two hours time!

 

The interview

Make sure you are punctual (perhaps even ten minutes early). This is vital in making sure you are as calm and relaxed as you can be. Taking a few deep breaths before the interview will also help settle those inevitable butterflies!

First impressions are always important, so watch your body language. Say hello, smile, try to maintain eye contact, and shake your interviewer's hand - confidently. (Sometimes, there may be more than one interviewer - don’t panic if there is, it's quite normal!) Try not to dive for cover in the nearest seat, wait until you are asked to be seated.

Usually, the interview will start off gently, maybe asking you what you know about the company and the position you are applying for. Doing some research into the company beforehand will certainly impress the interviewer(s)! Take any notes that may be helpful to you in a neat folder - (this will also make you feel more relaxed if you have something to hold!)

When listening, appear attentive and always think about what is said. After all, you must be certain that the company can give you what you are looking for. It's a two-way process remember!

 

What is the interviewer thinking?

  • Are you qualified for the job?
  • Are you motivated?
  • Are you going to fit in with the company?
  • Are you a team player?

Even though you'll have covered some of these points in your CV, mention any relevant experience you have had when the opportunity arises. If this is academic, state that you want to gain practical skills. You must show interest in the position you are applying for!

There may be more highly qualified applicants than you, but showing that you want to develop your skills, that you are keen and motivated, and that you will fit in with their company will help you stand out from the crowd.

Remember to keep your answers relevant to the question you're asked. If you're asked about projects you have been involved in, mention time scales and highlight your commitment to the task. Do not repeat yourself or get involved in side issues.

Useful tip: A good way to check that you giving the right amount of information is to look at the body language of your interviewer, do they want you to expand on a topic, or are they trying to shut you up?

Remember to be positive - if you have to admit a failure, explain what you have learned from it.

You'll probably have to answer some pretty vague questions, for example:

  • Why have you chosen to pursue this particular career?
  • Where do you want to be in 3 years time?
  • What do you know about our company?

These types of questions can be tricky! If you don't understand a question, say so, or politely ask the interviewer to rephrase it rather than trying to guess at what they mean. Take your time and make your answers truthful, clear and informative.

Before the interview is over, you'll be asked if you have any questions. This is the time to ask about anything you have concerns about, if this is your first step for your career, make sure that you understand what training you will undergo, if you will have the chance to obtain further qualifications, and what the working conditions are like. Asking questions will demonstrate an interest in the company and job offered. For example:

  • Does the company have several branches?
  • Does it encourage you to become highly skilled in particular areas?
  • Are there lots of promotion opportunities?

If you go blank, or you think they have covered absolutely everything, just ask them when you should expect to hear from them about their decision.

 

Afterwards

On the way home, replay the interview in your head:

  • Are you happy with your answers?
  • Is there anything you would change?
  • Do you still want to work for them?

It may be worth jotting down what happened, so you have a record of the interview while it is still fresh in your head. This is especially useful if you have to go for a second interview.

Go home, have a cup of tea (or something of that nature!) and calm down.

If you don’t hear anything by the time you were told that you would, give them a ring! There is no point waiting longer than two weeks, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t got the job!

If you have been rejected, you can always ask them why. It is probably just that someone else was more suited, but this gives you the opportunity to discover some useful things about the company that may be useful to you in the future.

Good luck!