In this article, we share our tips for interviews, covering everything from making a good first impression, preparation for your interview and how to handle awkward questions. You have done exceptionally well to land an interview; this is your chance to let your personality shine through!
Good preparation will help put you at ease and boost your confidence; well-informed, confident candidates come across better in interviews.
Make sure you have thoroughly researched the company, their business and the job/scheme for which you are applying. It’s fine to take notes into an interview. See Do your Research
Think of ways to demonstrate your knowledge and interest:
E.g. make reference to the annual company report, social media posts, a recent campaign or relevant news item.
Prepare a few pertinent questions. See 50/50
Have well thought out reasons why you want to work in the industry, that particular company and specific role/graduate scheme.
Think of 3 things you want to get across – what do you want people to remember about you? g. relevant attributes or experience that will differentiate you.
Rehearse answers to anything that is likely to raise questions g. gaps in your study/work, applying for something unrelated to your degree/expertise etc. Address it in a positive way, before it is even raised e.g. ‘I know you might be concerned about… but the reasons for this are…’
What To Take
Don’t take much!
Your invitation, directions, contacts & job description, notepad
Any notes you need or questions to ask
Copy of your CV, reference letters, portfolio for creative industries – select best & relevant pieces
Anything else to support your application: testimonials, letters of commendation, awards etc.
First Impressions Really Count!
The way you look, your body language and when you first speak, all help give the interviewer a gut instinct about you!
Be smart, right down to polished shoes. Choose business clothes you know you look good in.
Good body language speaks louder than words!
Create an impression of confidence: When you walk in, SMILE 🙂 and make eye contact. Give a firm handshake. Sit confidently, facing the interviewer. Speak clearly.
Be ready for your interview – keep one hand free so you can shake hands!
You don’t want to be juggling a briefcase, bags, newspaper and spilling coffee!
(Leave any excess bags with reception before your interview.)
You need something more to come over in a face-to-face interview. What is that extra you bring, which will convince the employer to choose you over someone else?
As a new graduate, they won’t expect you to have changed the world, but they will appreciate a professional, decent person, who would fit in well with their company and help them grow the business – an attractive personality, who shows passion, enthusiasm and a positive attitude… that can go a long way.
Be confident, but not over-assertive or arrogant.
Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the CEO.
Build rapport – people hire people they like!
Tell The Truth
Interviewers will try to find out more about you as a person, probing things they find interesting or doubtful – so make sure you tell the truth!
But avoid giving strong opinions about the business – you don’t know the interviewer’s standpoint and don’t want to alienate them. Ask questions instead.
Avoid any negative talk about current/past employers –it looks very unprofessional. Give the impression that this would be a positive career move, not that you are desperate to get out of a job you dislike. Also avoid talking about how bad the weather is, this can be an immediate turn off.
Think of an interview as a discussion; it’s a fact-finding mission for both parties, so aim for a 50/50 balance in conversation. What you choose to ask reveals plenty about you, so think of pertinent questions to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest:
Your research into business news and potential opportunities/threats can provide a useful source for discussion e.g. How might the new ‘XYZ’ legislation impact on your business? Do you think the current economic climate might open opportunities for ‘XYZ’?
Ask about recent company developments e.g. progress of product launches, new distribution outlets, acquisitions etc.
You should be keen to find out about training opportunities and career progression, and this will impress upon the employer that you hope to be there for the long haul e.g. If I apply myself and do really well, where do you think I could be in 5 years’ time?
Find out about the team you might be working with and the culture, to determine whether you would be happy there e.g. could you tell me what it’s like to work in the company?
Pay, holidays and other benefits are not topics you should raise at this stage – it gives the impression that’s all you care about. Only ask about the salary once you have been offered the job.
It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of appropriate benchmarks for your industry, as sometimes they will discuss this with you.
See Application forms & Interviews for more information
Example Questions with Answer Guidelines
Structure your Responses
When you are answering competency-based questions or describing your achievements, structure your response using PAR: Problem Action Result:
Problem: Outline the situation/task you faced.
Action: Explain how you solved it.
Result: Summarise and analyse your achievement, giving measurable evidence where possible e.g. % sales growth, doubled social following, increased rate of recycling to 50%. You can use examples from work, extra-curricular activities or life experiences.
Note: This is also referred to as the STAR technique SITUATION TASK ACTION RESULT
The ABC approach to Difficult Questions
Don’t be afraid to take your time to answer difficult questions.
If you are struggling to give an impressive answer, you could try to turn the question to your advantage (as politicians do so well!) ABC = Acknowledge, Bridge, Control:
Acknowledge: the interviewer’s question: ‘You’re right, I‘m afraid I don’t have much experience in that field…’
Create a Bridge to redirect the question to where you want it to lead: ‘…however, I do have valuable experience in…’
Take Control by getting your own point across: ‘…which I believe, would be beneficial to your company, because…’
Dealing with Obscure Questions & Tasks
Occasionally interviewers will ask very strange questions – e.g. tell a joke, dance like a chicken.
These questions are designed to put you out of your comfort zone.
They probably won’t expect you to give a great answer; how you respond is less important than the way you handle the situation. Don’t get flustered – try to retain a sense of humour!
If it makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself whether this is the sort of company you really want to work for.
Try the ABC approach (above).
Information on hiring processes for many companies, including questions asked at interviews
A few of the most bizarre examples found on Glassdoor:
‘If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?’
Asked at Bose (2015)
‘If you were a pizza deliveryman how would you benefit from scissors?’
Asked at Apple (2014)
‘How many cows are in Canada?’
Asked at Google (2013)
‘Pick two celebrities to be your parents’
Asked at Urban Outfitters (2013)
‘On a scale of one to ten, rate me as an interviewer’
Asked at Kraft Foods (2013)
Find out more: Interview tips
Watch our bite-size videos of professionals giving their top tips on how to prepare and smash those interviews:
Grad Bites: Interview Tips – Chris Matchan
As an experienced HR professional, Chris has conducted thousands of interviews. He shares his expertise on how to nail an interview, from combatting nerves & dealing with tough questions, to letting your personality shine through
Grad Bites: Interview Tips – Bruce McKendrick
Bruce, CEO of Forest Holidays, discusses how it’s the little things that make a big difference, body language & handshake included
Grad Bites: Interview Tips – Jill Grinsted
Jill, Marketing Director, talks about the importance of preparation before an interview & how to make yourself stand out
Other useful info:
Getting A Job In Today’s Market – HBR IdeaCast 291
Good advice for interviews
Podcast from the Harvard Business Review (approx. 17 minutes) – Online, App or iTunes