Graduate Interview Tips & Techniques

A job interview can be a pretty scary prospect but with a bit of thought you can make things a lot easier for yourself. The purpose of interviews is for the employer to gain a deeper understanding of a candidate's skills and capabilities as well as personality and general attitude. The interviewers will be looking to weed out unsuitable candidates at an early stage by trying to determine if the candidate is a suitable fit for the company and the role. In this section you can also find out about:

  • Types of interviews
  • Job offers 
  • Negotiating with employers

Preparation

An interview is not something you can just wander into and 'wow' them with your personality, and it's even harder when faced with a telephone interview, which removes all the impact of body language. Well-prepped candidates are more confident and provide more thorough answers. If you know how to give complete answers, you worry less and are able to ask better questions. All of this improves the odds that you will be assessed fairly, especially if the focus of the interview is on detailed discussions about your major accomplishments. 
For telephone interview advice please visit our phone interview advice section.

Preparation is even more important for applicants who are applying to roles that are located far away, possibly even abroad. Graduates are becoming more and more globally mobile and the job market reflects this. With this comes the issue of interviewing global applicants, to overcome this companies are turning to technology such as skype. To view our tips on skype interviews go to our Interviews For Graduates Using Skype advice page.

Do prepare thoroughly by:

  • Researching the company and vacancy - look at the web site, read brochures/company literature, check the job specification and become familiar with it and the skills required. Check to see if the company or competitors have been in the press recently.
  • Look at your CV/application form the night before to try to spot obvious questions e.g. Why did you take that year out? Why did you get a poor grade in maths A-level?
  • Check travel arrangements - book tickets in advance, telephone to confirm both interview and travel arrangements 24 hours in advance.
  • Check to see if there will be any tests - revise relevant skills before the day.
  • Don't rehearse your answers word for word - it will sound very false. You need to have the information ready but still sound natural.

On the day

  • Arrive on time - try to be at the interview location ten minutes before the interview. If you arrive half an hour early walk around the block and try to relax. Contact the employer if any problems arise. If you have a problem attending the interview contact the employer immediately, e.g. traffic.
  • Positive body language - warm handshake, maintain eye contact, do not fidget, sit up straight, do not cross arms in defensive manner, try holding hands gently in your lap, convey enthusiasm and interest in the job.
  • Do dress appropriately. If in doubt err on the side of smartness rather than being too casually dressed.
  • Do try to smile and look happy to be there and be enthusiastic. Nerves often make both these difficult.
  • Do be prepared to talk and 'tell the story'. Yes/No answers won't give the interviewers enough information to go on.

BUT avoid these common mistakes

  •  Appearing passive or cynical
  • Overbearing concern about salary
  • Coming across arrogant or conceited
  • Untidy personal appearance
  • Unclear communication
  • Talking about other job applications
  • Having little knowledge about the employer or their activity
  • Having no career path to discuss
  • Not speaking passionately about your apparent interests
  • Being rude or short when asked a challenging question

At the interview

Ask the "universal question"
Discussions about major accomplishments should dominate the interview session. Since most interviewers don't usually do this naturally, you can take the initiative. Ask this question if you feel the interview is going nowhere:

"From what I understand from the recruiter and my research, this job involves (for example) launching new products and setting up a national advertising programme. If this is correct, could you explain it more thoroughly? After that I'd like to give you some examples of projects I've worked on that are comparable."

Something like this will allow you to then describe some important related university or work experience projects you have carried out.

Showing enthusiasm and energy at an interview is probably the most important factor
In this economic climate when there are perhaps fewer jobs and more graduates looking, it is possible that although looking good on paper they are not offered the role just because they don't convey enthusiasm, excitement or a sense of urgency that a company is looking for. Make sure you leave an interview conveying a strong desire, energy and enthusiasm to work for that company. You should leave having the interviewer thinking you want the job, even if you do not. It is important to remember that a negative or apathetic attitude has a way of sticking in people's minds and so does a positive one.

Selling your strengths and strengthening your weaknesses
No matter how suitably qualified or confident a person is, a job interview is a stressful situation. It is filled with questions that can catch you off guard, especially an inexperienced new graduate with little or no prior interview experience. Make sure you know your own strengths and weaknesses. A good idea is to write down four or five strengths and one or two weaknesses. Include a short, one-paragraph example of some accomplishment you have achieved using each strength. With the weaknesses, write up a specific situation where you have turned that weakness into a strength, or have overcome the weakness.

Write up your two most significant accomplishments
To improve your verbal pitches, prepare more detailed write-ups for your two most significant accomplishments. Each of these should be two to three paragraphs in length, no more than half a page each. One should be an individual accomplishment, and the other a team accomplishment. Make sure you include examples of your strengths in both write-ups. Most candidates get a little nervous in the opening stages of an interview, which can result in temporary forgetfulness. The write-ups will allow for better recall of this important information in these times. They'll also be the basis of the examples in the SAFW response.
 

Example Questions

These will obviously vary from interview to interview, but there are always some basic underlying questions which you should be able to answer once you have done your preparation. You can read some below or for futher possible questions by sector visit www.whatwilltheyask.co.uk

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    Be positive and give strengths that relate to the role and if necessary weaknesses that are not crucial and/or under control.
  2. Where do you see yourself in five years time?
    Interviewers will be trying to find out if you are ambitious and have set yourself goals as well as if you are committed to the company and the industry to which you are applying.
  3. Why do you want this job?
    Try to mention aspects of the role and company that appeal and strengths and experiences that you can bring to the role. Put across your enthusiasm.
  4. Why do you want to work for this company?
    This is an opportunity to put across some of the information that you have researched prior to the interview. Sometimes interviewers will ask problem solving questions such as 'How many tennis balls are there in the world' or 'Can you give me 10 uses for a housebrick?' or 'You are the manager of a shopping centre which is just about to have a huge opening event and the Health and Safety Executive rings up and tells you your ceiling tiles are a severe fire hazard - what do you do?' These can be very stressful to the interviewee and you have to do your best and be prepared to think out loud and show how you tackle a problem where you don't have a lot to go on. They don't want you to sit silently for three minutes then give an answer - it's a practical approach to problem solving they are after. Keeping cool under pressure, a logical approach to problem solving and an ability to think laterally are all attributes they could be looking for. Don't worry about whether you give the 'right ' answer or not - there very often isn't one. Most people will feel that they have done badly in these answers - just put it behind you once the question is finished and concentrate on the rest of the interview, otherwise you may not do well in the remainder of the interview. Fortunately these types of questions are not used by many employers.
  5. What qualities can you bring to the role?
    STAR - Try to give examples of applicable activities, courses and experiences, and mention what you gained from them and how they will help you fulfil the job description.
  6. What do you think you will do in this job?
    Make sure that you have read the job description and you are familiar with it. Look up similar job descriptions and case studies.
  7. Tell me when you have worked in a team, took the initiative, had to persuade others, organised something, achieved a goal.
    For all these questions it is important to give examples that put yourself forward as a positive participant and not a spectator. Try to choose examples from different areas of life, not just university or sport. Think how you could relate the examples to the job.
  8. What other jobs have been applying for?
    It is important not to mention jobs in other areas of industry as this might imply that you are not specifically interested in this kind of position.
  9. Why do you think you are suitable? (i.e. what skill have you which are relevant?)
    What evidence can you provide that you have organisational/teamworking/ leadership /persuasive etc skills? (from your university courses, part-time jobs, hobbies and interests, positions of responsibility etc)
  10. What kind of person are you?
    Not often asked direct, but comes in the form of - what are your weaknesses?, what would your friends say about you?. Careful with this one - only give one weakness at a time and make sure it's not one which is crucial to the job you're applying for. Also be prepared for the next question which is 'What have you done about it?'

Answers!

Learn the "optimum answer". Answers should be about two minutes long. Much more than three minutes and candidates can be perceived as boring or unable to get to the point. Less than a minute and they're branded as dull and lacking interest. It has been suggested that candidates use the acronym SAFW to form their interview answers:

  • S: make an opening Statement
  • A: Amplify that statement
  • F: provide a Few examples
  • W: Wrap it up

The examples part is the most important. This is the demonstrated proof behind the opening statement. Interviewers will use these examples to form their judgements about candidate competency. Most candidates talk in generalities. This is not as convincing as a specific example. The answer will be more meaningful if the candidate shows how one or two of their strengths, like creativity and perseverance, were required to achieve the results described in the example. Examples can be drawn from your university, employment, voluntary and social experiences, but ensure they are relevant and positive.

  • Try to anticipate questions - prepare answers to likely questions
  • Give positive answers - if you have a weakness steer away from it and/or counteract it with a positive attribute
  • STAR - when given a question try to give the Situation where you encountered the activity, an example of the Activity and a positive Result of doing the activity
  • Prepare relevant questions - ask positive questions about the company and job e.g. training issues, career progression, the people that you would be working with, how the role would interrelate to the rest of the business

At the end

Ask for the job! At the end of the interview, tell the interviewer that you are interested in the job, and would like to know what the next steps are. If the next steps seem evasive or unclear, ask if your accomplishments seem relevant to the performance requirements of the job. Understanding a potential gap here allows you to fill it in with an example of a related accomplishment.

Thank the interviewer for his/her time at the end and perhaps follow up with an email or letter expressing your enthusiasm for the role. You can download an interview follow up letter template here:
 

PDF Interview follow up letter template - MEMBERS ONLY, PLEASE LOGIN TO DOWNLOAD!

Also think about the interview soon afterwards and make a note of things which went well and not so well to help you in future interviews. Some employers may even be prepared to give helpful feedback to unsuccessful candidates.

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