Job Interviews: How to prepare

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1 Job Interviews: How to prepare If you are reading this then you have probably been asked to attend an interview. This is good news; this means the employer thinks you looked good on paper and are potentially able to do the job they are advertising. You are probably feeling pleased and nervous about attending the interview and a little apprehensive about what to expect. This guide should help to give some insight into interviewing techniques and to perform to the best of your abilities on the day. A key point to remember is that interviewing is a two way process. The employer will use the process to ask three questions: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you fit in? You, on the other hand, can assess whether the job is really what you are looking for and if the company is right for you. Understanding this will help to lessen some of the nerves you might be feeling. What are the different types of interviews? These can be used by SMEs or as a result of speculative approach to a company. Whilst the interview may seem informal, it is still an interview and it is best to prepare in the same way as you would for any other interview. Panel This is a common interview format. This is used by both public and private sector organisations. Panels may consist of two or more people e.g. Line Manager and HR representative. These interviews can also sometimes include a presentation. Group This many mean working with other interviewees in group scenarios. The objective is to showcase your team work, interpersonal, problem solving and leadership qualities. The interviewing approach is becoming more common and my well form part of a larger assessment centre day that may still include an individual interview. Telephone These are commonly used by larger recruiters or in situations where the job advertised has attracted a large number of applicants. This will likely be the first formal assessment of the recruitment process after submitting your application or CV. You should treat a telephone interview the same way you would a face to face and remember to smile when you talk on the telephone, this will help you be more relaxed and sound confident. Skype Usually used when location is an issue, you may be on holiday, a year abroad or gap year and not returning to the UK for some time or the employer may be based outside the UK. When engaging with a Skype interview think about where the interview is taking place; is it in a quiet area? What about your surroundings what will the interviewees see? Ensure that you address any technical 1

2 issues; can you hear the questions clearly? Finally treat this interview like you would a face to face interview by dressing appropriately and ensuring you feel relaxed and confident. Strength based Interviews Some graduate recruiters such as Unilever, Ernst & Young, EY recruitment and Royal Mail use strength based interviews in their graduate recruitment process. Usually employers are open about this method of recruitment but won t always make it clear what strengths they are looking for. So try to do your homework and research the companies. The concept of this interview style is about assessing your attitude, energy and motivation as well as competencies. You may come across questions like: What do you do well?, When do you feel you are most like yourself? and When are you at your best? Preparation Getting your preparation right is the best way to reduce nerves and to ensure that you perform well on the day. Key aspects of preparation are: What the employer is looking for: Understanding what the employer is looking for and how you meet the criteria specified. Go back to those initial three questions (Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you fit in?) Think about the skills and experience you have and how they link into the position you are interviewing for. Commercial awareness: what is the nature of their business? By understanding the culture, customers, marketplace and who their competitors are will give you the winning edge. Knowing the details of your interview: what is expected a presentation, test or interview, what time it is taking place, location, travel, contact details in case of a problem. Like the old adage says Fail to prepare, prepare to fail Understanding what the employer is looking for When recruiting for any post the employer will draw up 2 documents: Job description: This is a document that outlines the duties and responsibilities of the job itself. It will describe the typical duties that you would be required to undertake if successful within the recruitment process. Person specification: This is a key document as it will clearly set out the mix of skills, knowledge and experience being sought. In other words this describes the person they are looking for. Job descriptions and person specifications are readily available when applying for jobs within the public sector but may not be as readily available when applying for jobs within the private sector or 2

3 for graduate programmes. If this is the case then it will be necessary to analyse the job advertisement or the graduate recruitment web pages to discern the mix of skills, knowledge and experience being sought. Understanding what the organisation is looking for and identifying the evidence to show how you meet their criteria is perhaps the most important aspect of your preparation. Questions asked during interview will focus on the criteria and the expectation is that you will provide some specific evidence that illustrates the competency being focused on. The STAR approach can help you to reflect on the range of your experiences and to identify specific examples that could be used at interview to demonstrate how you have developed and applied the skills, competency or quality that they are looking for: Here are two examples of how to implement the technique: A candidate for a marketing executive role might be asked: "Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight timescale." Here's how you could structure your response: Situation set the context for your story. For example, "We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 30 interested industry players on our new product and Stuart, the guy due to deliver it, got stuck on a train from Birmingham. Task what was required of you. For example, "It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn't reflect badly on the company and we didn't waste the opportunity. Action what you actually did. For example, "I spoke to the event organisers to find out if they could change the running order. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted Susan, another member of the team, who at a push could step in. She agreed to drop what she was doing and head to the event. Result how well the situation played out. For example, Stuart didn't make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and Susan's presentation went well a bit rough around the edges but it was warmly received. Stuart managed to get there for the last 15 minutes to answer questions. As a result we gained some good contacts, at least two of which we converted into paying clients. In addition to outlining the result it can also be useful to include some level of evaluation of the example that you are discussing; was the approach taken effective? What key issues did you have to address in order to complete the task? Would you do things differently next time? 3

4 Types of questions: The questions asked at interview can take a variety of forms but would generally include the following types: Checking questions: Can you confirm your contact address? Warm-up questions: Tell me a little bit about yourself? Competency questions: Tell me about a time when you have an effective contribution to a team? Scenario / Hypothetical question: What would you do in a situation where Challenging questions: Tell me something that has not gone as well as you would like and how did you handle this? There are many themes and variations on the options given above; you can guarantee that a number of questions will fall under these brackets. You can prepare yourself in advance by thinking of examples of answers you can give and one way to do this is to relook at the job description and person specification and think about what the job entails. Below are some example questions: Tell me about yourself What you are most proud of What made you apply for this position and what makes you the best candidate for the job? What are the present key issues facing companies in this industry? Who do you think our competitors are and what makes us different? What factors led you to choosing your degree subject? What has been the most challenging aspect of your degree? Tell me about a time when you persuaded somebody to your point of view and how did you approach this? Describe a time when you have made a significant contribution to the work of a team? How does this job fit into your career path? Tell me about a time when you have worked with someone you found difficult to get along with and how did you handle the situation? What demotivates you? 4

5 These are just a small sample of the types of questions you may be asked. There are hundreds of potential interview questions and it would be impossible to prepare for all of them. The best preparation is to go back and review: job advertisement, description and person specification. Asking questions It is normal practice to be given the opportunity to ask the panel any questions. Preparing your questions is a good idea and it can be useful to take them into the interview with you. It would be a good idea to avoid questions relating to pay and holidays at this stage, you can discuss this when an offer is made. Instead focus on topics such as training and development, future plans for the organisation, mentoring programmes. With regards the specific job role you could ask What are the key tasks of the job itself? or What would typically be done by a new entrant to the firm? Also if you find your questions have been asked during the interview then it is fine to say all my questions have been answered Final preparation Do some research on the company and prepare questions to ask, this shows you are keen on securing the position and are interested in the company. Re-read your application form and or CV Decide which examples of your skills and experience to use in the interview Re read the invitation letter to ensure that you have prepared everything needed for the day. If possible re-check your travel arrangements ensuring that you have sufficient time. Make an appointment with the student mobility careers officers who can take you through a mock interview process After the Interview It is always useful to seek feedback on your interview performance even when you have been successful. By contacting the interviewers in the days following interview you may get some information on you came across and how you can improve your performance. Further help It is possible to arrange a mock interview with the student mobility (careers) team which will give you the opportunity to practice and test yourself in an interview situation. If you need any more help or wish to make an appointment with a student mobility officer careers) then please contact the careers team: or telephone or

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