interview success

Eight steps to graduate interview success

Selling your skills face to face, on the phone or via your laptop screen can be a nerve-racking experience, but our tips for graduate job interviews will help you think on your feet and show yourself in the best possible light.
In competency-based interviews you'll be asked to match your skills to the skills needed for the role.

Our easy step-by-step guide will give you the best possible chance of success whatever format of interview you're facing. Preparation is crucial and will help you overcome your nerves. An important part of getting ready for any interview is knowing what to expect.

1. Find out what kind of interview you’ll face

Graduate employers use different kinds of interviews at different stages of the recruitment process.

Telephone interviews are often used at an early stage to check candidates meet the basic requirements and to filter out those who aren’t serious about the job.

Video interviews, which capture your responses to a set of pre-recorded questions, are used in a similar way. You may also be interviewed via Skype, which is closer to a traditional face-to-face interview.

Face-to-face interviews often form part of an assessment centre day. Many organisations use competence- or competency-based interviews, in which you’ll be asked to match your skills to those needed for the role, eg communication skills, problem solving and teamwork.

Panel interviews – in which candidates are interviewed by several people such as HR staff and department managers – are also common in some graduate career sectors, such as teaching and public service.

TOP TIP: If the recruiter hasn’t already told you what kind of interview you’ll be having, contact them to find out. Once you’ve established what to expect you’ll be able to prepare for the kinds of questions and scenarios you could experience during the interview.

2. Research the employer again

Return to the employer research you did when you made your original job application and build on it. Fresh research will remind you what attracted you to the job and will help you anticipate interview questions.

Look on the organisation’s website for details of recent work or clients that interest you and think about how you could contribute to what the employer does.

3. Think about yourself

Recruiters want to know what unique skills you can bring to the role. Think through your work experience and the skills and interests you’ve developed at university and how these relate to the job and area of work.

List your achievements and activities (such as work for university societies, interests and hobbies, internships or work placements, voluntary work or casual work) and make notes on the skills you learned and how you used them, and also what you contributed to different situations.

TOP TIP: Review your CV or application form: think of how you can expand on any examples and skills and consider some alternatives. Which examples would be the best ones to highlight for the particular job?

4. Prepare yourself

Graduate interviewers will expect you to show a keen interest in their organisation, so use the research you’ve already done to think up at least three questions to ask about the employer and three questions about the job itself. You can write these down to take into the interview as a reminder.

If you still have access to your university's careers service, see if you can book a mock interview or practice any tests that might be part of the interview day – many offer these services, along with online resources and access to videos about making the most of yourself at interview.

5. Plan your day

Good first impressions count for a lot. Plan for your interview day in fine detail – it will help you relax and shows employers that you are organised and committed.

Make sure you know how you should dress, plan how to get to your interview and book your travel tickets in advance. Charge your mobile phone and leave yourself time to read through your application again carefully.

Print out a fresh copy of your CV or make a new copy of your application form to take with you, and organise any supporting information you'll be taking with you.

6. Be in control of yourself in the interview

It’s natural to be nervous in an interview, but if you know that you are prone to particular fear-induced reactions that could jeopardise your chances, think about these before the day so that you have chance to find a way to overcome them the best you can.

When you are in the interview, remember that it’s fine to pause before responding to questions to gather your thoughts, and if you’re unsure about a question it’s also fine to ask for clarification.

TOP TIP: Use your CV or application as a prompt if you dry up: take a copy into the interview and use it to choose good examples of your skills.

7. Stay professional to the end

Although it can be tempting to run screaming from a bad interview or skip joyously from a good one, recruiters will expect to you to be professional throughout the time you're meeting with them, including after you’ve left the interview room itself.

If you’re shown around the office or have the chance to chat with trainees or other members of staff, remember that their feedback may count towards the organisation’s overall evaluation of you, so don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t in a formal interview situation.

TOP TIP: Need to let off steam or sing for joy? Make sure you are a couple of blocks away from the employer's office before you let rip - you never know who is watching! The same is true for comments online.

8. Learn from the experience

Spend some time after your interview thinking through the experience. Make some notes for yourself before moving on. This will help you prepare for the next stage of the process and get ready for interviews with other graduate employers.

Getting feedback from interviews where you have been unsuccessful can be invaluable and most recruiters are happy to provide it. However, don't be too disappointed if it is very general. A good question to ask when seeking feedback is, 'Could you give me any tips on how I could improve?' This might lead to you being given some specific pointers that will help you to succeed next time.

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