The ultimate graduate job interview preparation guide
Last updated: 26 Jul 2023, 08:52
When it comes to securing a graduate role, interview preparation will make or break your chances. So, follow our nine steps when you’re getting ready to impress recruiters.
Our easy step-by-step guide to graduate job interview preparation will mean you're ready, no matter what format of interview you're facing. As well as helping you to come across as informed and suited to the role at interview, preparation can also ensure your nerves don't get the better of you.
targetjobs’ expert interview preparation tips
Follow these advice point to ensure that you cover all aspects of preparing for an interview. Read on for each step sequentially, or jump to a specific piece of advice using these next links.
- Learn about the different interview formats
- Familiarise yourself with interview questions
- Research the employer (again)
- Think about yourself
- Consider your own questions to ask at interview
- Practise makes perfect
- Plan your pre-interview routine
- Get set to manage interview nerves
- Consider your attitude towards all potential colleagues
1. Familiarise yourself with the different interview formats
You’ll likely face multiple rounds of interviews when trying to secure a role with a graduate employer. First-round interviews are sometimes held over the phone, but are increasingly being conducted via pre-recorded video interview software. This is when you record short videos, typically between one and three minutes each, answering questions that appear on screen and then upload your response videos to a platform. In a pre-recorded video interview, you do not interact with a human being.
Later-stage interviews are typically carried out with hiring managers and via live calls using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or MS Teams, or take place in person at the employer’s premises.
During a face-to-face, telephone or video interview , there will be a set number of predetermined questions. You may also be asked a few more specific questions about experiences mentioned in your application or encouraged to expand on/clarify your answers.
A face-to-face or live call video interview might be held as a standalone interview or as part of an assessment centre, which could run virtually or in person.
Top tip: If preparing for a telephone interview, then pay particular attention to your tone and clarity of voice. Employers won’t have any visual cues to go off and so they will be particularly interested in your verbal communication skills. And if taking part in any type of video interview, then remember to dress for the part. In this instance, employers will be able to see you and underdressing can suggest that you aren’t taking the interview as seriously as you would an in-person one.
2. Get to grips with the types of questions you might face
The next step in your interview preparation is to consider the different types of questions you might be asked and this should help you when practising coming up with answers . Having a better idea of the type of questions that could come your way should also help to ease your nerves .
While first-round interviews tend to focus on your motivations for applying and later-stage interviews on your practical/technical skills, you could get a mix of questions from any interview. So, unless you are told the type of questions you will be asked beforehand, it’s a good idea to take them all into consideration when carrying out practice interviews.
You could always send a polite email to ask what questions to expect during the interview in order to better prepare; recruiters might provide you with some information, but it’s best not to count on this being the case.
You might be asked:
- motivational questions (eg ‘ Why are you interested in this position? ’)
- employer-focused questions (eg ‘What do you know about us?’)
- CV and career aspiration questions (eg ‘Tell me about your internship with…’ or ‘What is your career goal?’)
- hypothetical questions (eg ‘What would you do if X happened?’)
- competency or values-based questions that ask for previous examples of when you used skills or demonstrated values (eg ‘Give me an example of when you worked in a team to solve a problem’ or ‘Tell me about a time when you took pride in your work’)
- strength-based questions that focus on what you like doing and what you are good at (eg ‘What motivates you?’ or ‘Do you prefer to work in a team or by yourself?’).
Specific tasks or activities may be included as part of your interview – such as a technical assignment as part of an engineering interview. It’s likely that you will be told about this beforehand. Candidates for technical roles may be asked questions about their technical knowledge. In sectors such as consulting and if the role involves lateral thinking, this might be tested through a question such as ‘How many dice can you fit inside your living room?’
TOP TIP: Taking the time to practise responding to some of these tricky interview questions will mean you’re less likely to be thrown off-track when asked a tough one during the interview. Whether or not the questions come up, this exercise will train you to think through the question logically and give a clear and considered explanation.
3. 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. Take a look at any social media accounts the employer has and search its name on news websites in order to ensure you’re as up to date as possible.
TOP TIP: Research competitors, too, and think about how their approach compares to the employer you’re interviewing with. This will depend on the industry and role. For example, if you’re looking to work in marketing for a fashion retailer, take a look at how other fashion retailers and clothing brands market their products – online and/or in store – and think about any similarities and differences between this and the approach of the potential employer.
4. 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. Then, add a note explaining how these show your ability to fulfil certain job requirements and/or show you’re suited to the employer (eg does it show any shared values?).
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?
5. Consider questions to ask in the interview
Graduate interviewers will expect you to show a keen interest in their organisation, so usethe 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.
TOP TIP: Remember that interviews are a two-way process. So, don’t just choose questions that show off your knowledge of the company but also ask those that will help you to leave the interview with a better sense of what it would be like working there.
6. Practice makes perfect
Use the job description, your CV and application form to think up some potential interview questions and think of answers you might give to them. Even if the specific questions don’t come up, brushing up on thinking of responses to questions might make it easier during the interview.
If you still have access to your university's careers service, see if you can book a mock interview – many are offering services like this via virtual platforms. You might also ask a friend or family member to play interviewer and critique your performance. If there are any tests that you might take during the day, ask your careers service if they have practice versions and whether they’d be willing to check through your answers.
TOP TIP: Particularly if you’re practising with someone with little experience of interviewing/conducting practice interviews, you could give them a checklist of important criteria to assess you against. This might include body language, greeting and goodbye and how clear you can be heard/seen through the device you will be using (for a video interview) – along with the strength of your answers.
Make a great impression: our one-minute guide to a successful interview
‘My weekend was wild!’ Our video explains why you shouldn’t say this during an interview and what you should say instead.
Our targetjobs careers expert explains why giving appropriate and well-prepared answers in an interview is key.
7. Plan your pre-interview routine
Knowing that you have everything ready for the interview will avoid a mad rush that leaves you feeling (and coming across as) stressed and help you to get some sleep.
So, it’s a good idea to plan:
- What you’re going to wear
- Your journey – if your interview is in-person, book tickets and allow enough time to account for potential delays
- Your device – if your interview is virtual, making sure you put it on charge
- Anything you’ll take with you – have your CV and/or application form printed out to scan through, and organise any supporting information you’ll take with you or place nearby during a video interview
- Your routine before booting up your laptop or heading out the door– whether that’s a quick skincare regime that will boost your confidence or explaining to your little sister exactly why she can’t pester you to play hide and seek tomorrow morning.
TOP TIP: If you’re prone to forgetting certain things when you’re stressed or rushing to leave, try to factor these in the night before when you’re calmer. Perhaps a note to tell you where your keys are at the bottom of your list will do it, or a reminder to take a snack for your journey.
8. Get ready to manage interview nerves
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.
- How to deal with job interview nerves
- Last-minute confidence boost – for the day of, or evening before, your interview.
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.
LOOKING FOR INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC INTERVIEW PREPARATION ADVICE?
Find tips to prepare for industry-specific interviews.
9. Consider your attitude towards all potential colleagues
When it comes to interview preparation, you should also take into consideration the whole time that you'll be seen by potential colleagues. After all, recruiters will expect to you to be professional throughout, including after you’ve left the interview room itself.
You might be 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 be ready to talk and act in the same professional way that you would during an interview – and come across as interested and engaged.
TOP TIP: Need to let off steam or sing for joy? Make sure you are a couple of streets away from the employer's office before you let go – you never know who is watching! The same is true for comments online.
Next steps for your interview preparation
Once you’ve taken on board the advice in this guide, finish off your interview preparation by checking out our articles on post-interview etiquette.
- Dealing with job rejection as a graduate
- Asking for feedback after an unsuccessful interview
- How to accept or reject a job offer .
Good luck with your graduate interviews and remember to refer back to this guide whenever preparing for one.
Also, make sure to create your free targetjobs graduate profile . This makes finding the advice you need from us even easier, as we’ll recommend you content tailored to the career aspirations you share with us and the stage of the recruitment process that you’re at.