Eight steps to graduate interview success
When it comes to interviews, preparation is key. So, follow our eight steps when you’re getting ready to impress recruiters.
Fresh research into the employer will remind you what attracted you to the job and will help you anticipate interview questions.
Our easy step-by-step guide 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.
1. Get to grips with the types of questions you might face
Knowing how the interview will run and considering the different types of questions you might be asked during the interview should help you when practising coming up with answers. Having a better idea of what’s coming up should also help to ease your nerves.
While there are different interview styles, explained below, you could get a mix of questions from a few of them. So, unless you are told the type you will get, 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 to expect during the interview in order to better prepare; recruiters might provide some information about the type of questions, but it’s best not to count on this being the case.
During a face-to-face, phone or live video interview (held as if it is face to face, but uses a platform such as Zoom – as opposed to a recorded video interview, in which your answers to questions on a screen are recorded and uploaded), 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 video interview might be held as a standalone interview or as part of an assessment centre, which could run virtually or in person.
You might be asked:
- motivational questions (eg ‘Why do you want to work for us?’)
- 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. Its 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.
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. 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.
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. 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?
4. Consider questions to ask in the interview
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.
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.
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 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.
6. 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.
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.
8. Prepare for how you'll act post-interview
When it comes to planning for your interview, you should 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.