Interviews are a usual part of the formal recruitment process and can vary enormously in length, style, and format. An invitation to interview means you have successfully matched your skills, interests, and experience to the employer’s criteria. Now you have the opportunity to sell yourself.
Steps you can take to prepare
- Attend interview workshops run by our Careers Consultants or visiting employers.
- Watch videos available in our Job hunting resources secure zone – Making an impact and First impressions count.
So I’ve landed an interview. What now?
Some recruiters will host telephone or video interviews to screen candidates before inviting those shortlisted for a face-to-face interview, individually or at an assessment centre. The number of people interviewing you can also vary, from one, two, three or more people, known as a panel.
Before the day of your interview, whether it will be over the phone or in person, you must make sure you are well prepared.
- Will the interview be at an office or assessment centre? How are you going to get there?
- Is there a dress code? Do you own suitable clothing?
- Have you researched the company? The history and recent news? Do you know why you want to work there?
- Do you understand the job and how you match the key elements? Have you compiled evidence and prepared structured answers to these questions?
- How long is the interview likely to last? Will it be in front of a panel or one-to-one?
As with most things, practising beforehand will familiarise you with the process of a formal interview, and give you a chance to improve before the real thing. You can book a mock interview with us in the PDC, and use our feedback to strengthen your technique.
What are they going to ask me?
As much as you need to be yourself in an interview, it is beneficial to prepare answers to questions you will likely be asked. Answering with structure and confidence will show you are well prepared and can articulate your thoughts eloquently. Try interviewing yourself with a friend or in the mirror, saying your answers out loud to spot when you’re not making sense, or how often you’re saying ‘Um…’.
Before the day, you should read over your CV and covering letter. The interviewer may tailor their questions around the information you provided, in addition to the job requirements, so it is vital that you know what you’ve written and what the employer is looking for.
There are a few different types of interview questions you could be asked. Take a look at Prospects' Interview Questions and TARGETJobs' Competence based interviews.
The STAR (Situation, Task, Actions, and Results) method is very useful to remember when faced with open-ended ‘give me an example of a time when…’ competency questions. These questions are designed to test your suitability for the role. You should draw examples from your education and experience that demonstrate you have the skills and abilities to meet the specifications of the job.
Strength based interviews, with roots in positive psychology, are becoming more and more popular with bigger organisations. In addition to typical interview questions, it is increasingly likely that you could be asked something like ‘When was the last time you were happy?’ and ‘What is needed to make you thrive?’. You must be prepared to answer these types of questions, as well as the typical ‘What attracted you to this role?’.
What should I ask them?
Think of a few questions you can ask the interviewer at the end of your interview. Again, this shows good preparation, an interest in the organisation, and real enthusiasm for the role.
You could ask about the induction process, training opportunities, or the culture of the organisation. Ask questions about things you genuinely want to know, rather than what you think the employer wants to hear.
If you’re stuck, take a look at Big Interview's 12 Best Questions to ask at the end of an interview.
What if I have special requirements?
You should contact the employer if you have any special requirements on the day of your interview, such as needing a sign language interpreter for a hearing impairment.
If you haven’t already mentioned a disability, and you know this will come up in the interview, you may want to prepare the employer in advance to ensure you are both comfortable and the interviewer knows what to expect.
Try to anticipate the challenges your disability may present and think about how these can be overcome. You know your disability better than anyone and, if you can explain it in positive and clear terms, you will come across as confident and in control.
I feel prepared, but what about on the day?
Get a good night’s rest before your interview, no matter if the actual interview is scheduled for later in the day. You will be more likely to perform well if your mind and body are relaxed.
Perhaps check the news. Something significant may have just happened to that organisation, such as the takeover of a rival business or even a name change. Being aware and ready to discuss these things with your interviewer will do wonders for your first impression.
Leave for your interview with plenty of time to spare. If it takes half an hour to get there on a normal day, leave an hour early on the day of your interview.
If, on the way, you think you are going to be late due to reasons out of your control, you should call the company and let them know. They will appreciate your honesty.
When you arrive at the venue, try and make a good first impression. Be courteous and friendly to everyone you meet. Remember, the interview starts as soon as you walk in the door.
How do I act during the interview itself?
You are going to feel nervous. This is normal.
Try channelling your nerves positively. Remind yourself of your strengths. Remember, the interviewer has a position to fill. They do not want to see you fail. A good interviewer will do their best to make you feel comfortable so you have the best chance of performing well.
Think about body language. Non-verbal behaviour plays a big part in an interview.
- Avoid limp or bone crushing handshakes. Aim for something in between.
- Don’t slouch. Stand with an open and positive posture. Sit up and lean forward a little.
- Maintain good eye contact with the interviewer(s) – but don’t stare!
You are being judged on your overall performance at the interview, not on each question. If you feel you could have answered a question better, don’t panic, try to stay positive, and focus on answering the next one. Things will even out over the course of the interview.
- Try not to talk too fast and make sure the interviewer can hear you clearly. A good interviewer will actually guide you through the experience by the type of questions they ask, and indicate to you whether your answers are too brief or too long.
- You may want to bring examples of work that highlight your suitability for the role. Always check beforehand, as the interviewer may prefer sticking to the formal interview process.
There's every chance you may enjoy the experience! When else do we get to spend a significant amount of time talking about our interests and the things we are good at, so remain positive and enthusiastic throughout.
After my interview
Take time after your interview to reflect on your performance while the experience is still fresh in your mind. This will help you improve your technique for the next interview.
- Try to think about what you did well, as well as what you could have done better.
- Think about any difficult questions, or ones that you weren’t prepared for.
- Contact the interviewer to thank them for their time, and ask for feedback if appropriate.
- Relax. You’ve done the hard bit now.
Video interviewing is becoming more widespread and in most cases is replacing telephone interviews as a filtering process prior to face-to-face interviews.
The two main types of video interviews are the live video (or Skype) interviews where you are talking to a real person and the technical platform is used to have a live conversation. The second is the recorded interview where you are provided with a question and then you are expected to record an answer using the technical platform provided, this is often a third party website like Sonru.
The Professional Development Centre can help set up practice sessions for both of these types of interviews. You can book appointments with your dedicated Careers Consultant and also drop by for a 15 minute Quick Query session, bookable on the day. Your Careers Consultant can send you a link to a practice interview - just email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like this. You can then come and discuss the recording, with a view to highlighting areas that could increase your chances of being selected.
Why are video interviews so popular?
Both video interviews and recorded interviews save the recruiter a huge amount of time as they can conduct many more interviews quickly and effectively and then shortlist candidates for face-to-face meetings. Both platforms allow the recruiter to judge your screen presence and how well you present yourself using technology.
Preparation and technology
The questions in both Skype and recorded interviews can be very similar, so being well prepared is essential, but you should also make sure you are comfortable with the technology and the fact that you will be recorded.
Make sure the technology you are using is stable i.e. no connectivity problems, and always have a spare device just in case. As with all interviews, putting in some practice beforehand will make you more comfortable!
Live video (Skype) interviews
- As always, first impressions count so look the part and act like you want the job!
- Don't think that this is a casual exercise - as you are in your room and not face-to-face. Treat this as a formal part of the interview.
- Clear the space behind you and make sure there are no distractions and you have a quiet environment, tell the people around you that you are in an interview and should not be interupted.
- The safest rule, if you have not been given a dress code, is to dress like you would for a formal face-to-face interview.
- There is a tendency for candidates to rush their video answers, this is not a Skype chat with your friends so take it slow and make sure you are clear and concise. Well-paced answers will be easier for the recruiter to follow.
- Make sure your Skype name is professional, just as an email address should be.
- In a recorded interview you will probably be under some time constraints to read the question and then record an answer within an allotted time. For example you may have 60 seconds to read the question and then a period or around two-five minutes to record your answer.
- There is no interaction in a recorded interview. It is up to you to energise and enthuse yourself. Once you have recorded an answer there is no way to go back and redo it.
- Make sure there is nothing behind you that will distract the recruiter when they are looking at your recording.
- It is a good idea to practise using a webcam or iPad, just to check that you have the microphone levels and the height of the camera in the right position. If you are using a laptop, raise the machine rather than tilting the screen to ensure you are centre frame and viewed straight on and not from below.
On occasion you may be asked to record a video talking about yourself instead of answering set questions.
- Most companies offering this type of interview will give you notes, tips and suggestions prior to the actual interview. Read these carefully to help structure your video.
- It is highly advisable that you prepare and practice for these interviews as you would any other interview and your Careers Consultant can discuss with you sample questions as well as introducing you to platforms such as Sonru where we can arrange practice video interviews for you.
Interviewers will be looking to shortlist applicants who can show good verbal communication skills and an understanding of the job, company and sector. Many of the guidelines provided are the same as those for face-to-face interviews but there are some tips specific to telephone interviews that will help get you through to the next stage.
Remember, you are very close to being selected for the next stage so investing in additional preparation for this call is worthwhile.
When will they call?
Very often you will be able to choose from a list of available time slots for your phone interview. Think carefully about when you choose to have your interview:
- Make sure it doesn’t clash with anything else in your diary and that you’ll be somewhere quiet and without distraction.
- Are you on your best form in the morning, in the afternoon or evening?
- As well as evening time slots, weekend time slots may be on offer.
- Try to be flexible with your timing as it will create a good first impression.
Ideally leave a landline number for them to contact you on. This is more reliable than taking the call on a mobile phone where the signal can drop out. If you intend to use a mobile make sure that it's either fully charged or you are close to a phone charger and socket.
Other companies may spring the interview on you so keep a list of the companies you’ve applied to (and a copy of your application forms) handy so that you’re not caught out. If you do receive a call from a number you don’t recognise during this period of applying for jobs, answer the phone in a professional manner as first impressions count for a lot.
You can always rearrange or call the interviewer back if they do call unannounced but don’t keep them waiting. Make sure you have a professional message set up on your voicemail in case you miss a call as this will be what they hear before they leave their own message.
How do I make a good impression?
You don’t have the advantage of body language, eye contact, and non-verbal signals in a telephone interview so you may have to work harder at getting your personality across.
- Talk positively and enthusiastically and explain yourself clearly. Smiling while talking will impact how you sound. This is a technique often used by people who talk over the phone in recruitment and telesales jobs.
- Don’t mumble and avoid expressions such as ‘ah… er... ummmm…’. Habits like that are more noticeable over the telephone.
- Avoid pacing around the room or lying on your bed; this maybe where you take most of your calls but remember this is a formal business call. Sitting at a desk will help, but try not to have too many notes in front of you, as this may distract you.
- You may even give some thought about what you choose to wear. Again the interviewer won’t be able to see what you’re wearing but dressing smartly and comfortably could put you in the right frame of mind to perform at your best.
Be yourself but make sure you remain professional. Listen carefully to the questions asked, seeking clarification if you are not sure. The interviewer will guide you through the process so it’s important that you let them take control.
What will they ask me?
Because telephone interviews are usually at the start of the recruitment process, you’re likely to be faced with basic, standardised questions but don’t underestimate the importance of well-prepared answers.
Be ready for questions about
- why you have applied and what excites you about the job
- the role and your strengths and weaknesses
- why you’re interested in the company
- what challenges or issues the company face, and how you feel you are equipped to contribute to solutions
- who their competitors are and, in your opinion, why you feel the company is well positioned to compete with them
Have specific examples of your competencies ready – such as a time when you worked on a challenging project, provided good customer service, solved a complex problem, or worked as part of a team. The job description and application form may give you an idea of the competencies they are looking for.
You will have the advantage of being able to refer to a few key points written down and prepared beforehand but be careful your answers don’t sound scripted, or the rustle of paper distracts from what you are saying.
Just like a face-to-face interview, you might have a chance to ask some questions. If you haven’t already, take a look at the What should I ask them? section above.
Take a note of any important points:
- what will happen next
- when you are likely to hear from the company
- who you have spoken to
Again, you should show your appreciation for the opportunity by thanking the interviewer.
Find out more
- You may find it useful to talk to one of our Careers Consultants in our Quick Query service to help with your preparation
- Our reference books on interview skills are also useful. Come into the PDC and ask at our Front Desk
- Watch the Making an impact DVD on interview preparation from our downloadable resources section
Employers use presentations to check how well you prepare, how you communicate to an audience, your ability to think on your feet and, most importantly, how well you can maintain interest. If the job requires an element of public speaking then it is even more important that you succeed in this task.
You may be asked to prepare a presentation in advance or, as an added pressure, given a topic on the day. To build your public speaking skills, take any opportunity to give a presentation while at university. This could mean:
- taking the lead in an assessed presentation as part of your course
- talking to prospective students at open days
- becoming a course representative, talking at meetings and feeding back to your peers
- working as part of a society committee
Map out a 15 minute presentation to answer the question 'Why am I a good candidate for this job?' Practice it out loud, recording yourself so you can reflect on the quality and timing.
So what do I need to know?
A good presentation requires preparation and planning. You should know:
- The brief – What you are expected to talk about
- Who your audience is
- Where you will be giving the presentation
- What facilities you have available (presentation software, computer, internet access, flipchart)
- How long you have to speak
Making my presentation
The following format will help you organise your presentation:
- Use Microsoft PowerPoint, Prezi, Haiku Deck or any other suitable software
- Outline what you propose to cover
- Give the body of the presentation
- Include any facts or statistics
- Summarise and conclude
- Invite questions from the audience
Practice is important
Practice will help you to get your timing right – remember that if you over-run you may be cut off mid-sentence – and make you sound more natural. Aim not just to read the words but to use them to communicate and expand the information.
A good presentation will do four things:
- touch the emotions
- inspire action
Look for ways your presentation can do all four.
Keeping my audience interested
- Don’t turn your back on them.
- Vary the pace and the tone of your voice.
- Maintain eye contact with the whole group. One tip is to try and look at someone at the back of the audience and then shift your gaze to the front, middle and back again.
- Use visuals to illustrate your points (PowerPoint, Prezi) but don’t rely on long and complicated slides.
- Use clear, descriptive language and analogies to illustrate your points – but be brief and don’t get distracted.
- A handout with miniature slides and room for notes can be a nice addition.
- Avoid too many gesticulations and don’t fiddle with keys in your pocket, a pen or your jewellery.
- Stand up tall, move around. Remember, how you say something is as important as what you have to say.
Key points to remember
- Identify the purpose of the presentation and your objectives
- Plan your presentation thoroughly to time and re-emphasise at least three things you want the audience to remember you by
- Use visual aids, such as pictures and table graphs
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
The more presentations you do the better you will become so take every opportunity to practice. Take advice and ask for feedback, adapting what you learn to suit your personal style. Be prepared to use different approaches in different circumstances, and have a back-up plan in case the equipment doesn’t work.
Find out more
Visit the downloadable resources section to watch the Assessment Centre DVD and Essential presentation skills (November 2015): Guest presenter: Simon Quin, Westbourne Consulting.