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Preparing For Your Graduate Job Interview

Preparing for a job interview is essential to help settle your nerves and make sure you give your best performance on the day.

Make that job interview a successful one with our top tips.

1. Research the employer

Things to look at include:

  • What products and/or services do they offer?
     
  • What do they do?
     
  • How long have they been established?
     
  • How big is it?
     
  • How long have they been running?
  • Who are their competitors?

Some personal research can be useful here – search engines are good at digging up information on a particular company, e.g. if they have been in the news, or featured in a well known publication, etc.

It's a good idea to study any recent press cuttings about the employer, and try to inject them at an appropriate moment into the conversation during the interview - this way, they will see you really have done your research!

Make sure you have a job description before the interview to find out how much of your skills, experience and qualifications are relevant to the company. This will help you to prepare specifically for this role.

2. Find out what type of interview it is

You will find that most job interviews follow a similar format:

Questions based on your CV

  • These questions will be CV based for you to explain your career path and ambitions.
  • Pick out your skills or achievements that are directly relevant, and rehearse these.
  • Be prepared to explain any unusual parts of your CV, such as any time taken out from employment or education.

General questions about you

  • What do you know about the job?
  • What interests you about the job/why did you apply for it?
  • What skills or experience do you have that make you a suitable candidate for this job?
  • What interests you about this company in particular?
  • When have you had an opportunity to show initiative?
  • Who and what were you responsible for in your last job? (they could ask you this about any part-time and/or temporary jobs you’ve had since you were at school).
  • Can you give an example of when you coped well under pressure?
  • Do you prefer to work as an individual or as part of a team?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your long term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
  • Can you tell me more about your hobbies and interests?
  • Have you applied for any other jobs?

The interviewer(s) telling you about the company and the position

  • Which department the vacancy is in, and how it fits into the company.
  • Who you would be working with and who you answer to.

Your questions

  • Asking relevant questions shows you are interested, organised and able to think ahead.
  • Salary and benefits are important, but an employer will be more impressed if you ask questions about the company, the department and the position first.
  • Good questions to ask include those regarding training opportunities, who you will report to, who you will be working with, promotion prospects, what the working hours are, etc.

Informing you of the next stage of the process

  • Whether there is a second or third round of interviews.
  • When you will hear if you have been successful or not.

3. Make notes

Remind you what attracted you to the job in the first place, which 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.

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.

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. Plan your day

When, where and what time?

Give yourself plenty of time for the journey and aim to arrive at least ten minutes early.

If you are held up, phone ahead and let them know – make sure you have their contact number stored in your mobile before you leave.

Do a trial run at getting there if necessary (e.g. it’s a complicated route, or will take you a long time), and don't forget to check public transport timetables and/or parking availability.

Remember to take enough cash with you on the day to cover any transport costs.

Who will be interviewing you?

Be prepared for the possibility of a panel interview.

In a panel interview, answer questions looking from one interviewer to another and don't direct your answer just to the person who asked the question.

You should normally be told how many people will be interviewing you in the invitation letter, and sometimes who they are.

What should I take with me?

A copy of your current CV and all relevant documents and references, including some form of identification, e.g. passport.

You can carry all of this in a briefcase if you have one, or something similar.

A notepad and pen may also be useful, along with your questions to ask the interviewer.

What should I wear?

You will want to make a good impression, so make sure you dress appropriately.

This usually means formal attire, so a suit and tie for men, and a trouser suit or smart skirt and blouse/jacket for women.

Consider your personal safety

  • If the interview is not held at the employer's office, make sure it is taking place somewhere public.
  • Ensure that someone knows where you are being interviewed and who by.

5. Try to control your 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.

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.

6. Always stay professional

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.

Always try to smile and be enthusiastic, no matter how nervous you are. Positive body language such as eye contact, a firm handshake, sitting up straight and not fidgeting will go a long way.

If you feel you want to rant afterwards, or just chat through how it went afterwards on the phone, make sure you are well away from the employer's building - you never know who is watching or listening! The same applies for posting your opinions or comments online.

7. Learn from your 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 general and doesn't provide any specific reasons.

A good question to ask when looking for feedback is, 'Could you give me any tips on how I could improve?' This might lead to you being given a few pointers that will help you to succeed next time.

Further information

For more tips and advice on writing your graduate CV and looking for a postgraduate job, please see: