If you’re a graduate looking for a job, and have just landed yourself an interview, then congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back, because an interview means the company believe that (on paper) you would be able to do the job they are advertising, and are a good fit for the role.
Unfortunately, getting this far is only half the battle – at this stage, some graduates trip up either by not doing some basic preparation, or by making social gaffes that will instantly cause you to be rejected.
So check out our ultimate list of ways to fail your graduate job interview – and how to avoid them!
#1 Know Nothing About Your Potential Employer
Part of being successful at a job interview involves making sure you’ve done your research on the organisation you’ve applied to. You need to demonstrate you understand what the company is, and the type of person they are looking for.
As well as being a sure-fire way to impress them, it also shows you are interested in the job and will give you more confidence during the interview itself. Therefore, it’s critical to make time for swotting up on the company before the big day.
Start your research with the company’s website – this doesn’t mean just a quick glance at the home page though. Look carefully at the “About” section, find out how the organisation is structured, what products or services they offer, and any recent developments or achievements.
It’s also worth looking up individuals at the company on LinkedIn, particularly your interviewer(s), as it’s possible you’re already connected to at least one of them (especially if they’re in the same industry you currently work in). See if you have anything in common with them by looking at their work history.
LinkedIn offer a useful for graduates called LinkedIn Alumni, so as a recent graduate it’s worth seeing if anyone from your university already works there. If they do, try contacting them for an informational interview, and ask them questions such as what their job entails, whether there are any important skills or qualities you should mention in the interview, and if there are any questions they think might come up.
See if the company appears on other websites such as Glassdoor or Milkround, as these often contain company profiles that can explain a bit more about the company and what it’s like working there. Type their name into Google news and find out if they appear there. Read up on the latest news in the industry, including any online publications, so you know what’s currently going on. It’s wise not to mention any negative press stories, as these will usually be a black mark in the interview.
Once you’ve made some notes and gathered your findings, make sure you only use them in a positive way during the interview. For example, you could say “I read you’ve recently launched a new product that I really liked”, and then explain how your skill set could contribute to product development in the future. Always try to point to your experience if possible, and show how it might be beneficial to the company. The idea with this exercise is to highlight what you and the company have in common, and how your expertise would be a valuable asset.
Avoid pointed questions that sound accusatory or negative, such as “Why do you operate like this in Asia?” or “What are your ethics on this?”.
If the company is small and does not have much web presence, try to bring it up as a talking point in the interview, e.g. you could say “I’m really excited about this company and would love to learn more about it”. People usually enjoy talking about where they work, and as they explain more about themselves and what they do, you can start pointing out your relevant experience.
#2 Don’t Show Any Manners
Arriving late, not shaking hands or making eye contact, fidgeting in your seat, chewing gum and turning up in a pair of jeans are all guaranteed ways of being rejected for the role.
Basic manners are simple and cost nothing, yet it’s surprising how many people lose out on their job because of a lack of respect for their interviewers.
Don’t underestimate the power of good etiquette, communication and other people skills in winning over a potential employer. Although a job interview is a difficult social situation for many people (let’s face it, who wants to be interrogated by at least one or two complete strangers for an hour or more?), but it’s important to always try and at least keep your manners in check.
While the act of appearing calm, confident and composed throughout the interview feels like a huge challenge, realise that companies are looking for individuals that display a decent attitude and warm behaviour toward other people, as well as good job-related experience. Business is built on forming relationships with trust, respect and reliability, so demonstrating these qualities is essential if you want to stand a chance of being welcomed into their fold.
Body language is key for any successful interview, so if your manners are going to make an impact, you’ll need to:
- Smile, introduce yourself and be enthusiastic as soon as you enter the room – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
- Turn off your mobile phone as soon as you enter the building
- Arrive no more than 10 minutes early
- Shake the hand of the person who comes to greet you and escort you to the interview room
- Make eye contact with all the interviewers
- Wear something appropriate – this means dressing smartly, yet conservatively, although it helps if you also feel comfortable in your attire
- Get a good night’s sleep beforehand, so you don’t appear tired
- Remember to bring any documents they have requested, such as a copy of your CV, details of your references or any forms/questionnaires you’ve been asked to fill out
- Sit still, and not wring your hands or do anything else distracting
- Use names, but only surnames, e.g. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr Hampson”, not first names
- Don’t sit down until you are invited to
- Place all personal belongings underneath the table or your chair. The only things you should place on the table in front of you are a portfolio, notepad or a pen
- Thank each interviewer for their time, shake their hand and smile, once the interview is over
- Send a follow-up thank you message via email or post.
By acting on all of the points above, you are more likely to have an edge over other candidates. However, make sure you don’t push things too far and act overly-confident, like you’ve already been offered the job.
#3 Apply For A Job You Don’t Really Want (Ignore The Job Description)
While it’s good to be ambitious, try not to take this too far in the interview. Remember, you are trying to convince the company why they should hire you for the role they are advertising, not a different role higher up in the organisation. This is a complete turn off, and the interviewers will think you just want the job to get promoted as quickly as possible (which usually doesn’t happen anyway).
If the interviewers ask you where you see yourself in five or ten years’ time, don’t respond with something that implies you want to be in their job. Keep your answer truthful but general, e.g. “I see myself in a management position leading a team in a product research and development department”.
This is also where looking at the job description thoroughly becomes useful (although you should already have done this when you applied for the job!). Make sure you are able to explain why you are a good fit for the role, and have lots of examples of specific experience to talk about that will back this up.
If at this point you decide this job isn’t really right for you, call or email the company to tell them you will no longer be attending the interview. This will save wasting time for both you and your interviewers.
#4 Talk Negatively About Your Previous Or Current Employer
Although it’s a good idea to find out what you can about your next employer, you need to be tactful about it. Just because you’ve had a bad experience at your current or previous job, you shouldn’t use this information during your interview.
By doing this, you’re just showing the company that you’re happy to spread gossip around during inappropriate situations. While it’s fine to share horror stories about bad bosses and colleagues with your friends, telling them during a job interview is a big no if you’re going to give yourself the chance of being offered the role.
#5 Tell Lies
To avoid falling into this trap, first check that your CV is up-to-date, and there is no missing or incorrect information. For example, dates when you started and finished in previous roles, job titles, summaries of your responsibilities, etc.
If the company finds out you’ve lied about any of these things, you can be assured your name will be on the rejection list.
Don’t worry about gaps in your employment history – be honest about why these have happened, and try to put it in a positive light if possible, e.g. “I was out of work for six months due to the difficult job market during the recession, but spent any spare time learning French so I can speak to international customers”.
Generally, interviewers will be more impressed if candidates offer explanations for things in an honest, professional manner, rather than make excuses or lie outright about them.
#6 Don’t Ask Any Questions (Or Ask The Wrong Ones)
At the end of a job interview, you will normally be asked whether you have any questions of your own.
You should never respond with “no”, and always have at least a couple of questions to ask the interviewers. Replying negatively implies you’re not really interested in the position, and you haven’t bothered to do enough research to come up with anything you can’t find the answer to elsewhere.
Being inquisitive can help you stand out from the other candidates, and demonstrates your enthusiasm for the role and the organisation.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t ask questions just for the sake of it, and won’t provide any actual benefit.
To help you with this stage of the interview, here are some typical questions you might ask include:
- What training opportunities are available?
- How would you describe the work culture here?
- Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role?
- How do you expect the company to grow over the next five years?
- What are the biggest challenges/opportunities facing the company right now?
- What do you like most about working for this company?
- What are the next steps in the interview process/when may I expect to hear from you on a decision?
- Is this a new position? If not, why is the current person leaving?
- How is performance measured and reviewed?
This is not an exhaustive list, so whatever you choose to ask, make sure they are questions that are thoughtful, and not ones that have already been answered in the interview. This is why it’s a good idea to have three or four prepared, in case some of them are answered by the end of it.
#7 Don’t Impress Them
Being prepared for your interview is a great way to show your enthusiasm for the company and the role, so don’t skimp on the time you spend doing this.
For many jobs, a portfolio of previous work can be created to wow the interviewers, as can keeping your nerves in check so that the conversation flows comfortably, and remembering your manners throughout the interview. Employers want to meet an enthusiastic, organised candidate who is motivated enough to work on their own, yet have the personal skills for working well as part of a team too.
It’s all these little things that add up and will make you appear as the best candidate for the position.
In a nutshell, do your research, try to do some practice and focus on performing to the best of your ability using the tips outlined above.
For more tips and advice on getting through your graduate job interview, and other stages of the job search process, take a look at the following resources at Studential.com:
- Types of job interview
- How to prepare for a job interview
- Graduate Job Interview Tips
- Job Interview Questions
- Graduate CV Writing Guide
- Writing A Graduate Cover Letter Guide
For job vacancies, please visit:
- The Guardian
- Target Jobs
- Graduate Recruitment Bureau
- Job Site
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