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Some of you will be graduating soon and probably busy applying for your first job. How well do you think you'll perform at interview? It's a difficult thing for anyone at any level, and we'll try our best to guide you through some of the likely questions and situations you might find yourself having to deal with. As a veteran interviewee of more years than I care to mention, here's some advice I wish I'd had access to when I first started out.
The obvious one – first impressions count! You have no idea how true this is. Ask any psychologist. You need to smile and make sure you have a firm handshake without breaking anyone’s bones. Eye contact is vital so keep your gaze just a few seconds longer than usual, without looking like a lunatic.
Let the interview committee lead the interview but remember that you don’t have to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. While they’re telling you all about the job and the company, questions from you at this point will emphasise your interest in the position. They may start with the question “Tell us about yourself and your experience, and why you think you would be the best candidate for the job”. This is where it helps to have your elevator speech handy as a brief introduction to who you are and what you can do. Give examples of your technical and transferable skills and show how these will help you with aspects of the job. Prepare stuff to recite when prompted – you'll find it a much easier process if you do this.
Have questions ready to ask. It’s really important that you ask relevant questions about the job, the company, your prospects within the company… Show the panel that you’ve gone the extra mile and taken the time to find out that bit more about the company – it will definitely go in your favour. Sods Law dictates that they will answer your best question during the conversation, before you’ve had a chance to ask it, but don't worry about this all through the interview. It's automatic to experience a feeling of dread at this point, when you think that you’re not going to have any killer questions to ask at the end. But worrying about it only distracts you from the interview process, so if this happens, let it slide. Just remember to let the interview panel know that you were keen to ask a particular question, but they had already answered it earlier. It will also serve as a recap and you might be able to think of something else related to it on the spot.
Before the interview (not the night before – do give this some thought) you should consider how you handle situations like interviews. A common question from an interviewer will be “What makes you nervous”? Have some idea of how you will answer this. They want to know how you handle stressful situations and an interview is a prime example. How will you answer a question like “What are your salary expectations”? A difficult one if you don’t know whether you are over or under selling yourself. Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are – you need to be able to say what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. But, do remember to add how you have overcome this weakness using an example e.g. nervous speaking in front of groups = attended a course on PowerPoint presentations/public speaking and am now much better at it!
Ask yourself why you want this job because you’ll likely be asked this on the day. Only you know the answer and you need to make it a good one. Just because you need a job isn’t a good enough reason for someone to hire you. Ask yourself what you actually know about the company. Are you interested in a long-term career or is this simply a stopgap for you? They might ask you where you see yourself in 6 months’ or 5 years’ time – how will you answer this. Easy if you see yourself long-term with the company, but not so easy to answer if you don’t.
To add to our recent article, “Got an Interview, What to Wear, What to Wear” make sure that you dress professionally. Casual is not good and gives the wrong impression. Of course, this will entirely depend on what type of job you are applying for, but for a professional career position, get it right and buy that killer suit.
You’ve been invited for interview because they believe you can do the job. It’s just down to you on the day to show that you can do it better than anyone else they might be interviewing. Even if you don’t tick all the boxes for the job criteria, I’ll bet you have something just as good or even better to offer. The interview panel don’t know this yet, so you have to tell them. Don’t be negative about a past (or present) employer, working conditions etc., as this will give a really bad impression. Try to show that you are flexible and willing to take on responsibility.
Whatever happens don’t be late! Arrive 10 minutes before – and if you're too early then take a walk around the block. Just don’t leave it until 5 minutes before the interview is due to start, because the interview room might be some distance away from the reception area you have reported to. You don’t want to hurried up 3 flights of stairs and arrive out of breath and stressed.
Sometimes, you might be required to take your references with you, so make sure you have these ready and in good condition in a folder. Don’t expect an interviewer to be impressed if you hand over evidence of your capabilities with coffee mug rings as your personal logo.
I’m not going to say try to relax the evening before because you won’t. If you really want the job you'll be pretty nervous. That’s natural – and that’s the best advice anyone can give, to just be natural and be yourself. That’s the person they’re looking for. Good Luck!
Let us know if you have any horror stories about interviews going badly or what you did when it went well. We'd love to hear…