After applying for, what can feel like, hundreds of graduate jobs, you’ve finally secured yourself an interview. Now all you need to do is impress the interviewer enough to secure the role. An interview is about more than just your skills, it's about who you are a person and how you come across, to see if you’re going to be a good match for the role and company. Every organisation works differently and has a different set of values, so how a person works, and their personality can be an important part of the selection process.
How to prepare for a graduate interview
You will need to prepare for every stage of the recruitment processes. Some graduate roles have several layers of selection while others only have one or two.
Preparing for a telephone interview
Telephone interviews are used to screen candidates early in the recruitment selection stage and to filter out those that are not serious about the job. While telephone interviews can be informal, it is still an interview, so you need to be prepared:
- Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted
- Ensure you have your CV to hand
- Research the company beforehand
- Prepare questions to ask them as you would for a face-to-face interview
- Smile while talking on the phone this can make you sound relaxed, confident and assertive
- If possible, use headphones or put your phone on speaker so your hands are free to take any notes
- Phone interviews tend to be short, so, make sure you keep your answers as concise as possible. If you feel like you could talk more around a certain question, ask if they'd like you to go into more detail
Preparing for a face-to-face interview
For some graduate jobs, a face-to-face interview is the only or final part of the recruitment phase for others you may have to have two or three face-to-face interviews before you find out if you've succeeded or not. No matter where you are in the recruitment phase the following tips will help:
- Research the employer: even if this is your third interview with the organisation, make sure you have researched the company thoroughly. Keeping yourself familiar with the employer will help you anticipate interview questions and remind you why you applied in the first place
- Go over your application and you CV: read through your initial application and expand on any examples you have given and consider some alternatives, which might be more appropriate now you know more about the role
- Ask questions about the organisation and about the role itself: this will show that you have a keen interest in the job
- Think about what you can bring to the table: employers looking for graduates want to know what skills you can bring to the table, so think through your work experience, interests, time in education and any volunteering work and think what skills you've used and how they can be relevant in the role you are applying for
Preparing for a panel-based interview
Panel-based interviews can be scary but, in some ways, it can be less pressured than a one-to-one interview. If a solitary interviewer does not take a shine to you, you're unlikely to get the job, but in a panel, consensus can overrule.
Here are some top tips for preparing for a panel-based interview:
If you know that you are going to face a panel, try and find out who they are and do your research. If you are not told beforehand, listen carefully when they introduce themselves and answer questions accordingly.
Always direct your answer to the person who asked the question
Don’t be thrown if someone is making notes, they will need to keep a record of what is said
How to behave in an interview
A big part of the interview process is how you come across and your behaviour. You can prepare all you want and have all the skills needed, but if you do not conduct yourself well, it's unlikely you will be offered a job. Here are some top tips on how to behave in an interview
Dress appropriately – depending on the role and the industry, you may not have to wear a suit, but you need to be dressed smartly. If you do need to wear a suit make sure its clean, pressed and your shoes are polished.
Don’t be late and if you are for reasons outside of your control make sure you call in advance and explain why you will be late
Give a firm handshake before and after the session
Try not to forget the names of the interviewers
Be clear and concise in your answers – try not to ramble
Show enthusiasm and allow your personality to shine
Common questions asked in graduate interviews
There are of course a huge array of questions that can be asked and many questions will be tailored to the industry and job, but there are a set of stock questions that tend to be trotted out at most interviews. Here are some example of questions and how you should answer them
Tell me about yourself
This question is not as easy as it sounds, after all, what does the interviewer want to know and what should you tell? Remember why you're there and keep your answer relevant to the role you're interviewing for – and maybe if it feels right insert some interesting fact about yourself that shows off your personality.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Employers ask this question, so they know you’re a well-rounded individual. No one wants to hire a workaholic that has nothing else going on in their lives except work nor does an employer want to hire someone who is going to be coming in hungover most days. When answering this question, however, choose your hobbies and interests that will promote your skills. For example, if you take part in a team sport it will show that you are already a proven team player, or if you have ran a marathon it could suggest that you’re not afraid of a challenge. Also, if you like to use your spare time to draw, knit or paint then you are showing the employer that you have the capacity to be creative.
Why do you want to work for us?
This is a question that requires some thought. The interviewer will want to know what your motivations are behind applying for the role. Try to avoid saying things like ‘because I live close by', ‘I want a graduate job' or ‘the salary appealed to me'. Tailor your answer to the employer and figure out beforehand why you do want to work there and what attracted you to the job in the first place. Check out their values and goals and see if yours align with the organisation.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
A question many graduates dread. It can be hard to talk about one’s strengths and weaknesses, but this question is really about your self-awareness. In the UK we can, sometimes, be a little shy about talking about our strengths, but an interview is not a time for modesty. Choose a strength that plays well to the role and back it up with an example of how you’ve used that strength successfully
When it comes to talking about your weaknesses, and everyone does have a weakness, choose one which you are working to improve rather than one that is fundamental to the role.
What do you like or dislike about your course?
The best way to answer this question is to go through what relevant aspects of the course you enjoyed. When it comes to the parts you didn’t enjoy, spin it in a positive way and say something that is relevant to the job. For example, if you struggled with part of the course you can say you overcame that particular issue. It is not advisable to state that the thing you disliked the most about your course was getting up early for 9 am lectures.
What has been your biggest achievement?
This question requires careful consideration and it does not have to relate to your time in education – it can be a work-related achievement (even if it's not in the same industry) or it can be part of your extracurricular activities. Choose an achievement that you are genuinely proud of, so your enthusiasm shows.
What are your salary expectations?
This is one of the trickiest questions to answer – especially for graduates making their first leap into the industry. Employers ask this question to see if you know how much your worth and confidence level. To prepare for this question research the average salary of the position in the sector – but remember location can play an important part in salaries. For example, graduate jobs in London and the South East tend to have higher salaries to reflect the higher cost of living.
If asked, you should be ready to pick a figure that is towards the top end of what you are hoping for but to state that you are flexible or that you are focussed on finding the right role and don’t have a set salary in mind. If you mention a salary that is at the lower end of your desired range then it is hard to ask for more if an offer is subsequently made.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This question is getting harder and harder to answer, as the job market is changing fast. While with interview questions its best to be specific, with this question its best to be a little vague. What the employer is looking for with this question is commitment, they want to have an idea of your long-term plans and how this role and organisation fit into it. Ambition is also another thing they are looking for, they want to know if you have the desire and drive to progress. If you are applying for a graduate scheme, employers are looking for bright, driven and high achieving graduates who will contribute positively to their organisation.
However, you will need to avoid being too unrealistic and over-ambitious, while at the same time not under-selling yourself and saying that you don’t know.
Why should we hire you?
Employers tend to ask this question, so they know that you have done some research into the role and have a thorough understanding of the organisation and what the job entails. To answers this question well, you need to reassure them why you are right for the job, pick 2-3 relevant skills that you have and state how they can be applied to the position, also don’t forget to back them up with relevant examples of how you’ve used these skills in the past.
Do you have any questions for us?
Always ensure that you have at least one or two questions to ask, as this is a great opportunity to show that you are interested in the role. However, think carefully about the questions that you ask. You need to come across that you have researched the company and the role, and you don’t want to ask a question that already may have been answered during the interview process. So, avoid going in without having any questions prepared and listen carefully when the interview is speaking about the role.
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