After hours of repetitive application torture, you may now unlock an opportunity for a face-to-face interview! This would be either contained within an assessment centre or by itself at the end of the process (or both). You will have beaten off most of the competition and all that stands in the way of an offer is a short interrogation from the employer.
It is commonly said that the interview is won or lost in the first few minutes, that the interviewer is going to try and trip you up with unrelated questions or other strange rumours and stories about interviews. Prevent yourself from going insane and don't dwell on most things you hear about them, just focus on some simple interview advice instead:
Leading Up to the Interview
To perform best in the interview, the most important thing is to prepare properly. Your interviewer will be expecting you to know absolutely everything there is to know about the company and the role so plenty of research is required. This means begin on the company website and find out as much as you can. Researching news items about the potential employer isn't always easy so you can set up a Google Alert for them. This will email you with all mentions of the company in recent news, already collated so that you don't have to yourself.
As well as knowing all there is to know about the company, you should also brush up on technical knowledge required for the role. Even though you would likely get training on this in the role, you need to convince them that you know it all already. This sort of knowledge will vary drastically by industry so you'll need to find this out for yourself.
One thing that is a certainty is that as long as the interview is not of a specific nature, e.g. a case study interview, then you will be faced with classic competency questions. These are the questions like "Tell us about a time you worked in a team to achieve an objective" for example. See if there are any areas in your CV which may be lacking and anticipate what hard versions of these questions you could be asked. There are some questions that are commonly answered very badly. Just a couple of examples of these are:
1. Tell me a little about yourself
2. What is you biggest weakness?
3. Do you have any questions for me?
1. Tell me a little about yourself
This should not just be an introduction to your name and what degree you are doing. The interviewer is inviting you to sell yourself. Some people may call this an "elevator pitch". If you had 20 seconds to convince someone to hire you what would you say? A good way to do this is to lead with where you want be in the future and use your background to support this afterwards. This way you can shape your interest in the firm and the industry with an interesting narrative early on.
2. What is your biggest weakness?
Most candidates will attempt to spin a strength into a weakness. Some classic bad examples of responses are "Too much of a perfectionist", "Work too hard", etc. You will be interviewing for an internship or a graduate scheme so of course you are not going to be perfect, and the interviewer wants to see that you can identify areas for improvement in yourself. With that being said, don't actually use a proper weakness. Saying you can't work in teams will definitely not get you the job. Identify a skill which you have taken steps to improve and explain all of this to the interviewer. Describing the method will demonstrate initiative on your part.
3. Do you have any questions for me?
This will always come at the end of the interview. You will be given the chance to ask the interviewer any question you like. Not asking anything is in fact a wrong answer here. If you do not ask a question, someone else will and seem far more passionate about the role than you. Also refrain from asking a question like "So, could you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role?". Some people recommend this question, but all it does is expose that you don't quite know everything there is to know about the role which the interviewer will want you to know already. A better idea is to ask the interviewer about a piece of work or a project that they have enjoyed doing recently. Not only will this be a good insight into the role but also this is clearly demonstrating an interest on your part.
The Night Before
You will want to be on top form for the interview so use the night before to cut out as much stress as possible. Plan your route to the venue. If you happen to already be near the interview location then give the route a test run as well. Also have a backup plan, as if you're late the interviewer will not care what was to blame, even if the entirety of the London Underground stops working.
Choose your outfit ahead of time. This should be easy for most people but will not be for everyone. Make sure that you dress professionally. Almost certainly a suit is a safe option. However, more and more companies nowadays are electing for casual dress codes. If this applies to the place you are interviewing at then it is probably worth going a notch or two smarter than the company policy just to be on the safe side.
When You Arrive
Refer to the equivalent section in the assessment centre guide. All the same tips apply here.
Most interview questions will take the form of "competency questions", which want you to elaborate on examples of where you have demonstrated key skills for the role. Examples of these are:
1. Tell me about a time you worked in a team
2. Tell me about a time where you showed initiative
and so on.
Have a Google for common questions like this because there are too many possible ones for me to list here. A good tip is to also go onto a website called Glassdoor. Here people who have previously done interviews sometimes post questions they have had to answer at interview in the past. Some recruiters are lazy and reuse questions over several years so by looking this up beforehand you can prepare yourself for some difficult questions.
Answer competency questions using what is called the STAR technique. It merely means for each question talk about:
The Situation you were in
The Task that was to be done
The Actions you took to achieve the desired result
The Result of your actions
The Situation and Task stages are important for building a narrative and making sure your answer flows. However spend the most time on Actions and Results. For actions talk about specific things you did or decisions you made that showcase skills like teamwork, communication, leadership. Then you can follow up with the result such as how much faster you made a process or what difference your project made to the community. The key here is to ensure you talk through the process of what you did rather than just say you did this good thing, as that may have already been covered on your CV.
An additional type of question which gets asked a lot is what is called a "market-sizing" question. This will ask you something like how many fridges are there in India, how many glasses of wine are drunk in London every Friday, how many streetlamps there are in the UK, etc. Being prepared for these can make all the difference and I would recommend the following resource for this: https://www.gradinterviewprep.com/market-sizing
Obviously, there are many, many more types of interview question that can be asked. Spend some time, before you start applying for jobs, researching common questions and thinking about things you have done in your life that you can talk about in response. Even without all the tips above, be enthusiastic, cheerful, interesting, and be yourself (to an extent). Having the right attitude can go a long way.
For any questions about anything in this series email firstname.lastname@example.org
Whoever our Careers Officer is at the time will be more than happy to answer your questions and help you along your journey to application success.