Congratulations! You have got through to the next stage and at the final hurdle for getting your graduate job. You will have been invited to the interview because the company will have liked your CV and covering letter and will be interested to find out more about you.
Everyone should be a little bit nervous (it gives us an 'edge'!) so don't worry when you feel it. Interviews can be a daunting prospect particularly if you haven't had much experience or are a little out of practice, but by preparing for the interview by doing some background research on the company and looking at frequently asked interview questions you will feel more confident and thus perform better. Taking a look at Gradplus company profiles and case studies is a good place to start.
The Interview Itself
Make sure you look your smartest at the interview. It is advisable to have a dark suit. Ensure that you look professional - an interview isn't a fashion show so dress appropriately. A company is more likely to hire someone who is well presented and who will therefore best represent their company. Give a firm handshake, make good eye contact without staring, and smile.
Try to arrive 15 minutes before the interview. Plan your journey and familiarise yourself with the route. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview to avoid getting flustered if you find yourself running late. If you are unavoidably delayed, notify the company immediately giving the reason and your estimated time of arrival.
Be ready to answer questions if there are 'gaps' in your CV; typically time where you were not working. Answer such questions positively, there are usually good reasons for the gaps so don't be afraid of them - answer them honestly and confidently. Make notes of what you want to say and why you want the graduate job and have a copy of your CV with you so you know what you have said about yourself! Below are some frequently asked interview questions. Prepare answers to these referring to your CV and using positive language.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: This is a common question so you can prepare a standard answer but try not to make it sound too rehearsed. Give details of your degree, relevant work experience and your range of skills. Don't talk for longer than 5minutes. Try to tailor this script to the position applied for.
Q: What have been your achievements to date?
A: Be careful here. The last thing that a graduate employer wants to hear is "my degree". Guess what? Everyone applying for the graduate job has a degree so make sure you have an example that makes you stand out from the other candidates. Choose an achievement that relates to the skills required for the job. For example, you might have organized a large fund raising event where you demonstrated commitment, organisation and took on extra responsibility. These would be great attributes if you are applying for a graduate management scheme.
Q: Tell me where you have faced a difficult situation and how you overcame it?
A: The interviewer wants to know what you consider to be 'difficult', where you have been under pressure, how you have coped, and whether you can take a logical approach to solve the problem. Again; beware. Try not to describe a problem that was your fault. Describe how you identified the problem, how you approached the issue and how you resolved the situation. Always end on a positive stating what you learned from this situation.
Q: What are your strengths?
A: You will always be asked this question so prepare and back up your statements with examples. Prepare 5 key strengths such as confidence, motivation, tenacity, positive attitude, etc and explain why these attributes would be beneficial for the graduate job you have applied for.
Q: What are your greatest weaknesses?
A: Do not say "well I'm a bit of a perfectionist" because the interviewer will have heard that a million time before and will not believe you. As a graduate, chances are you will lack experience (not ability) in one area but you are a quick learner and with appropriate training this would not be a problem. You can also use a personal weakness but try to describe how the interviewer could also consider it a strength for example; "I am an impatient person - you don't like to work with inefficiency and are not afraid to confront people about it.
Other questions to bear in mind are listed below. Always back up answers with examples and where possible quantifiable facts.
- How do you respond to working under pressure?
- How have you coped when your work has been criticized?
- How have you coped when you have had to face a conflict of interest at work?
- What are you looking for in a company?
- Are you a self-starter?
- How do you feel about working long hours and/or weekends?
- What example can you give me of when you have been out of your depth?
- What can you bring to this organisation?
- What area of your skills would you like to improve?
- Which part of this role is least attractive to you?
- Where would you like to be in five years?
- How would your colleagues describe you?
- What five adjectives would you use that best describe you?
Your turn to interview the Interviewer!
The interview is not only a chance for you to sell yourself to the graduate employer but also for you to find out as much as possible about the company and the graduate job you are interested in. The company has to sell themselves to you too! You will always be asked if you have any questions so ask away. By asking intelligent questions you will look interested and switched on. Be careful not to ask for information that has already been given unless you require clarity on a certain point. Try not to focus too much on money at this stage as this can be negotiated after you have been offered the job.
Consider some of the following:
- What will be my day to day activities?
- What training will I receive?
- How will I be appraised?
- How does the role fit into the structure of the department?
- How does the department fit into the organisation as a whole?
- Who will I report to and are there persons reporting to me?
- Does the company have plans for expansion?
- Where is the specific location of the position?
- Will the position entail travelling?
The end of the interview
Ensure that you 'close' by asking whether the interviewer has any reservations. By doing this you can clarify any points you made that might have been misunderstood during the interview. Finally ask the interviewer "what happens next?" And if you have liked what you have heard; tell them. Ensure the interviewer knows you are interested.
Whatever you do…..
- Don't be late for the interview.
- Don't show too much concern about rapid advancement.
- Don't over-emphasise money.
- Don't show any reservations you may have about the role/company. You can always turn down second interviews and job offers after you have had time to appraise your concerns in the cold light of day.
- Don't demonstrate low moral standards.
- Don't leave your mobile phone on during the interview.
- Don't say negative things about previous employers.
- Don't show lack of career planning - no goals or purpose could convey the impression you're merely shopping around or only want the graduate job for a short time.
For more advice, please read the article what not to wear