Interviews can be daunting, especially when they can make or break a life-changing opportunity. Here are some tips to help students excel.
Stage 1 - preparation
Like many things in life, success at interview depends on preparation. Here are the four things to think about:
- The application materials
Re-read your application materials thoroughly and prepare answers to questions you imagine could arise from what you have said. The interviewer is likely to base much of their questioning around your Personal Statement, CV, Covering Letter or portfolio, so it is crucial that you are familiar with its contents.
If a student has claimed ‘I found Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct a fascinating’ in their Personal Statement they can expect to be asked what in particular they found fascinating (and they should prepare some specific examples before the interview.)
- The organisation
The interviewer will be looking for candidates who will fit into the organisation and its vision.
Ask yourself what you can offer to the organisation to which you are applying. How do your experiences and skills make you especially suited to this role?
Familiarise yourself with the company or university website. Here you will find the key aims and values of the organisation so you will be equipped to answer questions on how you will fit into this institution.
Instead of: I would work well in the tech industry because I’ve had a lot of experience
Try: I have a lot to offer the team at Docusign because I’ve worked on several projects producing e-signature software, so I’m familiar with the type of challenges I’ll face in this role
- The opportunity
Why did you apply for this opportunity? This question is almost guaranteed to be asked so students should be prepared to answer it in a way that shows they are genuinely interested in the opportunity on offer.
Interviewees should first focus on why the subject or field appeals to them, and then move on to discuss what they like about this opportunity in particular.
For instance, if you have applied to read Psychology, you could say:
“I have always loved the idea of studying ourselves and the invisible processes that make us function as humans. Psychology therefore seemed the obvious choice to me. The emphasis on research and laboratory work in this course particularly appealed to me because…”
Interviewers will be keen to see that an applicant has developed the skills necessary to be successful at their organisation. You will need to provide concrete examples of times when you have demonstrated these skills in order to prove your suitability to the course.
Use Unifrog’s Competencies tool to record examples of times when you have shown different skills.
Instead of: “I have excellent leadership skills”
Try: “While I was captain of the hockey team, I developed excellent leadership skills, which will help me to take responsibilities and manage people in my future role.”
- Other elements
?Some other areas which you should be prepared to discuss at your interview are:
- Your school
- What you have enjoyed and what responsibilities you may have held.
- Current affairs
- What is going on in the UK and the World in general? If you are applying for Law, for example, and there is a landmark legal case before the Supreme Court, know what it’s about and have an opinion on it.
- Your interests
- Music, art, sport, drama, reading etc.
- Your ambitions
- Any career ideas, no matter how vague they may be: “This international conflict is of particular interest to me as ultimately I aim to pursue a career in diplomacy.”
Whatever you discuss at interview, be sure to always link back to how it will help at university or in the workplace. Don’t give irrelevant personal details but instead focus on how all your experiences and interests will make you a better lawyer/radiotherapist/engineer etc.
Instead of: “I am learning to play the piano in my spare time”
Try: “Learning to play the piano has taught me the importance of self-discipline which will be a useful skill at university where I’ll have to work independently”
Stage 2 - practice
- Interview questions
- Create a list of common interview questions* and answer each question out loud. The more you practice, the more you will be prepared to respond during the interview.
- You could write the questions down on flashcards. Then shuffle the flashcards so that you are comfortable answering questions in any order.
Have an idea of the key points you want to get across in each answer but DO NOT learn answers by heart. Interviewers are looking for applicants who are genuine and sincere rather than completely polished.
- Record yourself
- If you have a webcam or video camera, record your responses and play them back. Ask yourself ‘What could I improve?’. Maybe ask a family member to evaluate it too.
- How are your posture and eye contact? Are you fidgeting? Are your answers too long-winded? Do you sound confident? Alternatively, practice in front of the mirror.
- Ask for help from a friend, family member or teacher
- Give a list of questions to a friend or family member and have them interview you.
- Approach a teacher who has a special interest in your subject to request a practice interview. This will give you practice answering questions in a formal manner, in front of someone who is an authority on your subject.
- Always ask your practice interviewer for constructive feedback.
Stage 3 - on the day
- Be on time
- Aim to reach your destination early which means arriving at least 10 minutes before the interview is due to start. This creates a good impression and gives you the chance to calm your nerves before facing the questions.
- Dress smartly
- Smart but comfortable clothes are best, so a suit or smart jacket and trousers / skirt are usually appropriate.
- Body language
- First impressions matter, so enter the interview room confidently and smile. Be ready to shake hands firmly and make eye contact.
- Watch your body language throughout. Experts say that 60% of communication is through the body and only 40% through speech. Try to sit in a relaxed, but more or less upright posture.
- When answering the interviewer
- Look straight at the person who has posed the question.
- Pause to think before answering, rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind
- Speak simply and directly; don’t try to be sarcastic, flippant or funny.
- Try to avoid excessively brief ‘yes/no/I think so’ answers.
- Likewise don’t feel you need to ramble on; make your point clearly then stop. The interviewer will ask for further explanation if they need it.
- Don’t be afraid of silence; avoid filling pauses with ‘um, er or well’. These make you sound nervous, whereas being comfortable with silence is a great sign of confidence.
- Try not to use the word “like” (except if you really do mean you like something.)
- Don’t be put off if the interviewer suggests that you have contradicted something you said earlier: admit it and try to clarify what you do think.
- Listen carefully to what the interviewer says and never interrupt them mid-question
- Try to stay confident throughout the interview. Don’t ask the interviewer for confirmation that you are right and don’t give up mid-way because you think you’ve said something wrong.
- Any questions?
- The interviewer will usually give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have at the end. It’s a good idea to prepare one in advance to show you’re curious about the course. However, be careful not to ask about things that are on the university or company website.
Most of all, be enthusiastic and motivated about the opportunity for which you are applying.
Common interview questions*
- Why did you chose this subject?
- Why did you chose this university?
- Why did you chose your particular A- level / College subjects?
- What are you reading at the moment?
- What can you bring to the university?
- What work experience have you done? What did you learn from it?
- What do you see yourself doing after university?
- Tell me about yourself
- What are your strengths?
- What's your biggest weakness?
- What motivates you?
- What achievement are you most proud of?
- Discuss your personal statement
- Why are you applying for this job? Why do you want this job?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What do you like to do outside work?
- How would your friends or colleagues describe you?
- How do you deal with problems?
- What can you offer that no one else can?
- How would you go about learning to use new software or programs?
- Discuss your CV
- Strengths/ weaknesses
- Describe a situation when you were under pressure
- Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it
- Describe a situation where you had to show leadership