Got a job or apprenticeship interview coming up? No problem - follow this guide and you’ll be wowing your new employer in no time...
Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Let’s face it, nobody gets that excited at the prospect of prepping for an interview, but you should do it anyway. For two reasons:
- It’ll give you something to say – a long, awkward silence and lots of thumb twiddling isn’t the best response to an interview question. If you prep some answers beforehand, it’s a lot less likely to happen.
- You’ll feel better on the day – just like walking into an exam hall, walking into an interview room isn’t half as scary when you know you’re prepped and ready to kick butt.
So, how do you prepare?
1. Research the employer
The job or apprenticeship description will hopefully give you a bit of info on the company, but it’s definitely worth digging a little deeper. The obvious one is to head over to their website, but also take a look at their social media pages, blogs or any news stories they’ve been featured in. Try to find out what makes this company stand out from the rest, what they care about, the projects they’re working on and what it is about them that attracts you.
2. Find out what they’re looking for
A lot of interviewers use a technique called ‘competency-based questions’, which basically means they want you to prove you have the right skills for the job. Start by using the job description to create a list of 5 key skills required for the role. If you’re lucky, these will be listed explicitly (e.g. good problem-solving skills); if not, you may need to read between the lines. If there’s really nothing to go on, head over to Unifrog’s Careers Library tool, search for the role that most closely matches the one you’re going for and note down the ‘Skills required’.
3. Prove you’re the perfect match
Now for the tricky bit – prepare to evidence those skills with examples of your experience to date. Think outside the box and draw on a wide range of experiences - anything from helping out with a school assembly to work experience placements. Look through your CV for inspiration (the employer will likely base a few of their questions on your CV anyway). Also, if you’ve been diligently filling in your Unifrog Competencies and Activities sections, awesome – this is when all that hard work will really pay off.
Here’s an example to get you going:
Interviewer: If you join Hogwarts as a Potions Master, you’ll often find yourself in a situation where a student’s experiment goes badly wrong and you must think on your feet. Is acting quickly under pressure something you’re good at?
Applicant: Yes – I’m the goal keeper for my local football team. A lot of time during games is spent waiting, but when the opposition’s ball does come my way it can be completely out of the blue, so I’ve developed really quick reflexes. I think this will help me to keep a cool head and react without hesitation if there were a sudden explosion.
In addition to competency-based questions, you might be asked something that has nothing to do with the job you’re applying for and it’s easy to think that the interviewer is trying to catch you out. Honestly, they're not - often, they’re using some odd questions to ask something else, just in a less direct way. Here are a few examples of odd interview questions with explanations of what they might really be getting at:
- Question – What’s your biggest weakness?
- Meaning – Are you able to identify areas you can improve in, and admit to them?
- Reason – Everyone can always improve on something. Employers want to see that you’re aware of areas you may not perform as well in and willing to work on them to improve your performance.
- Useful tip – Don’t be cocky, and don’t try to think of something which sounds impressive (‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’ is a typical example of this). No-one is perfect and there’s no harm in being honest.
- Question – Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
- Meaning – Do you have a plan? Are you going to stay with the company or is this a stop-gap? Are you ambitious?
- Reason – Employers are usually interested in developing their staff, but they can’t help you progress if they don’t know what you want to do! They also want to see how your ambition lines up with their company.
- Useful tip– You don’t need to have a full five-year plan for this; you just need to show that you have an idea of how you could grow with the company.
- Question – If you were a piece of stationary, what would you be and why? What kind of dog would you be? What’s the best gift you’ve ever been given?
- Reason – This kind of random question is becoming more common and they’re used for loads of reasons. Firstly, employers want to see how you react when you’re put in a situation you can’t possibly have prepared for. Do you panic or take it in your stride? Secondly, they sometimes just want to lighten the mood a little. Interviews are stressful and employers know that. Throwing this kind of question in can help to break the ice. Most importantly, employers want to see your personality, and your answer to this kind of question can give them an insight into how you’ll fit into their team.
- Useful tip– Don’t overthink it - there’s no ‘right’ answer to this. Answer with your instincts and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Finally, here are a few general questions that often crop up:
- Why do you want to work here?
- What do you know about our company?
- What do you think your main responsibilities will be?
- What do you think the most challenging aspect of the role will be?
- What do you think makes you stand out from other applicants?
4. Final steps
Once you’ve prepped your answers, it might be worth arranging a mock interview with the careers service at school/college if possible, or with a friend/relative if not. This will help you get used to answering unexpected questions and keeping your cool.
Plan your route to and from the interview, allowing yourself plenty of time in case of traffic jams. Public transport can be unreliable at times, so consider getting a lift off a family member or friend if possible.
On the day…
- Dress smartly – you probably won’t need to go out and buy a full suit but aim to dress as smartly as possible whilst remaining comfortable.
- Take a copy of your CV and a copy of your preparation notes in case you’re asked to wait a while.
- Set off half an hour earlier than you need to, just in case.
- At the interview, keep an eye on your body language – smile and shake the interviewer’s hand when you meet them, avoid slouching in your seat and maintain eye contact where appropriate.
- Don’t rush your answers – take the time to think them through before you answer.
- Don’t forget to ask your own questions – aside from getting you the answers, it’ll show the employer that you’re genuinely interested in the role. Try to prepare a few beforehand and take them with you - you may want to find out about holiday pay, training opportunities or career progression. If this is an apprenticeship interview, you may wish to ask the employer how many apprentices have successfully completed the programme or what opportunities there will be with the employer at the end of the apprenticeship.