27th January 2019
This guide is taken from the Know How Library, a tool on the Unifrog platform. Not sure whether to take the ACT or the SAT? Or how to give the perfect Oxbridge practice interview? The Know How Library is an easily searchable library of 100s of expert guides for both students and teachers, covering every aspect of the progression process. It is included as standard for Unifrog partner schools.
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. 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.
Alongside competency-based questions, here are a few 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?
- What would you say are your biggest strengths / weaknesses?
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.