This is usually the time of year when current students start seeking placements and soon-to-be graduates think about graduate employment. Whether looking for part -or full time job opportunities, prospective employees must face a cycle of job applications and interviews. In this article, we discuss how to prepare and perform well at interviews. We hope this will be useful for students as well as early career professionals who still struggle at interviews or would like some tips for their first interview.
Prepare – Firstly, if you have been invited to an interview, congratulations! At this stage, there are a number of things to consider. Ensure you confirm the venue, date and time of the interview. This might sound funny but you’ll be amazed how many people call up organisations on the day of the interview to ask for where the company or interview venue is. To an employer, this suggests you are poorly prepared, not very organised and unreliable. Read the invitation letter several times and be familiar with its contents. Will you be interviewed individually or as a group? Will you have to give a presentation or participate in psychometric tests? Have you responded to confirm your attendance? Remember that every contact you have with this company counts towards your interview.
Know your USP – We have talked about the unique selling point (USP) in a previous article. Before turning up at your interview, it would be important to be able to articulate what makes you unique. Have you identified all your skills? While the ability to open beer cans without using your hand might be a fun YouTube trick, it is probably not relevant during your interview. What is it about your skills and personal attributes that is valuable to this employer? Interviews are about knowing the ‘person’ behind the application. They like you ‘on paper’ but want to see a side of you which your CV might not demonstrate.
Try and anticipate what questions will be asked during the interview. It may sound like common knowledge but reflect on your answer to ‘Why do you want to work for us/in this role?’ Ask a friend to do a mock interview and practice the answers to the list of questions you anticipate being asked. I (Amara) particularly recommend this as I have found this to be a useful way to prepare for interviews. ‘Practice makes perfect’ as well as helping improve your confidence. You are less likely to be nervous if you are asked a question you have a ready answer to.
Poor preparation usually equates poor performance.
The next phase of your preparation is to do your research about the organisation or employer. Go back over the job advertisement and study the person specification. Focus on the attributes and skill set that will be determined during the interview. You must show sound knowledge of the organisation you want to work for. This is a very crucial part of the interview process. We would advise preparing a ‘dossier’ of your potential employer; their strengths, the scope of their work; what you consider to be their main challenges (present and future) and importantly, how you fit into their organisation.
Perform – Once you are ready for your interview, there are some simple general things to be aware of. Simple things like planning ahead so you are there on time. It is advisable to be there at least 15 minutes before. Your interview starts once you present yourself at reception. Be professional in your presentation – smile, it doesn’t hurt to say hello to the other candidates too!
Dress appropriately in formal attire. We have spoken to people who have been interviewed for research jobs and some suggest you do not need to be formal as some of the interviewers do not care about the formal nature of the process. We do advise however to be formal…play it safe “Better safe than sorry” right?
Connect with the interview panel – Panels are now more common than one to one interviews. Having two or more people on the other side of the table may be nerve-wracking but remember your interviewers are people too. They already like you so try not to worry too much. If you do know who will be on the interview panel, it wouldn’t hurt to do some research there as well. This is important if you’re applying for a summer placement or an internship. What was the last paper published by the Professor whose lab you want to work for six weeks this summer? Don’t know? You’re not fully prepared then. Be engaging and show you have a sense of humour but no crass jokes. Sit up in your chair, maintain eye contact with all interviewers and project confidence.
Show enthusiasm – This is so important! I (Emmanuel) remember two recent interviews which ended with none of the interviewees getting the job. On one occasion, the interviewer stated the reason he did not recruit anyone among the interviewees was because they did not show enthusiasm. Be hungry and show it. Ask yourself this question, can you remember any interview you have attended where you have not shown much enthusiasm? Also, would you employ yourself if you are an employer and are looking for the best candidate? If yes, well done! If no then why not?
You have probably heard this before but after fielding questions from your interviewers, it is important that you have a good question to ask your interviewers at the end. Please avoid the “How much am I getting paid?” question but be prepared for ‘How much do you want?’ Questions such as where you might fit within the company, what type of training will be offered and the career progression pathways for someone in your role are useful questions.
Finally, we know interviews can often be tough and daunting but it is possible in some cases to feel very relaxed and comfortable. A word of warning though, when you feel too relaxed, you may get a false sense of security and behave like you are among friends. Please avoid this. Throughout your interview, maintain a positive and professional attitude.
We hope you have a stress-less interview. Please feel free to share your tips on how you prepare and perform at interviews. We would really love your feedback so if you find this article useful, please let us know. Leave a comment or email us – firstname.lastname@example.org.