Scoring a job: Interview preparation

The Independent's student guide to snagging that first job

Have you made your an awesome CV yet? Simple, but so many people have mistakes in their CVs or don't spend as much time as they should on them. Have a look at our handy guide to creating a killer CV and cover letter. This should tell you everything you need to know about writing a readable, useful and appealing CV.

Once you’ve bagged yourself an interview, you need to get your thinking cap on and start preparing.

Get to know the company inside out

You need to get into the vibe, or at the very least, get good at pretending to be really interested in what the company does. Remember that you’re competing with other people who might have more experience than you. Get a feel for what the company does, and how it achieves that. What do they do that makes them unique? Ask yourself honestly: why are you applying for a job with them and not another company? What do they do that you really like? What could they improve on? Identify their competitors. Is there anything their competitors do well that they could try and replicate? This sort of information is really useful for you to have in mind; employers like graduates who are innovative and come up with solutions. You might also want to look at the industry more broadly - is there legislation about to be pushed through that will drastically affect that sector?

Read and re-read the job specification

Simple stuff, but there’s no point going to an interview off the cuff and having no idea of the kinds of things they might ask you. If you read the job/person specification, it should mention the kind of skills or attributes they want their new employee to have. Use that to figure out what kind of questions they might ask, and think of ways to answer it. For example, if they say that you need to be a team player, you should think of a scenario where you’ve played a key part in a team, and how you helped to make that project or team a success. Which leads onto the next point nicely…

Write out real life examples you can use

You need to have a notepad with a go-to list of examples of scenarios where you have proved that you have a certain skill or ability. It can be from work, from university, or even in an informal context. Think of scenarios where you’ve proved you have the following: communication skills; leadership skills; initiative; problem-solving skills; organisational skills; commitment. Some of these skills and examples might already be highlighted in your CV, but it doesn't matter if you say it again. It’s also a good idea to try and think of examples where things have gone wrong – don’t be too eager to share them at your interview, but if you don’t have a ‘bad’ story where something didn't go quite to plan, some employers might be suspicious - they know that nobody is perfect, and it's best to own your mistakes.

Go through it with someone

Do a mock interview with someone else! Two heads are always better than one – if you have someone around who has a spare half an hour, explain to them the job you’re going for, and give them potential questions to ask you. They might be able to come up with some good questions for you as well. Doing a mock interview helps because rather than having it written down, you get the opportunity to talk it over with someone, and see how confident you are at reeling off your experiences quite easily.

Always ask questions

At the end you’ll get a chance to ask questions. Never let it go by! Asking questions may seem irritating but actually it shows you’re interested in the job, and that you’re engaging in a conversation rather than being interrogated. Before your interview, start writing down really simple ones like “Is there a uniform?” “What kind of hours am I expected to work?” “Who do I answer to?” – then think of other things that you want to know about your potential job. The interviewer might answer these for you in the course of the interview, but make sure that you at least get out a notepad and ‘check’ to see if you have any questions that are unanswered. If not, explain to them that you had questions but that they’ve answered them. They’ll be pleased that you were keen enough to really think about the job. If you're feeling confident, you could also ask the interviewer about them and their career; how did they get to that position? What's the company like?

What happens if you don't get the job?

Sometimes, even if you have a storming interview, you won't get the first or even the second or third job you interview for. This isn't necessarily a reflection of your ability to do a job; sometimes employers will cut their list down to two or three candidates, and they cannot choose, so pick an arbitrary reason to employ one person. The person that gets the job over you may live closer, which means they're less likely to be late. They may know someone who works at the company already, so they will fit in more easily. Don't let rejection dishearten or discourage you because it's not necessarily that you are not good enough. Times are tough, and you need to be resilient and determined in order to get a job as a young graduate.

Popular questions and ideas to think about

  • How did you get here/how do you plan on coming in to work? (If you live far away)
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Give me a scenario where you’ve worked in a successful team
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve worked under pressure
  • Talk me through a time when something went wrong and the steps you took to correct it
  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
  • What made you apply for this job?
  • Where else have you applied for a job?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Describe yourself in 5 words
  • What do you like doing outside of work?
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