Actions may speak louder than words but interviews are still an essential part of landing the job of your dreams. After all, why would you want to hire someone you'd never met before? By Sam Pope

First of all, congratulations are in order! If you've made it past the initial "weeding-out" phase of CVs and application forms, it means the employer seriously thinks you are a good prospect for the job. You will have met most or all of the initial requirements for the position, but now comes the hardest bit: convincing the employer that you are the best of the excellent few candidates that remain.

Interview nerves can be exacerbated by tales of woe from friends and family about their terrifying experiences. Certainly, there are bad interviews and bad interviewers out there, but the majority are on your side. After all, they want to fill the vacancy they are advertising so it's not really in their best interests to alienate you!

Granted, interviews are challenging: they need to be, so that both sides can be sure that the outcome is the desired one. However, they are a two-way street, not a terrifying interrogation. They are an opportunity for you to meet the people you might end up working with and judge for yourself if the working environment suits what you are looking for from a career.

Prepare yourself

The best way of maximising your chances of getting the job is to do as much legwork as possible beforehand. Find out as much as you can about the organisation and the sector it is in through the media, websites, brochures and prospectuses. Many employers also advise candidates to read a good quality broadsheet newspaper so they are aware of any relevant issues that are effecting the industry or area they are interested in.

Look the part

Like it or not, people do judge on appearances. Even if you're the most competent candidate in the world for the job, you won't be hired if you turn up in a wrinkled outfit with scuffed shoes and unbrushed hair (even in academia). Think of you and your skills as a whole package and market yourself accordingly.

It's best and safest to dress conservatively in interviews: a smart dark suit with good shoes never goes wrong, even in traditionally "wacky" areas such as the media. Ties are usually the norm for men, and women should go easy on the jewellery.

Body language

Even if you're not feeling very confident, there are various "tricks" that can make you appear so:

Before the interview itself, take a few deep breaths to calm any annoying nerves and tell yourself that you can do this.

When you first meet the interviewer(s), make sure you smile and use a firm handshake.

When you take your seat, sit up straight (but not rigidly) and try not to hunch your shoulders or let your legs splay apart: the former makes you look terrified; the latter is too relaxed.

Always maintain eye contact with the interviewer(s) but don't stare at them obsessively!

If your hands are shaking, fold them gently in your lap.

When answering a question in a panel situation, initially look at whoever asked the question but also allow your gaze to take in one or two others to show you are aware that they are in the room.

Difficult questions

The questions an interviewer asks will depend, to a certain extent, on the sort of interview. Here is a selection of standard questions that may well come up - and how best to answer them:

Why your degree?

Be prepared to talk intelligently about what attracted you to your degree subject, rather than stating, "Because it's interesting" or "I just couldn't think of anything else to do". Expand on your answer, for example, by referring to modules that you found particularly fascinating.

Why this job?

Employers are genuinely interested to know what it is about their job that fascinates you, particularly if it has nothing in common with your degree subject. It's not a trick question - many people go into careers that have nothing to do with their academic studies - but employers will obviously want to hear about your choice.

Tell me about your work experience...

Work experience can tell employers how you behave in a work-based setting. Don't disparage any jobs that you might consider "menial"; working behind a bar can demonstrate a head for figures and an ability to deal with potentially difficult or demanding customers and situations.

How does this work?

In technical interviews, you may be asked challenging questions to which you might not know the answers. The key here is not to go silent, look horrified and declare ignorance. It's fine to say that you have never encountered this particular problem or issue before, but then try to explain how you might set about finding an answer. This is often what the interviewer is after: the answer may be less important than the thinking process behind it.

TOP FIVE TIPS FOR INTERVIEW SUCCESS

Read your CV and/or application form before the interview to remind yourself what you've said.

Find out as much as you can about the company, the job and the skills required.

Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination: don't be late!

Dress smartly but conservatively.

Keep calm, smile and try to relax. Remember: the interviewers are not trying to catch you out!

INTERVIEW TYPES

Biographical interviews are based around the information given in your CV.

Competence-based (or situational) interviews follow a series of questions that the interviewer will ask each candidate. They will score your answers according to how well they meet the job's requirements.

Technical interviews, used mainly in technical or specialist positions, often focus on what you have learnt in your academic studies and how you could apply that knowledge to problems posed in the interview.

Panel interviews involve two or more people, often in different roles within the organisation.

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