Interviews for first-timers – what to expect

Not everyone is well versed with the ins and outs of what happens in a job interview.  We are often able to secure part-time work by a quick and informal chat so even though our CV may appear to indicate experience at interview, this will not necessarily the case.  At the best of times, interviews can be a daunting and nerve wracking experience, so for those who have never had one before, what are the things you should know

What format will the interview take?

There are a variety of formats that an interview may take – panel, one-to-one, assessment centre, telephone interview – and the organisation in question should have informed you of which yours will be. If not, ask them.  Phoning the organisation to clarify this information will help you to prepare in the right way.  It shouldn’t be a guessing game, after all.

What questions will I be asked?

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful articles on the web, alluding to obscure interview questions that are designed to get you thinking on your feet.  You know the ones – if you were a biscuit, what type would you be? etc. The good news is these are very rare.  Interviewers achieve little by trying to panic or trick their candidates. Most interviews will follow a structured format and include a range of fairly predictable questions that can be easily prepared for.

How should I prepare?

An interview will usually encompass two main areas of questioning – those relating to the company and industry that you are applying to, and those aimed at finding out what skills you have to do the job well.  For the former, expect questions about the organisation or role. What do you know about them? Who are their main competitors or clients? What developments are occurring within the company or the industry at the moment?  This is the interviewers’ way of seeing you have done your research so get on the internet and see what you can find out.  Regarding the later, reread your CV or application form to remind yourself of the skills you have and how you have used them.  Think of achievements, times you have made a difference, ways you have added value in the past.

How do I demonstrate my skills?

How well you are able to demonstrate your skills will make a big difference to your chances of success. Most organisations produce a list of ‘competencies’ that they use when recruiting new candidates.  These are the transferable skills that they feel are essential for recruits to have (adaptability, customer focus, attention to detail etc) so they often help to form the basis of their recruitment process. Expect questions along the lines of “Tell me about a time when…..” with each one relating to the competencies they use. Research the STAR technique and identify examples that you can use in each case. Remember – your answers should be based around specific examples but they don’t need to be work-based.  Competencies can be proved through extra-curricular interests, hobbies and academic studies.

Where can I go for more help?

Apart from the company’s own website, which may include some quite detailed information on the interview process and what they are looking for, the Student Room (www.thestudentroom.co.uk) is a really handy resource to find out tips from others who may have been through the same interview themselves. Additionally be sure to book a mock interview with a qualified Careers Consultant at the Careers & Enterprise Centre. If you are not able to do this, practice with a family member or friend and ask them to give you feedback. Practice makes perfect!

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