5 quick interview tips

handshake-2056023_960_720So, you’ve been offered an interview – congratulations! But how do you start to prepare? Research from CV Library suggests that 87% of UK workers research the company before an interview, 43% practise common interview questions, and 43% also prepare a smart outfit.

We’ve pulled together 5 quick tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research – explore the company’s website and find out what they do, where they’re based and who their competitors are. You could take a look at their social media profiles or look at recent news articles to gain an understanding of what’s happening in the sector. See our recent blog from Careers Consultant Gill for further advice on how to research a company.
  2. Re-read the job description – it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the role you’ve applied to. After all, it could be a while since you filled out that application form. Make sure you understand what skills and experience the employer is looking for, as it’s likely you’ll be asked about this at your interview. Don’t forget to re-read your CV too!
  3. Book a mock interview – we run 30 minute face-to-face mock interviews where you can practise your interview technique and answer questions relevant to the role you’re applying to. These run throughout the week, so call us on 020 7882 8533 as soon as you have been offered an interview, and we can book you in. Please note that you do need to have an actual interview lined up in order to book one of these appointments.
  4. Practise common interview questions – try our online interview simulator (middle of top row) and browse a range of commonly asked questions, and read helpful do’s and don’ts. For each question, there’s also a short video from a recruiter outlining exactly how to ask the question.
  5. Make sure you’re prepared on the day – check your interview confirmation and remind yourself of exactly where you need to go (why not go take a look before the day?), who you need to speak to and allow plenty of time in case of transport issues.

For more information on interviews, see the Knowledge Bank on QMPlus – good luck!

Do you have any questions?

You’ve reached the end of the interview. You’ve navigated your way through difficult questions with answers that are well-structured, evidence-based and enthusiastic (well, hopefully!) But don’t relax just yet. Almost all interviews end with the seemingly simple ‘Do you have any questions for us?’

Inexperienced candidates may fall into the trap of interpreting this literally, and say something like ‘When will I find out if I’m successful?’ Don’t make this mistake! ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ is just as much an interview question as any other. The only difference is that your answer is a question.

One good thing about this question is, since you can almost guarantee it will come up, you can prepare your questions in advance. So it’s a great opportunity to put the knowledge you’ve gained about that company or organisation to good use. Questions such as ‘How do you think X challenge will affect your company over the coming years?’ are good, but it’s even better if you can insert yourself into the scenario – for example, ‘What challenges relating to X would I be expected to deal with in this position?’ By doing this, you’re creating a connection between yourself and the job you want to get in the interviewers’ minds.

There are many other ways of approaching this question, and some may become clear to you depending on the industry you’re applying to or the experience you already have (for example, ‘Would I be able to utilise my experience with X in this position?’). The most important thing is to show enthusiasm for the role, knowledge about the company or organisation, and preferably also that you’re already imagining yourself there and thinking about what you’ll be doing. These will all create a positive impression.

Of course it’s possible that the question(s) you’ve prepared will be answered over the course of the interview, in which case you’ll have to think on your feet to find another. The best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to prepare at least three in advance of the interview.

The interviewer will usually make it clear whether they want just one or more than one question, but if in doubt, stick to just one. If they want more than one, a combination of a broader question (e.g. ‘What are the main challenges…’) and a more specific one (e.g. ‘What would I be expected to do on my first day?’) can work well.

The questions you ask are unlikely to ruin a good interview, or save a bad one, but they can ensure that the interview ends on a high and leaves the panel with a good impression of you.

Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

Don’t forget you can find a range of interview resources on our Knowledge Bank, including a mock interview simulator. If you have an interview lined up, you can also book a 30 minute mock interview with a Careers Consultant by calling 020 7882 8533.

What is your biggest weakness?

Joe, Application Adviser

There are few interview questions which provoke the same mixture of fear and bewilderment as ‘What is your biggest weakness?’ The entire premise seems counter-intuitive. Aren’t you there to impress them? To show them your best qualities? Candidates who haven’t prepared for this question either panic, or assume that it’s some kind of trick. But, just like any other interview question, answering it is relatively straightforward if you know how.

There’s no single method to answering this question, and recruiters disagree as to the best approach. Some favour the classic ‘strength dressed up as a weakness’ method, while others see this as too transparent and not honest enough. As such, I’ll leave it up to you to decide what your weaknesses are (don’t choose more than two!), but remember that they should reflect on your professional aptitudes in some respect. The best strategy – in my opinion – is to be fairly honest, but ensure that these weaknesses are not too serious, and most importantly, that you’ve made an effort to rectify them.


The structure to this answer is quite formulaic, and the answer itself needn’t be as long as for competency-based questions. Start by saying what your weakness is, then outline a situation in which it manifested itself, then say what you’re doing to improve it. Let’s take the example of perfectionism (which many would argue is a strength dressed up as a weakness!) Your answer could run as follows:

While I pride myself on my excellent attention to detail, sometimes I can be a bit of a perfectionist. On a couple of occasions in my current/previous job I struggled to finish a task on time because I wanted to get things absolutely right. I spoke to my manager about this and she told me that, while it’s great to have such a conscientious team member, more often than not it’s better to get the task finished on time, even if it’s not perfect. Following this, I enrolled myself on a time-management course / started to use time-management software / bought myself a book on time management and put the techniques I learned into practice. Since then I’ve found I’m less stressed when working to a tight deadline and am better at getting tasks finished promptly without obsessing over the detail.

If your first example is quite short, you can supplement it with another. But that’s really all there is to it!

Don’t forget to visit the Knowledge Bank on QMPlus for our top interview resources.

Why have you applied for this job?

This can be a perplexing interview question, particularly if you are applying for jobs which are closely connected to your internship/work experience and degree area. If you’ve spent the last three years studying marketing, for example, as well seeking out marketing work experience, it might seem obvious that you’re interested in marketing. In addition, we all need to pay for food and somewhere to live, so the answer ‘well, I need money’ might be on the tip of your tongue.

To answer this question, it helps to know why the employer is asking it and what they’re looking for:

  • Genuine motivation: People who care about and are interested in what they do tend to go the extra mile – they often suggest new ideas and bring energy and enthusiasm to teams. Employers would rather hire people who have a real interest in their jobs. Remember that enthusiasm is conveyed not just by what you say but how you say it – show your interest through your body language and tone of voice.

For example: ‘I’m applying for this role because I learnt from my work experience placement that I relish the challenge of inventing innovative ways to reach new customers, and I find that I’m motivated by the buzz of meeting regular targets.’

  • Understanding of what the role involves: Make sure you’ve done your homework and have a realistic understanding of the position, its role within the team and its day to day duties. This shows you’re keen and that you are aware of the purpose of the job and its function in the organisation.

For example: ‘I’m applying for this role because it involves an interesting mix of data analysis and client-facing work’.

  • The self-awareness to reflect on your skills and strengths: Show the employer that you understand what you’re good at, and that your abilities match up with those the role requires.

For example: ‘In the exams at the end of my second year, I got 80% in an exam which required me to notice tiny differences between very similar cases under time pressure. This made me realise that attention to detail is one of my key strengths. As this role involves a significant amount of copy editing and checking of small details, I think it would be a good match for my skillset.’

  • Understanding of the company: are you interested in this particular company or organisation? Show that you have researched them and that you know what makes them different from their competitors (even if the differences are quite small!)

For example: ‘I am keen to work for [your company] because of the emphasis on multi-disciplinary teams. During my work experience, I had the opportunity to work alongside people from the marketing and business strategy departments, and I enjoyed the diversity of perspectives and innovative solutions this produced. The fact that this role would involve working with colleagues from across the organisation really appealed to me. I was impressed that the company encourages this style of working; I also think that collaboration tends to create the most interesting and cutting-edge ideas, and so I think my approach to work is aligned with your values.’

Don’t forget to visit the Knowledge Bank on QMPlus for our top interview resources.


Careers & Enterprise: Who we are

It’s the start of a new term – welcome back to all our returning students, and a big welcome to everyone who’s just joined QMUL! We hope you’re settling in well. You might have already got your student ID card, enrolled in all your classes, been to fresher’s fair (hope you got lots of good freebies!) … and you’ve now found your way to Careers & Enterprise. So we thought we’d tell you a little bit about what we do and how we can help you during your time here.

Whether you need help finding a part-time job, writing a CV or cover letter, or preparing for a graduate scheme, we can help.

Where are we?

queensThe Careers & Enterprise Centre is based in the Queens’ building (pic on left) on the Mile End campus, which is number 19 on this campus map.

We’re in room WG3, on the ground floor, near the Octagon and the Student Enquiry Office (where you’ve probably been already to pick up your ID!). Head to the corridor on the left-hand side and follow the signs.

What can we do for you?

We help QMUL students and recent graduates (up to 2 years after you graduate) in practically everything to do with their careers, from writing a CV to exploring your options after graduation. A career might seem a long way off if you’ve just joined us, but whatever stage you’re at on your QMUL journey, come and see us! Even if you’ve never even thought about life after university, we’re here to help you …

Appointments with Careers Consultants

We offer 20 minute 1-2-1 appointments with a Careers Consultant, either in the Careers & Enterprise Centre or your department. Appointments can cover any careers query, including: CV & application feedback, finding and applying for jobs, or deciding what to do after graduation.

Job hunting

Whether you’re looking for part-time work or a full-time role after graduation, take a look at our jobs board, Job Online: www.careers.qmul.ac.uk/jobs. This is updated regularly and

Continue reading

Useful tools to practise psychometric tests and interviews

We’ve spoken to lots of students this week who are looking for ways to practise psychometric tests and interviews. 

Psychometric tests:

These often form part of the recruitment process for many graduate schemes and are typically timed multiple choice tests that are to be completed independently by applicants. Employers may use these tests to filter down the number of candidates that they invite to interview, or to benchmark a candidate’s attributes against those who have been successful in that role. There are many different types of tests, including:

  • Numerical reasoning – testing your ability to analyse data in the form of ratios, percentages, graphs and tables.
  • Verbal reasoning – a test of logic, from a given written statement. You might be asked whether a statement is true, false, or if there’s not enough information to draw a conclusion.
  • Critical thinking – tests a candidate’s ability to solve new and complex tasks – closely related to verbal reasoning.
  • Situational Judgement Test – tests how you might approach a variety of scenarios in the workplace – giving you options of how you might best respond (usually you’ll need to rank options).
  • Diagrammatic reasoning – tests that assess visual problem solving and processing skills.

So how can you practise?

Continue reading

Video Interviews: How can I ace my answer in 60 seconds?

clock-95330_960_720More and more graduate recruiters are using pre-recorded video interviews as part of the interview process. Typically, these are virtual, recorded interviews in which applicants are asked a number of pre-recorded questions; frequently, applicants have 30 seconds thinking time and 60 seconds to answer each question. Compared to traditional telephone interviews, where you might be given sufficient time and prompts by the interviewer, pre-recorded video interviews can be quite a challenge.

Recruiters are increasingly using this technique for a number of reasons including the ability to screen larger numbers of applicants than traditional methods. FDM recently visited the Careers and Enterprise team and we all had a chance to experience a video interview. Having had this experience, here are my tips:

  • Research: As with other interviews, ensure you do your research beforehand; you will not have time to think on the spot! List competencies the company are asking for and write down examples of how you have used these in at least one situation. Use the STAR (Situation Task Actions Result) technique to prepare.
  • Focus mainly on actions in STAR: In 60 seconds you need to focus on the action section of the star technique. If you are describing a time when you worked in a team, there is no time to get lost in describing the various roles of other team members! Focus on the actions that you took e.g. I prioritised the team goals, explained the brief to the team, fed back the results to the client etc.
  • Use ‘spoken’ bullet points: It can sometimes help to use phrases that tell the listener how many points you are going to cover e.g. ‘there are two main reasons why I have applied for this role’ or ‘ I will first tell you about my interests and then tell you about my expertise.’
  • Don’t worry about the perfect structure: In such a short time, the content and your actions are more important that a perfectly constructed answer. Recruiters will make allowances for a less than perfect structure.
  • Assume you are doing fine. As you will not get any feedback as you go e.g. a nodding head or a ‘yes’, it’s sometimes difficult to keep going. In your head, you might be thinking oh no that was rubbish, but ignore that thought and keep going! Also, don’t get too hung up on one or two less than perfect answers. The assessors will look at your answers overall.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Most companies allow you to have a practice question and answer but you can practice ahead of the interview. Use your phone or computer to practice your answers beforehand, setting a timer for 90 seconds, i.e. 30 seconds to think and 60 seconds to answer.

If you need feedback on your technique, book a practice interview in Careers & Enterprise. Call 020 7882 8533. The more you do these interviews, the easier they become. Good luck!

Dr Tracy Bussoli, Careers Consultant