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Job Applications and Interviews
You have secured an Interview - well done!! The key to doing a successful interview is good preparation, the information below outlines 10 tips to prepare for and succeed in the hot seat!
1. Think Positively
- Your CV has convinced them you can do the job so you are already off to a positive start.
- Instead of worrying about other candidates, concentrate on your answers to typical interview questions.
- Nerves are natural but good preparation will help keep them at bay.
2. Be Prepared
- Know your CV or application form inside out.
- Research the company - go beyond the first line on their website and find out about recent developments and press coverage.
- Network – if you know someone in the company call them as their advice will be invaluable.
- Practice answers to questions out loud – drop in to us in the Career Development Centre for a trial run.
3. Anticipate the Questions
- Go over the job specification or advertisement and underline key competencies and skills and consider how you meet these.
- See our other sections for typical and tricky interview questions.
- Be ready to answer the opening “tell us a bit about yourself “question. Approach this question in terms of the job on offer, you should keep your answer relevant.
- Know why you want to work for the company and what you have to offer them.
4. Plan Ahead
- Know where you are going and who you are meeting with.
- Have contact details with you in case of a delay.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get there, ideally you should arrive 10 -15 minutes early.
- Do a trial run if feasible.
- Dress appropriately for the role you are applying for - if in doubt wear a suit.
5. Build Rapport
- Make a good first impression.
- Make good eye contact – but don’t overdo it.
- Pay attention when being introduced to interviewers and use their names again if possible.
- Be nice to everyone you meet in the company!
6. Know your Skills
- Have stories of where you have demonstrated the competencies and skills they are looking for in the past, this is covered in more detail in our section on competency based interviews.
- Practice telling those stories – use the STAR framework.
- Don’t tell lies – you will be caught out.
- Use examples from college, placement, experience, hobbies/interests, voluntary work etc.
7. Don’t hang out your Dirty Laundry!
- Don’t bare your soul and tell inappropriate stories.
- Don’t talk negatively about a previous employer or a job you disliked.
- Have a positive outlook on negative events, if things have gone wrong in the past show how you have learned from the experience.
- Don’t ask about your planned holiday.
- Don't ask about salary in a first round interview, it is best to wait until you have an offer to discuss terms and conditions.
8. Remember – It’s a conversation!
- If you go blank – take your time – don’t say the first thing you think of – it will come!
- If you don't understand a question – try to paraphrase it to get clarity.
- If they probe or challenge you it doesn’t mean you are answering incorrectly – it’s all part of being interviewed.
- If you know you are rambling – acknowledge it and get to the point fast!
9. Questions you can ask
Your research of the company should help you come up with questions to ask in the interview the following are some examples of areas for appropriate interviewee questions:
- next steps in the process
- what typical career paths there are within the company
- what the interviewers enjoy about working in the company
- development opportunities in the company
- recent company developments (new products, recent aqquisitions etc.)
10. End on a high
- When they ask “have you anything to add?”… hit them with the three reasons why you should get the job.
- Restate your genuine interest in the role and the company.
- Shake hands and thank them for their time – use their names.
- Remember the interview isn’t over until you have left the car park!
This is not an exhaustive list but it will give you an idea of the type of question you can expect at interview. You should plan answers to these types of questions in advance of the interview.
Questions about you
- What type of a person are you?
- What has been your greatest achievement so far?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What are your long term career goals?
Questions about the job / sector
- Why do you want to be a …. ?
- Which other careers have you considered?
- What are the most challenging issues currently affecting this sector?
- How do you keep up to date with developments in this sector?
Questions about the organisation
- Why do you want to work for this organisation?
- What do you know about this organisation?
- What prompted your application for this organisation?
- How does our graduate training scheme compare with our competitors?
Questions about your education
- How did you choose your degree?
- What was the most challenging part of your degree course?
- Which parts of your degree are most relevant for this vacancy?
- Were there any subjects you struggled at?
- How did you approach your final year project/thesis?
Questions about your work experience
- What have you gained from your previous work experience / internship / placement/ voluntary work?
- How relevant is your work experience for this vacancy?
- What has been your greatest achievement in the workplace?
- Talk us through your most relevant experience to date?
- How has your work experience increased your business awareness?
Questions about your skills
- When have you used your communication skills to influence other people’s behaviour or opinions?
- Describe a situation when you worked in a team to achieve a goal. What was your contribution to the team’s success and what would you do differently in a similar situation in the future?
- Describe how you analysed a complex issue or problem to reach a decision. How did you evaluate the decision you made?
- When have you had to deal with an unexpected or changing situation? How did you cope with this uncertainty?
The questions above are competency based questions, visit our section on competency based interviews for details on how to prepare for these interviews.
There are always questions you would prefer to avoid. Prepare answers to a few e.g. if you repeated an academic year or do not
have any relevant work experience. Do not volunteer anything negative about yourself, former colleagues, or any organisation.
Depending on your personal circumstances you may need to prepare answers to address the following:
- Gaps in your CV - e.g. explain the reason for a year out - maybe family required you at home, travel, personal reasons (which you don't have to elaborate on). Try to present the year out in a positive way - what you learned from the experience, maybe you refocused on your return, etc.
- Poor grades in exams - e.g. maybe a subject that didn't interest you as much as others (only use this if the subject isn't a critical one for the job!), took a while to settle in college etc. Always talk about learning from the experience, the positive aspects of the getting a poor grade.
Questions on your Weaknesses
- This question is often asked at graduate recruitment interviews, the best approach is to try and try to give a real example and focus on how what actions you have taken to address the weakness.
- You make be asked straight out "what are your weaknesses?" or the question could be framed slightly differently such as "what is the one thing you would change about yourself?" or "what is the one thing you would need to focus on in order to perform effectively in this role?".
- Avoid giving answers like "I have no weaknesses" or "I am a perfectionist" as this will sound like you are avoiding the question.
- Do a psychometric test to explore your potential areas for development. Available FREE from the Career Development Centre.
Unexpected 'Random' Questions
Some recruiters ask candidates a 'random' or off the wall question to see how they respond under pressure. These questions have no right or wrong answer, they are testing your personality. It is best to take a logical approach when answering these questions. Examples of these type of questions are:
- If you were a biscuit, what type of biscuit would you be?
- What would I find in your refrigerator?
- If you were having a dinner party and could invite one famous person who would you invite?
Some tips for handling these unexpected questions:
- Do not say the first thing that comes into your head, it is perfectly acceptable to take a moment to gather your thoughts.
- If it is a hypothetical question do not be afraid to take a light hearted approach as this is a good way to build rapport with your interviewer.
- Remain calm, they are looking for someone who takes a logical or creative approach to problems so it is important to maintain eye contact and answer these types of questions confidently.
- Don't be tempted to give up when asked one of these questions as you might think the interview is going badly but the interviewer could well be impressed with the way you formulate your answers.
Note: – You have rights!
You should not be asked, nor are you required to answer, any questions regarding: race, religion, gender, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, membership of the traveller community or age.
What are competency based interviews?
Many companies use competency based interviews as the basis for their recruitment and selection processes. Competency interviews are about finding out how you performed in work/college situations in the past. If the employer feels that you have worked well in the past this is a good indicator for them that you will perform well in similar situations in the future.
The company will have identified a number of core competencies that are essential for the role on offer and they will have devised specific questions to examine these.
The core competencies for the role are usually outlined in the job specification or advert. Typical graduate competencies include teamwork, communication skills, initiative and problem solving.
Competency based interviews are a good way for employers to benchmark candidates off each other as they will ask all candidates the same questions.
These interviews will usually begin with a number of familiar questions to ease the candidate into the interview such as....
“Tell me a bit about yourself” or “take me through your CV” but the interview will quickly move towards competency questions.
How do I know I’m being asked a competency based question?
These questions are easy to spot as they generally start as follows:
- Tell me about a time when you had to….
- Can you describe where you have had to….
- Give me an example of……….
How do I answer a competency based question?
The best way to answer these questions is to use the STAR framework outlined below. This method helps to keep your answers structured, clear and to the point.
|S/T – Situation or Task - This sets the scene. Here you describe the situation or task that you were involved in. Be brief.|
A – Action - This is outlining what you did or the action you took. Most interviewees fall down here by using the word “we” instead of the word “I”. Do not make this mistake and outline what your role was in the situation or task.
R – Result - This is where you tell about the results or outcomes. Quantify these results if you can and point out what you learned from the experience.
Once you have given your answer the interviewer may probe a little by asking things like....
- Why did you take that approach?
- Would you do anything differently in hindsight?
- Did you find that situation difficult?
Don't worry! - this is a normal part of the competency interview process.
Tips to Prepare for a Competency Based Interview
- Re-read the job advertisement and highlight the core competencies for the role. You should expect to be asked questions on where you have demonstrated these.
- Write out examples of where you have developed each of these competencies, be creative with your approach, use examples from different areas such as college, placement, part-time work, volunteering, or your roles in clubs and societies.
- Practice your answers out loud using the STAR technique. You can arrange an appointment in the Career Development Centre for a trial run before your interview.
- When you are in the interview let your personality come through, be enthuastic and confident!
There are a number of other interview types that have considerations that you need to take into account, examples include telephone interviews and panel interviews.
A panel or board questions the candidate in turn at the same interview. There is usually a chairperson who outlines the interview procedure and introduces the other interviewers. A specialist who knows about the job, a personnel manager and up to three others usually accompanies the chairperson. This method is favoured in public service jobs e.g. teaching. Panel interviews often include delivering a short presentation as part of the selection process especially if presentation skills are a large part of the role on offer.
Panel Interview Tips
- Do try and find out who will be on the interview panel, this will help you anticiapte the types of questions you are likely to be asked.
- Do shake hands firmly and smile at each panel member as you are being introduced, repeat their names during introductions to build rapport.
- Don't just direct your answer to the person who asked you the question or the chairperson of the panel, you need to engage with all of the panel members as you are answering a question.
- Don't be put off if panel members are taking notes, this is normal.
- Do cross reference earlier questions as this will help to strenghten your answers. For example if you are asked a question about communication skills and later you are asked a question about leadership it would be very useful to cross reference your earlier answer to show the relationship between both skills.
- Do thank the panel for meeting with you and shake hands with each panel member at the end of the interview repeating their names if you can.
This method is usually used as a preliminary method of screening candidates prior to a face-to-face interview. Depending on the role on offer a telephone interview questions can vary from obvious questions about you and your suitability to more technical questions to see if you have the specific technical knowledge for the role on offer.
See our page on Hints & Tips for a Telephone Interview
Informal Interviews / Company Tours
Informal interviews or meetings with various company employees can often occur after a formal interview; it is important to remember that you are being assessed at all times while meeting with potential employers. Very often we meet people in the Career Development Centre who say that the meeting was over before they felt they had got a chance to ’sell their wares’ so it is important to prepare for this.
Many assessment centres have a large proportion of informal time – site tours, lunches or informal ’chats’ are part of the interview so be prepared!
Have your unique selling points ready and have your own questions prepared for the people that you meet.
More and more employers are using web based job video interviews to screen candidates for employment. For the employer, video interviewing can save time and hiring expenses, because there are reduced travel costs and management time.
If you are going to have a video interview, the employer will advise what software they will be using.
See our page on Hints & Tips for a Video Interview
Assessment centres use a range of techniques that are designed to simulate work situations. They give the company an opportunity to learn about your behaviour in an intensive situation.
The assessment can be anything from half a day to two days in duration. Usually you get an extended form of interview and are asked to participate in a series of exercises.
Remember: you may be under observation from the moment that you step inside the gate of the assessment venue!
Visit the Career Development Centre, research the career area in the Occupations Section, take a look at the reference books on selection methods in the Job Search section and practice by doing sample questions.
Group Assessment / Discussion:
Employers want to test interpersonal and teamwork skills by assessing how you relate with five to eight other candidates for the job. You will be given a topic or case study to discuss or a puzzle to solve in the group. The group may be leaderless or a chairperson may be nominated.
Students are usually advised:
- To assess the traits usually associated with the job, the culture of the organisation and the people employed there already
- Not to remain silent or non-participative
- Unless you are sure the job requires a very strong, brash character steer a ’middle track’ where you do not stand out too much
The solution agreed is not necessarily as important as the methods used and the ways individual members become involved in the exercise. If leadership is required for the job, for example, they may look out for the ability to use the strength of others and take decisions.
Following success at a first interview you may be asked to attend a second interview, a selection test or an assessment centre. Usually you are given prior warning of the nature of the assessment – otherwise contact the organisation and find out.
Prepare by doing your own assessment of the job requirements e.g. do you need social skills, strong attitudes, presentation skills, intellectual ability, determination or creativity? Visit the Career Development Centre to find relevant books, videos, occupational information or visit our web site.
These are usually either aptitude tests or personality questionnaires or a combination of both. These can be pen and paper or computer based tests.
The aim of an aptitude test is to assess your capabilities in tests of reasoning. They are administered under exam conditions and strictly timed. Usually there are tests of verbal, numerical, abstract spatial, mechanical and perceptual reasoning. You can practice these tests on many sites...
This is a test that directly asks you about aspects of your own personality e.g. what you think or feel about certain things. These tests are also administered in exam conditions – a large room with 30 – 40 other people. There are no ’right’ or ’wrong’ answers so:
- find out as much as you can about yourself
- be positive
- don’t argue with the questions
- try to answer ’as if you were like everyone else is supposed to be’
- research the job or position for which you are applying
Assessment centres use a range of techniques that are designed to simulate work situations. They give the company an opportunity to learn about your behaviour in an intensive situation. The assessment can be anything from half a day to two days in duration. Usually you get an extended form of interview and are asked to participate in a series of exercises.
Watch: Interview Skills video -