Careers Service

Preparing for Interviews

Preparing for Interviews

Research

During the interview, your knowledge of the vacancy and organisation will be explored, along with the skills and experience you have gained and whether these mean you would be able to do the job.

You need to research the job you're applying for, the organisation you're applying to, and the sector.

Role

You need to show the employer that you understand what the position/area of work involves. Be enthusiastic, consider what appeals to you about the role. How does it fit with your career aspirations and goals?

Organisation

Try to focus on key aspects of the organisation, such as:

  • turnover
  • products and/or services - what do they do?
  • recent press coverage
  • clients they work with
  • any key activities that interest you
  • the company culture 

Don’t only use the company’s website to do research. Look at our researching employers section for links to company profiles and news sites. TARGETjobs' Employer Hub is a particularly useful resource if you’re applying to large graduate recruiters. Speaking to employers at job fairs and employer presentations can also help with your research.

Sector

Employers will be assessing your commercial awareness (also known as ‘business acumen’). Keep up to date with current affairs, trends and important topics in your field. What are the challenges facing the industry and what impact might they have?

Take a look at our researching employers section to help you find relevant industry news. 

For more advice on researching employers, visit CareerMatch: How to research a company.

Identify Your Skills

Review the skills and experience the job requires. These are often highlighted in the job description or person specification.

Think of specific examples when you have demonstrated these skills. Your examples could be from work experience, a part-time job, volunteering or from within your degree course.

If you're not sure what the employer is looking for, the skills section under the relevant job profile on Prospects can help as a guide.

For advice on identifying your skills, see:

Prepare Answers

Be prepared to discuss the skills, experience and achievements highlighted on your application form or CV in more detail.

Expect your answers to be challenged with follow-up questions and be prepared to explain any gaps or changes in your career history. Admit mistakes, but be positive about what you've learnt from them and don't blame others, for example a teacher for poor results.

Structuring your answers

A good way to structure your answers to competency questions is by using the ‘STAR’ technique.

Describe the situation (S)

You should briefly provide some context to help the employer understand the example you are giving. You don't need to go into a lot of detail at this stage.

Explain the task (T)

Provide a concise overview of the task, ensuring that your example is relevant to the question.

Describe and analyse your actions (A)

This part should form the bulk of your answer. State what action you took, focusing on your contribution. Explain what, how and why you did it and include any impact your actions made. Avoid ‘we’ if talking about a situation in a team.

Explain the result (R)

What was the outcome? What did you learn from this example? Remember, it's not just what you did, but how you did it. Be specific in your answers.

For further advice on using 'STAR' successfully, see:

Example interview questions

For a list of questions often asked at interview, plus tips on how to answer them, see our information on typical questions.

 

Typical Questions

We've listed some common interview questions about topics such as knowledge of the organisation, skills and career motivation, and some tips on how to answer the different types of questions. Select the headings below to see questions associated with each topic.

Format

The interview format used by an employer will vary. Here we cover the types of interview you can expect and how they're structured.

Interview formats

Face-to-face interviews

You may be invited to a face-to-face interview with one person or a panel. 

Panel interviews are with two or more representatives of the organisation. See TARGETjobs article on how to face more than one interviewer.

It's possible you could attend a group interview with multiple candidates. For advice on what group interviews can involve and how to prepare, see: 

Telephone/Skype/video interviews

These methods are increasingly used as a way of screening candidates before a face-to-face interview. Telephone interviews are usually pre-arranged, but not always. You should prepare for a telephone, Skype or video interview in the same way as a face-to-face interview, often the questions asked are very similar.

You can video record yourself answering questions in a mock interview with our Interview Simulator.

For further advice on this type of interview, see:

Accessibility

The time allowed to read and comprehend questions in pre-recorded video interviews is usually limited. Students with some disabilities might find this particularly challenging.

You may want to share with a potential employer that you have a disability if you think a video interview is going to disadvantage you. Companies should be able to make alternative reasonable adjustments if given enough notice. For example they could offer a Skype or telephone interview instead.

You can discuss in confidence whether you should share information about a disability with one of our careers advisers. Free advice is also available from EmployAbility.

Interview structure 

Your interview could be structured in a variety of ways.

Competency-based 

You will be asked to provide examples of the skills or competences that are key to the job. TARGETjobs and WikiJob have more information on this type of interview and the key competences employers look for in candidates.

Strengths-based

Some recruiters, such as EY, Nestle, Norwich Union and Standard Chartered, are now starting to use strengths-based interviews rather than competence-based. Strengths-based interviews focus on your natural aptitudes and strengths and seek to find out what you ‘love to do’, rather than what you ‘can do’.

For more advice, see Guardian Careers: Strengths-based job interviews.

Technical 

You will be asked questions about specific technical skills relevant to the job, for example programming skills. See TARGETjobs articles: Technical interviews for graduate jobs: the basics and Technical interviews for graduate engineering jobs to help you prepare.

Informal

Most interviews are formal in style, however employers in some sectors, eg design, architecture and media, may use more informal interviewing techniques. These can have a more relaxed and conversational. The people interviewing you want to put you at ease and get to know you. Try to relax, but take care to remain professional, they are still assessing you.

More Help

The Careers Service provides advice and resources to help you prepare for interviews. There are also a range of useful websites that provide further advice.

Getting help

If you have an interview date in place, we may be able to offer an interview coaching session with a careers adviser. To arrange this visit us and speak to an information adviser who will help you to prepare for your interview and then book your interview coaching session. 

If no interview coaching sessions are available you can attend a drop-in session and practise answering generic interview questions with an adviser, no appointment needed. 

We run a how to succeed at interviews workshop and employers on campus frequently run skills sessions for students, including sessions on interview techniques.

The Careers Service has rooms available for current students and registered graduates who need to take part in a telephone, Skype or video interview, subject to availability. Rooms in King’s Gate would be available Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 17:00 only. If you require a room, please call into the Careers Service, Level 1, King’s Gate to arrange or contact us, providing as much detail as possible.

Other useful resources