Great news! You’ve scaled the first hurdle in the selection process and been invited to interview. That graduate job suddenly feels just a little bit closer. Allow yourself to entertain the possibility of success, but don’t get too carried away. There’s still some distance between interview and job offer, and this is where the hard work starts.
Do your research
You’re probably thinking this is careers advice straight from Captain Obvious, but just hold the cynicism for a moment. Feedback from graduate recruiters suggests many of you are still falling at this hurdle. We recently held our first ever ‘Finalists – Get Hired!’ event, and all of the employers – bar none! – on our graduate recruiter panel highlighted this weakness as a reason for interview rejection. You might just about get away with it at the application stage, but gaps in your knowledge and understanding will be painfully obvious during the course of a 30-40 minute interview.
Don’t think you can launch a charm offensive and hope the panel will overlook your shortcomings. It’s certainly important to establish rapport, but you won’t win the day on personality alone. Bear in mind that many companies will use competency based questions (aligned to the job spec) so your interviewer will be looking for robust evidence that you have what’s required. To really stand out from the crowd, take your research beyond the confines of role and company. Make clear reference to the ‘bigger picture’ and demonstrate a sound grasp of sector trends and any political or economic factors that interplay.
…including the interview panel!
If you know who your interviewers are, put your research skills to good use and try to unearth some useful information. It can really help to build a picture of the characteristics, traits and skills required to succeed in both the company, and the sector. And as a bonus, it will also help ‘personalise’ your interviewers, diffusing some of the interview anxiety. Interviews are a strange, and somewhat artificial process, so the more information you can glean beforehand, the better you’ll feel on the day. Harness the power of LinkedIn to help you dig for useful information, but remember to change your activity feed settings. You don’t necessarily want your interviewers to know you’ve been reading their profile! Research by stealth…
Pre-empt, prepare and practise
Once you’ve analysed the job spec and familiarised yourself with the core competencies, you can anticipate possible interview questions. Although interview formats vary between roles and across sectors, it is reasonable to assume questions with focus on four main areas: you, the role, the company and the sector. Cross-check your evidence with the key competencies required for the job and be prepared to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the company structure and culture. If you are lost for words when it comes to answering questions around motivation (“why do you want this job”) then it may be an early warning sign; is this the actually the right job/company/sector? If you feel any ambivalence or unease, it will come through very clearly during the interview. Use all the information at your disposal to help you prepare for and anticipate questions, but DON’T over-rehearse. You want to sound natural and engaging, not robotic and forced.
Most of the time, you will be given sufficient notice of an impending interview, so take advantage of this to book a mock interview. Although we can’t simulate the interview itself, we can throw some challenging questions your way and help refine your technique. A practise interview can also raise awareness of any annoying habits (punctuating every other word with “like”…) or negative body language. Give the interviewer reasons to select – not reject – you.
Review your application
Read all of your application documents thoroughly the day before to remind yourself what you said. It’s absolutely fine to use the same examples again during the interview – the interviewer will be expecting it. Presumably you selected these examples to showcase your skills and strengths, so use the interview as a chance to elaborate further. You don’t want to get caught out during the interview because you can’t recall a particular incident, example or anecdote, so note down a few prompts to help refresh your memory on the morning of the interview.
A word from the wise: always make sure you have printed (or stored) copies of the job description as this might not be available online past the closing date. This is even more important when you’re juggling multiple interviews – company details soon start to merge, so eliminate the chance of making an interview faux pas.
Channel those nerves
Before going into the interview, take a few deep breaths and then smile. It’s normal to feel nervous – it shows you’re invested in the process and want to do well. Candidates who appear over-confident or indifferent tend to perform badly at interview, so feeling a bit of nervous energy is a good sign. Try not to not lose sense of the bigger picture and dwell too much on the possible outcome. Even if you ‘fail’ this time round, there’s every chance you’ll succeed next time. Remind yourself that this is just one interview – there will be others.
And finally, remember that phrase: “Fake it ‘ till you make it?” Well, half the battle is projecting confidence. You might be quaking inside but you don’t have to let it show. Channel that adrenalin and give a knock-out performance!