What to expect at an interview
An interview is a formal discussion between you and the recruiter, in which the recruiter asks questions and you are given the opportunity to prove your suitability for the post.
An interview may be one-to-one or with a panel of people, usually at an office of the organisation, but they may also be conducted by telephone or Skype. If you’ve been invited to an interview, you can safely assume that, on the basis of your application, the employer considers you to have the potential to do the advertised job and they are considering you as a prospective employee.
The interview is your opportunity to convince the employer in person that you are the best candidate, so make the most of it by planning and preparing. Don’t assume that they will remember your application, CV or cover letter – they may be doing multiple interviews, so try and draw attention to the strong points of your application and CV - you don’t necessarily have to provide fresh examples.
Preparation is vital. It will give you confidence, control and the ability to deal effectively with any question, see below for our tips on how to prepare for your interview.
Preparing for your interview
Preparation is vital in giving you confidence to perform well at interview. Here's the things you should consider:
- Have a copy of your CV and Covering Letter or Application Form to hand along with the relevant information provided by the employer (advertisement, job description, job specification and any other details given) - make sure you read and re-read these and use them to try to spot questions which may be asked.
- Find out about the job - You should research the job area in general. The Prospects website contains a large number of job descriptions where you can read up on the general activities and skills requirements each role entails. Speak to friends and family in similar roles and become familiar with the general tasks and terminology of the role or industry. Re-read the job description, person specification, and the list of required competencies. You can use these to work out what kind of questions will be asked. Think about what personal qualities, skills, experience and knowledge are required? What levels of commitment, motivation and initiative are needed? How can you demonstrate these to an employer? Try to write down examples which you can give to demonstrate each of the points on the job description, person specification, and competencies list.
- Find out about the employer - Do a SWOT analysis on the company (Strengths / Weakness / Opportunity / Threats) see example below – find out the company’s size, products or services, turnover, location, organisational structure, competitors and position in the industry / service as a whole. Do the aims / ethos of the company fit in with your personal values and aims? Are there varied locations requiring you to be flexible on travelling? Will the size / location of the employer affect promotion prospects?
- Research the sector - Commercial awareness is an important employability skill. Read industry journals, quality newspapers, company reports and watch business-related TV programmes. Check for videos concerning the industry and company on YouTube and join industry groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Look at new developments and find out how the industry is changing. Try to formulate your own opinions regarding these issues.
- Think about what you can offer - When you feel you understand the sector, think about you and the employer in its context. What you could do for the employer, or what experience do you possess which could make their business or service more effective?
- Make sure you understand the format of the interview - You should have received details in advance about the interview location, length, and whether you will be required to do further activities (i.e. tests / tasks or a presentation). If you are unsure of any of these points, or if you have any other special requirements (e.g. a disability) then get in touch with the employer.
Building your confidence
Preparation is not just about your knowledge, you will also need to speak clearly and confidently to put across the information about your skills and experience that you've worked hard on.
Having an awareness of what may come can build your confidence and help you convince the recruiters that you are the best person for the job, so here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Be prepared for probing questions: We all have less positive experiences at some times. If you are conscious of inconsistencies, failures or changes of direction in your life, prepare yourself to respond to questions about them. Think about what you have learnt from the experiences, and emphasise positive outcomes.
- Be prepared to talk about your application: You may be asked about details you have provided in your CV, covering letter or application form. Interviewers may look closely at the evidence you have provided in your written application before the interview, and want to explore your background in greater depth. Alternatively, interviewers may not look at a candidate’s CV again, either because they don’t have time, or to give everyone a level playing field. Therefore, always keep a copy of your CV, covering letter or application form, and re-read this before the interview. Refresh yourself on the information you have provided the employer, and be prepared to elaborate on the examples you have provided.
- Be prepared to talk about the job, the employer and the sector: If you have done your research this should come fairly naturally to you. Speak honestly about your understanding of the job and how your research into the area has led you to the conclusion that you should work in the area.
- Formulate answers which showcase what you can offer: One technique is to write down a list of five points which you really want the employer to know about you which showcase your skills. Try to get these points across in the interview. Remember, if you don’t tell them what you have done and achieved, they have no way of knowing.
Practising answering questions out loud is always useful (even if it seems a bit embarrassing). A mock interview with a Career Consultant is a great way to practise, and you could also ask friends and family to help you.
On the day of the interview
Double check the venue and your travel arrangements to make absolutely certain you will arrive on time. Allow time for delays – nothing is more likely to jeopardise an interview than arriving late. Better to be 30 minutes early than 3 minutes late.
What to take with you
- The email/letter, location map, a copy of your CV / application form, notes on key points you want to make and questions you would like to ask.
- Money for a taxi (in case you are running late) and a bottle of water.
- Any certificates asked for. This will usually be copies of your educational qualifications, and your passport or birth certificate. Read the list carefully and follow the instructions, as you may be turned away if you do not have specifically requested documents.
- If you have a portfolio of your work, take it with you and offer it, if it seems appropriate, but don’t force it on your interviewers.
- Some interviewers allow candidates to refer to copies of their applications or CVs and job descriptions / specifications during the interview. Check with them if you want to do so.
- Plan what you will wear. At an interview your appearance needs to be smart but at the same time it is important for you to be comfortable.
- Don’t overlook the importance of clean shoes, well ironed clothes, smart haircut and tidy appearance.
- If you can afford it, invest in a new suit or jacket to boost your professionalism and confidence.
How to handle nerves
Don’t worry if you feel nervous or apprehensive before the interview. Remember that the interviewers are not expecting you to be perfect. They will be looking at your future potential, and whether you have the ability, knowledge and motivation to fit into their organisation and make a valid contribution.
Whilst some nerves may be inevitable, there are things you can do to prepare:
- Arrange a practice interview with a career consultant, or go through some typical questions and answers with a friend.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before your interview.
- Eat breakfast on the morning of your interview.
- Try to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Breathe. Try taking a deep breath in, holding it for a few seconds, and then exhaling fully, and then repeat this as necessary.
- Think positive thoughts to put you in the best frame of mind.
Above all, try to stay positive and remember that any experiences you have as part of a recruitment process are an opportunity for you to learn and to develop.
At the interview
The impression you create in the first 60 seconds can be very important in creating the right rapport between you and the interviewer(s):
- Be courteous and friendly towards everyone you meet – anyone may be assessing you, including the receptionist you report to first.
- Remember to switch your phone off as soon as you arrive at the interview.
- If you are a smoker, make sure you have mints or spray to remove the tobacco smell long before you enter the building – the smell lingers.
- Make an effort to present a confident appearance and greet the interviewer(s) with a firm handshake.
- Wait to be seated – don’t just assume one of the chairs is yours.
- Above all, try to stay positive and remember that any experiences you have as part of a recruitment process are an opportunity for you to learn and to develop.
Your body language when answering questions can be as important as what you actually say, so it's worth paying attention to what you are communicating with your actions.
Non-verbal signals such as your gestures and posture, your tone of voice and the type of words you use all affect the way the interviewer will view you. There are four important areas of body language:
- Eye Contact conveys listening, interest and honesty. If it is a panel interview, look (mainly) at the interviewer who is asking the question but also make sure you glance at or include the others on the panel when responding.
- Facial expression is also important - smiling naturally and frequently indicates a good rapport with the interviewer and indicates that you are confident and relaxed and potentially can fit into the team.
- Posture - Sit well back and comfortably in the chair. Relax (but be careful not to slouch) with your feet firmly on the ground
- Gestures - No movement at all is not natural and may be considered as passive and rigid behaviour, but if you have the tendency to fling your arms around, you may be better off clasping them on your lap.
Answering questions effectively
- Listen carefully and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or repetition if you don’t understand the question.
- Answer questions as fully and positively as you can, whilst avoiding answers which are too long and repetitive (or the answers too short and blunt to be of little help to the interviewer). If in doubt, you could always ask the interviewer “Would you like me to continue…?”
- Don’t answer questions in a negative way e.g. “I just…” or “I only…” when talking about your experiences. On the other hand, don’t tell lies – it’s simply not worth it.
- During the interview, if you feel you have been talking too much or too little, or if you feel you have been too familiar, don't be afraid to adjust your style for the remaining questions.
There are four fundamental areas which employers usually concentrate on. They can ask any number of different questions to get this information – each question may be asked using different words, but every question however it is phrased, is just a variation of one of the areas below:
- Why have you applied to this organisation / for this job?
- What can you do for us? (What skills, knowledge, experience and intellectual ability can you offer?)
- What kind of a person are you? (What are your attitudes, values, motivation levels? Do you have the ability to get on with others, work in a team?)
- What distinguishes you from all other applicants?
The types of questions you will be asked are likely be in the following areas (see more examples below):
- Your knowledge of the job vacancy and the organisation, e.g. What attracts you to our organisation? Who do you think are our main competitors?
- Your education, qualifications, interests and work experience: Why did you choose the University of Bradford and why this course? What have you learned from your past work experience?
- Your attitudes, values, motivation, personal qualities and interpersonal skills: e.g. Why did you apply for the job? What skills / qualities do you think make you suitable for the job?
- Hypothetical / situational questions: “What would you do if…? Best describe these types of questions. These are used to test your overall style and approach and can be asked at any time during the interview. From the interviewer(s) point of view, these types of questions are best used when they want to test someone’s specific knowledge, experience or judgement.
- Technical/specialist questions: If you have applied for a job or a course which requires specific technical / specialist knowledge (e.g. engineering, pharmacy, science or IT), it is likely that at some stage in the selection process you will be asked technical questions or have a separate interview to test your knowledge. Examples : What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our industry at the moment? What do you think about the new drug on the market?
Answering questions- top tips
- Refer back to the job description and person specification to think about the types of questions you may be asked.
- Use the Interview Simulator on Build My Career.
- Book a mock interview with a career consultant. You could also rehearse your answers out loud with a friend, it’s really useful to practice and get feedback prior to the day.
- If you have any contacts in the sector, ask them to suggest possible questions.
- Consider the interviewer – what would you ask a candidate if you were the recruiter, and what answers would you like to hear?
- Practice the STAR technique: a useful technique for answering interview questions:
- S = Situation (20% of your answer)
- T = Task (10% of your answer)
- A = Action (50% of your answer)
- R = Result (20% of your answer)
- Structuring your answers in this way will give your answers a logical format and allow the employers to identify your skills clearly. It may not be suitable for all answers, but particularly in competency-based interviews you may find this technique helpful. It will help you to remember to always put a positive spin on information that you offer, and to focus on yourself throughout your answer. See more details on our applications pages.
Here are some more specific questions based on the above themes, think about how the context or subject could be changed to relate to the role you are applying for:
Questions relating to your education, qualifications, interests and work experience:
Questions aimed at finding out more about you (attitudes, values, motivation, personal qualities and interpersonal skills):
Technical / specialist questions
||These questions revolve around self- awareness. Everybody has weaknesses and employers want to know that you are aware of yours and that you are doing something to improve them.
See more about answering competency-based questions on our applications page.
The types of interview
- An interview conducted by one person, although there may be another person present to take notes.
- You might undergo several such interviews following each other, where different interviewers could assess your specialist skills if relevant, or the interviews could reflect different aspects of the job, including representatives from different departments.
- This type of interview is generally conducted at assessment centres (as there will be other activities for them to get assessments of one candidate), or as a first stage interview.
- Here you are questioned by a panel, generally made up of three to five people.
- There is usually a chairperson to co-ordinate the questions, a specialist who knows about the job in detail and a HR specialist.
- Such interviews are popular in the public sector. They can be daunting but remember that every candidate has to go through the same process – try to treat them in the same way as you would a 1:1 situation.
- In this situation, initially answer questions directly to the person who asks the question but also try to include everyone with appropriate eye contact as you give your answer.
- Many employers use this form of interview to check whether you have the competencies they are looking for (e.g. teamwork, communication, problem solving, leadership, planning and organising, etc.) and to ensure a more objective assessment of candidates. The reason for asking competency based questions is that your past performance and behaviour tend to be the best predictors of future success in your chosen job.
- You can use examples from your work experience, studies or social and sporting activities.
- You will be marked on a set scale, according to how well you have demonstrated you have the competencies required.
- See some example competency questions in example questions above.
- Some recruiters are now using strength- based interviews which focus on what you enjoy doing and are passionate about. In this type of interview, employers are looking for positivity, enthusiasm and authenticity as well as a general suitability for the role.
- Rather than asking open questions, strength-based questions are often shorter and closed, so that the interviewers get immediate response. Various signals such tone of voice and body language will be used to identify your enthusiasm, motivation and pride in what you have been doing and your achievements.
- The benefit to an organisation is that this style of interview identifies candidates who will enjoy the role more, and perform better as a result.
- See some example strength-based questions in example questions above.
- Several interviews in turn, with a different interviewer each time.
Usually, each interviewer asks questions to test different sets of competencies. However, you may find yourself answering the same questions over and over. If this does happen, make sure you answer each one as fully as the time before. [Also see Multiple Mini Interviews below]
- Occasionally (but very rarely), you may be interviewed by a panel together with other candidates (commonly used in some teaching / PGCE interviews).
- The same principle applies as for other interviews, though you will need to ensure that you allow other candidates to respond to questions put forward to them i.e. do not compete against the other candidates.
Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs)
- Used to select candidates in regulated professions, particularly for medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, optometry, occupational therapy, etc.
- In this format, each applicant attends numerous short interviews (‘stations’), each of which is conducted by different evaluators. Some of the short interviews may involve role-play where you are directed to act a part in a given situation. Other stations may provide some information on a topic and after receiving a prompt, you are given questions to answer.
- This allows recruiters to gain a variety of opinions on a candidate, and test on a wide range of topics and skill sets, from logical thinking to cultural sensitivity.
- An increasing number of organisations are using telephone interviews as their first stage of selection. These can range from a basic check to see whether you match the selection criteria, to a very probing interview.
- Generally you will be speaking to a person who will ask you questions in the same style as a face to face interview, but this could be either pre-arranged or unannounced. If a company rings you to conduct a telephone interview without having made an appointment, politely say "Thank you for calling, do you mind waiting for a minute while I close the door/turn off the radio/take the phone to a quieter room?" This will give you a little time to compose yourself. If it really is a bad time, offer to call back, and arrange a date and time that is convenient. It is important that you are in the right frame of mind to be interviewed.
Top tips for telephone interviews
- Be ready 10 minutes before the interview time. Get into the ‘interview mentality’. Have your CV / application form and a checklist of the skills or qualities the employer requires in front of you so you can clearly focus on what they want.
- Don’t forget to switch off your mobile phone (if on a landline) as you don’t want distractions. Make sure your environment is free from interruptions (make arrangements in advance and if you live with others let them know that you are expecting a telephone interview call). If using a mobile, make sure it is fully charged.
- Think of the tone and volume of your voice – be as enthusiastic as possible, because the interviewer only has your voice to go on and remember, a smile can be ‘heard’ down the line.
- Answer the telephone confidently and professionally – answering with “Wassup man?”, “What did you say your name was?” or “Which company are you from?” is not going to get you off to a good start. Remember, first impressions count.
- Think of your posture. The way you sit can help you relax, breathe properly and project your voice and yourself more effectively. Imagine the posture you would have for a face-to-face interview. Some people stand up and dress as they would do for a face-to-face interview as this gives them confidence.
- Have a glass of water handy in case you dry up.
Video / webcam interviews
- Increasingly, companies are using live video chat such as Skype to conduct interviews. A lot of the same advice applies to telephone interviews and video interviews, so also read the advice above and remember to take the opportunity as seriously as a face-to-face interview.
Top tips for video interviews
- Arrange a test call with a friend beforehand to make sure you’re comfortable with the set up and the camera and microphone are working.
- Dress smartly, and don’t forget to wear smart trousers or skirt in case you have to get up during the interview.
- Make sure the room is light enough so that the interviewer can see you clearly and there are no distractions in the background.
- Ensure that the camera and microphone are working, and that the employer can hear you clearly.
- The employer expects eye contact as anything else can be a distraction, so look in the camera when you are speaking - minimise your video image so that you are not tempted to watch yourself.
- Avoid speaking over anyone. A slight delay is possible on video calls, so it’s important to allow people to finish speaking, otherwise you risk missing information.
Automated video interviews
- In an automated video interview, companies invite candidates to record their answers to a series of questions by a set deadline. You’ll need to log on to an automated web-based system and read and record their answers, or upload their own video. As it’s not live, you don’t have to be online the same time as the interviewer.
Additional interview tasks
Increasingly, interviews are conducted together with other activities, and you should be informed in advance if this is the case. They could consist of one or a combination of the following:
- Presentation – Normally at the beginning of the interview, e.g. a 10-15 minutes presentation with a further 10–20 minutes question-and-answer session with the interview panel. You may want to consider making copies of the PowerPoint presentation as handouts for the interviewer(s).
- Tests/Tasks – these are generally relevant to the role you are applying for, such as a keyboard exercise to test your competency on manipulating data using Microsoft Office Excel or Access or, if your role involves finance / calculations, you might have to sit a numerical test.
- Psychometric Tests (Aptitude / Situational Judgement / Personality) – see our information on psychometric (selection) tests.
- Role Plays – often based on the organisation and the type of work you have applied for. Common for roles involving sales and customer services where you could be asked to “sell a product” to or “advise a customer” on the products or services available.
The end of the interview
At the end of the interview you will usually be asked: “Are there any questions you would like to ask?”. Use this opportunity to show that you have a genuine interest in the role and the organisation and have done some thinking about what you need to know. Research the company and have two or three questions prepared, any more could be seen as too many. This is your opportunity to impress once again as the interviewer(s) will see that you are thinking carefully about the role.
DO ask about:
Some suggested questions are as follows, but make sure that they have not been answered already during the course of the interview:
DON'T ask about:
If all your questions have already been answered during the interview, then say so politely rather than appear uninterested. For example, you may want to say “Thank you but you have already answered my questions during the interview”. If there is something relevant that you had hoped to say in the interview and not had the opportunity to include in your answers, then you could consider using the time at the end of interview for your questions to tell the interviewers about your experience or skills.
As you leave you may wish to thank the interviewers for inviting you to the interview.
After the interview
Remember, your interview finishes only when you leave the organisation. Any informal tour or meal could be part of the selection process, so be professional at all times. Finally, reflect on how the interview went. Highlight what went well and what could have been improved on. Then think what action you can take to improve in future.
Do consider asking for feedback about an unsuccessful job interview. This way you can learn about what you did well and how you need to improve in your next interview. You need to be specific and polite. Something along the lines of “Obviously I am very disappointed at being unsuccessful but it would really help if someone could take me through the selection criteria and indicate which you feel I did not meet”. Although an employer is not obliged to do this, many will give you constructive comments.
If you are offered the job
If you have been successful you are likely to get a phone call offering you the job. At this stage you can clarify salary and other aspects of the job if these haven’t been discussed. The formal job offer is usually sent through to you in writing.
Take time to consider all you’ve experienced during the recruitment process, and hopefully you’ll think that the job is right for you. Remember, you don’t have to accept if you have doubts, and if you’ve been offered one job, there’s a good chance you’ll be successful in future applications.
If you would like to accept the job offer, make sure to send through your formal acceptance along with any paperwork in good time to avoid delays to the start of your contract.
Next steps and further information
Practical help from careers
Careers appointments: To help you prepare for interviews we offer two types of appointments with career consultants, each lasting 45 minutes:
- Interview preparation sessions are an informal chat to inform you of the kinds of questions you're likely to face, and everything else you should expect.
- Mock interviews are more formal sessions where you will be asked the type of questions you are likely to face at interview by the adviser, who will then offer you constructive feedback and advice on your performance.
You can choose either one of these sessions or both depending on how confident you feel and how your previous experiences have gone. Give us a call now on 01274 234991 to discuss the best appointment for you.
Build My Career: features an Interview Simulator which allows you to practice online and record and playback your answers.
(The above link works with your UoB student username and password, graduates and other users can log in via the Build My Career page.)
- Interview advice from Prospects and TARGETjobs.
- Look at www.glassdoor.co.uk for candidate feedback on real interviews.
- Multiple Mini Interviews information from multipleminiinterview.com, The Student Room and Leeds University.
- Skype and automated video interviews info from the BBC and jobs.ac.uk.
Read our booklet
You can pick up a copy of our 64-page booklet Your Guide To... Finding a Job in careers reception. It features all the above information plus lots more on finding and applying for jobs, employability skills and the interview process.
You can also download or read it online via the link below.
Our 64-page booklet Your Guide To... Getting a job is written specifically for students of the University of Bradford and covers job searching, applications and the interview process. Download Your Guide To... Getting a job 2017