Read this section for some useful tips on researching an organization, preparing for and answering questions, and what you should consider after your interview.
Learn about the Sector and Organization
Most employers will expect you to display some understanding of their business, its size, its products/services and the sector in which it operates. Ask yourself:
- What do I know about this organization?
- What attracts me to this organization?
- Who are the organization’s competitors?
- How does this organization relate to its competitors?
- What have I done to find out more about this organization?
- What issues are affecting, or are likely to affect the sector?
- How is the market changing or developing? How are the organizations in it responding?
An interview won’t be a general knowledge test, but you should have an understanding of what is going on in the world at large. It is a good idea to watch/listen to good news programs or read a quality newspaper every day in the lead-up to your interview, and to think, or talk with friends, about current news stories and issues of importance, in case they come up on the day of interview. You might also consider following on twitter some key news channels and organizations in the sector in which you are applying to work.
Useful Research Tools
You can use the internet to search for information from newspapers and journals relevant to the sector to which you are applying. More specifically, the following resources may be useful:
- LexisNexis – use this archive of worldwide newspapers and journals to search for recent news about the employer (available from ox.ac.uk domain machines).
- Employers’ websites.
- FT company reports – a free service offering company reports (either for download or by post) from several hundred companies. Most companies will also send out a copy of their Annual Report to enquirers.
- Rocket News – a five-day international news archive, available free of charge. It is useful if you are away from Oxford and cannot use LexisNexis.
- Google News – searches 4,000 news services.
Prepare Points to Make
Learning pre-formed answers by rote is not the most useful way to prepare for an interview. The responses are likely to sound false, and an unexpected question that does not fit your ‘script’ could leave you floundering. Instead, prepare a series of points in line with the job description / person specification, stressing those aspects of your experience, qualifications and skills that match the requirements most closely. As well as being prepared to explain how you fulfil these requirements, to demonstrate your motivation you must also be able to explain why you want this job with this organization.
It is important to remind yourself of the messages you have already conveyed to the recruiters in your CV/application form, and to be prepared to discuss anything you have told them. Read through your application, and imagine you are the interviewer. What questions would you ask in their shoes? Make sure that you can give at least one example (and preferably more) for each of the competencies (skills, experiences, knowledge and other attributes) that the employer is looking for, and that you can talk about those experiences in a positive way. Ask yourself:
- Why do I want the job?
- What skills have I gained from my academic/employment/extra-curricular activities that are relevant for this role?
- What are my ambitions?
- What prompted me to make particular decisions/undertake certain courses of action?
- What was my best/worst decision?
- How have I learnt from these experiences?
- What did I learn about myself when I … ?
- What would I identify as my main strengths/weaknesses?
Prepare Questions to Ask
It is always a good move to prepare two or three questions that you would really like the interviewers to answer, as this will demonstrate confidence and a genuine interest in the job for which you have applied. Be careful, however, to avoid asking questions which have already been answered in the graduate brochure or other literature sent out with the invitation to interview; also avoid asking about holidays or other benefits, as these are generally inappropriate at this stage of the recruitment process. You might want to ask:
- How will I be assessed/my performance appraised?
- What factors distinguish successful employees from less successful ones?
- I see (for example) that you are expanding into Europe – what would be the chances of my working there at some point?
- I read that you might be merging with X – how, in your view, would that affect the current workings of the organization?
- What is the typical career progression for someone in this position?
- Is there anything else I can provide to help you make your decision?
If your questions have been answered in the course of the interview, say exactly that. If you are not invited to ask questions, or feel that there are key points you have not been given the chance to make, you can ask at the end of the interview whether now would be an appropriate time to raise this. If you feel there was an element to the interview where you didn’t show yourself in the best light, for example giving a weak answer to a question or talking over someone in a group interview this can also be a good opportunity to show that self-awareness or offer an alternative example.
How to Deliver Answers
- Be yourself: if you adopt a new persona for the interview, the result is likely to be insincere and transparent.
- Think about the impact of your voice i.e the pace, tone and volume (for more information on making an impact see our pages on how to make a good first impression).
- Think about the structure of your answers: you might summarize at the end rather than trailing off. Use the S.T.A.R technique and emphasize your actions if describing a situation. For more information on the S.T.A.R technique see our pages on how
to show you fit the job criteria.
- Honesty is the best policy – and if it is discovered later that you have been dishonest, you are very likely to be dismissed. Admitting, for example, to a period of poor motivation during your A-Levels shows more integrity than blaming someone else
for poor grades, so don’t feel that you should ‘cover up’ these incidents – present them positively as learning experiences.
- Be prepared to talk: avoid ‘yes/no’ answers and expand as often as possible, but don’t over-communicate. Take your cue from the interviewer. Ask, “should I continue?” or “does that answer your question?” if you are unsure whether you have said enough.
- Ask for clarification if you need it, or request a moment’s thinking time, before tackling a particularly difficult question. You might also take a sip of water to create a natural pause. This is better than saying the first thing that comes into
- Be balanced in your answers, and try not to sound too obsessive about any one aspect of your life.
- No-one is allowed, by law, to ask you about your marital status, ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation or religious affiliation, unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification, so be aware that you can politely decline to answer such questions, by saying for example, “I don’t see what relevance my sexual orientation has to the job for which I have applied, and I must ask that you withdraw the question” or “I really don’t see my marital status as having any effect on my ability to do this job, or my commitment to the organization, should I be appointed”.
Answering Difficult Questions
Questions often perceived as particularly difficult include those which appear to be an invitation to shoot yourself in the foot, such as: What is your biggest weakness? What would you say has been your greatest failure? When answering these questions relax, be honest, and emphasize the positive.
Remember – no employer expects you to be completely perfect and self-awareness is preferable to blind arrogance! You might, for example, in answer to the question, “what is your biggest weakness?” say that, although you think well independently, you wouldn’t be entirely happy in an environment where there was no teamwork (but would develop coping strategies!).
Or, you could tell them about your tendency to be nervous when presenting in front of large audiences and how, in an effort to overcome this, you have joined the debating society and now have strategies which help you communicate clearly to an audience when nervous.
Alternatively, you might say that your strengths lie in your ability to think problems through clearly, and that you can sometimes be frustrated with people who don’t work logically, though you have learnt to appreciate the different insights that they can bring to a project. These answers outline the weakness in each case, but turn the question around, so that you are able to stress both your strengths and your ability to learn from your mistakes.
Another line of questioning that can sometimes be daunting is if you are asked to think about yourself in a different way, so for example to compare yourself to an animal or biscuit (or color, or piece of furniture). In this instance, think about the personal qualities that you want to emphasize, and explain your choice. A plain chocolate digestive might suggest a professionalism that a strawberry wafer possibly does not.
After the Interview
Ending the Interview
End on a positive note. Thank the interviewer(s) for their time, and reiterate your enthusiasm for the job for which you have applied. If the employer has not already made the next step clear, in terms of when they expect to let you know the outcome, go ahead and ask them.
Review the Day
When you get home ensure you record all the questions you remember being asked at the interview. It would be helpful to keep an ‘interview notebook’ where you can jot down your experience and how you might answer them differently with a little more time to prepare.
Rejected After First Interview?
If you have been invited to interview and subsequently rejected, you can safely assume that on paper employers consider you capable of doing the job for which you have applied, but that at interview their opinion has changed in some way. Consider whether you have substantiated the messages you gave in your application, and whether you are presenting a professional, confident image at interview. Replay to yourself some of the answers you gave – particularly the ones you found more difficult – while they are still fresh in your mind. It is always worth asking an organization for feedback after an interview; at worst they will say no, and at best you will receive a detailed critique of your performance. If it isn’t obvious how you can improve your performance in future interviews, talk with a Careers Adviser.
Source: University of Oxford, https://www.careers.ox.ac.uk/interview-technique/
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