Jobs and Careers
What I learnt from my graduate interview experiences
An article by Hannah Collerson
I recently finished my third year of university, and have been attending a few different interviews to try and secure a graduate role. Some of the interviews I attended were for internships, some were for more permanent roles.
Before recently I had never really attended any interviews, apart from a couple of waitressing interviews (which were so different, obviously). So I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
Here’s what I learnt from my graduate interview experiences, for those that want to know what to expect from interviews after university!
Employers like you to be friendly, as well as professional
When I first started attending interviews, I was a bit too rigid. By this I mean, I didn’t show any of my personality, and I just looked a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights the whole way through the interview.
Of course, employers want to find the right person for the job, professional speaking, but they also want to find someone they get on with.
Everyone wants their workplace to be as friendly as possible, with colleagues feeling like they can all approach each other. So when you attend interviews, try not to be like I was at first. Loosen up, smile, and present yourself as a professional with a friendly personality.
Some interviews involve ‘assessments’
I didn’t realise that some interviews would involve assessments. But they do. In fact, a lot of them do. So when I received a few different emails, inviting me to interviews that would also involve an assessment, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
I applied for a lot of marketing roles, so for me the assessments involved things like a 10-minute copywriting exercise, or creating a brief marketing plan, or even demonstrating my Photoshop experience.
For other leadership based roles that I have previously applied for, for example, roles working with children, the assessments have been more based on things like safeguarding policies, or teamwork, so you need to complete an activity with other candidates.
So before you go to an interview that involves an assessment, think about what it might be. You can usually guess roughly what it will be by reading the job description. If a certain skill is mentioned a lot in the job description, the chances are that the assessment will be based around you demonstrating that skill.
You should always save the job description
I made the mistake of applying to a few different positions, but not saving the job description anywhere. And by the time I got an invitation to interview, the job posting had been taken down.
Why was this bad? Because for a few of the roles, I couldn’t remember exactly what the job involved, which meant I couldn’t prepare as thoroughly as I would have liked for the interviews.
So when you’re applying for jobs, it could be a good idea to make a spreadsheet of the jobs you’ve applied to, and summarise the job description in the spreadsheet. You could then also keep a record of which jobs you’ve heard back from and which you’re still waiting to hear from.
You can find a lot of standard interview questions online
Having never been to a professional interview before, I wasn’t sure which questions to expect. But after a quick google, I found a whole load of articles detailing questions that might be asked. So if you’re not sure what to expect, look up interview questions relating to your industry, and you can plan answers.
Some questions that came up a lot, in lots of different interviews were standard questions like the following:
-What do you know about us?
-Why do you want to work for us?
-Can you tell us about a time when you overcame a dilemma?
-How do you think your previous experience will help you in the role?
-Is there anything more you’d like to tell us about yourself?
Employers like you to know a lot about the company
When you’re looking for a professional role, most employers you’ll come across won’t be looking for someone who just wants ‘a job’. They want to see that you have a specific interest in their company, and that you care about what they do. They want you to be enthusiastic not just about the role, but about working with them specifically.
So when you go to interviews, make sure you’ve researched the company. This way if they ask you what you know about them, you can have a specific answer prepared. Even if they don’t ask, it can be good to drop your knowledge about them into some of your answers.
Some interviews involve a little competition
For some larger firms, interviews will involve competitive aspects. Some of the interviews I attended involved outright competitions, whilst some involved more subtle competitive activities.
For example, one interview involved each candidate taking a seat at a computer, and designing something on Photoshop – the winning design won the job. Another involved a group planning activity, where the interviewers scored each candidate on their ability to act within a team.
Some employers will ask you what salary you expect
This was a question that completely stumped me at first. Being a student up until recently, I hadn’t ever really thought about pay in terms of a salary, it’s always just been an hourly thing.
But when employers ask you what salary you expect, this is a question you should have an answer prepared for, and a realistic answer at that.
Research what other graduates in that industry are earning, and decide what salary you think would be fitting of your experience. You can research graduate salaries on sites like Prospects and Glassdoor.
Dressing to impress is never a bad idea
Some interviews I attended were quite informal, with the interviewers wearing jeans, but still, you should dress to impress. Whilst I used to panic if I looked overdressed, I quickly learnt that dressing well never fails to impress professional employers. It’s always much better to go overdressed than underdressed!
‘Is there anything you’d like to tell us about yourself’ is one of the most important questions to have an answer for
For a while this was a question to which I answered ‘nope, I think we’ve covered it all’, but I quickly realised that employers ask this for a reason: they want an answer.
This question gives you a chance to sum up what’s been said, and reiterate your skills and enthusiasm to the interviewer. It also gives you the chance to bring up any of your skills or achievements that weren’t mentioned in the interview.
Think of this question as like your chance to give the interviewer a closing statement about you.
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