Preparing for your first interview

A young candidate’s guide to securing a great job offer

Types of interviews

Firstly, let’s look at the fact that there are actually a number of different types of job interview. In some cases, you’ll only need to succeed at one of these to land the role. In others, particularly at large graduate employers, you may face several interview formats throughout the application process. The most common types of interviews conducted by companies are:-

  • Face-to face

    The traditional and still most common form of interview. You’ll attend the employer’s office and be questioned on your suitability for the job by an individual or panel. Face-to-face interviews usually last between 25 minutes and an hour and may be preceded or followed by tests and exercises. The questions may be strengths-based or competency-based. If you know you’re going into a firm for a face-to-face interview, make sure to ask beforehand about the type of interview so you can prepare. Knowing in advance if you’ll be sitting psychometric or competency tests means you won’t be taken by surprise on the day, and the better prepared you are the better you’ll come across to the company.

  • Telephone

    Most often used by employers early in the application process to filter large numbers of applicants down to a more manageable number. If you’re successful you’ll typically be invited to a face-to-face interview or assessment centre. Expect a telephone interview to last between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the type of job you’ve applied for. Important point: if you’ve been applying for jobs with your mobile number on your CV, make sure you answer that mobile to all callers (including numbers you don’t know or withheld numbers) in a professional and friendly manner.

  • Video

    Increasingly popular among large employers, particularly for applications to graduate schemes. Video interviews are mostly conducted live and last anything from 20 to 45 minutes.

  • Assessment centres

    These enable employers to compare the performance of lots of candidates at the same time. You’ll attend an assessment centre with other applicants and take part in tasks such as presentations, team exercises and psychometric tests. Assessment centres usually last a full working day, and if you’re invited along to one of these days the company involved will usually send you all the information you need about the day so you know what to expect in advance.

Keith Beekmeyer of Newpoint Capital Limited, says: “Like a lot of expanding companies these days, we have high hopes for and high expectations of our young candidate pool. In a competitive employment market, we’re looking for those that stand out from the crowd – preparation, interest in the company, a genuine desire to achieve great things in their own career – these are all the things that make us take an interest in a candidate.”

So you’ve secured a face-to-face interview – congratulations! What should you expect, and how should you prepare for the big day?

Interview research

Your performance in an interview depends, almost entirely, on how well you prepare leading up to the day of the interview. It’s absolutely vital that you don’t leave your research and preparation until the last minute. In the days leading up to the interview, focus your research on the factors below so that you’re well prepared for your big day.

  • Company

    You need to show that you understand the business beyond the basics. What sector does it operate in? What challenges does it face? Who are its competitors? What major projects has it recently completed? What are its culture and values? This kind of knowledge demonstrates a genuine interest and could set you apart from a less prepared candidate.

  • Role

    Read the job description again and go over your copy of your original application again, to refresh your memory of how you match the role you’re applying for. It’s vital that you can show that you match what they’re looking for, as well as showing that you understand the role and, of course, why they should choose you over other candidates.

  • Interview panel

    Try to find out who will be interviewing you. The email inviting you to the interview may include this information. Use LinkedIn and the ‘About us’ section of the company website to find out more about their professional interests and experience. However, this information should be used as part of your preparation only – it is not likely that you will be directly questioned on the interview panel themselves, but you may be able to demonstrate some of your knowledge in an associated question/answer.

  • Questions

    You should consider how you’ll answer some common interview questions, as well as preparing some questions you’d like to ask the interviewer. Don’t worry if your interviewer covers everything and you’re left with nothing to ask – simply state that you had questions prepared on X and Y but as they’ve already been covered, you’ve nothing further to add. The interview/s then know that you have prepared, and that your interview was a very full and thorough one.

Planning for the Interview day

There are some practical things to consider:

  • Exactly when and where is the interview taking place?
  • Have you planned your journey and checked the timetables for any public transport you need to take?
  • What will you eat before the interview?

As well some golden rules for you to follow:

  • Avoid alcohol the night before
  • Make sure you have something for breakfast on the morning of your interview – you won’t be at your best on an empty stomach
  • If your interview is scheduled for just after lunchtime, make sure you eat something, even if you’re feeling nervous – a rumbling stomach in an interview will have you being remembered for all the wrong reasons!

Ensure you have everything you need with you on the day:

  • pen and notebook
  • your CV and interview invitation
  • your academic certificates and work examples if requested
  • photo ID
  • breath mints or gum
  • a bottle of water
  • money for transport and food

What to wear to an interview

  • While many employers still expect candidates to dress smartly, a growing number encourage casual wear at work, making it slightly tricky to choose an interview outfit.
  • What you’ll be expected to wear depends on factors such as the size of the company, the industry it operates in and the culture it promotes.
  • For example, a small creative agency may have different dress standards to a major City financial firm.
  • If you’re can’t tell the dress code by the type of company, ask before attending the interview.
  • The key point to remember is that it’s much better to be too smart than too casual.
  • Only opt for a more casual outfit if you’re absolutely certain that’s acceptable – if there’s any doubt, always go for smart business attire.
  • Whatever you choose, always make sure that your clothes are ironed and that your shoes are clean and polished.

Creating a good first impression

  • Punctuality

    Arriving late will increase your stress levels and give the employer very bad first impression, so make sure you arrive 10 – 20 minutes early for your given appointment time.

  • Professionalism

    Be polite and professional with any staff you meet before or after the interview – some companies ask for the opinions of receptionists and other staff on the candidates they’ve met during the day.

  • Positivity

    During the interview, respond to questions with positive statements, be enthusiastic about the job and the company; and always avoid badmouthing your previous employers or university tutors as it creates a bad impression.

  • Body language

    Give a firm handshake to your interviewer(s) before and after the session. Once you’re seated, sit naturally without slouching in your chair or leaning on the desk. Throughout the interview, remember to smile, and always retain eye contact.

  • Communicate

    Answer all questions clearly and concisely, and make sure you stick to responding to the questions asked. It’s fine to pause before answering a difficult question to give yourself thinking time, or to ask for clarification if you’re unsure what a question means. When answering, don’t speak too quickly and don’t speak over your interviewer.

After the interview

As your job interview comes to an end, make sure you find out when you’ll be informed of the outcome. Always thank the interviewer for giving you the chance to attend.

When you get home after the interview, send the interviewer a brief email thanking them for their time and the opportunity.

At home, make notes about the questions that were asked and how you answered them while the interview is still fresh in your memory. This will help you to prepare even better for any future interviews – assuming you haven’t already landed that dream job from this interview, that is!