Expert panel: interviews
You must have done something right, because you are now on your way to a job interview!
This conversation could be the all important step into your chosen career or go back to the job-hunting drawing board.
We lined up four experts to give you some advice on what to (and what not to) do in your job interview:
How should I prepare for a job interview?
Andrew Falconer: “Even the most sophisticated graduate recruitment selection process can be summed up by three short questions: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you fit in? The first is about skills, the second about motivation and the final question about organisational culture. You can prepare by making sure you really understand what the job entails and what the company is like to work for. Spend time thinking about how your experiences match the skills they are looking for. Fitting in is about your use of language, how you dress at interview and whether you look as if you already work there.”
Julia Dolowicz: “Spend a good chunk of time revisiting the company/organisation website to reacquaint yourself with their aims, mission, the team and the ethos of the company. Look at their News section to familiarise yourself with any current project they’re working on and pick out a few interesting points that you could mention.”
What should I wear to a job interview?
Ajaz Hussain: “Dress smart and in the attire of the industry you wish to join.”
Andrew Falconer: “Your parents will probably say “suit”. But nowadays that isn’t always right. Do some research and find out what the dress code is. In banking and finance the suit is important, in a more creative industry a jacket and (expensive!) jeans might be normal. David Cameron’s open-shirt might work for him, but could be a risk in an interview. So just because the interviewer might be wearing jeans and t-shirt it doesn’t mean you can! And remember to polish your shoes!”
What are the different types of job interview?
Julia Dolowicz: “There are one-to-one informal interviews where you are sitting with just one company representative and there’s no real formula to the process. This again, will depend on the type of industry you’re entering. It is more usual for an interview to be informal and also formal, with two, sometimes three interviewers. They will have a set of standard questions to ask all the candidates and this will ensure there is fairness in questioning. An employee from the human resources department may be present also to cover any employment questions, but again it depends on the company.
With group interviews, candidates are all called in at the same time, this can be a little unnerving when you meet the candidates you’re up against, but I would treat this as an opportunity to relax a little and get to know the others. Believe it or not, there’s safety in numbers. You’ll also no doubt be observed at your interaction with others, as this is the main reason for holding group interviews. Usually, interviews are held on your own with the panel, but you may have to give a presentation in front of your peers.”
What shouldn’t you talk about in a job interview?
Frances Gow: “Avoid talking about salary, unless the interviewer asks you directly what kind of salary you are expecting. Also, you shouldn’t talk about benefits (eg. company car, phone etc) or expected holidays. Never talk in a negative way about past or present employers.”
Ajaz Hussain: “Any non-relevant experiences, the terrible journey you may have had on your way to the interview or salary expectations (the latter, unless invited to do so…and if so, make sure you have done your research).”
What should you do if you don’t know the answer to a question?
Frances Gow: “There are some techniques you can use to give yourself some thinking space, for example saying ‘Would you mind repeating the question?’ or ‘That’s a very interesting question, may I think about that for a moment?’. But if you really do not know the answer, then be honest and say so. If you try to bluff your way through, it will most likely be obvious to the interviewer and will not work in your favour.”
Andrew Falconer: “Bluff? Definitely not. Depending on the question you may not be expected to know the answer. They may be looking to see how you respond. By doing sufficient research before the interview you should be able to deal with typical questions. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Be honest. But also say what your initial instinct might be or what you’d do to find out.”
Any other advice you can give?
Ajaz Hussain:“Remember, the interview starts from the moment you arrive to when you leave the building. Be courteous and polite to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to any employee, even if they do not appear to be part of the formal process. Within 24 hours, reflect upon and record your experiences - what you enjoyed, the challenges and any difficult questions, how you responded and how you could improve next time. Finally, use social media responsibly and be careful about what you tweet!”
Julia Dolowicz: “An area that is often forgotten about when it comes to interviews is social media profiles. Make sure your profile settings are set to private and don’t have any inappropriate photos or status updates lurking that any public viewer could see easily. More and more employers are looking at Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/YouTube to check your profile and the content you have. For example; don’t update your status about the impending interview days leading up to it. They may be watching.”
Frances Gow: “If you are unsuccessful, ask for feedback on your interview. When you receive feedback, make some notes and thank the person for their time. NEVER try to dispute the outcome or defend yourself in the light of negative feedback.”
Ajaz Hussain is the Postgraduate Careers Adviser at Lancaster University Management School where he is responsible for careers and employability provision across 18 masters’ programmes. He has supported students in successfully launching their global career aspirations at leading companies and organisations across private, public and third sectors.
Andrew Falconer is Director of Careers & Employability at GSM London. He has worked in red-brick universities where he specialised in teaching professional skills to MBA students and provided careers support across the humanities and social sciences. Andrew was editor of The Careers Group’s Develop Your Career blog and tweets as @agfcareers.
Frances Gow is the dedicated Careers Consultant at the University of Westminster. Frances offers advice and guidance to students both one to one and in groups. She also advises academics on the delivery Career Management Skills in the curriculum and manages projects, such as mentoring and a skills academy to improve the employability of students.