If you've gotten this far - well done! Interviews can sometimes be the most daunting part of applying for a job, and preparation is essential to secure the job.
Read our in-depth guide about interviews, including our 'cheat sheet', a list of example questions, and how to prepare.
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Types of interviews
Tab Content: Telephone
Commonly used by large organisations as a screening process, there's more to telephone interview etiquette than you might expect. Follow our advice and secure a face-to-face interview
A telephone interview is a pre-scheduled job interview, typically lasting half an hour. Popular with recruiters as they save time and help to keep interview costs down, they also eliminate travel costs for the interviewee. However, telephone interviews do have a downside. In most cases you'll be answering questions under a strict time limit and this can increase nerves. Not being able to see the interviewer also presents its own difficulties, as you're unable to gauge their response.
How to prepare
A confident phone manner doesn't come naturally to all and some candidates may feel uncomfortable talking over the phone, but with the appropriate preparation this shouldn't affect your performance.
Just like in any other interview situation you need to research the industry, organisation and job. Visit the company website, competitor sites and read relevant journals and news articles. Do this in advance. Avoid surfing the web for information once you've answered the interviewers call.
You can also plan your responses to frequently asked questions by preparing a list of examples of when and how you've demonstrated each skill or quality listed in the person specification.
To increase your confidence when talking over the phone, ask family or friends to call you for a mock interview. Use your research and planned responses to answer their questions and treat this practise as the real thing. Try recording yourself and listening back to get a feel for how you come across over the phone.
Telephone interview questions
A member of the HR team usually conducts telephone interviews and you should expect the same questions as in a face-to-face interview.
When answering the call you need to be professional and upbeat. If you've pre-arranged an interview time don't be caught off guard when the phone rings. Remember that this is not an informal chat with a friend. Answer with 'Good morning/good afternoon, (your name) speaking.' Avoid using slang or informal language and maintain this professional tone throughout the interview.
When answering questions be aware of the pace of your speech. Time is limited but don’t rush or mumble, despite your nerves. Be succinct and to the point. Your responses need to demonstrate your knowledge of, and enthusiasm for the role.
One of the downsides to telephone interviews is that without visual clues from the interviewer it can be hard to gauge how you're doing. In a face-to-face interview you're able to take direction from the employer's body language and visual responses but this is not possible over the phone. When you're being interviewed in person you're also able to smile and nod to show the interviewer that you're engaged.
During the interview use interjections such as 'Ok', 'I see' and 'I understand' to let the interviewer know you're listening. However, be careful not to interrupt them when they're talking.
Tips for telephone interviews
- Pick a suitable location - This is really important. Avoid noisy, public spaces and instead opt for a private, quiet location such as your home. If you live with family or friends warn them in advance of the call that you need some peace. Minimise background noise by closing windows and turning off televisions or radios. Unless your mobile is charged and receiving full reception, use a landline. Turn electronic devises to silent to avoid distraction.
- Dress to impress - It may sound strange as the recruiter can't see you, but dress for an interview. You shouldn't treat telephone interviews any differently than face-to-face interviews and you wouldn't turn up to meet a potential employer in your pyjamas. Dressing for the part helps to put you in a professional frame of mind and boosts confidence.
- Stand up and smile - Smile to ensure that the interviewer hears the enthusiasm in your voice from the start. To covey energy and confidence take the call standing up. At the very least make sure that you're sat upright at a table.
- Refer to your notes - Being able to have application documents and notes to hand is one of the main advantages of a telephone interview, but don't rely on them too heavily. The employer will hear if you're rustling papers and will be able to tell if you're reciting answers from pre-prepared notes. Instead of reams of paper use concise bullet points as prompts.
- Have a glass of water nearby - Interview nerves and lots of talking can lead to dry mouth, not ideal when you're trying to eloquently express yourself.
- Don't be afraid to ask for clarification - If you miss a particular question don't try to second guess what it might have been. Apologise and politely ask the interview if they can repeat it.
- Take notes - If you're able to multitask jot down any useful information provided by the employer and the questions you're asked during the interview. These notes could be a valuable resource if you're invited for a second interview.
Tab Content: Video
Video interviews are an increasingly popular way of assessing candidates across all job sectors - this advice should help ensure you're ready to take on the challenge
Often used in the early stages of the interview process to filter out large numbers of candidates, video interviews can vary in style and length. You may be asked to answer pre-recorded questions with an allotted time given for each response. Or the interview may be live, in a similar format to a traditional interview and carried out on a platform such as FaceTime or Skype.
Talking on camera doesn't come naturally to some people so it's important to do some test runs to help you get used to it. Record yourself and watch it back to see how you look and sound. This is also a good opportunity to review your body language and make sure the background and lighting are okay.
Choose your location
Plan well in advance where you're going to do the interview. Use a quiet location, where you won't be disturbed by noises and people. Make sure the room you choose is tidy and use a clean and simple background so that the recruiter focuses on you. Close any software on your computer that might play notification sounds, and switch your phone to silent, to guarantee you won't be distracted. Also, let everyone in the house know you're about to start the interview so they don't interrupt.
You may be at home but it's still a job interview and this is your opportunity to give a professional first impression - this means dressing appropriately. You should wear the same outfit you would have chosen for a face-to-face meeting with the employer. Although you should think about how your clothes will look on screen and avoid busy patterns and stripes for example. For advice on what to wear take a look at how to prepare for an interview.
Use positive body language
You should avoid slouching, moving too much or touching your face. Instead employers will be looking for you to make good eye contact, smile, listen and take an interest in what they're saying. To help you do this your camera should be at eye level and you should look into it rather than at the screen.
You also need to think about the lighting as it won't be a great interview if you can't be properly seen. To ensure you don't get a shadow either use natural light from a window or put a lamp in front of the camera and adjust the distance to get the best result.
A few days before the interview you should test the computer, camera and any software that you've been asked to use. Make sure the picture is clear and the sound quality is good. It's also worth checking your internet connection and ensuring that nothing on the day will affect it.
Designed to give you an insight into how to best prepare for a video interview, this tool will help you to understand what employers like PwC are looking for and steps to take before, during and after your interview.
Tab Content: Competency-Based
One of the most common interview methods, competency-based interviews are popular with recruiters as they enable employers to compare candidate's life-for-like.
Competency-based interviews (also known as structured, behavioural or situational interviews) are designed to test one or more skills or competencies. The interviewer has a list of set questions (each focusing on a specific skill), and your answers will be compared to pre-determined criteria and marked accordingly.
Competency interviews work on the principle that past behaviour is the best indicator of future performance. They can be used by employers across all sectors but are particularly favoured by large graduate recruiters, who may use them as part of an assessment centre. Competency-based may be the most common type of interview.
They differ to normal or unstructured interviews, which tend to be more informal. In unstructured interviews, recruiters often ask a set of random, open-ended questions relevant to the job, such as 'what can you do for the company?' to get an overall impression of who you are. A competency-based interview is more systematic and each question targets a skill needed for the job.
Key competencies regularly sought after by employers include:
- Commercial awareness
- Conflict resolution
- Problem solving
Learn to structure the story using the STAR technique. This means setting the scene, explaining how you handled the situation by placing the emphasis on your role, and detailing the outcome/result.
The acronym STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
It is a widely recognised technique designed to enable you to provide a meaningful and complete answer to questions asking for examples. At the same time, it has the advantage of being simple enough to be applied easily. Many interviewers will have been trained in using the STAR structure. Even if they have not, they will recognise its value when they see it. The information will be given to them in a structured manner and, as a result, they will become more receptive to the messages you are trying to communicate.
Situation: 10-15% of your answer
Describe the situation that you were confronted with or the task that needed to be accomplished. Set the context. Make it concise and informative, concentrating solely on what is useful to the story. Don’t give unnecessary detail.
Task: 10-15% of your answer
What were you responsible for? Be really specific. Make sure the task links back to the skill you are evidencing.
Action: 60% of your answer
This is the most important section of the STAR approach as it is where you demonstrate your skills in actions. Be personal, talk about you, not the rest of the team. Avoid saying “we” even in a teamwork example. This is about you and not the rest of the team.
Go into detail. Do not assume that the interviewers will guess what you mean. Steer clear of technical information, unless it is crucial to your story. Explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.
For example; when discussing a situation where you had to deal with conflict, many candidates would simply say: 'I told my colleague to calm down and explained to him what the problem was'. However, this would not provide a good idea of what drove you to act in this manner. How did you ask him to calm down? How did you explain the nature of the problem? By highlighting the reasons behind your action, you would make a greater impact. For example: 'I could sense that my colleague was irritated and I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings and his anger, I gave him the opportunity to calm down. I then explained to him my own point of view on the matter, emphasising how important it was that we found a solution that suited us both.'
This revised answer helps the interviewers understand what drove your actions and reinforces the feeling that you are calculating the consequences of your actions, thus retaining full control of the situation. It provides much more information about you as an individual and is another reason why the STAR approach is so useful. Portray yourself as the driver of a successful outcome. Avoid saying 'I had to…', as sounds as if you were acting under duress when you should be demonstrating your initiative. Ensure that you are giving the interviewers an insight into your logical approach.
Result: 15%-20% of your answer
Explain what happened as a result of the action that you took. You can also use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and what you learnt in that situation but this shouldn’t be the main focus of your answer.
In brief it’s really, really simple:
• List the competencies for the specific job
• Look through your CV for two examples for each competency (if this becomes really hard or impossible, perhaps the job may not suit you)
• For each example, write a bullet point for each of the STAR headings above
• Practise your answers
• Enjoy the interview!
Tab Content: Strength-Based
A number of large organisations already use strength-based interviewing as part of their graduate recruitment process.
What is a strength-based interview?
A strength-based interview focuses on what you enjoy doing, rather than what you can do, such as in a competency-based interview. But don't be fooled, while you're talking about what you like and dislike the employer is learning about what you’re good at, and not so good at. Strength-based interviewing has its foundations in positive psychology. The theory is that by identifying your strengths and matching them to the role you'll be happier in your work, perform better, learn quicker and stay with the company for longer.
Unlike their competency counterparts, strength-based interviews are more personal and allow recruiters to gain a genuine insight into the personalities of candidates and to see if they’d be a good 'fit' for the company. They also allow you to be selected on the basis of your natural abilities.
The strength-based approach is particularly useful when recruiting individuals who don't have a lot of work experience and companies such as Aviva, BAE Systems, Barclays, Cisco, EY, Nestle, Royal Mail and Unilever all use strength interviews as part of their graduate recruitment process.
Another reason that employers are beginning to favour strength-based interviews is that candidates have less opportunity to prepare and rehearse their answers, meaning that interview questions are more likely to bring out the genuine interest, motivation and aptitude of interviewees.
An added benefit is that most people come across best when they're talking about things they enjoy, so strength-based interviewing makes for a more pleasurable interview experience all round, for both the interviewer and interviewee.
Asking for feedback
After an unsuccessful interview, it can be tempting to try and forget it ever happened. But feedback from an employer could be an amazing learning opportunity, and could set you up to be successful in your next interview. Click here to read our essential guide: The Six Steps to Feedback.
Some interviews may require you to give a presentation. Don't panic - this is a great opportunity for you to shine and stand out from the crowd. Read our essential guide Presentation Skills for Interviews, which also have links to online courses and videos to help you polish your presentation skills.
Got an interview coming up?
If you need help preparing for an upcoming interview, send us an e-mail and we'll let you know how we can best assist your preparation.
You can also ask any generic questions about interviews at one of our drop-in sessions available online on TARGETconnect!
Outside of term time drop-in sessions will be limited depending on demand.