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Job Interview Tips With Graduate Coach

24 May 2021

For many hoping to take their first step onto the career ladder, the prospect of job interviews is truly daunting. According to research commissioned by career coaching company Graduate Coach, a whopping 85% of students and graduates in the UK are afraid of interviews, so you’re certainly not alone if you harbour anxiety about the process.

To allay your fears, we’ve teamed up with Graduate Coach to provide you with this guide to the interview process, offering some expert job interview tips and tricks from Head Coach and Founder Chris Davies that will help you to build confidence, improve your performance and stand out from the rest of the pack.

Whether you’re a total interview novice or have already had a few interviews, the good news is that interviewing is very much a skill, and as such, it can be practised, honed and eventually perfected. The expert advice you’ll read in this post will set you on track to doing just that and get you closer to landing a great job.

What is the Purpose of a Job Interview?

As already stated, job interviews are capable of striking fear into the heart of even the steeliest individuals. Whilst this is certainly an understandable attitude, given that there’s never a shortage of sensational news stories about interviews from hell, the fact you’ve been given an interview for a job should fill you with confidence.

In today’s job market, especially since the pandemic, employers tend to be inundated with applications for every vacancy they list. Whilst this is now improving as we (touch wood) ease our way out of the worst of the pandemic, you can be sure that if you have been invited to attend an interview, you’ve already done exceptionally well.

Reaching this stage should signal to you that the employer believes that on paper, i.e. from your CV, cover letter and any aptitude tests you may have carried out before this stage, there’s a good chance that you’re a fit for the job.

As such, the old cliché your parents and teachers told you about exams being an ‘opportunity to show off’ holds true here. The interview process is ultimately about demonstrating four key things to your prospective employer:

  • you can do the job
  • you want the job
  • you empathise with the interviewer
  • you can ask insightful questions

 

Think of these four elements as four pillars that form the basis of any successful interview performance. Every interview will be different, but as long as you focus on impressing these four facts upon your interviewer(s), you’ll stand a great chance of setting yourself apart from the other candidates and securing an offer.

In the following sections, we’ll go through these elements individually, explaining exactly how to demonstrate each of them in any interview you attend.

Step 1: I Can do the Job

To know whether you’re capable of succeeding in the job, and demonstrating that to your interviewers, it’s crucial to first ensure that you understand the nature of the role, and what skills it requires.

In terms of skills, there are 9 key skills that the vast majority of employers will be looking for. These are:

  • Business Awareness – An understanding of how businesses culture works, and how to behave appropriately within this context.
  • Communication & Literacy – The ability to communicate clearly and effectively in both writing and speech.
  • Numeracy – The ability to handle numerical data confidently and draw conclusions and insights from it.
  • Problem Solving – The ability to think creatively and use your initiative to find solutions to difficult problems or situations.
  • IT Skills – A proficiency in essential IT skills and software such as Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as any that are specifically required by the job for which you are applying.
  • Leadership & Entrepreneurial Skills  – The ability to take on responsibility with confidence, to demonstrate initiative, enterprise and a ‘self-starter’ mindset.
  • Organisation & Planning – The ability to manage your time effectively, to work to deadlines, and to juggle and prioritise multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • SelfManagement – The ability to remain resilient in the face of changing circumstances, the desire to take responsibility for your progression and learning.
  • Team Working – The capability of working effectively within a team, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of others and manage different types of social situations. 

 

As stated, these are essential baseline skills that almost every employer will require in a candidate. You must reflect carefully about how your strengths and weaknesses correspond to the different skills within this list, and about the experiences and achievements you have under your belt to demonstrate each one.

As well as having an appreciation for the skills universally sought within the job market, it’s vital to properly research the role you’re applying for to understand more precisely what kind of skills you’ll likely be asked about.

Your first step in this regard should be poring carefully over the job specification. This will tell you explicitly what the organisation is looking for in a candidate and, equally importantly, what tasks the role entails. The latter is crucial, because it gives you a chance to imagine the kinds of challenges that you may encounter in the role, and to be ready for any questions related to them.

Some organisations such as the Civil Service will have a specific competency framework that details explicitly the capabilities expected of staff at each level. If such a document is available for a vacancy that interests you, it’s vital to study it in detail to understand the skills you need to evidence in your interview.

Once you fully understand the ins and outs of the role you’re applying for, you can begin working on your ‘STAR’ stories. For any readers who may be unfamiliar with this abbreviation, it stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. The idea behind this is to be able to create a skills audit – a list of successful past experiences in work, university, volunteering and internships that you can share with your interviewers, leaving them in no doubt that you possess the key job competencies that you have identified from your research.

The anatomy of a good STAR story is as follows:

  • Situation – What were the circumstances? Where were you working/volunteering? Was there a particular problem that arose?
  • Task – What was your role in the organisation? What goals did you have?
  • Action – What did you contribute personally in the effort to overcome the issue?
  • Result – What was the result of your effort? What did you accomplish? (Don’t be afraid to evidence this with facts and figures if you have these available!)

 

Whilst this formula can sound a little, well, formulaic, it’s important to bear in mind that competency-based questions tend to be scored against an exam-like mark scheme, so it’s important to make sure that you are systematically ticking their boxes.

This doesn’t suggest by any means that your delivery of these stories needs to be robotic and rigid, but it will pay dividends to keep this framework in mind whilst you are planning how to evidence key skills during the interview.

Step 2: I Want the Job

Convincing an employer that you are capable of doing the job is only part of the battle. No organisation wants to hire somebody who is unmotivated, unenthusiastic or uncommitted to the role, no matter how talented they are.

Your next task, therefore, is to convince your interviewing panel that the prospect of being offered the job truly excites you, and that you’re not going to leave in six months for pastures new.

The key to doing this successfully is in demonstrating not only that the job is right for you, but that you are right for the job. This can only be achieved by developing a thorough, authentic understanding of the organisation itself, and spending time self-reflecting on how they correspond with what you are looking for in an employer. As ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once wrote, “If you know the employer and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred job interviews”. Something like that anyway.

In an interview, convincing your interviewers that the job is right for you requires you to be able to:

  • Articulate compellingly why you believe that this career choice is right for you.
  • Be authentic – manufacturing the truth tends to be transparent.
  • Draw on past experiences to offer relevant parallels, differences and takeaways.
  • Demonstrate passion and enthusiasm
  • Make the interviewers believe you will give 100% effort.

 

As previously stated, attempting to achieve the above in an interview will be utterly futile if you haven’t thoroughly and meaningfully researched the organisation to which you’re applying. This means doing more than having a cursory glance at their website.

It’s a good idea, for instance, to go through news reports on the organisation, check out their various social media profiles, research the industry to which they belong, find out the areas of interest of the employees by whom you’ll be interviewed, and even do a spot of mystery shopping to experience how they treat customers.

Understanding the employer in more than just a superficial way will allow you to shine – not only will the interviewers be impressed that you’ve put the work in, but your questions and responses throughout the interview will all be imbued with an elevated level of confidence, credibility and insight that will set you apart from others and demonstrate beyond doubt that you really want the job.

 

Step 3: Demonstrating Empathy

To succeed in your interview, it’s vital that throughout the interview, you demonstrate a sufficient level of empathy with your interviewers and their organisation to persuade them that you would fit in there. The ideal scenario is to be so in tune with the organisation’s culture and the wavelength of the interviewer(s), that you almost give them the impression that you already work for them, and would have no trouble at all slotting right in.

Chris Davies has noted from experience that many people take to this interpersonal facet of interviewing technique quite naturally, whilst others struggle with it. For all you introverts in the latter camp who find making a connection with interviewers (or people in general) excruciating, the upside is that there are plenty of ways that you can present yourself as the charming, courteous and charismatic person that you surely are:

  • Researching the organisation’s culture – what makes them successful? What are their values? What kind of people do they employ? How do employees act?
  • Understanding the organisation’s concerns and requirements.
  • Having strong STAR stories to demonstrate team working skills.
  • Being yourself! This will exude authenticity and approachability.
  • Being polite and courteous.
  • Listening carefully (this may seem obvious but it’s harder to do under pressure – think of all those people you shout at through the TV as they fumble simple questions onThe Chase).
  • Appearing and acting professionally – being on time (early!), not underdressing, being well-slept and mentally sharp, having questions prepared.

 

These are all handy ways to make building a rapport with your interviewer(s) much easier and more likely, the importance of which simply cannot be overstated. After all – to hire you, they need to feel comfortable with the idea of spending every day with you around the place (or at least staring at your face all day on Zoom)!

Step 4: Asking Insightful Questions

At the end of a job interview, you’ll be invited to turn the tables and ask some questions of your own. Use this as your final chance to make an impression on their interviewers.

As discussed in previous sections, a thorough understanding of the organisation stemming from serious, committed research underpins every success you’ll have during the interview, and it’s no different for this step.

Properly understanding your interviewer and the organisation they work for is vital if you want to be able to ask questions that engage and impress them, rather than the cookie-cutter vagueries they’ve likely already heard from other candidates throughout the day.

Think about having a conversation with somebody on a topic you’re passionate about, and being asked a really interesting question by them about it. Not only does this stimulate and enrich the conversation by allowing you to think carefully about your answer and explore it with them, but it also assures you that they’ve been listening carefully, that they possess a real understanding of the finer points of the discussion, and that they are genuinely interested in the topic at hand.

Asking insightful questions to your interviewer(s) will have the same effect – they’ll be left convinced that you have an excellent grasp of all aspects of the job and their organisation, and that you are enthusiastic and passionate about the work they do. Ideally, this will act as the final solidification of all the hard work you’ve already done in previous stages of the interview to persuade them of those facts.

It’s a good idea to have at least three questions prepared before the interview, bringing them along in a notepad if you wish. Alternatively, if some new idea arises from something discussed during the interview, you can jot that down and ask about it later. Both approaches have their merits – bringing questions along with you gives you security and will demonstrate organisation and professionalism to your interviewer(s). On the other hand, the latter approach evidences an ability to listen carefully and form insights on-the-fly. It may be best, if possible, to mix-and-match the two approaches to show your prospective employers that you possess a full gamut of skills.

 

What if I don’t get the job?

Firstly, remember that getting invited to an interview is a huge achievement. No interview experience is wasted, as you will gain insights and experiences that will help you to refine your interviewing skills.

It’s easier said than done, but suffering rejections need not be a reason to feel despondent. It’s normal to be disappointed and feel like you’re not good enough, but the reality is that the job market is more competitive than ever, so rejections are to be expected.

At the risk of sounding like a two-bit motivational speaker, failure is a necessary step on the path towards success, and each interview you sit will allow you the opportunity to learn and grow.

Treat each interview as practice. After each interview, you should immediately write down as many notes as you can whilst it’s all still fresh in your mind. These thoughts will allow you to better reflect upon what went well, and which areas you can target for improvement.

As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, interviewing is a skill in itself that needs to be practiced. If you take a positive, growth-oriented attitude towards rejections, you’ll see that your technique improves with each successive interview and eventually you will receive that offer you’re hoping for.

Need More Help?

We hope you’ve found this guide written in collaboration with Graduate Coach instructive.

Whilst we’ve tried to provide a really actionable introductory overview of the interview process, the information in this guide merely scratches the surface of everything that Graduate Coach have to offer for graduates seeking to improve their interviewing technique or other employability skills.

For more totally free content aimed at boosting your chances of securing a job, check out the first-of-its kind course that Graduate Coach put together with FutureLearn entitled ‘How to Get a Graduate Job’.

Alternatively, check out the Graduate Coach website for a complete list of the various employment coaching services they offer, including bespoke one-to-one interview coaching and an exhaustive online ‘Nail That Interview’ course that gets far more in-depth and granular than the remit of this blog post allows for.

Thank you for reading, we wish you the very best of luck in any upcoming interviews!

Written by Rupert Neaves

 

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