Preparing for a job interview
Updated on 23 April 2022
Guidance for preparing for a job interview including example interview questions.
Securing a job interview is an exciting and important step. Planning and preparation is crucial for success. Knowing what to expect in the interview will help you prepare.
You’ll often be told in advance what to expect, but if you don’t know, try to find out more by researching on the internet or contacting the organisation directly. There are three main types of interview that you might face.
Types of interview
Face to face interviews
Still the most common type of interview, these are often panel interviews with 2 or more interviewers. The panel might consist of the line manager, an HR representative and could include a service users e.g. for education or social work. Typically face-to-face interviews could be last between 30 minutes and 2 hours long.
Video interviews are the singular biggest growth area of graduate recruitment in recent years. Once only used for pre-screening or fact checking, they are now increasingly common place for more in-depth interviews too. Your video interview might be 'live' with you answering questions as they are posed to you by the interviewer(s) or might take the form of recording your answers to pre-set questions.
You can do video interviews from anywhere and if you need a quiet space, ask about booking the video interviewing suite at the UoD Careers Service.
Preparing for a video interview
When preparing for a video interview there are some additional things that you need to think about.
What's behind you?
Think about where you are going to do your interview recording. Ensure the background is clean, professional, and uncluttered. Ideally you want a plain wall or door behind you. If your computer is not situated where this is possible ensure you take time to look at what is directly behind you (put away the washing/dishes, angle the camera away from your bed, think about what a poster might say about you)
Ensure the camera is at eye level and that you look at it rather than at the screen. If you look at the screen your eye contact will come across as poor and the viewer is more likely to see the top of your head! Ensure the camera is pointed straight at you (i.e. not angled upwards so that the interviewer can see more ceiling than you). Using a PC or laptop with a built in camera is more effective as it is easier to only have the video interviewing browser window open.
Natural light is best. If this isn't possible think about the positioning of a desk light behind the camera. Ensure that you don't have a window directly behind you. It's better to have the window directly behind the camera.
Using your phone
If you can, prop your phone up in a position that shows your face clearly. Try to avoid holding it as this can cause too much movement.
What to wear
Dress like a face-to-face interview, and keep it smart and simple.
Turn off all notifications on your computer or phone. Tell other people that you live with that you are doing an interview so that you won't be disturbed.
Give yourself plenty of time to practice as this will help build your confidence. Watching back over your videos and checking your camera angle and lighting can also help.
Ensure you leave enough time to set up your video interview - it's not difficult and it will ensure that your answers are the most important thing the interviewer is concentrating on.
Telephone interviews might be used when face-to-face is not an option, or can be used for pre-screening and fact checking. The latter style of interview takes the form of set questions and scored responses to ensure parity and would typically last between 15 minutes to 1 hour long. This type of interview would usually be followed up by a more in-depth face-to-face or video interview.
Types of question
Competency-based questions are questions that ask you about your skills and require you to give evidence of what you can do. The interviewer is looking for examples of your past behaviour that will provide evidence that you have the necessary competencies to succeed in the job.
Competency-based interview questions will typically start with:
- 'Tell me about a time when…'
- 'Describe a situation where…'
- 'Give me an example of when…'
To answer these questions effectively you will need to provide real-life examples that will convince the interviewer that you are the right person for the job. It is not enough to say what you can do or even what you would do in a particular situation.
To help you answer competency-based questions, review the skills required for the job by re-visiting the job description and researching the company online.
You'll then need to gather examples of these skills to use as examples. Examples of your skills can come from your studies, paid employment, internships and work experience, volunteering, extra-curricular activities, interests, caring roles, and more.
A great way to assess and record the skills you’re developing while at university is to get involved with Dundee Plus
Many large companies are now using strength-based questions which aim to find out what you enjoy doing and what you do well.
Strength-based questions will ask about your personal attributes and what motivate you. Strength-based interviews will involve lots of questions delivered at a fast past, which helps the recruiter to find out more about the real you. There will be a focus on your body language and tone of voice.
Knowing about yourself and your personality traits can help you prepare include. You can spend some time identifying your main strengths and weaknesses, think about the things you enjoy doing at university, for fun and in current/previous jobs or voluntary roles. You could try a free personality test.
Preparing before an interview
Before an interview, prepare to impress recruiters by demonstrating your enthusiasm for the job and knowledge of the organisation. Do this by:
- Researching the nature of the work.
- Knowing what kinds of skills and knowledge are required.
- Understanding the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the work.
- Demonstrate your understanding of the organisation's products, services, customers, clients, recent successes, achievements.
- Researching their working culture, values, and ethos.
- Knowing about the the overall sector, the organisation’s stock price, its main competitors and recent news coverage.
You'll also need to impress the recruiters with evidence that you can do the job. Do this by:
- Thinking of examples of your key achievements and strengths.
- Gathering evidence of ways that you meet the key criteria and skills for the job.
- Understand what your ‘Unique Selling Points’ are (knowledge, experience, attributes, or skills that are distinctive to you).
- Preparing to speak about your weaknesses. Give an honest answer about one weakness, and be ready to describe how you have (or are working towards) overcoming this or to point out the more positive sides of this drawback.
- Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet from the moment you arrive until you leave.
- First impressions are crucial - smile as you greet people, look like you're pleased to be there and reasonably relaxed, even if you're not. Give a firm handshake if one is offered (but don't break any bones).
- Be aware of body language - avoid crossed arms or legs; don't slouch or lean back too far. Lean forward to show you're attending to them but don't invade their personal space.
- It's OK to use hand gestures but in moderation. A rule of thumb is keep them above your waist and below your shoulders.
- Speak up, talk clearly and at a moderate pace.
- Give the interviewer good eye contact but don't eyeball them. If there is more than one of them speak mainly to the person who asked the question but don't ignore the others.
- It's usually OK to bring material in with you such as your CV or a list of questions, but ask first and don't constantly refer to it.
Other ways to practice
- Listen carefully and answer all parts of the question.
- Answer clearly and avoid jargon unless your interviewer is from the same technical background.
- Keep answers positive, don't brag or be arrogant but don't hide your strengths.
- Provide evidence of your suitability through relevant skills and experiences
- You can control the interview to some extent through your responses, for example, "in addition I did a project on 'X', if you would like to hear about that."
- Don't volunteer weaknesses about yourself or say anything negative about people or organisations.
- Always focus on the relevant benefits.
- Don't lie.
- Ask for clarification if you are unsure how to answer a question and avoid simply guessing.
- Come back to questions if you can't think of an immediate response.
A useful technique for answering competency-based questions is the STAR Technique.
Situation - set the scene
This is where you describe the background to your STAR story, tell the employer where you were, what you were doing, and when it took place.
Explain your role in the situation and what your task was. What were you trying to accomplish?
Explain what you did in detail - how did you do it? What skills did you use?
If this is a group task don't just talk about 'we', tell them what you did yourself.
What happened? Was it a positive result? If not, what did you learn, and what would you do differently next time? Always have an outcome and leave it positive.
An example of STAR in practice
"In my second year at university I was a member of the film society. There were fourteen members and I had only joined that year. I noticed that communication between members was really poor and that we weren’t that active as a society. We rarely met and when we did, not everyone could attend.
I decided to set up a Facebook page as all of the members used Facebook on a regular basis. I initiated discussions and used it to communicate about upcoming meetings and to share ideas. The members of the society became really involved in the Facebook group and as a result we met more often and got involved in regular discussions around film. The group is still actively used and is the main way the society communicates."
This answer shows the employer that the student can use their initiative. It uses the STAR technique successfully by telling the employer the background to the situation, what the student actually did, and what effect it had.
You’ll likely be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer at the end of your interview. Think of some relevant questions to ask in advance.
This is a chance to get clarification on anything that is unclear, find out more about the role or the company, and decide whether or not the job is the right fit for you. It’s also your chance to show a genuine interest in the organisation to which you have applied.
Here are some ideas of questions you may wish to ask. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some potential questions to get you thinking!
If you’d like further advice about preparing for interviews, including what questions to ask please ask a careers adviser.
Around the world, interview formats, practices, and requirements can vary greatly. For example, in some countries it is normal to face a minimum of two interviews for most graduate jobs – one with the manager or technical specialist connected with the job role and a second one with a Human Resources professional.
GoinGlobal provides detailed information on interview practice in many countries around the world.
Ask your family and friends as you may already know someone working in the country to which you are applying. Asking them questions about their interviewed and seeking out tips on how you can prepare can really help your preparation.
You can ask a careers adviser to help you prepare for an interview, wherever you are applying.