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INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEWS Different types of interview...............................................................................................3 The standard chronological interview..............................................................................3 The structured, criteria-based interview..........................................................................3 The panel interview..........................................................................................................3 Technical interviews........................................................................................................4 Telephone interviews.......................................................................................................4 Preparation.........................................................................................................................6 Remind yourself...........................................................................................................6 Research the company.................................................................................................6 Skills............................................................................................................................6 What the employer wants.............................................................................................7 Anticipating questions.......................................................................................................8 Your life.......................................................................................................................8 The job.........................................................................................................................8 The organisation...........................................................................................................8 Sample interview questions...............................................................................................9 Finding the right answers...............................................................................................10 On the Day........................................................................................................................11 Dress..............................................................................................................................11 Attitude..........................................................................................................................11 Be positive.................................................................................................................11 Be enthusiastic...........................................................................................................11 Be natural...................................................................................................................12 Be honest....................................................................................................................12 Getting There.................................................................................................................12

Different types of interview


The standard chronological interview
This is how all interviews used to be. A steady ramble through your life from school days (When did you decide to study sociology at university?) via the present day (How is your project going?) to the misty future (And how do you see yourself progressing in our company?). Based largely on your application form or CV, these interviews concentrate on getting you to explain, and expand upon, what you have written. Some interviews are still like this, but the trend is definitely towards something a bit more scientific.

The structured, criteria-based interview


Structured interviews are an attempt by employers to ensure interviews are as objective as possible. In structured interviews, all candidates are asked more or less the same questions. The logic behind the move towards structured interviews is simple: Past performance is the best guide to future success. The organisation thinks up the selection criteria and then, in an interview, examines whether or not you have evidence that you possess them to some degree or other. This kind of interview can be taxing, but at least if you have already worked out their selection criteria so you shouldn't be caught unawares. Because the main purpose of the interview is to explore your life against six or so set criteria, it follows that the questions are more detailed and the questioning more persistent. It may be helpful to imagine the whole process as a series of levels, each one slightly deeper than the last: Level one The question Would you describe yourself as an organiser? Level two The evidence Be prepared to talk about several examples that illustrate each criterion, from different parts of your life. Level three The personal contribution Look at the significant events in your life and your personal contribution to each (your role, your feelings, what you learnt). Level four The general Be prepared to discuss criteria more generally. They may even relate criteria to current affairs, especially the business world (eg, what makes a good organiser, why is this important to businesses?) Level five The challenge Don't be shocked to have your ideas challenged. Despite what you may feel, they are not getting at you. Keep calm, look them in the eye and stick up for yourself. Level six Back to the start How else could you convince me that you're a good organiser?

Interviewers will generally visit each of these levels during the course of a structured interview, though not necessarily in this order.

The panel interview


Occasionally you will push open the door to discover two or more people waiting to interview you. As long as you remain calm, panel interviews are often easier and sometimes fairer than the normal one-to-one. If a solitary interviewer doesn't take a shine to you, you're sunk, but in a panel, the same person could be over-ruled by others.

The rules of engagement are similar to one-to-one interviews, but there are some specific points to make. If you don't know who to look at during the interview, the safest thing is to give most of the answer back to the person who asked the question, with a few brief glances to the others. Don't be thrown if one of the panel starts scribbling notes or looks bored. The bigger the panel, the greater the likelihood that some of its members are not experienced interviewers. You will sometimes be asked the same question twice. This isn't a cunning ruse to test the honesty of your earlier answer, it's a mistake. Someone wasn't paying attention. Just get on with answering the question (again). Sometimes it's helpful to know who's who on the panel. There may be a mixture of personnel specialists, technical and line managers. Knowing who they are, and therefore their special interests, can determine how you answer their individual questions.

Technical interviews
If you are applying for a technical or highly specialised position, the chances are you will get a first interview that contains a high proportion of technical questions. It's not unusual for interviewers to reach under the table, bring out a device and ask you to explain how it works. They could show you a wiring diagram or a line of computer code and expect instant analysis. Even if they don't resort to visual aids, they will quiz you in depth about your course. There are a few things to look out for.

Most final year students forget what they studied in previous years. Make a big effort to remember. It's really embarrassing, after having listed your course details on your application form, to waffle unconvincingly on about a second year project you barely remember. If you have any project work, vacation experience or whatever that is particularly relevant, produce a short digest of the information and take it with you to the interview. You can use it to illustrate your answers or you can leave it with the interviewer when you finish. Even though it may be a technical interview, they will still be looking at other, more personal, skills. There aren't many jobs that require only technical skills.

Telephone interviews
A small number of organisations interview over the phone. This can be a disorientating experience because neither party can see the other (until the appropriate technology becomes available, of course) and so the vital visual clues are absent. It's also a lot more difficult to act normally when you've got a phone stuck to one ear. Be enthusiastic Because so much of the impact you are making comes through your voice, it is even more important that you are animated and enthusiastic. Try imagining that the other person is in the room and you are talking directly to them. Don't sit huddled up in a chair. Use gestures normally and try to relax. If you have enough advance warning, it's a good idea to send the interviewer a recent photo of yourself so that they can put a face to the voice.

Relax Telephone interviews are used because they are cost effective and, obviously, they examine how good you are on the phone. The good thing about telephone interviews is that in some ways it is easier to hide nerves and relax. It is also quicker and more convenient for both you and the interviewer. That said, you won't be able to assess the culture of the organisation as well, and the interviewer can't really sell the organisation as well as in a face-to-face interview. A quick check list The purpose is often to check out whether you are a serious applicant, so prepare for the why this career/company?', what do you have to offer?' type questions. Here's a quick check list of things to remember before you phone: Make sure you practice before you phone Smile as you dial - some people even dress formally Prepare a smooth opening Avoid distractions Don't drink/eat/smoke.

Be professional When you're on the phone, remember to be professional and credible. It is a test of whether you can handle a customer or supplier on the phone without becoming hysterical or clamming up. And pauses are OK; use pauses to think - but say so, or the interviewer may think you have been cut off. At the end, do ask questions, but this is not the time for a discussion about salary, training and start dates. Remember, this is the preliminary round only.

Preparation
Good preparation is essential, not only because you will come across better in interviews, but also because it's the best remedy by far for nerves.

Remind yourself
The first step to great preparation is to remind yourself what you are offering this potential employer. It may be a while since you filled in their application form so dig it out and look at the statements you made about yourself. Re-acquaint yourself with the fine details of your degree study. It's easy to forget most of what you studied and employers will be interested in hearing you talk intelligently about your course in some depth.

Research the company


It pays to be informed for two reasons. Firstly, it's obviously in your own interests to find out as much as possible about the place where you may be spending most of your waking hours. You need to know that the company has a sound business record and that it's the kind of environment you'd enjoy being a part of. Secondly, employers will expect you to show an awareness of the company and the industry at interview. Find out more about organisations, the obvious place to start is the website belonging to the company you're researching. You'd be hard pushed to find a company without a website of some description, although quality will undoubtedly vary. The number of employees, annual turnover and recent history are some of the things you should look out for. From the company website itself you can garner all sorts of information. You can get an idea for the style and emphasis of a company, their marketing, how much effort they put into recruiting the right sort of people and there will probably be a mission statement (stating the overall purpose and aims of the company) that you should acquaint yourself with. If you're having trouble finding company information, good places to start are search engines. Google, Yahoo!, Excite, Altavista, Lycos and Virgin.net are all good starting points. Excite will put you through to www.hoovers.co.uk which contains extensive company profiles, and the option to pay for extra information. Useful features include industry news, a brief history, profiles, company news and analysis (including recent company press releases), finances and also links to profiles of a company's top competitors Apart from websites there are the traditional research materials newspapers the Financial Times may be a bit daunting, but it is a good way to keep up with recent developments in business (mergers, markets and the like). The university careers service will have all kinds of company and industry-related information, and you could even have a look in the Yellow Pages for specific industry sectors. Then there's always the company brochure itself.

Skills
Employers are also interested in the personal skills you can bring to the organisation so draw up a list of the ten or twelve skills and abilities you feel reasonably happy talking about. If you don't write it down you could easily forget it in the heat of the moment. For each skill, think of as many bits of evidence as you can that could persuade another person that you have what you claim you have.

What the employer wants


Most organisations these days are upfront with their selection criteria. Online or in their recruitment brochure, there will usually be a section called something like: What we expect from you'. If you have met them before at a careers fair or presentation, you would have been told what these essential attributes are. It does pay to find out what they place special emphasis on. If there is no brochure or online presence for the firm, check out similar firms or give them a call and ask for a job description. Potential All being well, the criteria that the employer is selecting against should be pretty similar to the list of skills you are offering. Don't be too dismayed if some of the things they seem to want are things you are uncertain about. After all, they're looking for potential. Just be confident demonstrating that you have recognised the importance of a particular criterion, you will impress the interviewer much more than just mumbling apologetically. The main reason why it's absolutely critical that you know what an employer is looking for is because the interview will be based on these criteria. When you leave the room at the end of the interview, the interviewer completes an assessment sheet that lists each criterion with space to record how far you have demonstrated that you possess them.

Anticipating questions
Just to be clear, most questions are pretty predictable. There are only three areas that you will be asked about: your life, the job that you are applying for and the organisation that you hope will employ you...

Your life
You should be an expert on this first topic, even though it's sometimes difficult to remember what you did or thought last year. Look at your life as a series of key events and anticipate questions about each of them. Employers are most interested in your personal contribution, motivation and lessons learnt.

The job
They will always ask about the job you are applying for. There may be a specific job description if so ensure that you can give examples of the skills/competences that they are looking for. Find out why your job is important to business. Look too at career progression within the organisation. Where do you hope to be in five years' time?

The organisation
This deceptively simple and oh-so-predictable area of questioning can be a minefield. There are only two rules: never state the obvious and never slag off the competition. If you find yourself being interviewed by a member of the Ford Motor Company who asks, quite reasonably, why you are interested in Ford, don't say it's because Ford is a multinational car company with a fine reputation for training. First, they know that and second, they have probably heard that answer before. Anticipate the question, think of the obvious answer and then avoid it. Now is your chance to impress the interviewer. Mention presentations, brochures, a chat you had with a recent recruit, something you read in the paper Anything which shows you've put a bit of thought into it. Three is the magic number There are three questions that form the heart of every interview and you would be well advised to think about how to answer them. 1. Why should we employ you? 2. What interests you in this job? 3. Why are you applying to us? Resist the temptation of learning answers parrot-fashion. Practice! However confident you are, it's never a waste of time to find another person to ask you questions and to hear yourself answer them - get a friend to do it. It won't be as rigorous as the real thing, but it will give you an opportunity to talk about yourself. Practising in a non-threatening environment will give you extra confidence when the big day dawns.

Sample interview questions


The standard interview You can never be quite sure how interview questions will be phrased, and no matter how hard you prepare you'll have to think on your feet and find something sensible to say when you get asked something you weren't expecting. However, you can greatly calm your nerves and prepare yourself if you anticipate the questions you're most likely to be asked. As a rough guideline, you can expect interviewers to want to talk about your life, the job and the company. These questions should not be seen as a test to see if you're good enough, but as an opportunity to demonstrate that you have the qualities relevant to the job and the company. Think about how you'd answer any of the following questions (but don't learn answers off by heart), and you should be well on the way to impressing your future employer. Typical Questions Tell me about yourself. Why did you study at university? What did you find interesting about the course? What did you learn at university that you can bring to this job? What did you do in your spare time? Give an example of a time when you handled a major crisis or problem. Would you say you were a follower or a leader? What do you consider your strengths/weaknesses? What are your main achievements to date? Have you ever had a position of responsibility? Give an example of a time when you showed initiative. What did you gain from your work experience/vacation employment? How do you manage your time? How well do you work under pressure? Give examples. What's the biggest challenge you've ever had? What action did you take? What attracts you to a career in ? What makes you the best person for the job? Where do you expect to be in five years' time? What do you think makes a good employer? Why do you want to work for this company? What do you know about this company? What can you contribute to this company? Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer? What are your salary expectations? Are you flexible to move/travel? Are you applying for other jobs? Have you any questions to ask me?

Finding the right answers


Below are some questions which are trickier. Mostly the employer is interested in how you cope with having more difficult questions. You can never anticipate all the questions that may be asked and the ability to think on your feet, not panic be reflective and then communicate will be tested. There are no correct answers to any of thee questions but some hints are given.
Would you say you were a follower or a leader? Describe aspects of both - how you are capable of following directions and realise the importance of listening well and being part of a team effort, but you can also demonstrate leadership skills. What do you consider your strengths/weaknesses? Highlight several strengths you believe are relevant to the company and the job, but only one weakness. This weakness should not be closely related to the position for which you are being interviewed or it could be a technical skill that you can easily learn. How well do you work under pressure? Emphasise that you work as well under pressure as you do at any other time but that you prioritise tasks so that your workload is manageable. How would you rate yourself from 1-10? This question has a high discomfort factor and is better answered indirectly. Do not give a definite number. If you rate yourself as only a 7 they will question your ability and your confidence, if you say a 10 they will think you are arrogant with no room for growth or the right attitude to learn. Instead imply that you will strive to reach a 10. Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer? This is to test whether you can be discreet and tactful. Never talk negatively about a former employer even if you hated the sight of each other. Try to explain methods you use to deal with difficult people and emphasise the importance of flexibility, perseverance and good communication. Are you applying to other jobs? You need to show that you are sufficiently interested in that particular industry or field of work and that you have not just been applying for any job with 'graduate' in its description, so only mention jobs that are closely related to the one you're at an interview for. You should also demonstrate a particular interest in and commitment to that company.

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On the Day
Dress
Appropriateness is probably the best word. You will want to dress in a smart version of the items worn by people in that role that you have applied. If in doubt always err on the side of convention. Not only will you want to look smart but also feel comfortable Here are some tips from employers helpful to both sexes: Ensure that you maintain impeccable standards of personal hygiene, but avoid using overpowering deodorants, after shave or perfume. Avoid logos and designer names they can be seen as a sign of insecurity Ensure that your shoes and clothes are scrupulously clean Avoid inappropriate jewellery. The interview is not the place facial piercings ankle chains etc. Men should restrict jewellery to cuff links and a signet/wedding ring. Men should: Wear a smart suit. If you dont own a suit, then at least smart trousers, shirt and tie. Avoid short sleeved shirts Avoid gimmicky ties or socks. Never white socks Women should: Avoid very short skirts, very low revealing tops and very high heels Avoid appearing overly made-up Wear a jacket to look professional

Attitude Be positive
In interviews, however much you feel like moaning, you really ought to resist the temptation. No one likes sharing a room with a wet blanket. This doesn't mean you should talk about your life as a series of wonderful experiences where nothing ever goes wrong. But it is important that you highlight the positive benefits of failure and that, throughout the interview, you operate with your optimistic side showing.

Be enthusiastic
Enthusiasm has an infectious quality (as long as you don't go over the top) and it's one of the most natural ways to get someone to like you. If you find that nerves are making you rather buttoned-up at interview, try making a conscious effort to use the vocabulary of enthusiasm. Peppering your answers with phrases like I really enjoy this' or It was wonderful' or I had a great time' can have the effect of dragging the enthusiasm quotient of the interview up to a healthy level. You may feel a bit self-conscious at first, but sometimes the words we choose to speak can affect the message we are giving.

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Be natural
Your best chance at interview is to be yourself - it is, after all, the role you have spent all your life rehearsing. This doesn't mean that you should give no thought to how you come across. We all behave differently in different situations - you need only compare what happens at Auntie Maud's tea party and a night on the town to realise that, entirely naturally, we adapt our behaviour to suit the circumstances. An interview is just another social setting. Be yourself, but imagine the time in your life when you have been happiest

Be honest
If you start lying about what you've done, where you've been and the class of degree you're going to get, you will probably be found out. However, interviews are not confessionals so you would be ill-advised to tell the whole truth and nothing but. If asked about your weaknesses you don't have to mention that you can't get up in the morning. What you say should be the positive side of truthful. Try and keep the interviewer's mind focused on the most positive bits of your life

Getting There
You've got an interview. You feel prepared, confident and even a little lucky. Then before your very eyes it all turns pear-shaped, your alarm doesn't go off, you have 10 minutes to catch your train and you arrive dishevelled and out of breath at the station only to discover it's been cancelled. Have your mobile phone and always remember to have a phone number you can contact at the organization to alert them of your plight. Stress-free journey If freak events are ever going to conspire against you, you can guarantee they'll pick the day of your interview to do so. Even if circumstances beyond your control make you late, it creates a bad impression. A little preparation and forward thinking is all that's necessary to (almost) guarantee that things run smoothly and you have a stress-free journey to your interview. Try these websites to help plan your route and predict how long the journey will take: Links London Transport The London Underground RAC route planner www.londontransport.co.uk www.the tube.com www.rac.co.uk

multimap.com - make sure you know where you're going thetrainline.com - get there on time www.chester-le-track.co.uk - more transport links Aim to arrive about 15 minutes early, check the news before your interview in case of traffic jams, accidents or major delays on the trains, don't sit in the smoking section of the train if you want to smell as fresh as you look on arrival and, most importantly, leave time for things to go wrong!

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