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A selection interview is a "conversation with a purpose". It is also a two-way marketing exercise - although employers have probably done most of their "selling" in their publicity before the interview starts. There should, however, still be questions you want to ask – a part of the interview not to be overlooked in the pressure of the situation.
As a candidate, therefore, you have two clear roles - to present yourself as a strong contender for the position being discussed and to make sure that you know enough about it to be able to accept or reject it, if it is offered you.
Much of your pre-interview preparation will be familiar – it is similar to the processes you worked through when making your applications. Need reminding? Consult the AGCAS booklets ‘Making Applications’ and ‘Going For Interviews’ and the CEEC publication ‘Your guide to Completing Application Forms’ - all available in the Information Resource Centre. You may also like to visit CEEC to view the AGCAS video ‘Why Ask Me That’.
Read the employer's literature - especially graduate recruitment hand-outs and web-site contents; also annual reports and any available background material on the site, or in the relevant white label files in the Information Resources Room. If the employer is a big player, check the business press for any recent reports.
Review your personal file and copy of your application form. Have you omitted anything important? Do you want to stress some quality or qualification you have perhaps under-written? Is there anything new you could usefully add (several weeks may have elapsed between submitting the form and having the interview)? Note these down too.
If, on your application form, you have claimed to possess certain skills or qualities, think through how you can provide additional examples of these. Facts are more convincing than airy statements. And your interviewers won’t expect a simple regurgitation of your application material.
You can try to predict some of the questions you might be asked by looking at job descriptions and other material supplied by the organisation. If you can't find any, then look at other material in CEEC e.g. a job description from a similar type of organisation may be available.
By going through the literature you will be able to note key points and identify the kinds of topics relevant to the interview. Some of these topics are likely to revolve around 'transferable' skills (teamwork, communication, interpersonal skills, leadership and so on – see separate CEEC briefing sheet). For specialist or technical jobs, expect related technical questions. Examples of typical interview questions are listed at the end of this section.
Check that you know the time and place of the interview, how to get there and how long it will take. Allow yourself time to arrive unflustered and cool, at least half an hour or more before the scheduled time – less if on campus.
Ensure you have a neat, fairly formal and clean outfit available to wear, in which you feel comfortable, well-dressed but not self-conscious. Clean shoes, tidy appearance also help you create that vital positive first impression.
Interviewers are human too! Remember this and do what you can to make it an enjoyable experience for all concerned.
Answer the questions you are asked, but not in monosyllables. Don’t feel the interviewer is trying to trap you with their questioning. Appreciate the questions are designed to find out something about you as a person and respond positively. Avoid being negative or apologetic as far as possible, but if, for example, you are asked about a failed examination or an unsuccessful project explain what positive lessons you learned from it - and try to see how these might be relevant to your present application.
Be positive and enthusiastic. Be prepared to shake hands, meet the interviewer's eye, speak clearly, try not to fidget, don't smoke unless invited to do so - and, if it's still possible after all this, relax!
Before the end you will be asked if you have any questions - this is the chance to use your notes and clear up outstanding areas of greyness. The payment of e.g. travel expenses can be clarified by mail or telephone ahead of time, rather than in the interview itself. (See below.) Interviewers should tell you when you will hear more from them as part of the closing of the interview.
So, at this stage, concentrate on questions relating to the post: training, promotion, responsibility, mobility and such topics. If you genuinely have none to ask - say so, or say that you did have but that they have been answered during the interview. This is the time to take the opportunity to mention something advantageous to you, or revisit some aspect of your application which has been passed over too lightly or quickly.
These questions are real and Lancaster graduates have been asked them in the past.
How would you cope?
Likewise, an interviewer from a high-street bank might ask what parameters you would consider in deciding whether to give a loan to a business customer. You must expect job-related questions. Such questions are likely to revolve around current issues of importance and may require lengthy answers.
Most interviews are based around the application form or CV, but some organisations virtually ignore it and others will put the same group of questions to all candidates being considered for the job. You are most likely to meet this approach in the public sector, in fields like social and probation work, as part of equal opportunities practices.
You may be invited to meet a panel of perhaps three or four people at the same time, all of whom will have some interest or knowledge of the post for which you are applying. They will include a chairman who will normally introduce the members to you. It is difficult to assess your own performance as seen by each of the panel members separately, but remain calm, respond to questions as you would in a one-person interview, and try not to address them as though you were a public meeting. Whoever asks you a question, answer them directly - if you try to meet the eye of everyone as you answer you may look shifty! You are especially likely to have a panel interview in the public sector (central and local government, the NHS, teaching, VSO for example).
Apart from further one-one interviews - often related more specifically to your degree subject where this is appropriate, you may be given a tour of the establishment to let you see the environment in which you would work, and to meet some of your potential colleagues. You may be introduced to some recent graduates on the staff, and personal anxieties, such as accommodation, social life, the cost of living etc can often be best introduced in discussion with them, possibly over a meal or drink when you will get an unofficial and more informal point of view. Again, you can ask for such an opportunity if it is not included in the programme.
These are normally paid on the spot, in cash, but if in doubt, contact the employer beforehand and ask about their policy or consult your Career Adviser. Rail travel should be assumed to be standard.
A lapse of one to four weeks is not uncommon before you hear the result, although sometimes the offer is made on the spot - eg teaching posts. You can ask for time to decide if you need it. You can otherwise ask about the likely delay before you leave. If this period is exceeded by say, more than a week, a polite note or ‘phone call to ask whether a decision has yet been made is quite in order. In case of difficulty consult your Career Adviser.
If you receive more than one offer, or are waiting for other decisions which might be more attractive to you, you can ask for time to consider (within reason). Do not accept and later turn it down if something better crops up - this could leave you in breach of contract, and in any case 'sours' that employer for other graduates from Lancaster for a surprisingly long time.
Why do interviews go wrong? Here is a list of deficiencies; a combination of several of these may well prevent you from getting the job!
Poor personal appearance, first impression
Arriving late without calling ahead
Critical of university or past employer
Attitude Concerning the Job
If you prepare well and don't fall into any of the above traps you should acquit yourself well.
Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, M J Yate, Kogan Page.