Interviews form an integral part of the application process. It is an employer's chance to identify future members of their organisation, and your chance to really show them how you could be a part of it.
An interview can be defined as a ‘conversation with a purpose’. Employers want to meet you in person to check out:
- whether you can do the job - do you have the right skills and qualifications?
- whether you really want to work for them
- if they can imagine you fitting into the team and getting on well with staff, superiors, peers, customers, suppliers, and business partners
It’s also your chance to find out more about the organisation and the job. What exactly will you be doing? Who will you be working with? Would you enjoy working there? Is the job really right for you?
Success at interview is based on solid preparation. Your pre-interview research needs to focus on yourself and the employer.
Search interview/assessment centre feedback (collected from Imperial students/graduates who are happy to share their experiences)
PREPARE TO TALK ABOUT YOURSELF
- Make sure that you are clear on exactly what you have to offer to the organisation. Understand your strengths, your most well developed skills and all the factors that make you a strong candidate
- Be ready to offer evidence to support all of these points
- See yourself as a valuable resource that is potentially available to the employer
- Review your application form or CV and make sure that you can expand confidently on everything that is written there. What do you think the employer liked in your application? Are there any particular weaknesses or gaps in experience which an employer may want to explore in the interview?
Research and preparation
RESEARCH THE EMPLOYER
What do you know about the employer, the industry and the competitors? What are the key issues affecting this sector at present? Employers are extremely frustrated when applicants don't understand the job or the organisation. In contrast, being well informed makes you appear highly motivated.
Ensure that you carry out some thorough research before attending the interview. Finding out about an organisation and the industry is likely to help answer some of the interview questions in more depth, demonstrating that you are a well prepared candidate. You may also find that your research may give you some ideas for topics for questions at the end of an interview as well.
- A guide to the wide range of resources available to help you can be found in Researching companies [pdf]
RESEARCH THE JOB
What are the competencies and knowledge that the employer is looking for? The company website and/or the job advertisement should be a good starting point but you need to go further than this. Think about the evidence which you can provide that will show you have the qualities and skills required
Are you clear about the work will involve? If you are applying to a company which offers a range of different opportunities for graduates, do you understand the differences between the various career options. Would you be able to describe why, for example, you have applied for sales and trading rather than investment banking?
- The Occupational Information section of the website provides information to help research different careers and industry
- Talking to people who have knowledge of the type of work can be helpful
THINK ABOUT INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Learning the answers to questions completely off by heart could make you appear very stilted and inflexible in the interview. You will need, however, to be very clear about the key points which you wish to convey during the interview in answer to a range of possible questions.
- Look at our interview questions page, which will give you an insight into the types of questions often asked at interview and some suggestions on how to answer them
- Practice answering questions out loud - get used to hearing yourself talk about your achievements and why you want the job
'Do you have any questions for us?'
You are likely to be asked if you have any questions at the end of the interview. Topics which you could ask about include training and career development. Be careful not to ask about things which you should already know through reading information on an organisation's website. Don't feel that you have to ask questions if everything has been covered. Explain that this is the case and you don't have any questions.
Don't neglect the practical details. Whilst the following suggestions are quite obvious, it can sometimes be easy to forget the obvious.
Things to remember:
- Look a credible applicant - first impressions are important so look smart and tidy on the day. If in doubt, too smart is better than too casual. Decide on and check what you are going to wear before the day to avoid any last minute panics
- Make sure you know where and when the interview will be held and how you will get there
- Check on the timetable for the day and make sure that you give yourself enough time to get to your destination. Aim to turn up fifteen minutes early. Being late creates a dreadful impression and will erode your confidence
- If you are delayed on the way to the interview then contact the employer to let them know - ensure that you take the contact details for the employer with you on your journey!
- Re-read your CV, application form, job description, invitation for interview before you go
- Believe in yourself! You have a lot to offer, that's why they want to meet you!
Academic job interviews
An academic job interview is likely to include a panel interview with at least two interviewers. If the names of these aren't provided to you upon receiving confirmation of an interview, ask for their names and research them in detail. Some tips (from the Vitae website) include:
- Read recent papers for those closest to your research area. Read other papers that have come from the department you are applying for
- Review their departmental website, including their staff list, to get a feel for how you would fit in
- Revisit the job description and essential and desirable criteria
- Talk to others about their experiences of academic interviews
- Try to organise a mock interview - perhaps with job-searching contemporaries
- Look again at the research you did into your own capabilities so that you have plenty of evidence to support your suitability for the job when answering academic interview questions
Our handout on [pdf] outlines how to prepare for interviews both within and outside academia.
Case study interviews
At interview or assessment centre, you may face a case study interview. This is where, either as an individual or as part of a small group of other applicants, you will be presented with a business problem and then given time to evaluate the information and discuss and propose a solution. See our types of interview section for further information and links.
There are a range of resources available on the subject of case study interviews:
- Reference books covering technique and examples, such as 'Case in Point' and 'Case Study Secrets'
- Bain & Company's 'How to crack a case study' DVD
The Careers Service provides access to the WetFeet online careers library, which is home to a range of insider careers guides. These include a series of 'Ace your Case' publications, filled with advice on preparing for case study interviews.
- CaseInterview.com - Case study training videos and a vast amount of resources from a former consultant
- Casequestions.com - A guide to what employers should be looking for from candidates in case study interviews
- Harvard Business School Student newspaper - Use the search facility to find useful examples of case studies
- Management Consultancies Association - Formed in 1956 to represent the consultancy industry to clients, the public and government. Today, the Association's members employ around 30,000 consultants
ONLINE PRACTICE EXAMPLES
Many firms are now providing insight into their recruitment and interview processes by publishing interactive case studies on their websites. If you are preparing for an interview with a particular firm, it is worth checking to see whether they offer any interview advice for candidates on their websites. You may have to search the sites below, as addresses may be subject to change. Information on case study interviews can normally be found in the careers section of the website.
- Bain & Company - Click 'Apply to Bain' and follow the links for interview preparation. There is also a video practice case study
- Boston Consulting Group - Four practice cases and one 'interactive' case
- Capital One - Online practice case study
- Credo - Information on different types of case study and an interactive case study. Available in 'Careers' under 'Interview process and resources'
- Marakon - Tips on how to approach case study interviews and an example case study. Available in 'Careers' under 'Apply'
- McKinsey & Company - Case study tips, two practice examples and a team leadership game
- Monitor - Advice on approaching case studies, as well as a downloadable practice question. Available in 'Join Monitor' under 'Interview philosophy'
- OC & C - Examples of case studies across many business areas, which you might encounter in their selection process
- Oliver Wyman - A 'three step case prep' guide and three practice case studies
- PwC - Practice question available in 'Application Process' under 'Assessments at PwC'
- Strategy& - Detail of their interview process and some tips for the case interview