Career Snapshot - Interviews
Interviews are an integral part of the application process. Employers get to meet you and decide whether you are going to fit into their organisation. You also get a chance to meet them and see if you really want to work for that organisation.
Interviews can be the most nerve-wracking part of the application process and the more prepared you are for them, the better. Start with the Career Snapshot: interviews video which gives an overview of how best to prepare, then there is a longer recording of How to Prepare for Interviews. There are additional downloadable resources as well as examples of practice questions and information on different types of interviews, and you can use the Shortlist.Me platform to practice video mock interviews.
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 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 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. Compile a list of what they will be looking for in the interview e.g. commercial awareness, attention to detail, time-management. The ‘About Us’, ‘Latest News’ and ‘Annual Reports’ sections on their website can be helpful for understanding the organisation. Do some extra research into current issues and trends affecting that sector.
- 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 what 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?
- Talking to people who have knowledge of the type of work can be helpful – see our section on Networking for ideas of how to approach people.
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 order to answer 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 how and when the interview will be held and and how you will access it. Check you are comfortable with the technology that will be used.
- If you are being interviewed in person 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 15 minutes early. Being late creates a dreadful impression and could erode your confidence.
- If you are delayed for any reason, then contact the employer to let them know - ensure that you have contact details for the employer saved separately in case you have technical or logistical issues.
- Re-read your CV, application form, job description, and invitation for the interview in good time before the real thing.
- Believe in yourself! You have a lot to offer, that's why they want to meet you!
Creating a good impression
Making sure you have worked on your technique for answering questions before you go to an interview is a must. As the old adage says, 'failure to prepare is preparation to fail'.
Spending some time preparing answers to possible interview questions before the interview is a good place to start. Using the job description or person specification, you can find out what kind of candidate an employer is looking for, and ascertain the sorts of questions they could ask you.
Remember that you are ‘on show’ from the moment you enter the venue for the interview. Showing courtesy and consideration for everyone with whom you come into contact on the day almost goes without saying.
It is not just what you say in an interview which can influence the outcome. How you talk and your body language during the interview can also be very important.
- Look confident – a smile and making eye contact with the interviewer can convey the right impression.
- Adopt an open posture, don’t use your arms or hands to create barriers between yourself and the interviewer.
- Use appropriate hand gestures, but don’t overdo it. Seeing yourself on video or asking a friend can be very helpful in assessing your normal style.
- Don’t have anything in your hands during the interviews. For example, if you hold a pen you will almost certainly start fiddling with it, which will be very distracting to the interviewer and create a bad impression.
- Don’t fiddle with your hair, jewellery, clothing, watch or anything else.
- Observe the body language of the interviewer - this can help you to know when to continue talking and when to pause for the next question.
- Don’t interrupt the interviewer, but make sure that you are interruptible.
- Try not to cross your arms as this can appear defensive. You don’t have to sit rigidly to attention throughout the interview but avoid the temptation to slump back in your chair.
Dealing with nerves
We all suffer from nerves to an extent. Adrenaline can help us perform at our best, but too much is a problem and can result in butterflies, hands or knees trembling, hot flushes, sweating, your mind going blank and feeling over emotional. Not very helpful symptoms!
- Prepare – then you will feel confident in your research, and in how fluently and positively you can talk about yourself and the job.
- Be organised – know all the practicalities of where you are going, how to get there and what you will wear – (your entire outfit, check the state of your shoes, tie, etc). Don’t allow any risk of being late!
- Visualise – see yourself making a confident entrance, smiling and dealing smoothly with the interview questions.
- Relax – develop a relaxation strategy, which could involve some yoga, deep breathing, positive visualisation or whatever works for you.
- Breathe – nerves can make you rush – so slow down and take time to breathe!
General tips for handling interview questions
- If you don’t understand a question then do ask for clarification rather than risk giving an irrelevant answer.
- Try and give optimistic responses to questions. An interviewer may pick up something in your CV which is less than positive or where something has not been successful. Talk about what you have learnt from the experience rather than focussing on the failure.
- If you are faced with a particularly difficult question then you can ask for a few moments to think, but don’t do this too often.
- Make sure what you say is relevant and to the point, don’t be too brief but avoid very lengthy answers.
- Practice your interview questions before the actual day. Get used to hearing yourself speak out loud. Try and speak fluently and watch out for lots of ‘ums’ and 'errs'. Look at Interview questions well in advance of the interview, find out about the type of questions asked in interviews and some suggestions on how to answer them. Think about how you might respond if faced with these questions
Use the Shortlist.Me platform to practice recorded video mock interviews and don’t forget you can book a mock interview practice with a careers consultant in advance. You can email us directly to arrange a session.
Disclosing a disability
Imperial Careers Service has close links with the Imperial Disability Advisory Service, other disability organisations, diversity recruiters and a wide range of employers. This ensures that we are well equipped to provide appropriate information, advice, and guidance to students and recent graduates making the transition into employment.
Your decision of when to disclose may vary depending on the organisation and the particular job that you are applying for. To help guide you, please see our section on disclosing a disability.
The AGCAS Disability Task Group have produced some resources on disclosure and adjustments for students with neurodiversity conditions (e.g. dyslexia, autism, ADHD etc), along with a worksheet on Explaining Mental Health. The worksheets can be found on the relevant resources part of the AGCAS Disability Task group website below:
Our events programme includes a variety of talks and workshops which are designed to enhance your chances of success in the application process - for details, see JobsLive.