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Well done! You’ve got an interview. Good preparation will give you the best chance of success, and reduce your interview nerves. Although interviews can be stressful and daunting, everyone who has a job has been through a similar process. Interviews can also be pressurised for both parties: your interviewer will be keen to get the best out of their candidates and make a good hire.

Video interviews are becoming increasingly popular with graduate employers in the early stages of recruitment. Practice to get a sense of what these are like before you do the real thing. The Careers Service subscribes to two platforms to help you practice interviews.

 

 

Different stages and types of interview

There are almost as many different kinds of interviews as there are interviewers and interviewees. Your experience will depend on the kind of organisation to which you are applying and even on the time of year. There is a fairly well-established pattern for the larger graduate schemes during the autumn, but a more variable and less structured pattern during the rest of the year and for smaller firms.

The selection process for larger schemes usually has three phases:

  • The application form (or CV and covering letter) which is used to select candidates for interview
  • A first interview (in Cambridge, at the employer's location, on the phone/Skype, or by one-way video) from which candidates are shortlisted
  • Further interviews usually held at the workplace, at a hotel, or at an Assessment Centre run by the employer.

For smaller firms there could just be a single interview.

First interviews

An offer of a first interview means that the selectors like the look of your application documents thus far, and want to confirm this inital impression and more closely assess your suitability for the organisation and the job. If they are a large organisation, they may also be trying to assess which job or location among several might suit you best.

Your first interview will usually be with one person (a line manager or the HR department) and normally last 20-50 minutes. There may be some discussion of the job, but the focus will be on you, your background, your experiences, and your ideas. This gives you the chance to show that you are motivated for the job, and have done your research on the company. The interviewer may not give a lot of feedback. You may be asked to take an aptitude test to assess your numeracy or verbal reasoning ability. Management consultancy employers will give you a case study to see how you think on your feet, both analytically and creatively.

Interviewers usually they have a checklist of the qualities/competencies they are looking for, and will ask questions to elicit the information they want. See the list of sample open-ended interview questions below.

The use of one-way or asymmetric video interviews has been increasing over recent years. The candidate logs into a website at a time and location to suit them, and is asked a number of questions. The answers are timed, recorded via the computer's webcam and then reviewed by the employer.

Further interviews

At this point, you have passed the first two hurdles of selection (application and first interview), and you probably now have between a 20-50% chance of getting an offer. The employer will expect you to have improved your knowledge and understanding of the organisation, and of the type of work you'd be doing.

Further interviews take many forms, and sometimes include psychometric tests or case studies. Employers will be looking hard at the ways you'd meet the needs of their organisation.

Further interviews can last anything from an hour up to a full day. You will normally be told what to expect. If you are not told, it is perfectly acceptable to ask.

Tour

An invitation to 'talk to senior partners', 'see the office' or 'meet senior managers' probably means a series of interviews with one or more people in the place of work and a tour of the office. You should prepare accordingly.

Panel interviews

You will face a group of interviewers all at once; they will have discussed in advance how they are going to 'manage' the interview, so you won't be faced with a barrage of questions. Look at the questioner when you are replying, then glance back at the Chairperson who will probably be picking up your answers or indicating where the next question will come from.

Selection days and assessment centres

These can last one or two days and may be residential. You will be working with other interviewees and progressing through a series of events such as:

  • One-to-one interviews
  • Individual case studies
  • Panel interviews
  • Aptitude or personality tests
  • Group exercises as a team working on tasks relevant to the job you're applying for
  • Drafting exercises (reading a batch of material and preparing a summary or response to it)
  • Giving a presentation, possibly on a topic you've already prepared
  • Social events (it's unwise to let your hair down too much!)

See our separate information and advice on assessment centres.

Preparing for the interview

Prepare for the interview as much as possible.

Re-read your application form, the job description, your interview notes (if you have had one or more interviews already) and the company website. Identify how your skills and experience match the job requirements as listed on the job description. It you are hired, it will usually be because of a strong crossover.

Try to get hold of their annual report and any relevant press comments. Through friends or by networking with alumni, try to talk to people working in a similar field.

To find out what employers are looking for in first and subsequent interviews, see "Different stages and types of interview" above

  • Prepare for awkward questions, especially if there are facts or gaps in your application which may be inviting them. See the list of sample interview questions below.
  • For consulting jobs, prepare for case study interviews by working through examples on the websites of the major firms.
  • If you are told you will need to do one or more personality/psychometric tests, see our information and advice on psychometric tests
  • Prepare a list of points you want to convey/questions you have.
  • Arrive 5-10 minutes early. Allow plenty of travel time, especially if it's in an unfamiliar town or you are relying on public transport.
  • Dress suitably, to show you understand the requirements of the organisation. For most interviews, formal clothes are appropriate.
  • If your interview will be conducted by Skype or telephone, make sure you take extra steps to prepare - see "Skype and phone interviews" below.

If your interview is likely to be technical (eg financial, management consultancy, science or economics), prepare in advance. You may not be expected to know detailed indices for an investment management job, for instance, but you would be expected to know general trends upwards or downwards, and show good commercial awareness.

During your preparation, have in mind the skills/competencies which interviewers are aiming to assess. These might include:

  • Motivation and enthusiasm
  • Problem solving
  • Intelligence
  • Fit with the organisation
  • Flexibility
  • Technical skills/knowledge
  • Getting along in a group
  • Social skills
  • Thinking on your feet
  • Communication skills
During and after the interview

At the interview

  • First impressions count. A smile, a firm handshake and a display of enthusiasm make a good impression.
  • Make regular, steady eye contact. This may feel uncomfortable, but it communicates confidence, openness, and good social skills.
  • Focus on your delivery, as well as content. How you say something often makes as much of an impression as what you say.
  • Listen carefully to the question: make sure you are really answering it.
  • If something seems unclear to you, briefly ask for clarification. This will show that you have confidence and good communication skills.
  • Questions can be very open-ended (see the list of sample questions below). If you tend to talk too much, discipline your reply with a 'firstly-secondly-thirdly' structure. Or use the CAR structure, explained below. .
  • Have questions to ask at the end, perhaps about the role itself, the training and development or the career progression.
  • If you haven't been told, you could ask when you can expect to hear from them.

CAR structure

Many people find this structure helpful when answering competency-based questions such as 'Tell me about a time you worked with difficult people / overcame a challenge / found a creative solution to a problem'.

CAR stands for context, action, results.

  • Context: describe the situation you were in, the task at hand, the problems you faced. Tell the interviewer how difficult it was.
  • Action: what was your role? What did you do? Be specific about how you worked and what you did.
  • Results: what happened? Were you successful? What did you learn? How would you do it differently in the future?

After the interview

  • Make a note of the interviewer's name, the topics you covered and any questions outstanding in your mind. You will need this information for your second interview.
  • If you don't hear from the employer in the time they suggested, telephone/email to enquire. Employers behave in different ways and some move much faster than others.
Skype and phone interviews

Choose a quiet spot where you won't be interrupted, with good lighting and a stable Wifi connection. Most video conferencing softwares have a 'test' function that allows you to see yourself.

If necessary, tell other people in your house/flat, so that they don't make loud noises or overload the internet connection during your interview.

Keep your clothes simple, and avoid patterns. Make sure that your background is neat and makes a good impression. A bookcase or plain wall is better than the kitchen fridge).

Have your application material in front of you, but do not shuffle papers or spend time reading during the interview. If your papers are on your computer, have them easily accessible.

Place the screen in front of you at head height (use books or a laptop stand if necessary). Looking down at an iPad or laptop on a desk will cause you to slump and look less confident. It could also affect how your voice comes across.

Look at the screen while the interviewer speaks, but at the webcam when you reply.

Focus on the quality of your voicebe slow, clear and enthusiastic. Don’t worry if you don’t get much feedback during the interview. If you need to, use phrases like ‘Have I answered your question?’ or ‘Would you like me to give more detail?’.

An increasing number of firms are using one-way video interviewing, in which an applicant faces their computer screen and has a set amount of time to answer each question. There is no direct contact with the interviewer, and the interviews are replayed and assessed later.

Sample open-ended interview questions

Opening questions

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Tell me more about your interests
  • What made you apply for this job?

Your school education

  • What was the best thing about school in your opinion?
  • Why did you choose your particular 'A' level combination?

University

  • Briefly outline your time at university — academically and socially
  • Why did you choose your course?
  • Has the course lived up to your expectations?
  • Give me an example of a problem you overcame
  • Tell me more about your project/dissertation. What did you learn from it?
  • What career options did you have in mind when choosing your course?
  • Why did you choose your particular options? Tell me more about them.
  • Apart from getting a degree, what do you see as the principal benefits of university life?
  • What societies do you belong to? How much are you involved in them? How do you feel they have helped you?
  • Are you satisfied with your academic achievements to date? Any disappointments?
  • What major problems/disappointments have you encountered, and how did you deal with them?

Work experience

  • Tell me about any vacation work you have done. How did you get into these jobs? Which job did you most enjoy? Why?
  • How did your contribution in a vacation job or 'gap' job help the company for which you were working?
  • How did you organise your time and assess your priorities?
  • Give me an example of an occasion when you have motivated people.
  • How do you go about motivating yourself when the pressure is off?
  • In a group situation, what role do you usually find yourself in — the leader, the creative 'ideas' one, the practical organiser, the optimist, or the cautious one?

Career aspirations

  • What are you looking for in the organisation you join?
  • What sort of careers have you been considering? Why?
  • Who else have you applied to?

Personal qualities

  • What do you see as your main strengths?
  • What sort of qualities do you feel you can bring to our organisation?
  • What experience has most influenced your development as an individual?
  • Describe one of your faults/weaknesses? In what ways do you think you can improve as a person?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • Can you give evidence of a competitive spirit or your ability to overcome problems or difficulties?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a self starter?
  • How do you feel about the prospect of supervising people who may be more experienced than you?
  • Think of a time when you have disagreed with team mates. How did you react?
  • How good are you at coping with pressure or responding to a crisis? Give an example
  • How would you cope with someone who took an instant and irrational dislike to you?
  • How do you go about handling difficult people?
  • What can irritate you about other people?
  • How would you cope with a team member who was not pulling their weight?
  • How do you think you could win the trust and respect of a client/customer/colleague?
  • If a decision goes against you, how do you take it?
  • How do you react to failure?
  • How do you respond to change?

Achievements and drive

  • What achievements are you most proud of?
  • What has challenged you most in life?
  • What sort of expectations do you have for 5 years hence?
  • Has anything or anyone been particularly inspirational for you?

The employer

  • Why have you applied for this job? With this organisation?
  • How would you describe your ideal job?
  • What qualities do you have that single you out from other applicants?
  • If you were given the choice of more than one job, what criteria would you employ to reach a decision?
  • What are the main challenges that our business faces?
  • Do you feel that businesses have a social responsibility?
  • What do you think about the impact of social media / globalisation / recession on our business?
Case study interviews for consultancy jobs

Case studies form a very significant part of the consultancy interview selection process. Candidates are presented with descriptions of real or hypothetical business issues, sometimes in a one-to-one situation, or as part of a group. They are then expected to analyse and provide solutions to problems.

These types of interview are challenging and can be fun, but they also require preparation. Many great potential consultants don’t get through the process because they assume they can ‘wing it’ without preparing in advance. If you’re serious about consulting, then it is essential to practice before you go to interview.

CaseCoach

CaseCoach is your one-stop for outstanding consulting interview preparation materials and advice online. The platform is founded and run by a recruitment consultant and former Engagement Manager for McKinsey & Company. CaseCoach gives candidates access to interview preparation techniques, practice cases and numerical testing.