|Let’s imagine that you've set your sights at the graduate job you want, created a winning CV, beaten off the competition and you’re off for that all important interview. It's an important step so how do you increase your chances of success? Of course you want them to make you an offer but don't forget that job interviews are a two-way street. The employers have to decide if they want to take you on but you also have to decide if you want them.
The odds are almost always stacked in favour of the recruiters because they know what they are really looking for, irrespective of how well the specification has been articulated in their ads and job descriptions and they do get to meet all the other candidates which you don't unless you get involved in a group assessment centre. But, if you have an interview, they liked something about you and the promise that you appear to offer. Hold that thought - it helps to keep the nerves at bay. It’s an old cliché but you just have to give the interview your very best shot. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. If you don’t get the job, at least use the interview experience as practice you can learn from and use next time around to give yourself the edge. Nevertheless, there are a few ways of avoiding the perennial 'interview banana skins', so here are our top tips for giving yourself the best chance of success.
Do what you are asked to do: it's extraordinary how often that candidates don't follow the instructions they are given regarding their interview. If you need to turn up ten minutes before the actual interview time or ask for a particular person, follow their instructions to the letter.
Documents: remember to take a copy of your CV, the job details, and any other documents they are likely to request these days such as your passport, copies of your qualifications and so on.
Dress appropriately: select your outfit carefully, taking into account the image tips we've outlined here.
Travel: confirm the date, time and location of the venue, research your travel arrangements and aim to arrive no more than 15 minutes early. Make sure you have a contact phone number handy just in case you are delayed and need to call them. Also, remember to keep receipts for your travel if you are being reimbursed for your expenses. Use tools like google maps and street view to check out where you're going if you're unfamiliar with the interview location.
Know who you are meeting: make sure you know, or have to hand, the name of the person you are meeting so that you can tell reception staff immediately without having to nervously rifle through your pockets or handbag in front of them.
Waiting time: use your waiting time wisely. Visit the washrooms and check your appearance, wash your hands etc., so that when the person who comes to meet you to go to the interview location, you feel relaxed and look your best. You could also refer to your written notes on the job ad or the research you have done on the company and go over the positive things you want to say. Read any in-house magazines you find in the waiting room or reception as they often give interesting clues about what’s going on in the organisation. Watch how visitors are greeted at reception; are they dealt with curtly or with courtesy? Observe the demeanour of employees and visitors as they come and go; are they grim and complaining or animated and friendly looking? It’s natural to be a bit nervous so use this time to focus that energy positively. Don't get grumpy if they keep you waiting (it won't be on purpose); you don't want the reception staff to pass on that you're a grouch.
Refreshments: if you are offered refreshments just opt for water if you are a bit nervous and think that balancing a hot cup of tea or coffee might be a distraction. Don’t smoke before, during or within view of the interview location because you will reek of stale smoke. Never chew gum.
First impressions: make sure that you make a good first impression on everyone you meet (because you never know what their role might be). Stand up straight, greet everyone with a smile (it shows an accepting attitude towards others) and a firm, dry and confident handshake. Make regular eye contact but don’t stare and make others feel uncomfortable. Interviewers will often engage you in pleasantries about your journey and so on. Be positive, because they may want to ensure that you can get to work regularly and on on time.
Distractions: always switch off your mobile phone and certainly don't answer any calls during your interview.
Be yourself: you've got an interview so they already believe that you might be a good prospect. Just be yourself, be polite, be confident without being arrogant, listen carefully to the questions that you are asked and take the time to give concise answers. It's not a race and you don't want to start babbling with nerves.
Big intakes usually mean big processes. The bigger the employer that you've applied to, the more likely it is that they will be recruiting a large number of graduates, and they'll have plenty of good candidates to choose from. They will be making a big investment in you if they hire you and they will want to be sure that it is mutually beneficial investment for both parties. Graduate recruitment usually involves a number of stakeholders in the process - external recruiters and assessors, in-house recruiters within the HR (Human Resources) team, line managers and current graduate trainees. Each one of these team members will play a particular role, not just getting information from you but also volunteering information on what it's like to work for that organisation and what they really expect from their graduates. Each interviewer will then be required to give their opinion on your suitability and the candidates with the most votes usually receive the offers. So, don't be afraid to ask constructive questions and appear capable of building relationships them should you be successful.
Elimination and selection techniques. Every organisation has it's own preferred route for whittling the applicants down to the successful few. CV submission, mini-essays, online competence tests e.g. personality, verbal reasoning and numeracy tests, assessment centres, in-tray exercises, competency interviews, role plays and so on all play a part. It can be tiring, time consuming and stressful to get through all of these hurdles and sometimes the processes seem over-complex, confusing and owe rather too much to shows like The Apprentice and other reality TV game shows. If you want the job, however, you have to play the game. Websites like Wikijob offer lots of valuable information on how the major employers, particularly those in financial and professional services, run their recruitment processes and are well worth reviewing before you apply. If you meet lots of other candidates during the selection process, try not to feel intimidated by them. You have all been selected because you have something to offer at this stage - be friendly, it will help if you need to do a group exercise as the ability to get along with others is a highly rated quality by most employers.
Working with external recruiters. If you are applying for a position via a recruitment agency, your first interview might be with one of their consultants because they will be paid (quite a lot usually) to filter both CVs and candidates for shortlists. Sometimes the agency will just send you to an interview and you never get to meet one of their representatives. It's really not ideal, but it does happen. If it’s a graduate post with smaller firm with little bureaucracy, no time to waste prevaricating or on elaborate recruitment games, you may be lucky, meet the decision making team straight away, only have one interview and receive an offer relatively quickly. Anything can, and often does, happen.
Interview techniques. There are lots of books and courses about how to select and recruit new employees but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will meet people who know what they are doing or who follow best practice, even in big companies. Some graduates report that interviewers seemed more nervous than they were, were unprepared and didn't appear to have read their CV. Others are encouraged by the friendliness and professionalism of people they meet and say it made them want the job even more. Part of the key to good interview practice as a candidate is to expect the unexpected, be prepared to be flexible and appear calm, unruffled and measured in your responses – you just have to go with the flow.
Dealing with job offers
If all your hard work has paid off, and if you now have multiple offers because you have been chasing several opportunities at once, then good for you! You are in a great position now. You have more information about each employer at your disposal too, so make sure that you don’t lose your head at this stage and just accept the first offer that comes in. Get the best overall package you can, and make sure that it matches all the criteria that you set out for yourself in your original career plan. It's your future - treat it with due respect and consideration.