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Interview Technique | Oxford University Careers Service Interview Technique | Oxford University Careers Service
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Learn about the sector and organisation

Be aware of the world you are seeking to enter. Most employers will expect you to display some understanding of their business, its size, its products/services and the sector in which it operates. Ask yourself:

  • What do I know about this organisation?
  • What attracts me to this organisation?
  • Who are the organisation’s competitors?
  • How does this organisation relate to its competitors?
  • What have I done to find out more about this organisation?
  • What issues are affecting, or are likely to affect the sector?
  • Is the sector in a state of growth or decline?
  • How is the market changing or developing? How are the organisations in it responding?

An interview won’t be a general knowledge test, but you should have an understanding of what is going on in the world at large. It is a good idea to watch/listen to good news programmes or read a quality newspaper every day in the lead up to your interview, and to think, or talk with friends, about current news stories and issues of importance, in case they come up on the day of interview.

Useful research tools

You can use the internet to search for information from newspapers and journals relevant to the sector to which you are applying. More specifically, the following resources may be useful:

  • LexisNexis – use this archive of worldwide newspapers and journals to search for recent news about the employer (available from domain machines)
  • Employers’ websites
  • FT company reports – a free service offering company reports (either for download or by post) from several hundred companies. Most companies will also send out a copy of their Annual Report to enquirers.
  • Rocket News – a five-day international news archive, available free of charge. It is useful if you are away from Oxford and cannot use LexisNexis.
  • Google News – searches 4,000 news services.
  • WetFeet publishes guides to some major employers. These can be accessed through the subscription tab in CareerConnect.
Prepare points to make

Learning pre-formed answers by rote is not the most useful way to prepare for an interview. The responses are likely to sound false, and an unexpected question that does not fit your ‘script’ could leave you floundering. Instead, prepare a series of points in line with the job description / person specification, stressing those aspects of your experience, qualifications and skills that match the requirements most closely. As well as being prepared to explain how you fulfil these requirements, to demonstrate your motivation you must also be able to explain why you want this job with this organisation.

It is important to remind yourself of the messages you have already conveyed to the recruiters in your CV/application form, and to be prepared to discuss anything you have told them. Read through your application, and imagine you are the interviewer. What questions would you ask in their shoes? Make sure that you can give at least one example (and preferably more) for each of the competencies (skills, experiences, knowledge and other attributes) that the employer is looking for, and that you can talk about those experiences in a positive way. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want the job?
  • What skills have I gained from my academic/employment/extra-curricular activities that are relevant for this role?
  • What are my ambitions?
  • What prompted me to make particular decisions/undertake certain courses of action?
  • What was my best/worst decision?
  • How have I learnt from these experiences?
  • What did I learn about myself when I … ?
  • What would I identify as my main strengths/weaknesses?
Prepare questions to ask

It is always a good move to prepare two or three questions that you would really like the interviewers to answer, as this will demonstrate confidence and a genuine interest in the job for which you have applied. Be careful, however, to avoid asking questions which have already been answered in the graduate brochure or other literature sent out with the invitation to interview, also avoid asking about holidays or other benefits, as these are generally inappropriate at this stage of the recruitment process. You might want to ask:

  • How will I be assessed/my performance appraised?
  • What factors distinguish successful employees from less successful ones?
  • What has happened to previous post-holders?
  • I see (for example) that you are expanding into Europe – what would be the chances of my working there at some point?
  • I read that you might be merging with X – how, in your view, would that affect the current workings of the organisation?
  • Do you have any particular concerns about my application at this stage in the selection process?


If your questions have been asked in the course of the interview, say exactly that. If you are not invited to ask questions, or feel that there are key points you have not been given the chance to make you can ask at the end of the interview whether now would be an appropriate time to raise this.

How to deliver answers

Top tips

  • Be yourself: if you adopt a new persona for the interview, the result is likely to be insincere and transparent.
  • Honesty is the best policy – and if it is discovered later that you have been dishonest, you are very likely to be dismissed. Admitting, for example, to a period of poor motivation during your A-Levels shows more integrity than blaming someone else for poor grades, so don’t feel that you should ‘cover up’ these incidents – present them positively as learning experiences.
  • Be prepared to talk: avoid “yes/no” answers and expand as often as possible, but don’t over-communicate. Take your cue from the interviewer. Ask, ‘should I continue?’ or ‘does that answer your question?’ if you unsure if you have said enough.
  • Pace yourself and try not to talk too quickly.
  • Think about the structure of your answers: you might summarise at the end rather than trailing off. Use the S.T.A.R technique and emphasise your actions if describing a situation.
  • Ask for clarification if you need it or request a moment’s thinking time, before tackling a particularly difficult question. You might also take a sip of water to create a natural pause. This is better than saying the first thing that comes into your head.
  • Be balanced in your answers, and try not to sound too obsessive about any one aspect of your life.
  • No-one is allowed, by law, to ask you about your marital status, ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation or religious affiliation, unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification, so be aware that you can politely decline to answer such questions, by saying for example, “I don’t see what relevance my sexual orientation has to the job for which I have applied, and I must ask that you withdraw the question” or “I really don’t see my marital status as having any affect on my ability to do this job, or my commitment to the organisation should I be appointed”.

Answering difficult questions

Questions often perceived as particularly difficult include those which appear to be an invitation to shoot yourself in the foot or those which ask you to think about yourself in a different way, such as: what is your biggest weakness? What would you say has been your greatest failure? How would your friends describe you? If you were an animal/biscuit, what would you be? When answering these questions relax, be honest, and emphasise the positive.

Remember – no employer expects you to be completely perfect and self-awareness is preferable to blind arrogance! You might, for example, in answer to the question, “what is your biggest weakness?” say that, although you think well independently, you wouldn’t be entirely happy in an environment where there was no teamwork (but would develop coping strategies!).

Alternatively, you might say that your strengths lie in your ability to think problems through clearly, and that you can sometimes be frustrated with people who don’t work logically, though you have learnt to appreciate the different insights that they can bring to a project. These answers outline the weakness in each case, but turn the question around, so that you are able to stress both your strengths and your ability to learn from your mistakes.

If asked to compare yourself to an animal or biscuit (or colour, or piece of furniture), think about the personal qualities that you want to emphasise, and explain your choice. A plain chocolate digestive might suggest a professionalism that a strawberry wafer possibly does not.

After the interview

Ending the interview

End on a positive note. Thank the interviewer for his/her time, and reiterate your enthusiasm for the job for which you have applied. If the employer has not already made the next step clear, in terms of when they expect to let you know the outcome, go ahead and ask them.

Review the day

When you get home ensure you record all the questions you remember being asked at the interview. It would be helpful to keep an ‘interview notebook’ where you can jot down your experience and how you might answer them differently with a little more time to prepare. It would also be extremely useful for other students in a similar position to you, if you were able to fill in an interview feedback form on the Careers Service website.

Rejected after first interview?

If you have been invited to interview and subsequently rejected, you can safely assume that on paper employers consider you capable of doing the job for which you have applied, but that at interview their opinion has changed in some way. Consider whether you have substantiated the messages you have given in your application, and whether you are presenting a professional, confident image at interview. Replay to yourself some of the answers you gave – particularly the ones you found more difficult – while they are still fresh in your mind. It is always worth asking an organisation for feedback after an interview; at worst they will say no, and at best you will receive a detailed critique of your performance. If it isn’t obvious how you can improve your performance in future interviews, talk with a Careers Adviser.

Our resources

The Careers Service has an extensive resource centre at 56 Banbury Road, Oxford, where you can drop in to browse during opening hours (visit our website for details).


  • DVD – Making an Impact: The Graduate Job Interview


  • 101 great answers to the toughest interview questions, Ron Fry
  • Great answers to tough interview questions, Martin John Yate
  • Knockout interview answers, Ken Langdon and Nikki Cartwright
  • The interview book: your definitive guide to the perfect interview, James Innes
  • The essential phone interview handbook, Paul J Bailo
  • Brilliant interview: what employers want to hear and how to say it, Ros Jay
  • The interview expert: how to get a job you want, John Lees
  • Tackling interview questions, Mo Shapiro and Alison Straw
  • Job Interview Success – Be Your Own Coach, Jenny Rogers
  • Steps to Success – Get That Job: Interviews
  • Teach Yourself Successful Interviews, Mo Shapiro, Alison Straw
  • Teach Yourself Tackling Interview Questions, Mo Shapiro, Alison Straw

Online resources


WetFeet’s website provides career-related and comprehensive company research information. The WetFeet Insider Guides series consists of company and industry profiles (US-based), and has always been a highly-valued resource at the Careers Service.  The WetFeet Insider Guides can be downloaded through your CareerConnect account (relevant titles below).

  • Ace Your Case II: Mastering the Case Interview
  • Ace Your Case III: Market-Sizing Questions
  • Ace Your Case IV: Business Strategy Questions
  • Ace Your Case V: Business Operations Questions
  • Ace Your Case: Consulting Interviews
  • Ace Your Interview
  • Ace Your Interview: Accounting
  • Ace Your Interview: Brand Management
  • Ace Your Interview: Consulting
  • Ace Your Interview: Information Technology
  • Beat the Street II: I-Banking Interview Practice Guide
  • Beat the Street: Investment Banking Interviews

Please note that we still maintain a library of the WetFeet Guides at the Careers Service, if you prefer to read these Guides in an alternative format, or have problems accessing them online.

Interview Feedback Database

External resources
This information was last updated on 09 November 2015.
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Recent blogs about Interview Technique

Share your opinion… and win £40!

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on November 27, 2015.

Feedback helps us to improve the tools and services that we offer you at The Careers Service and we’d be very interested to hear what you think about our new look Oxford Guide to Careers 2016.

Take the Oxford Guide to Careers Survey now.

It will only take a few minutes to complete our short survey asking you to tell us what you like best and what doesn’t work for you in this year’s Guide.

Your Chance to Win

As you complete the survey you will have the chance to enter our prize draw for a £40 voucher to spend online: the draw will take place at the start of Hilary Term.

You can access the survey until 18th January 2016.

Copies of The Oxford Guide to Careers can be collected from The Careers Service at 56 Banbury Road.

Careers in Heritage evening at Oxford Castle Unlocked

Posted on behalf of Oxford Castle Unlocked. Blogged by Julia Hilton on November 26, 2015.

On 8th December Oxford Castle Unlocked will be hosting a ‘Careers in Heritage’ evening. This is a free event aimed at people trying to build a career in the arts, culture and heritage sector. This can be a challenging sector to break in to, and the aim of the evening is to give the audience an insight in to potential career paths, how to build the right skillset and apply for roles successfully, and to listen and ask advice from industry professionals.

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The event runs from 6pm – 8pm (doors 5.45pm) and tea and coffee will be served. Spaces are limited, and can be booked online.


Meet P&G One-to-One

Posted on behalf of P&G. Blogged by Employer Relations Team on November 26, 2015.

P&G, like many Fast Moving Consumer Goods Companies (FMCGs), relies on the power of its minds to create a winning culture. As such, the recruitment process at P&G is rigorous and competitive.

We will be at the Recruiters in Residence day, on the morning of Tuesday 1 December, offering tips on what makes a candidate stand out, through a CV and Cover Letter workshop. These will be informal sessions that will help you understand and prepare fully for the recruitment process. In particular, we will help you convey your strengths articulately and clearly through your CV and Cover Letter. We will also be on hand to provide practical advice on interview preparation, as well as an overview of the sorts of business skills and commercial awareness P&G looks for.

To make an appointment you will need to book your time slot through CareerConnect. Login to CareerConnect and search under events, click on ‘Book Now’ and select an available time. If your preferred time is not available you will be added to a waiting list and notified if it becomes available.

If you have any particular requirements, that may help you to access this event, then please do share them with us prior to attending by contacting or telephone 01865 274646.

Campaigning Training Programme

Posted on behalf of Emily Silcock OUSU Vice-President (Charities and Community). Blogged by Jane Chanaa on November 26, 2015.

Campaigning for Change is a training progamme run by OUSU, supported by the Careers Service. It consists of eight weekly sessions throughout Hilary term, run by top employers in the nonprofit sector, such as Oxfam and Amnesty International. Nonprofit employers often look for first hand experience of campaigning, therefore the course builds towards a ‘create a campaign’ challenge in 8th week, where participants will have 24 hours to plan and deliver a micro-campaign, based on a real issue that an Oxford-based charity is facing. To find out more, or to apply to take part, visit OUSU’s What’s On page or email

Emily Silcock
Vice-President (Charities and Community)
Tel: 01865 288465

Advertising and PR: Recommended Reading

Blogged by Julia Hilton on November 24, 2015.

Miles Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, gave the headline talk at the 2015 Oxford Arts, Media and Marketing Fair. The talk covered how the landscape is changing in the advertising world and what companies are really looking for from the next generation of applicants in this digital world. The good news is that being immersed in digital media already makes you an expert, it’s not all about swotting up on technical language and programming, recruiters still want to see bright, creative minds and people who can work with clients and manage projects.

So how can you really prepare for making competitive applications in advertising and how can you impress at interview? Gain some commercial insight! Not just by building your relevant experience via extra-curricular pursuits and work experience, but via books. GET READING. Here’s some key suggestions from Miles for careers in advertising and PR…

Advertising books to read

  1. Alfredo Marcantonio,”Well-written and red”
  1. Alan Fletcher, “The art of looking sideways”
  2. Paul Arden, “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”
  3. Bob Gill, “Graphic design as a second language”
  4. Bob Levenson,”Bill Bernbach’s Book”
  5. Luke Sullivan, “Hey Mr Whipple, squeeze this”
  6. Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart, “A smile in the mind”
  7. James Webb Young, “A technique for producing ideas”
  8. Jonas Ridderstrale + Kjeli Nordstrom, “Funky Business”
  9. “The Art Direction Book” published by D&AD
  10. “The Copy Book” published by D&AD
  11. “The Movie Book” published by Phaidon
  12. Cutting Edge Advertising by Jim Aitchison
  13. “Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning” by Jon Steele
  14. “Good Thinking: A Guide to Qualitative Research” by Wendy Gordon
  15. “How to Plan advertising” by The APG (Account Planning Group)


PR Reading List

  1. “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” by Al Ries
  2. “The handbook of Strategic Public Relations” by Clarke Caywood
  3. “The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation” by Ronald Alsop
  4. Value-Added Public Relations: The Secret Weapon of Integrated Marketing, Thomas L Harris
  5. Where The Truth Lies: Trust and Morality in PR and Journalism, Hobsbawm, J (2006)


Publications to Read Regularly:

  • Advertising Age
  • Adweek
  • Campaign ‐ The British advertising news source
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