Seen these icons?

If we have events, jobs or news that are relevant to the page topic, you can access them by clicking on icons next to the print button.

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

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. You might also consider following on twitter some key news channels and organisations in the sector you are applying to work in.

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 ox.ac.uk 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.
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?
  • 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?
  • What is the typical career progression for someone in this position?
  • Is there anything else I can provide to help you make your decision?

 

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!).

Or, say that you have a tendency to be nervous when presenting in front of large audiences and so in an effort to overcome this you have joined the debating society and now have strategies which help you communicate clearly to an audience when nervous.

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).

DVDs

  • DVD – Making an Impact: The Graduate Job Interview

Books

  • 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
  • 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

Interview Feedback Database

Video for interview practice

To see how you perform when faced with unknown competency question at interview, record yourself on a webcam, and use the video below as a prompt. There are three questions for you to answer.

Example interview questions

The Careers Service has prepared a list of possible interview questions to help you in your preparation. You might want to try recording yourself answering some of these questions (using your phone or webcam). If you don’t have a way to record yourself, you could practice in front of a mirror, or ask a friend or relative to interview you using these questions.

External resources
This information was last updated on 16 August 2017.
Loading... Please wait
Recent blogs about Interview Technique

Civil Service Fast Stream applications

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on September 22, 2017.

About the Fast Stream

The Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme develops people from all kinds of backgrounds to be leaders of the future. Applications are open now, with a deadline on 26th October.

The Fast Stream offers a dynamic career path for people with the imagination to see things not just as they are, but how they could be, and who want to make a real difference to the world. There are 15 different schemes, so visit the Fast Stream website to learn more and make your application by the closing date of 26 October: the information on the site is comprehensive.

The Civil Service consistently is striving to reflect the communities they serve and Fast Stream recruitment has a strong commitment to open competition and talented individuals living with a disability or health condition are supported during the assessment process, and throughout their Civil Service career. In addition, they operate a Guaranteed Interview Scheme: for candidates that have a disability and meet the minimum qualifying criteria for their chosen scheme, it may be possible to skip part of the first stage of the assessment process.

Michaelmas events

To learn more, why not come to one of the following events organised by the Careers Service:

  • Monday 9 October, 14:15-15:30: Civil Service Fast Stream Panel at the Careers Service*, 56 Banbury Road
  • Saturday 14 October: 13:20-14:05: Making a Difference – Graduate Schemes and Careers with Social Impact at the Oxford Career Fair, Examination Schools.

*Anyone who may need help to access this event at the Careers Service should contact us in advance either by email to  reception@careers.ox.ac.uk or telephone 01865 274646. 

Deadline

Apply to the Fast Stream by 26 October 2017.

 

Columbia Law School – Admission Q&A

Posted on behalf of Columbia Law School. Blogged by Juliet Tomlinson on September 21, 2017.

Columbia Law School are hosting an online Q&A information session on Tuesday 3 October, 13.00 EST (18.00 BST). The session will cover the admissions process, the curriculum, student life and careers. Register online to take part.

 

The Careers Service needs your help!

Blogged by Timothy Collins on September 21, 2017.

We need your help to unload this years Careers Guide!

If you are interesting in getting paid for assisting at the Careers Service for a couple of hours on the morning of Thursday 28 September, please contact timothy.collins@careers.ox.ac.uk for details of payment and schedule. Email us no later than Monday 25 September at 17.00 with your full name, area of study and college/department if you’re interested!

 

 

 

The Oxford Careers Fair 2017

Blogged by John Gilbert on September 12, 2017.
  • When: Saturday 14 October, Exhibitors from 11.00-14.30
  • Where: Exam Schools

Find a job or internship at our main fair of the year!

  • Meet over 60 recruiters at our fair for all sectors
  • Find graduate schemes and internships in all the main career sectors that Oxford graduates enter – and dozens not included in our other fairs
  • Explore a huge range of careers from teaching to technology, and from social care to sport!

Learn about careers at our fair talks

  • Engaging with Organisations as a Disabled Student (10.00-10.45 – pre-fair talk – register in advance on CareerConnect)
  • How Can the Careers Service Help Me? And How to Make the Most of the Fair! (11.15-11.35, repeated at 12.15-12.35 and 13.15-13.35)
  • Getting Started with your Career (11.15-11.45)
  • Internships and Work Experience: Timeline of What to Do and When (12.00-12.30)
  • Business Career Alternatives to Management Consultancy (12.35-13.20)
  • Making a Difference – Graduate Schemes & Careers with Social Impact (13.20-14.05)

Get your CV checked at our CV clinic

  • Get one-to-one feedback from visiting recruiters
  • Just bring your CV and turn up! Appointments are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Meet over 60 recruiters!

Visiting employers include:

  • Amazon
  • Ark Teacher Training
  • ATASS Sports
  • BAE Systems
  • Baillie Gifford
  • Brainlabs Digital
  • Cancer Research UK
  • City Football Group
  • Cognita Schools
  • Dyson
  • EF Education First
  • Frontline
  • GSK
  • IBM UK Ltd
  • Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • Kraft Heinz
  • London Business School
  • Mars Inc.
  • Metaswitch
  • National Audit Office
  • Newton Europe
  • NHS Leadership Academy
  • Office for National Statistics
  • Oxford Hub
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Sanctuary Group
  • SCG Chemicals Co.
  • SEO London
  • Shell
  • Softwire
  • Sparx
  • Susquehanna
  • Teach First
  • Think Ahead
  • TPP
  • Unilever
  • Unlocked Graduates
This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.