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Interview Technique | The Careers Service Interview Technique – Oxford University Careers Service
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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.

Mock Interviews

Mock interviews with an employer

We regularly offer one-to-one mock interviews at the Careers Service with a real employer. Our interviewers are all professional recruiters from a variety of sectors, the interviews are generic – i.e. based on skills and generic criteria – rather than be based around a particular occupation or sector. (The only exception is solicitor specific mock interviews with Law firms).

How to book

If you would like to have a mock interview you need to book your interview time through CareerConnect.

In the Appointments section select ‘Mock Interview with an Employer’ and click on ‘Show Results’.  The available dates and times (if any) will appear.  To book your interview, click on ‘Book Now’ next to the relevant date and time.  Appointments will open one week beforehand.

If you wish the session to be filmed so you can review it at a later date you can bring a memory stick to the interview with you (minimum 2GB).

Brief mock interview with a Careers Adviser

You can use a one-to-one appointment with a careers adviser for anything careers-related – including a mock interview. As appointments are short, you are unlikely to fit in a whole interview and feedback – but you can run through a few practice questions and discuss your interview strategy.

External resources
This information was last updated on 03 January 2018.
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Recent blogs about Interview Technique

EXPERIENCE THE CLASSROOM

Blogged by Julia Hilton on April 20, 2018.

Insight into Teaching provides students with the opportunity to spend three days in a school with a full programme of lesson observation, perhaps a chance to try out some teaching and join in with activities, and a pre-placement seminar to get the most out of the placement.

Placements take place over 3 days in 9th week of Trinity term and are available in a range of subjects in secondary, primary & further education, in state-maintained and independent schools across Oxfordshire and elsewhere in the UK. This year the dates are Tuesday 19 to Thursday 21 June.

Applications open in 1st week of term and close on Sunday 20 May (end of 4th week) at midnight.

If you are thinking about a career in teaching then spending time in school is extremely important, not only to help you to decide whether teaching is for you, but also to enhance your teacher training application – whether you are considering a PGCE, School Direct, Teach First or another route into teaching. A participant on the programme last term said:

‘I really enjoyed interacting with students in the lower school, particularly helping students who came to the math’s clinic one lunch time. It was nice to feel useful. I previously was sure I wanted to teach sixth form but I enjoyed this aspect so much I am rethinking this.’

Literary Agency Work Experience – Carole Blake Open Doors Project

Posted on behalf of Blake Friedmann. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on April 20, 2018.

The Carole Blake Open Doors Project, is a programme specifically aimed at encouraging candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds to enter the publishing industry.

The Carole Blake Open Doors Project will offer ten days of work shadowing at Blake Friedmann’s book agents to a selected applicant over a two-week period, including funding for travel and up to twelve nights’ accommodation in London. The programme, which will run twice a year, will include close mentorship with Blake Friedmann’s book agents, the opportunity to attend selected meetings with editors and clients, and the chance to be involved in every aspect of day-to-day life as an agent. It is intended that candidates will come away from the project with varied knowledge of working for a leading literary agency, the beginnings of new and essential relationships in the publishing industry, and some excellent experience to include on their CVs.

“Carole offered me my first internship in publishing at Blake Friedman. She was a formidable figure, yet warm and funny. She was deeply encouraging to me as one from a diverse background based on my age, class and race – though it was our mutual love of a great pair of shoes that really sealed the deal!  An unforgettable, truly phenomenal woman.” – Valerie Brandes, Founder & Publisher, Jacaranda Books, and former BFA intern

Carole Blake and the Blake Friedmann team have always placed great value on diversity and openness, in the company’s client list as well as its hiring practices. We aim to build on this foundation and be proactive about drawing from a wider pool of talented applicants who are passionate about books and ambitious about getting a job in publishing.

Read an account of taking part in the project from our first Open Doors intern Ada Igwebu. 

Applications are now open for the Carole Blake Open Doors project and the deadline is 18 May.

Resources and opportunities for early career researchers

Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on April 19, 2018.

The Early Career Blog: Specialist careers advice for PhDs and postdocs

Have you had a look at our blog for early career researchers yet? This joint initiative with Cambridge has over 40 posts dealing with topics such as networking, academic applications and getting funding, making it a great resource whether you’re set on staying in academia or looking for fresh pastures. A new post on the blog looking at Non-academic employers’ perspectives on researchers will be of interest to any ECRs who are toying with the possibility of a move beyond academia.

You can browse the range of posts already available at any time, and don’t forget that you can send suggestions for further topics by tweeting them to @EarlyCareerBlog!

The Researcher Consultancy is back!

Following the successful pilot of the Researcher Consultancy in Michaelmas and Hilary terms, we’re delighted to announce that a new round of the programme has now launched! Whether you’re considering consultancy as a longer-term career move, you want to develop key employability skills such as self-management, team working, business and customer awareness, problem solving and communication, or wish to boost your understanding of the commercial sector and gain hands-on experience of tackling real-world strategic problems, this may be a perfect opportunity for you. Whatever your career plans, including further research and academia, participants can benefit significantly from the programme.

So how does it work?

Participants volunteer some of their own time to work in small teams, over a 4-month period, to address a strategic issue or business opportunity for a client organisation. Our clients list includes start-ups, businesses, local and international charities, community organisations, University departments and Government agencies.

Want to know more?

For more information see CareerConnect or contact Lili Pickett-Palmer. The closing date for applications for the Spring-Summer programme is 30 April 2018.

Careers in the Heritage and Museum Sectors

Posted on behalf of Heritage Pathway. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on April 18, 2018.

Careers in the Heritage and Museum Sectors hosted by Heritage Pathway

  • When: Thursday 17 May, 15.00-17.00
  • Where: 3rd Floor Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Woodstock Road
  • Book: Booking is essential for this event

The ‘Heritage Pathway’ is one of seven training pathways offered to graduate students and Early Career Researchers in the Humanities Division. A year-long programme of workshops, site visits and networking opportunities provides the skills and knowledge required to engage successfully with partner organisations in the heritage sector, whether through commercial or research-based collaborations.

Three speakers reflect on their own career paths and offer top tips as to how to develop your career:

  • Emily Knight (Assistant Curator of Paintings, V&A)
  • Dr Danielle Thom (Curator of Making, Museum of London)
  • Dr Jane Eade (Curator, National Trust)

Trinity micro-internships have now launched!

Blogged by Rosanna Mills on April 18, 2018.

It’s the time of year to be thinking about work experience, and to help you on your way our Trinity term Micro-Internship Programme has now launched! If you have a busy academic schedule but you are still looking for work experience, or want to gain some professional skills and extra points for your CV, then look no further. This programme is open to both undergraduates and postgraduates, and here are some of the placements on offer in weeks 9 and 10:

  • Conduct research with the University’s Heritage Partnerships Office for the Hidden Objects Project
  • Gain insight into an independent consultancy and the world of politics with BlondeMoney
  • Hands-on scientific research and analysis with Adapt Immune
  • Assist with the pre-production stage of a film with Daria Martin – Fine Art Films
  • And much more!

Keep an eye out for our sector lists over the coming days!

In brief… What are micro-internships?

2-5 day work experience placements each term during weeks 9 and 10, exclusive to Oxford students (matriculated students are eligible to apply). Although voluntary, host organisations must reimburse local travel and lunch expenses on production of receipts. Full programme information can be found on our Micro-Internship Programme webpage.

How do I apply?

You can view and apply to all micro-internships on CareerConnect, submitting a one-page CV and 300-word personal statement. The deadline this term is midday, Thursday 3 May (please note that this is earlier than usual due to the bank holiday).

Can I get help with my application?

Absolutely! Please see our Internship Office Application Support Document and Employer Feedback on Student Micro-Internship Applications. Up until the deadline, we will be running Application Support Sessions for CV and personal statement advice – view and book on CareerConnect.

Any questions? Get in touch by emailing micro-internships@careers.ox.ac.uk

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.