How to prepare for interviews
Good interview preparation can improve your performance on the day and help to reduce interview nerves. When the day of the interview comes you should feel that you have a good understanding of the role and the company from your research, and have prepared evidence to demonstrate how you meet the role requirements. Anticipating and preparing for the types of questions they are likely to ask will help you to make a strong impression.
One of the most common complaints from recruiters is that candidates have not researched the company or the role. Employers want to hire people who they believe genuinely want to work for them, in this position, as opposed to someone who just wants “any job”. Communicating that you are really interested in the opportunity can make the difference between a job offer and a rejection, even if you have all the right skills.
How to research the company or role:
- Read the original advertisement / job description and become very familiar with the competencies, knowledge and experience that are required for the role.
- Read the organisation's website, brochure or annual report. Check their social media for current news about the organisation.
- Identify what the company’s culture, mission and values are and be able to show how you will be a good fit for the organisation.
- Research the key people in the company. Read their staff bios and see what they are saying on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram – you might be able to find a link between their interests or projects and your own that you can mention at interview.
- Research the sector more broadly to find out who the company’s main competitors are and to have some sense of the market issues it might be facing to be able to demonstrate commercial awareness.
- Talk to someone who works there if there is someone in your network you can approach. Use the Trinity Alumni LinkedIn page to identify alumni who may be working there and who can give you some informal advice and information. Note that this is not a recommended approach where the job advert specifies a “no canvassing allowed” policy, as this type of approach could risk being interpreted as canvassing.
In advance of your interview it’s advisable to review the job description, highlight the key requirements, and come up with a list of questions that you think they could ask, alongside a list of your evidence to support the reasons why you are a suitable candidate. You can then practice answering these before the interview itself.
When asked to give examples, structure your answers using the STAR framework, which can help you to communicate your competencies clearly and simply. When you outline your example, make sure to tell describe each of the following elements
- Situation (describe the context of the example)
- Task (explain what you had to do)
- Action (describe the actions you took. Give details about what you did.)
- Result (what was the outcome? What made it successful or unsuccessful? What would you do differently another time?)
Below you will find sample questions to help practice answering in advance of an interview.
Knowledge of the job:
- What do you think is the most important part of this role?
- What qualifications do you have that will make you successful in this job?
- What do you think you can add to this role?
Knowledge of the organisation:
- What do you know about our business?
- What do you think of our website?
- Why are you interested in our company?
- Why do you want to work with us rather than one of our competitors?
- What makes us different from other companies in this space?
Career motivation / direction:
- What are your career plans?
- Why have you applied for this kind of work?
- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- Why should we hire you?
- How did you choose your degree subject / university?
- You took an extra year to complete your degree, what was the reason for that?
- Could you explain to me what your final year project (dissertation) is about?
- How is what you learned in your undergraduate/postgraduate course relevant to this role?
Interests and activities:
- What sort of things occupy your time outside study?
- What did your time as a member of ABC Student Society involve?
- What experience have you had of organising events / voluntary work?
- What are your strengths and/or weaknesses?
- When are you at your best?
- What energises you?
Competency based questions:
- Please give an example of how you have remained motivated and committed and have completed a task against considerable obstacles. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?
- Please give an example showing how you have successfully built relationships to achieve a common goal.
- Describe how you have used effective communication skills. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?
Plan your answers
Have plenty of specific examples ready, drawn from your own experiences, to help you answer questions the interviewer may ask. Provide evidence and examples of your successes. Use the STAR method outlined in the “Types of interviews” page to help with this. The employer is recruiting you for your strengths. Your achievements are evidence of those strengths. If possible try to identify measurements for those achievements e.g. "Increased membership of the Political Science society by 5%".
Prepare questions to ask
It is always good to have two or three questions prepared to ask the interviewers at the end of the interview. This offers you the opportunity to show enthusiasm and genuine interest in the role and allows you to assess if the company is the right fit for you. Be careful not to ask questions that you should already know the answer to from your research.
Examples of questions that you could ask:
- What are the opportunities for career progression from this role?
- How is performance appraised in your organisation?
- How would you describe the company’s culture?
- What do you like most about working for this company?
- What are the challenges of this role?
- Be enthusiastic, listen actively, lean forward slightly and keep eye contact with the interviewer.
- Have an agenda before you go in – think about the top 3-5 pieces of information you want them to hear from you during the interview, and weave these into your answers.
- Don’t assume they have an in-depth knowledge of your CV, explain everything clearly as they can only give you points for what you say on the day.
- Listen to the question that is asked and reply to this question, not the one you might like to be asked.
- Wait for the interviewer to finish asking the question before answering – you might think you know where there question is going but if you guess wrong this could work against you.
- If you’re unsure, ask for clarification - don't pretend to know something that you do not or try to answer a question you have not understood. If it is a difficult question you might take a drink of water to allow yourself a few moments to think of an answer.
- Promote your strengths - leave others to identify weaknesses.
- Be prepared to expand on something, which seems to interest the interviewer. Cut short descriptions when they are clearly not so interested.
- Remember you should not be asked, nor are you required to answer, any questions regarding: race, ancestry, political beliefs, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, membership of the traveller community or age.
- Mature candidates should avoid the trap of appearing to want to draw a line on previous experience and starting afresh - your time spent in the workplace already, whatever the level of responsibility, is an asset and an area where you can stand apart from other candidates with less experience.
- Speak clearly and not too fast.
The best way to prepare for an interview is to practice as much as you can. The more preparation you do beforehand, the less nervous you'll feel on the day. Practice answering interview questions with a friend or family member, or even alone in front of the mirror.
We offer professional interview coaching in the Careers Service, where a Careers Consultant will take you through practice interview questions and give you feedback. There is the option to do this on video and watch it back to enhance your learning.
See 'Practice your interview skills' for more information.