Tips for interviews (Julie, Career Consultant)

I recently observed a Civil Service Fast Stream Assessment centre and thought it might be helpful to share some tips on interviews. The information is relevant to all types of interviews – not just Civil Service Fast Stream.

Interviews

Evidencing your skills:

1) When preparing for an interview think through examples outside your academic work (e.g. Work Based Learning placement, part-time work, volunteering or just any activities other than your assignments and dissertations) to demonstrate your skills:

When asked about teamwork, communication skills, or time management, many students and graduates give very similar examples about combining work and study, completing their dissertation, or meeting coursework deadlines. Giving a more work-related example (doesn’t have to be paid work) will help you stand out from other candidates who give academic examples.

2) Think through examples of specific occasions when you’ve used a particular skill before your interview so you’re more likely to recall these examples when asked about your skills:

Talking about one specific example enables you to give more detail and demonstrate that you have the competency being sought. So rather than saying “I usually….”and talking in general terms, you can refer to a specific occasion: “I was doing x, when y happened….”

3) Don’t talk about things you haven’t really done. Most interviewers will ask probing questions which you’ll struggle to answer if you weren’t actually the one who completed the task.

4) Use the STAR technique when answering competency questions and ensure you include the action and result in your answer:

When you’re asked about a specific skill and you give an example:

  • Situation
  • Task (give the context)
  • Action (what you actually did)
  • Result (how the action you took made a difference to the situation/improved things for the employer

Again, you can prepare this before your interview: more about using the STAR technique

5) When giving examples of teamwork, avoid ‘we’ and make sure you talk about your role within the team:

When asked about teamwork, many candidates talk about ‘we’ (the team) for example “we needed to….” Or talk in the third person: “so you would……” Talking in the first person (“I”) makes it much clearer for an interviewer to understand what your contribution was. Before your interview, think of examples of where you really ‘shone’ in a team, for example you may have motivated others, mediated to solve disagreements or somehow brought others together. Think about how you helped the team work better (rather than tasks you completed yourself).

Answering questions:

1) Remember that an interview is a type of business meeting, so keep the focus on positive information about yourself:

Some interview questions seem to prompt candidates to give information about family circumstances, relationship issues, or to go into other personal issues. The problem here is that it’s difficult to stop at the appropriate point once you’ve started going into personal territory – employers really want to know about your ability in the workplace, so it’s best to stick to positive information about your skills and abilities in relation to the job. Prepare specific work-related examples in case tricky questions arise during your interview:

2) Questions about a situation when things didn’t go well, or didn’t go as planned:

Find an example of where you had a difficult situation at work (due to external factors)- for example, a project to complete under difficult staffing conditions, or a pre-existing difficulty where there were sudden changes. Briefly describe the situation, talk mostly about your actions and what you learnt from the situation which you can use in a future situation.

3) Questions about areas for development or your weaknesses:

Think of a skill you’ve recently developed, or a course you’ve recently taken, or an area you’re working on. The trick is to either choose something you’re already reasonably good at ‘I am reasonably proficient at IT, but completed ECDL so I could improve my knowledge of databases’ or something which isn’t central for the role but is likely to impress the employer “I recently taught myself how to use Sagepay” (finance role), “I learnt Makaton” (working with children).

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