Interview cheat sheet

Oh, job interviews. They’re the rickety rope bridge separating you from your career dreams. Many cross them every day, and more than a fair few fall back to Earth with a hard thud, only to begin the exhausting climb all over again. But fear not, intrepid careers explorer. We’re here to be your guiding light in the job interview jungle.

Our guide to succeeding in job interviews will give you everything you need to pass through that final and most crucial selection stage with flying colours. We’re breaking it down to a near-atomic level; from tips and techniques to common questions and a step-by-step walk-through, here’s how you do it.

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Debut’s job interview cheat sheet

There are so many things to remember in the lead-up to an interview, you can easily get your wires crossed. So much good advice that you just don’t know how to act on. This job interview cheat sheet collates it all, so you can go into the boardroom with confidence knowing that you’ve got your bases covered.

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The prep

So you got the interview, either with the help of a stellar CV and cover letter or on the back of a medal-winning performance in the assessment centre. It’s interview time. But before you even think about interacting with a recruiter, there’s work to be done.

The week before

If you haven’t already, the first thing you should do when your interview is legit is swot up on the company and the position.

  • Research the culture, mission, vision, values.
  • Use LinkedIn, Glassdoor and the company social media channels to get the lowdown on what the company is really about.
  • Google the person interviewing you. See if they’ve ever been interviewed or videoed talking about the company and you might get a sense of their style, insight and things they like in their employees.
  • Read what has been written about the position you’re going for, whether there are pitfalls you should avoid and if there are any ways you can do it better.

This won’t just help you when you’re interviewing, but it’ll help you down the road should you get an offer. It’s not just about you being a good fit for the company after all, it’s also about the company being a good fit for you. Because if you have any apprehensions about working there, a recruiter is trained to sniff them out at a great distance. You’re not going to be able to convincingly talk about how thrilled you would be if you got to work there and that can come off bad in an interview setting.

Equally, if legit concerns do come up while you’re researching, hold on to them and be forthcoming when you’re interviewed. Asking thoughtful questions won’t harm your chances. In fact, quite the contrary.

The day before

It’s all well and good having done your research. Now, it’s time to put it to the test. Before you go in for your interview, be sure to memorise as many of the little details. You don’t want to get caught out on these things. It shows a commitment to the role and good research skills if you can weave facts about the job and the business into interview conversation. These include (but aren’t limited to)

  • The company history (when it was founded, where it is in relation to competitors etc.)
  • Recent news on the company
  • Your interviewer’s background
  • Big projects that the company’s working on. Bonus points if you can suggest an idea that adds value to their work.
  • Other people in the company you may be working closely with should you get hired

You can find a lot of this information (and more) on the company website or on LinkedIn. If not, a quick Google will suffice. It costs nothing to know these things and it might just mark you out as a special candidate.

Also, take this time to go over your own CV and cover letter. A fair amount of time might have passed between you sending it off and now. It’s time to remind yourself not only of what you actually wrote, but how you wrote it.

A fresh pair of eyes – say, for instance, a recruiter – might pick up on something you’ve forgotten about. You don’t want to get stumped on your CV, believe me. It’s not a good look. So all those achievements; the things you said you could do for the company, the skills you wanted to learn; use them to build a narrative that you can commit to memory and recall when it matters.

Next, plan your route. Well in advance. These days we’ve got these magical technology boxes loaded with TfL, Citimapper, Google Maps and National Rail apps, which make it pretty much impossible to be late anywhere any more.

Check ahead of time for any travel disturbances that might force you to change route, and if you’ve never been to the area your interview is in before, take time to travel up there the day before. You’ll thank yourself the next day when everything goes off without a hitch. To truly smash an interview, you need a level head. Nothing kills a game face faster than being stuck on a Northern line tube on the wrong branch to where you need to be.

You’ll need to rehearse beforehand too, so book in some time with a family member or your university careers office to go through what you’re learning and make sure you get it right on.

Lastly, you’re gonna wanna take especially good care of your mental health. Meditation, exercise, yoga or good food can help with this. More importantly than anything though, is to get a good, restful night’s sleep.

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When the day finally comes

It’s showtime, kid! Time to apply everything you’ve learnt so far. Leave nice and early, follow your pre-planned route and use the journey time to go over any notes you may have made. Use your research on the company culture to pick out an appropriate outfit for the occasion.

Matching the dress code of the place you’re interviewing shows that, again, you’ve researched the company and assessed the vibe ahead of time.

Remember: interviewers take into account appearance and personality too.

Showing up to a corporate setting in smart-casual gear, or worse, rocking up to a start-up in a full business suit will immediately fire off all the signals that say you don’t know what the company’s about. For some recruiters, that’s a deal breaker right off the bat.

In an ideal world, you’ll arrive in the vicinity of your interview approximately half an hour before your interview starts. You might seem super keen, sure, but it also affords you the opportunity to do some last-minute research.

Grab a seat at a nearby coffee shop and compose yourself post-commute. It’s important though, that you don’t arrive at the company headquarters no earlier than 5 mins before your interview. It’s nightmarish for recruiters to try and accommodate someone they aren’t ready for, so respect the appointment time they’ve given you.

When you do get to the interview, take your extra 5 minutes to take a quick look around at the office surroundings. From them, you can look beyond what it says on the corporate websites and stock images and get a sense of what the company culture is really like. Are the facilities well looked after? Is there an up-to-date noticeboard? Are there many pictures of the team around? The answers to these questions can say a lot about the company and the people who work there.

Glean what you can from the front desk staff too – they’re always happy to help and oftentimes, they’ll have information that you can’t find anywhere else. You can use all this to flesh out your answers when it comes to interview time.

During the interview

When you finally come to the point where you’re face-to-face with the interviewer, don’t panic. The whole reason you’re in the room is because they see something in you. Interviewing and hiring is a very expensive business of companies.

If you’ve made it this far, that means they can envisage you in the position. All they want to know is that you can demonstrate the skills listed in your CV and cover letter when called upon to do it and showcase your natural personality while doing it.

You needn’t worry too much about how you’re going to do that. Most companies ask you specific questions to see if you possess certain characteristics they’re looking for in the role. This is known as competency-based recruitment. To answer them successfully you’ll need to demonstrate that you have what they need.

This is where looking at the job description becomes key. The company you’re talking to is looking to hire because they have a problem to address. From the job description, you need to ascertain how you can use your own set of unique skills to solve that problem(s). Bear that in mind when answering each question – the recruiter would most like to know what you can do for them, rather than vice versa.

When you answer each question, make sure you do so with concrete examples of your previous achievements. This evidence usually needs to be either qualitative (story-based) or quantitative (number-based). For instance, if you can regale a time when you stepped up and showed great leadership when it wasn’t asked of you, that’s qualitative. Increased the readership of your student newspaper by 70%? That’s quantitative. You’ll need to use your good judgement to work out which you need to use.

Introverts needn’t worry when it comes to interviews, there are plenty of tricks you can use to ensure you’re not misunderstood. If you’re not a natural talker, feel free to take a breath before you answer a question. It’ll calm you down, give you a chance to think and show the recruiters that you’re giving your answers some thought. If it’s a panel, answer each member individually to give a more intimate feel.

When you come to the end, remember to ask questions. It shows engagement, depth of study and again, will give you valuable insight you can use when you come to the job offer stage. Prepare some beforehand

The aftermath

When you get out of the interview, congratulate yourself. The hardest part is behind you now. But there are still a few things you need to do to tie up the loose ends.

First, ensure that you thank the interviewer for their time both as you leave the building and via email afterwards. It’s a move that not only immediately separates you immediately from other candidates in the interviewer’s mind, but it allows you the opportunity to link them to work you might have referenced in the interview or add points that you didn’t have time to express. Think of it as an extra-credit assignment. The recruiters will lap up your politeness and enthusiasm.

And then all that remains is to wait. And then either graciously accept, reject or admit rejection when the employer returns to you. If you do get rejected, remember: there are plenty of reasons an employer might reject a candidate and not all of them are to do with you not being good enough for the role. Take it on the chin and apply what you’ve learnt next time. If you don’t get any feedback from the employer after a rejection, chase them for it. For the time you spent preparing to meet them, they owe it to you to tell you how to improve in future. A company who doesn’t do this isn’t fit to be your employer anyway, pal.

If you get the job, rejoice! You’ve reached the top of the mountain, but your careers journey is just beginning – check the rest of our guides out for more info on preparing for the world of work.

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