A short guide on preparing for an interview

In this Research Reflections blog, Research Officer Beth continues to explore the anxieties associated with graduating, searching for jobs, and being invited to interviews. She shares a short guide explaining some helpful tips on how to best prepare for an interview.

There is no doubt that job hunting is an extensive process, and it can be difficult to navigate as a recent graduate. Though it may feel exciting to get invited for your first interview (or second, or third), the unexpected nature of this process can often leave individuals feeling nervous and lost on how to best prepare. These emotions are not uncommon and are experienced widely by many graduates who have spent hours completing applications, feel pressure to get a ‘graduate’ job and are apprehensive about how they are going to do in such an unpredictable job market (Hoover & Lucas, 2023). It is important to remind yourself in these situations that getting invited for an interview itself is an achievement.

When I finished university and began attending interviews for various positions, I too felt worried about what to expect and disheartened when I did not get a job offer following my interview. Overtime, I accumulated a range of tips and tricks that helped me to best prepare for an interview and calm my nerves around the process. I have turned them into this short guide which I am excited to share with anyone who is new to interviews or is looking for advice on how to prepare.

Use the careers service at your university

  • Graduates often have access to their careers service for up to two years after they leave university.
  • Setting up mock interviews with advisors can be a useful way of practising interview questions with a professional. They can offer you feedback on how well you answered questions and advice going forward with interviews.

Have a look at the company website

  • When you get an interview, make sure you look up their organisation. You want to know a bit about the place you are going to be working for. What’s their vision, their mission, and their aims? Is there anything that stood out to you about why you’d want to work for that specific company?
  • Next, look more specifically into the area/department you are going to be working in. Have they published any articles or reports that you have found interesting? Is there something about the team that interests you?

Know and understand the company’s values

  • Including the organisation’s values in your answers will make you really stand out because it shows the panel that you have read and understood them and align with their interests.
  • Interviewers often ask questions about their organisation’s values. For example, I have been asked: ‘Which value from our organisation do you resonate with the most and why?’ and ‘How can you demonstrate our values in your work?’
  • Sometimes, however, an interview panel may not want you to explicitly repeat their values, but rather subtly demonstrate that you understand them by using examples relating to your own experience. Once in an interview, I mentioned one of the company’s values and explained why it resonated with me. I was then told in feedback not to repeat their values back to them, as they already know what they are.
  • So, for example, if an interview panel asks you about teamwork and one of their company’s values is respect, you could state: ‘I try and demonstrate respect for each member of the team by encouraging them to speak and listening to everyone’s viewpoints, validating their ideas, and telling them that I appreciate their contributions’.

Going through the job description

  • Read through the job description a couple of times. Highlight anything that you don’t understand and google terms, theories, and procedures that you are unsure of, so you know what they mean.
  • Next, go through the job description and pick out a few things that really interest you in the role.
  • I have been asked before ‘What’s one thing from the job description that interested you in applying?’, so it can be useful to have a few pre-prepared aspects of the job description that caught your eye.
  • Even if you don’t get asked this question, there may be other times when you can include something from the job description that will show the interviewer you have read it before, and that you understand what’s going to be required of you within the job. For instance, for the question ‘What attracted you to the job position?’ you could bring in something from the job description.

Understanding the person specification

  • It’s likely that you will be asked a question on something from the person specification. This question might be phrased something like this: ‘Please can you give me an example of a time you have demonstrated good oral and/or written communication skills.’
  • It’s good to go through each point of the person specification and think of a scenario or example that demonstrates how you have previously fulfilled that requirement.
  • Even if you are asked something like: ‘What skills and experience do you have that is relevant for this role/to this position?’, having a bunch of scenarios and examples in your head and picking out the ones that align with the skills in the person specification is helpful.

Competency-based questions

  • Questions that require you to highlight the examples and scenarios that demonstrate how you fit a role’s person specification may be referred to as ‘Competency Based Questions’.
  • Examples of the questions may start with phrases like: ‘Tell me about a time when’, ‘describe a situation when’ or ‘talk me through a situation when.’
  • They are designed to encourage you to talk about examples from your previous education and/or experience.

Try to adopt the STAR method as a way structure your answers clearly and concisely.

The STAR Method

The STAR method can be broken down into the following stages:

S= situation – explain what the situation was: ‘In my final year of university we were put into groups…’

T= task – describe what the task was: ‘We had to create a PowerPoint on… and present it…’ 

A= action – what actions did you take to complete the task: ‘I took on a leadership role and decided that we should have an initial meeting to discuss our ideas and interests. We then delegated the roles based on these interests and met weekly to see how we were getting on’. Explain any problems here and what actions you took to overcome them, including what actions made you a leader.

R= result – describe the result of your actions: ‘These actions meant that we were able to complete the PowerPoint within the time set and present to the class.’

R = reflect – I personally like to add on an extra R here, especially for NHS interviews I have had. It is important to reflect on your experiences. What would you do differently, what would you do the same and can therefore transfer into this job role, and looking back why did you find this challenging?

If you’re explaining a group situation in your STAR and perhaps there was a time when your team did not communicate well, you could say: ‘If I were to work in a team again and take on this leadership role then I would make sure that I established everyone’s preferred method of communication beforehand. I would consider whether my team wanted to meet in person weekly, for example, or would prefer to be contacted on the phone?’

Scenario-based questions

  • These types of questions ask how you would deal with a hypothetical situation related to the job role that you have applied to.
  • They are often phrased like: ‘If you were in this situation… what would you do?’, ‘your manager asks you to… what would you do?’ or ‘tell me how you would approach…’
  • Again, it is useful to use the STAR method to structure your answers when explaining what you would do in a certain situation.

Inclusion, diversity, and equality

  • Typically, in NHS interviews, I have been asked the following question: ‘What inclusion, diversity, and equality mean to you, and how would you adopt, adhere to, and encourage them within the workplace?’
  • For these questions, draw on your own professional and personal experiences that demonstrate what these values mean to you and how they can be utilised within the workplace.
  • Even if you are not directly asked a question on these concepts, it’s important to show you understand how they can benefit your team and the wider organisation.

Questions at the end of the interview

  • I found this stage of preparation really important.
  • Make sure you have a list of at least 3 questions to ask the interviewers at the end of the interview. This is in case any of your prepared questions are covered during the interview itself.
  • Having questions that aren’t generic and that get the interviewer to think about a response is a good way to end the interview and demonstrate that you can think outside of the box.
  • Good examples of these questions include:
  • What do you find most challenging about your role?
  • Are there any opportunities to receive training or move up within this position? (This question demonstrates that you are looking to progress and stay within the company).
  • My dissertation was on COVID-19 and so I have asked before: ‘How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your company?’ (I was going for a researcher role, so this question demonstrated that I was also interested in the company’s experiences from a research perspective and was still keen to expand my research interests).
  • ‘Is there anything else you’d like to know or anything that I have said about my experience that you would like me to clarify?’ (This question allows the interviewer to ask anything they may be worried about. For instance, if you don’t have the exact experience that they want, you can reassure them that you are willing to learn and have demonstrated this through previous education and professional experiences).

General tips:

  • Try not to prep for all the possible questions you could get asked. When I prepped for loads of questions and made answers to everything that I was finding on Google, I ended up trying to rehearse my responses. It was difficult to remember these answers in the midst of an interview.
  • The best thing to do is have a range of scenarios in your head that could be used for a variety of responses. l liked to make a mind map with a scenario (STAR) in the middle of the page. Around it, I then put possible questions or skills that the example could be used for (for example communication, teamwork, proactive etc).
  • Look back through your application and/or personal statement so that you know which aspects of your application may have appealed to the company when they invited you for an interview.
  • If you are ever unsure of an answer, or you don’t have the relevant experience, state how you would be willing to learn something and say you are proactive, a quick learner and are eager to enhance your skills.
  • I found it helpful to go on relevant Facebook groups like ‘Gals in Psychology’ and ‘Gals who graduate’. You can post (anonymously if you wish) that you have a job interview for a position in a particular field. It’s more than likely that someone else in these groups has had an interview for this before and can give you some more specific tips for your interview.
  • Once you have finished your interview, write down all of the questions that you can remember them asking. It may also be helpful to jot down your answers to these questions. Always ask for feedback on your interviews when you have found out the final decision. Whether you get the position or not it can be helpful to know where they thought you did well and where you could improve.

Beth Pittuck, Research Officer