Knowledge about the job itself It sounds obvious but it is important that you know what job you are applying for. You will struggle to explain how your qualifications, skills and experiences relate to the opportunity on offer if you do not have a clear understanding of what the job entails. Read individual AGCAS Occupational Profiles and, if possible, speak to people already doing the type of work you are interested in. Increasingly, employers are adding case studies of employees to their websites, which can provide an interesting insight into the day-to-day activities of certain roles.
You do not need to know exactly what you would be doing but an understanding of the types of activities you would be involved in will help.
•what does the job involve;
• what skills will I need to perform the job well;
• what skills, interests and motivation do I already have for the job;
• what examples can I give from work, academic study or outside interests to show I have the skills the employer is seeking?
Knowledge about the organisation This will demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for working for this particular organisation and will enable you to prepare some questions of your own for the interview. Most employers will expect you to display some understanding of their business, its size, products/services and the sector in which it operates. Memorising the year’s financial performance is not necessary but it is important to read recent information about the organisation and to be aware of its competitors. Read their graduate recruitment brochure, have a look at their website and, if possible, their annual report. Many employer websites have press archives of articles that have been issued by them or have appeared in the local/national press.
Questions to ask yourself:
• What do I know about this organisation/ function/subject?
• What attracts me to this organisation/ function/subject?
• What relevant work experience/degree modules/research project have I done?
• What experience do I have of relevant technical skills/techniques?
• What kind of training/additional skills would I like to gain?
Make sure that you are up to date with developments in the sector to which you are applying. Is it in a state of growth or decline? How is the market changing or developing? How are organisations responding? Consult AGCAS Sector Briefings for an overview of a range of employment sectors.
Current affairs / commercial awareness
Whatever the position you are applying for, don’t be surprised if you are asked for your views on current affairs and issues of the day. An interview won’t be a general knowledge test but you should have a general idea and understanding of what is going on in the world at large.
Your questions Prepare two or three questions that you would really like answered. This can be a good opportunity to reveal positive aspects about yourself that the interviewer’s questions may not have elicited. Good questions to ask are those that demonstrate your eagerness to develop within the organisation and take on responsibility. Questions about training or what the process is for progression in the company are also a good idea but make sure these are relevant to the organisation (saying you would like to develop to managing director as quickly as possible in a company of ten people is not realistic and may put an interviewer off). This is also a good opportunity for you to demonstrate your research into the organisation by asking questions about relevant articles you may have read, for example:
‘I read in the newspaper last week that you are expanding into Europe. Is the company thinking of expanding into any other markets?’
• show an interest – ask about the job, organisation, employees, products and processes;
• don’t ask about pay, pensions or other perks – it is not appropriate at this stage;
• don’t ask questions that have been answered in the graduate brochure or other literature sent out with the invitation to interview.
Remember that the interview is also a chance to find out more about the role and the organisation so that you can make an informed decision if you are offered the job. You might want to ask:
• How will I be assessed/my performance appraised?
• What factors distinguish successful employees from less successful ones?
• What has happened to previous post-holders in terms of development?
Approach the interview with confidence and a positive frame of mind. Selectors like to see enthusiasm but will not expect a word-perfect performance; if you make a mistake, just forget it and move on. If you are very nervous, you may want to investigate ways to relax before your interview.
• Try visualisation exercises as part of your preparation. Relax and visualise yourself being enthusiastic and successful at the forthcoming interview. Preparing yourself for success can make success a more likely outcome.
• Try positive affirmations to eliminate any negative feelings. Identify your main concern about the interview (eg ‘everyone else will be better than me’) and write yourself a positive statement, in the first person and in the present tense, to address it. You might try ‘I am the strongest candidate for the job’. Relax and say your positive affirmation to yourself – out loud if you can – at the start of the day and repeat it whenever you are feeling nervous.