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How to prepare for an Interview

Preparing for a telephone interview

The employer will usually suggest a time and date, so you will need to think about where you will take the call. The place you choose should be somewhere quiet, where you are not likely to be interrupted. If you have asked them call you on your mobile, check that there is a strong signal, and remember to charge up your battery. Some other things that might help include:

  • Have a desk or writing surface near the phone, with a suitable chair. The interviewer may ask you to write things down, so have a pen and paper to hand. Avoid lying on your bed to take the call.
  • Have your CV or application form and any notes you may need laid out on the desk, so that you don’t need to rummage for them during the interview.

Preparing for a face-to-face interview

Your interview invitation will probably give the following information. If not, it is perfectly acceptable to ring up and ask:

  • How long will the interview last?
  • What format will the interview take?
  • Will there be any tests or group exercises?
  • Do I need to bring or prepare anything specific?

Make sure that you:

  • double check the time and date of your interview;
  • know how to get to the venue and how long the journey takes;
  • confirm your travel arrangements carefully, especially if you have to make rail connections;
  • check for any planned disruptions to road or rail services;
  • plan to arrive early, rather than rushing in late. This is especially important for assessment centres, where the day runs to a tight schedule;
  • find out if accommodation is provided if needed.

What to take

  • The interview letter, with the name(s) of the interviewer(s) and their address and phone number.
  • A map of how to get there,
  • A copy of your CV and/or application form.
  • A note of the key points you want to make and any questions you want to ask.
  • Money for a taxi in case you are running late.
  • A number to call if you are running late (but remember to switch your mobile off before going into the interview).
  • A small bottle of water.

What to wear

  • Dress appropriately. It is important to look smart for your interview, but you also need to feel comfortable so that you can relax. Some companies have a much more relaxed approach to dress than others, but unless you are specifically told to dress informally, you should wear a suit or equivalent business wear.
  • Decide what to wear well in advance - do not leave it until the morning of the interview. Make sure that it is clean, ironed and ready to wear.
  • Make sure your shoes are clean.
  • It is a good idea to avoid excessive alcohol the night before an interview - you will perform better with a clear head.
  • Avoid using an aftershave or perfume that has a very strong smell.
  • Smokers should resist the temptation to have a cigarette on the way or while waiting for an interview, as the smell may be noticeable when you walk into the interview room.

Personal safety

Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return - you may want to leave an address and telephone number. Beware of going into private houses for an interview.

Knowledge about yourself

Read your CV or application form again, thinking specifically about the qualities the employer is looking for. Work out how best you can demonstrate these to the interviewer(s), and how you can sell yourself during the interview. Remember that they have shortlisted you for the interview because they are prepared to spend time finding out more about you.

In order to organise your thoughts, you could ask yourself questions such as:

  • What does the job involve and why do I want it?
  • What qualities do I have that make me suitable?
  • Why did I choose my degree course?
  • What are my key strengths and development   needs?
  • How would I like my career to develop?
  • What skills will I need and what skills have I gained from my work-related and extracurricular activities? Think of examples.

Alternatively, try putting yourself in the interviewer’s place. What would you ask, and how would you be convinced you had found the right person for the job?

Think about yourself and how you match up to the job specification. Most employers will indicate the particular skills they want for an individual post and, in addition, there are core skills which every employer is looking for.

Remember that the people you are competing with for the job, training scheme or course place will probably have very similar academic backgrounds to your own, so you need to make the most of your unique experiences and achievements. Do not undersell yourself. You can identify your skills by considering the various areas of your life, such as your education, work experience, interests, sport and voluntary work, and then listing which skills you may have developed in each. This will help you to prepare evidence and think about your answers to the competency-based questions you may be asked at interview.

Prepare your answers, but avoid sounding as if you have rehearsed them. Then prepare your attitude: enthusiasm, a positive outlook and honesty are always the best policies.

Prepare your questions to ask the interviewer as this is your chance to find out more and we are happy for you to bring written or prepared questions if that helps you. Of course, we really want to understand you and what makes you different, so please be yourself!

Knowledge about the job

It is important that you know as much as possible about the job for which you’re being interviewed. Have a look at types of jobs 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 and these can provide an interesting insight into the day-to-day activities of certain roles. You do not need to know exactly what you will be doing in the role, but an understanding of the types of activities involved will help. Refer to the job advertisement, job description or person specification.

When interviewing graduates, our questions relate to the competencies and skills required for the role. Read the advert and job description carefully and try to have some examples that relate to the competencies mentioned...

It is also important to remember that an interview is a two-way exchange - you should view your research and preparation time as another opportunity to work out whether a job is right for you.

Knowledge about the organisation

The fact that you have done research on your prospective employer will demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm, as well as your motivation to work for the organisation. It will also prepare you for answering questions at interview, and help you to think of some questions to ask the interviewer. All employers will expect you to display some understanding of their business, its size, and the sector in which it operates.

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 about them and you could also do a web search to find out what is said about them by other organisations. If you have applied for postgraduate study or a research position, look at the university department’s website, and find out about the staff, key research interests, publications, ratings and awards.

Questions you could ask yourself include:

  • What do I know about this organisation, and why do I want to work for them?
  • Which of my degree modules or projects are relevant?
  • What experience do I have of the required functional or technical skills?
  • What kind of training do I hope to undertake, and which 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. How is the industry changing or developing? How are organisations responding? Consult industry insights for an overview of a range of employment sectors.

Preparation is key – the internet means there is no excuse for not knowing about the company, its products and services.

Current affairs/commercial awareness

Whatever the position you are applying for, do not be surprised if you are asked for your views on current affairs and issues of the day. An interview will not be a general knowledge test, but you should have a general idea and understanding of what is going on in the world. A perceived lack of organisational and sector knowledge and a limited grasp of current affairs are cited as common shortcomings at the interview stage, so pay particular attention to these areas when preparing.


If you have a disability, check the physical access to the premises and let the employer know in advance if you need any additional support or equipment. If you do not need any special arrangements, it may or may not be appropriate to disclose your disability to your prospective interviewer before or at the interview.

Psychological preparation

If you have prepared as thoroughly as you can in terms of thinking about yourself and your skills, and researching into the employer and the job, and you have considered the practicalities of getting to your interview, you should feel confident and positive.

However, do not worry if you feel nervous or apprehensive before the interview or assessment centre. Most people feel nervous in these situations and it manifests itself in different ways in different people, which may include a dry mouth, shaky hands, a fast-beating heart, sleeplessness, sweating, a squeaky voice!

Remember that the interviewers are not expecting you to be perfect. They will be looking at your future potential, and how their organisation could help you to develop. Interviewers want to find out whether you have the ability, knowledge and motivation to fit into their organisation and make a valid contribution.

Whilst some nerves may be inevitable, there are things you can do to prepare yourself psychologically:

  • Arrange a practice interview with your careers adviser, or go through some typical questions and answers with a friend.
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before your interview. Perhaps have dinner a little earlier than usual, and go to bed at a reasonable time.
  • Eat breakfast on the morning of your interview, even if your stomach feels like a washing machine on spin cycle. You may have a long and intense day ahead, so feeding your brain is important, and food should ultimately help to settle your nerves.
  • Try to drink plenty of water throughout the day, which will be better for you than stimulants such as tea and coffee.
  • Breathe! Try taking a deep breath in, holding it for a few seconds, and then exhaling fully, and then repeat this as necessary.
  • There are lots of self-help books and CDs available on topics such as breathing techniques, meditation, relaxation, and positive visualisation. Find something that works for you.
  • Many university counseling services offer workshops on coping with anxiety or overcoming nerves, and these are great for anyone worrying about interviews and exams.
  • Think happy thoughts! These may be about your friends, your partner, your family, the great goal you scored in last week’s match, or anything that makes you smile and puts you in a positive frame of mind.
  • Remember that interviewers know that candidates will be nervous, and they are trained to ease you into the interview with casual conversation and some initial icebreaker questions. They will want you to be relaxed and be yourself, so that they can get a better overall impression of you. They will also realise that a few nerves are a sign that you really want the job.

Above all, try to stay positive and remember that any experiences you have as part of a recruitment process are an opportunity for you to learn and to develop.