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Interviews

The selection process for a job will usually involve an interview - it may even include more than one interview.

Prepare for interviews with interview training practice here

You may be new to interviews, or perhaps it's been a while since you've had an interview, but if you want to be successful, it's useful have a clear understanding of the different types of interviews used and what is expected of you during each of them.

Interviews can range from one-to-one conversations, to sit down meetings with the company's HR Manager, or informal informational and group interviews. Interviews are increasingly structured to look for particular competencies based on the selection criteria specified for a particular job.

In this section we outline the various interview types that you are likely to encounter. There are certain similarities between all of them, but the key things to remember are:

  • Anticipate the questions
  • Develop your answers and
  • Practice makes perfect
The pointers given here are simply guidelines - you need to adapt them to yourself so you can avoid giving the potential employer the same answers as everybody else. Whatever the interview style, remember at all times - you’re here to sell yourself, your qualifications and your skills.

The Interview Process

Remember that the interviewer does not want you to fail. They are investing a lot of time and effort in this process and want you to succeed.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Get to Know the Company

A lot of interviewers will ask what you know about the company. It’s their way of examining your level of interest. Most large companies will have a detailed section on their website about the company. What will really impress is if you can talk about company information you have found from sources other than the company site.

Researching Employers

Know your CV - This is the document that got you this far and it’s what most interviewers will base the interview on. If you have the ability to remember everything on your CV, fantastic, otherwise, take a highlighter to mark your key achievements, important dates and figures and any other points, relevant to the particular vacancy.

Ensure your LinkedIn profile matches your CV, especially dates, key skills and experience.

Anticipate Questions - By preparing answers for questions beforehand, you’ll be a step ahead and it will give you an opportunity to examine your CV in the way that the interviewer will. Preparing for interview questions and answers will also ensure that you can show your skills and expertise in the best light.

Avoid highlighting weaknesses e.g. if you are applying for a HR job don't say your weakness is "I'm not a people person".

It’s important to show your as employers are not just examining your skills, they are also looking for how you will fit into their team culture.

The STAR Technique

Employers look for examples of when you have demonstrated the competencies that are outlined in the job specification. To showcase your match with these competencies, the STAR technique is effective. Once you hear an interview question that starts with "Tell me about a time", "Can you give me an example", "Describe a situation", you can use STAR to showcase your experience.

‘S’ for Situation: Set the context for your story

'T’ for Task: What was required of you - describe the challenge at hand and what needed to be done.

‘A’ for Action: Describe what you actually did (60-70% of the answer should be focused on the actions you took and what you contributed to the task.)

'R’ for Results: Highlight the positive results of your actions- what you accomplished, what you learned, how your managers and team responded, and how your organisation recognised you.

Wherever possible, quantify your achievements and improvements —e. g. “resulted in a 20% improvement in sales".

Prepare a bank of 8-10 STAR stories that you can use during the interview. You can use experiences from college assignments and projects, work experience, internships, positions of responsibility such as class rep, peer mentor, fundraising, sports, volunteering, travel abroad, scholarships, extra courses undertaken, hobbies and interests etc to develop these.

General Background - Often the first question asked at an interview is for a summary of your background. If this is your first job, focus on your extracurricular activities, education and qualifications. It is quite acceptable to repeat major points you have outlined in your CV or cover letter.

Qualifications - A specific question often asked is "Why do you think you are qualified for this position?". Qualifications include educational, employment and personal qualities. This can be the question that will win or lose you the job, so your answer needs to be clear and memorable.

Experience - Here is where your research pays off. Discuss your past experience in a way that is relevant to your potential employer.

Reasons for Applying - If you are applying for your first, or one of your first jobs, your answer should describe: 

  • What you find appealing about the position
  • How you prepared yourself for a career in the organization
  • How your present job/experoence prepares you for the position

Career Objectives - Be prepared to discuss your long-term aspirations. The best approach is to show you have thought about your career in these terms and have taken some action towards realising your ambitions.

Crisis Management - sometimes interviewers ask candidates questions designed to test their reactions to certain crisis situations. The interviewer wants you to show how your common sense, forward planning, use of initiative, interpersonal skills and problem-solving abilities help you to manage tricky situations. Employers are looking for evidence of a calm, practical approach under pressure.

Try to find out what's the most common type of dilemma for employees in the job you are seeking and formulate an intelligent response.

Employment Gap - When the interviewer asks about an employment gap it can make some candidates freeze on the spot or just feel embarrassed. Regardless of the reason for your employment gap, aim to explain how it was a learning experience.

General Tips

General Tips

Questions to ask the interviewer(s)

  • What would my core responsibilities be?
  • What training or induction is given?
  • How much interaction would I have with other departments, or with clients and suppliers?
  • What scope is there for taking on extra work, or being involved in any other aspects of the company?
  • What plans do you have for expansion - how would these impact on my role?
  • Where are the opportunities to progress within the company?
  • Why is the position available?

Try answering some of the typical interview questions out loud. Hearing it aloud will allow you to adjust your answer.

Research How to Get to the Interview Location

  • You need to do is arrive 10 minutes early for the interview
  • Have you thought about how you are going to do that?
  • Where is the interview taking place?
  • Will you be taking a car or public transport? - How long will the journey take?
  • What time of day is the interview: will traffic be lighter or heavier?
  • Making the journey to the interview location the day before may help ease your anxiety on the day

In the Interview

  • Be confident, be friendly but most importantly, be yourself
  • Feel free to take a few moments to prepare what you are going to say
  • Try to avoid signs of nervousness, eg "like", "ummm" or “you know"
  • Look the interviewer in the eye

Follow-Up Actions

  • If you were interviewed directly, send a thank you email, expressing enthusiasm and interest in joining the company
  • There is a possibility you will be offered the job on the spot, at the end of the interview - if you are, and are unsure, be confident enough to ask for time to think about it.
  • If you are using a recruitment company, give immediate feedback to your recruitment consultant after the interview

Appearance

Decide what you are going to wear well in advance of the interview. Make sure the items of clothing are washed / dry cleaned and ironed the day before.

Wear your smartest outfit, as long as it is comfortable. If you think any of your clothing looks shabby, buy a replacement - it could be a worthwhile investment.

An interview is never just about what you say - it is also about non-verbal communication. Positive body language makes those around you feel comfortable and at ease. Remember to have positive and open body language using hand gestures and eye contact while avoiding distracting habits like touching your face or tapping your foot.

On the Day

Bring your documentation, a copy of your CV, directions and the address of the company and your interviewer’s name (in case you forget it).

As mentioned above, arrive at reception ten minutes before the interview. If you misjudged the traffic and arrive 30 minutes early, take a walk in the locality. If you feel nervous while you wait to meet your interviewer, breathe in through your nose so that your stomach expands, hold for at least 5 seconds and then breathe out. That will relax you.

Ensure your mobile phone is turned off so it doesn't ring or vibrate during the interview.

When the interviewer approaches you, greet them with a firm handshake, look them in the eye and smile. There’s a good chance you will engage in small talk on the way to the interview room.

CV Preparation

Most CVs follow a similar template, using the five categories outlined below.

Personal Details - Name, address, contact number and email address. Provide contact details where correspondence will reach you promptly. Make sure you have a genuine and professional-sounding email address.

Educational Qualifications – Present most recent qualifications first. Provide grades (or expected grades) and dates.

Employment or Work Experience – Start with the most recent. Include paid work and unpaid internships. State what you achieved and learned through the work, not just the tasks you carried out. Write with your career goals and the job requirements in mind.

Additional Information - This could include skills, interests and achievements. Include anything that will highlight your employability and make you stand out.

Referees - Names of referees and contact details (check with them first). At graduate level this will usually be one academic and one employer or personal referee. The references do not have to be included on the CV, it is acceptable to say 'References available on request'.

Personal Statements - These can be useful where are sending speculative applications - the recruiter can see at a glance who you are and what exactly you are looking for. They should be used carefully.

Note:

  • You are not expected to include age or date of birth.
  • You don't need to include the word 'Curriculum Vitae or 'CV'

Styles and Formats

There are different formats of CV. Check out examples of CVs but never copy a CV template exactly. Sample CVs can be useful to get you started, but always adapt it for the job you are applying to.

A graduate CV is typically fairly short - keep it to one A4 page, maximum two pages.

Different types of CV to above may be required in certain situations e.g.:

  • Academic jobs tend to require longer CVs and include additional sections such as teaching experience and publications.
  • Convention in the USA is to provide a 'resumé' which should be just one page long.
  • The UK typically follow the same format required by Irish employers, but elsewhere in Europe there may be differences in expected format so research is important.
  • A Skills-based CV is useful at graduate level where you may not have a lot of work experience, so instead you want to focus on your skillset.
    o Arrange your key skills under three to five headings i.e. ‘Communication skills’ and ‘Teamwork’ etc.           and write about your relevant experience and accomplishments under each skill heading.
    o Add a brief paragraph listing your work experience (provide dates, employer name and job titles only)
    o Include education details in a separate section after these

Tips

1. Keep it Short and Concise
Fitting your relevant career experience into two pages shows focus and an ability to communicate well. The majority of employers will appreciate this.

2. Don’t Sell Yourself Short but Keep it Short
Many people take for granted the skills they have and presume employers will assume they have them too. If you have a skill which an employer needs then make it clear. Don’t leave it up to an employer to interpret your CV.

3. Tell an Employer What They Want to hear
So you just graduated college, how do you stand out? Don’t just tell them you have a degree, tell them how the knowledge and experience your education developed can help them. Make them need something they didn't think they needed before.

4. Know the Job You Are Applying For
Try and learn as much as you can about the place you are applying to. Some of this information can go into your CV in a subtle way. Spot anything the business does which you think you could improve on. Let them know how in your CV. This why copy and paste type CVs frequently find themselves on the rejection pile. It pays to display your interest in the position.

Source: Dr. Bill Mallon founder and director of CareerProjections, a Dublin based team of specialists in career and college advice and provision of CV and college proofreading services.

CV Checklist

  • Have you included a current phone number and an email address that you check regularly?
  • Have you included a cover letter?
  • Is your CV relevant to the career sector or employer you are applying to?
  • If you are emailing your CV, have you saved it with your own name in the document title? If it's just called 'CV.doc' it could get lost in a pile of others.

Note:Most companies prefer CVs submitted online or by email - Create your CV in Word so it can be opened and read by recipients easily. You may be asked not to use a pdf, particularly if you are sending a CV to recruitment company. If in doubt, ask.

Last but not least ... Spelling and punctuation must be perfect! After you proofread it yourself, have a friend check it over for readability and any errors that you may have missed.

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