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Preparing for an interview

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When you've been invited for a job interview, it's important to make sure you're fully prepared for anything they might throw at you. An interview is an employer's chance to find out what you're like, and whether you are who you say you are. It's also your chance to see if you can work with them - although this is sometimes less important if you're unemployed at the point of the interview!

Interviews normally involve you being asked questions by one or more interviewers, but some companies are becoming a bit more imaginative in their employee selection procedures. It's now not uncommon to be asked to take a psychometric test, give a presentation, take part in a role play or group exercise, take an exam, or participate in a discussion.

Activity: preparing for an interview - 30 minutes or more

In this activity, you will prepare to answer some common interview questions. If you've done the other job hunting activities, you'll already have thought about how you would answer some of them.

1.Read through the list of questions below. Think how you would answer each of these questions - it will be helpful to make notes on your answers, so you don't forget what you plan to say.

  • Tell me about yourself: what motivates you? Is there anything that demotivates you?
  • Tell me about your last job. Describe your accomplishments, the relevance to this post, the value you added, and leadership and teamwork opportunities.
  • Why are you qualified to do this job? Describe your academic qualifications, experience and enthusiasm.
  • Where would you like to be in five years? Talk in generic terms (...in a role that motivates me...), and be honest, but not too honest - "in another job", won't impress!
  • What is your ideal job? You can use the 'what matters to you' activity to help you to answer this question.
  • Tell me about a problem you had to solve. Tell a story: think about what the challenge was, how you dealt with it, and what the results of your actions were.
  • What is your greatest weakness? Refer to 'demotivators', but always aim for a positive spin and explain how you overcome or handle your weaknesses. For example, "I sometimes take on too many tasks than there is time in the day for, but I handle this by spending time planning at the start of every day, re-prioritizing and delegating to my team".
  • Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? If you're asked an odd question, the interviewers want you to demonstrate that you can think on your feet and give a considered answer - even if it's wrong.
  • Why should I hire you? You need to tell them what you'll bring to their company, and why you're better than other candidates.
  • What are your salary expectations? No one likes talking about money, but don't be shy. Research typical salaries for this type of job and respond at the mid-point, and be open to negotiation.
  • How would you describe your previous employer? Positives only!
  • What did you like most/least about your previous job? Again, stay positive.
  • Why do you want to work for us? Research the company and tailor you answer to their needs.
  • What do you think your colleagues would say about you? Don't be negative, but don't be smug either!

2. Practice answering the questions above out loud, or ask someone you know to ask you the questions and listen to your answers. Keep practising until you're comfortable with your answers.

Recommended Further Reading

There are many more questions you could potentially be asked, but these are among the most popular. The important thing to remember is that you need to prepare thoroughly for an interview, and give plenty of thought to how you'll answer commonly asked questions.

In case you were wondering, a Jaffa Cake is a cake, not a biscuit. Why? because cakes - including Jaffa Cakes - go hard when they're stale, whereas biscuits become soft. Biscuits are also considered to be a luxury item so they attract VAT, but cakes are not. Jaffa Cakes are VAT-free - making them a cake in the eyes of the law!

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