Interview skills

When it comes to interviews, a bit of preparation makes a big difference. These tips should help you get through your interview – and maybe even enjoy it!

If you’re in Year 11, you might already have applied for a course or job to start when you leave school. Often you’ll be invited to have an interview for your potential college/sixth form place, or for any apprenticeships or work opportunities you’ve applied to. Whatever kind of interview you have, there are some key things to remember.

Look the part

You can do all the preparation in the world, but if you don’t look the part you could make a bad first impression before you’ve even opened your mouth. So make sure you plan your outfit – what you wear will show the interviewer how serious you are about the interview. You can almost never be overdressed – although a full suit and bow tie might be a bit over the top! It’s a good idea to go with a dress code of smart casual. Remember that the interviewer probably won’t be impressed by high fashion or Lady Gaga style statements, unless the course or job you’ve applied to is fashion or art related.

Prepare your journey

Look at how you are going to get to the interview, and plan to arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes early. This way, even if you get slightly delayed you should still get there on time. If you do get held up, don’t panic – if you can, try to call the college or employer to let them know. It’s important to keep the phone number and name of the person or people who are interviewing you, so that you can call ahead to let them know if you are running late.

Sit up straight!

So, you’ve done your research and turned up early, looking smart and smelling fresh. Now make sure you don’t blow it all by looking like you don’t care. Sit up straight with your legs relatively close together (or crossed). And look like you’re interested in what the interviewer is saying by leaning slightly towards them and maintaining eye contact. Make sure you listen carefully to what they are saying, and don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat or rephrase the question if you aren’t sure what they mean.

Think about why you’ve applied there

Whether you’re being interviewed for a course or for a job, it’s a great idea to learn as much as you can about the place you’ve applied to. Wherever your interview is – a college, a sixth form, a training provider or an employer – make sure you’re clued up. Doing your research will impress the interviewer, because it shows that you are serious about doing the job or course.

Here’s an example of how the conversation might go:

Interviewer: “Why do you want to study at The Learning College?”

You: “I read on your website that you have upgraded all of your IT, which I thought would be really useful for my course. I also saw that you’ve had really good results for the last two years.”

Prepare your answers

Take time to think about what types of questions you might be asked. Whether you are applying for a course or a job, the interviewers are likely to want to know why you’ve applied and what you want to achieve in the future.

They might also ask you about your strengths and weaknesses, especially if your interview is for a job. It’s often easy to think of strengths, but harder to think of weaknesses because you don’t want to put the interviewer off! Don’t try and be too clever with your answer – for example, avoid saying something like “I guess I’m too much of a perfectionist” unless you can relate it to the workplace or course, otherwise you could come across as smug. A better answer might be: “I can sometimes be too much of a perfectionist and find it hard to focus on more than one task at a time, but I would like to work on this to become a bit better at managing my time”.

Watch out for weird questions – sometimes you can be asked things like “if you could be any animal which one would you want to be?” This type of question is usually designed to see how you cope in an unexpected situation. It’s not necessarily worth trying to plan an answer, but try not to look too shocked if the interviewer throws a random question in. Take your time and bear in mind that some answers could be seen as negative, like “I’d be a cat so I could sleep all day.”

Find out as much as you can about the interview

Some interviews are more like an informal chat, to see that you know what is expected of the course or role. Others can take half a day or even a whole day of assessment. Find out as much as you can about the interview – you might be asked to take a short English and maths test for example. You might not be able to prepare for such assessments, but knowing in advance that it’s going to happen might help you to keep a cool head. If you know other people who have already been through the assessment process, it’s not cheating to ask them for some tips!

Keep calm

Even if you have put in lots of time to prepare, sometimes nerves can get the better of you. If this happens, the best thing to do is be honest and tell the interviewers that you’re a bit nervous. It’s worth asking for a glass of water, because taking a slow sip can buy you a little time to pull yourself together and think about your answer. If you really can’t think of what to say, try asking the interviewer to reword the question, or ask them what they mean by it to see if this helps you to come up with some answers.

Plan some questions

As well as preparing some answers, make sure you have one or two questions to ask the interviewers too. Often they will ask if there’s anything else you want to know at the end of the interview, so think about what you’d like to find out about the course or job. If you’re at a job interview, it’s best not to ask about money or time off at this point! If you really can’t think of anything, you could say something like ‘what are the opportunities for progression?’ or ‘when do you expect to let candidates know if they’ve been successful?’

Get feedback

It’s all over! Phew! Hopefully you’ve been successful, and even if you have got a place on the course or been offered a job, getting feedback from the interviewers can be really helpful. This helps you to find out what you did well, and what you could work on for next time.

If you weren’t successful, it’s really important that you find out why, otherwise you could think it was one thing when actually it was another. For example, you might think it was something you did wrong, but it might be that they had other candidates with more experience. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know!