Graduate Job interviews

An interview can be the reason for many nerves throughout the application process – trying to convince a room of people that you’re the best person for the job is a tricky thing, especially for graduates who may lack interview experience. However, by taking a few simple steps in preparation, you will be able to tackle an interview and out yourself in a great position to impress and succeed.

Types of interview

The first thing that is useful to know are the various types of interview. If you’re applying to graduate roles you may find that you may come across a range of these different interview options, even for the same position. You might only need to excel in one to get the role, but in others it is likely that you’ll undergo various interview formats.

If you’re not sure about what sort of interview you’re expected to undergo, contact the employer to find out. Once you know what to expect you’ll be able to prepare for the scenario and questions you might experience.

  • Face-to-face – this is the traditional way of interviewing for vacancies and continues to be one of the most common forms. You’ll be expected to attend the employer’s offices to be questioned about your suitability for the job; this could be either by an individual or a panel. A face-to-face interview typically lasts between 40 minutes and two hours and you may be expected to complete some tests and assessments before. These types of interviews tend to have questions that are either competency-based (what you can do) or strengths-based (tasks you enjoy doing).
  • Phone – a phone interview is more common in the earlier stages of the application process in order to filter down the large numbers of candidates into a more manageable number. A phone interview will typically last about half an hour. If you successfully complete a phone interview, you’ll normally be offered a face-to-face interview or the chance to attend an assessment centre.
  • Video – this is an increasingly popular method for employers to interview graduates for their roles, especially in the case of graduate schemes. These can either be pre-recorded (normally by a specified date as requested by the interviewer) or live in which the interview will likely take about half an hour.
  • Assessment centres – an assessment centre is the perfect opportunity for an employer to test your aptitude against other candidates at the same time. You’ll attend alongside your fellow applicants and may be expected to take part in group and individual exercises, these could include: presentations, case studies and psychometric tests.

Research your way into the role – preparing for an interview

No matter what kind of interview you’ll be faced with, becoming properly prepared for the interview will give you confidence in your performance and allow you to succeed. Make sure you start your research a few days in advance and don’t leave this until the last minute – you don’t want to go in blind and potentially face some challenging situations.


You probably carried out some research before you initially applied to the role. Go back to basics and expand on what you already have. You may be able to anticipate some interview questions based on the job description and remind yourself why you applied in the first place. Look up the organisation’s website for recent updates of their work or clients you find interesting and think about how you could contribute. You’ll need to establish that you understand the businesses and possess a genuine interest in its challenges, the job sector, competitors and values.


Read over the job description many times! You should know exactly how your skills match up with those expected in the listing as the interview is likely to utilise this information. It’s essential that you can convey to the interviewer exactly why you want the role and that you understand it – this is your chance to prove that you are the best fit for the job.

Interview panel

It may be useful to find out who is interviewing you. The names of your interviewers are commonly detailed in your invite, but if not, you may be able to contact the employer to find out who they are. Sometimes the ‘About us’ section of the website might have profiles of their employees, or even search them on LinkedIn to know more about their experience and professional interests. You might be able to use this information to connect to your interviews and impress them in your interview.


Prepare three or four questions to ask the interviewer. This isn’t an interrogation – showing that you have a genuine interest in the business will go far in impressing your interviewers and make you come across as confident and prepared. Avoid questions about what the organisation can do for you or only need a ‘yes or no’ answer, instead infer more about the role and what you could help bring to it. For instance, “is there anymore you can tell me about the daily responsibilities of the role?” or “what can I do to impress you in the first few months?”.

Practice makes perfect

It’s a great idea to complete a few mock interviews before the real thing, especially if you’re a graduate who may not have much experience with them in the past. Your university careers service will help you practice your interview technique – this could be by helping you research the company or aiding you in setting out what sort of responses may be expected. They might even offer you the opportunity to book a mock interview or provide you practice tests that could be part of the interview.

You can also practise your responses to common interview questions with a friend or family member who can give you some tips on how to improve your performance. If you’re expected to complete a video interview, recording yourself and watching it over will help you identify the areas in which you could enhance your technique, whether that’s by not looking at yourself or the position of the camera. You can also find practice tests or common assessment centre trials here, going through a few of them will let you know what to expect and what key areas an employer may be looking for.

On the day

  • Be on time – it’s important that you know when and where the interview is taking place and your journey there. Plan your route in advance so you can be on time, you won’t impress an employer if you’re late to the first opportunity they give you.
  • Fuel up – eat a good breakfast and a snack before, there’s nothing worse than the paranoia that everyone in the room can hear your stomach rumbling.
  • Note making – bring a notepad and pen; you may find it useful to be able to take some notes while you’re there for future reference.
  • Documentation – bring your ID, a fresh copy of your CV and interview invitation along with your academic certificates if these have been requested; the employer may need to verify who you are at the interview.
  • Practice your greeting – this might sound a bit weird but trust us. An interview for a graduate role is not the time and place to be screwing up your introduction and messing up your words. Run over what you’ll say to your interviewers a few times in your head to make sure you make a great first impression.

Dressing to impress

You might be wondering why this is its own section, but the world of work is changing. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to work out what an employer might be expecting you to wear to an interview, especially as graduates without previous experience.

As university students, days spent in jogging bottoms and baggy t-shirts are the norm (we miss those days), nonetheless, some employers still expect their candidates to dress to the nines in smart formal wear for their interview. This means, suit, smart trousers or skirt and shiny shoes.

However, there are a growing number of organisations forgoing this expectation in favour of casual wear at work, making it even harder to pick an outfit. Consider the size of the company, the sector it’s in and the culture it promotes – a smaller, creative business will have different expectations to a large law firm. It’s important to remember that even if you’re interviewing for a more casual firm, dressing somewhat smartly will prove you take the position seriously. This could instead entail a nice shirt or blouse with smart jeans and leaving the trainers at home.

Whatever outfit you go for, just make sure that your clothes are ironed and shoes clean! If you’re unsure about the dress code, contact the employer before the interview. The crucial thing to remember is that it’s better to be over dressed than under – only go for a casual option if you’re certain this will be accepted. If in doubt aim for smart business attire.

Top tips to making a good impression

  • Arrive on time – don’t keep them waiting on your dramatic entrance. Not only will you be stressed out of your mind if you’re late (which isn’t great when going into a nerve-wracking interview), but your employer will probably not enjoy waiting around for you.
  • Positivity triumphs – be polite to everyone you meet before and after the interview, you don’t want a bad word getting back to your interviewers. If you’re nervous, just keep in mind that not getting the job isn’t the end of the world, no matter how it might feel. Respond to your interviewers’ questions with positive answers and show them you’re enthusiastic about the role.
  • Be concise – don’t ramble. Be clear when you answer questions and only use your most relevant skills and achievements. It’s okay to pause and think through your answer and give yourself some time to consider what the interviewer would like to hear; don’t just ‘umm’ your way through it. Don’t be afraid to ask for more clarification if you’re unsure about what they are asking you.
  • Body language – a firm handshake, good eye contact and a smile might be worth more than you think, interviewers actually care about this stuff. Don’t slouch in your chair and sit up straight (think about how great it’ll be for your posture too).
  • Professional to the end – it might be tempted to make a dash from the interview room as soon as it’s over. However, your interviewers will expect you to remain professional the entire time you’re with them, after all, how you represent yourself is how they expect you to act around their clients and other employees.

After the interview

When the interview comes to an end, thank the interviewer for giving you the opportunity and for their time. Enquire about when you can expect to hear a response about the outcome. You can learn from the experience (no matter the result) by noting down the questions you were asked and your responses to them, reviewing these will help you prepare more effectively in the future. There are only a few results of an interview:

  • Success! – if you’re offered the role, don’t respond immediately with a confirmation. Double-check what the employer is proposing in terms of salary, time off and starting date and that this matches your expectations. It’s also a good idea to consult with your family and friends and ask for their advice before accepting the job.
  • Rejection – if you’re unsuccessful, get feedback from the interviewers; this is invaluable, and most recruiters will be willing to provide it. Ask for tips on how to improve as you might receive specific suggestions to help improve next time. Try not to be disappointed – graduate employers receive huge numbers of applications and so even getting to the interview stage is impressive!
  • Further interviews – you may be asked to attend further interviews with the employer if they have been unable to reach a decision. In some companies, especially the larger accountancy, investment baking and law firms, it’s common to hold multiple interviews for a role so don’t worry if this is expected of you.

Mistakes to avoid

Even the most experienced of us can sometimes slip up when we’re nervous. However, preparing ahead can mean you’ll avoid common interview mistakes in a time when a first impression really does matter. You’ll be up against plenty of talented graduates, so it’s crucial that it is your skills that stand out from the bunch.

  • Being unprepared – preparation is key when it comes to an interview. You may think that day after day spent researching different companies, planning your route and practising your responses to common interview questions is a chore but rest assured that it will properly pay off in the end when you stand out from the crowd.
  • Ignoring the question – when we’re not sure what someone is asking us it can be easy to not respond to what they’re wanting to know. If you get confused, ask the interviewer to clarify their question and take a few seconds to put together a response in your head that actually answers their query.
  • Criticising your old employers or tutors – complaining about colleagues or discussing the negative aspects of your university lecturers will not create a great first impression and may make them wonder what you might say about them in similar circumstances. Always remain professional and emphasise the actions you took to overcome the issues you faced.
  • Rambling – talking too much (or not enough) can be difficult to avoid when you’re nervous. Running through some practice questions prior to the interview can help ensure you respond with the right amount of information and still sell yourself as a person.
  • Dressing inappropriately – a good rule of thumb to follow is if you’re unsure what to wear to an interview, it’s best to go all out and be smartly dressed than look unprofessional. If you would wear an outfit on a night out or lounging around the house, then this is not the look to go for in an interview.

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