Application process

Interviews

Introduction

An interview is always a cause for celebration! It’s time to feel positive and confident. The organisation likes what they’ve seen so far and want to know more about you. The interview is now your opportunity to show directly what you can offer them in the way of skills, knowledge, experience and personal qualities as well as demonstrate your knowledge of their organisation and role. It’s your chance to convince them that you’re the right person for the job.

Whatever the format used, online, face-to-face or, particularly in the earlier stages, pre-recorded video, preparation is key. While it might not be realistic to predict exactly the questions you’ll be asked, some thorough research into the company and the role should help you anticipate at least the types of questions you're likely to face. Most will fall into three main areas: your motivation and fit for the organisation, interest and knowledge of the role itself and whether you have the skills and strengths to succeed in the job. 

In the sections below you’ll find information on what to expect, how to prepare effectively and useful sources of further support.

Preparation/getting the basics right


Before

Understand what the employers want – research the company and role 

You’ve already done some research at application stage so now is the time to reflect further on your fit with the company and role. Interviewers are looking to see a close match between you, the job and the organisation. They will be expecting to find more detailed evidence that you have the educational background, skills, experience and general profile they are looking for. They will also be keen to see your general enthusiasm, understanding of and interest in the role itself as well as their organisation. 

  • Review your application again and be prepared to expand on any examples you’ve given. Think about follow up points you might want to clarify if you were in the interviewer’s shoes. 

  • Go through the job requirements and understand the role you are applying for in detail. Employers assess against a precise set of criteria. Think about how your own strengths, skills and experiences match these criteria. What examples can you use to show where you’ve used particular skills, shown particular characteristics. It’s all about the evidence.

  • Do some more research into the organisation and think carefully why you want to work for them. What elements of your past experience or earlier decisions will add credibility to the points you make?

  • Research the industry/sector too – employers often expect you to show commercial understanding and an awareness of how they differ with their competitors. 

Try and anticipate the questions

As you’re doing your preparation and researching each of these areas, think about the kinds of questions the interviewer might use to probe for the evidence they need.

  • Motivation and fit for the company
    Questions here might include ‘why do you want to work for us?’, ‘what differentiates us from our competitors?’, ‘what do you see as the biggest challenge facing the sector?’ As well as helping an employer understand your motivations for them, they might also want to test your wider commercial understanding and sector interest. 

  • Interest and knowledge of the role
    Questions here might look to explore your understanding of career paths, what a typical day might look like and the challenges you might face in the role. 

  • Skills and strengths to suceed in the job
    Skills-based questions will focus on past experience and expect you to provide specific detailed examples of an occasion you have used a given skill. Strengths-based questions will place more emphasis on your innate abilities and preferences – the things you enjoy doing and that come naturally to you. Refer to the job description and person specification for the role to prepare examples from across your work experience, education and extra-curriculars to demonstrate you have the skills and strengths needed. If you don’t have a job description or person specification use your own research into the role to help you identify what skills might be required. 

Find out in advance what you can expect on the day

Knowing what to expect will really help your confidence and preparation. If the employer hasn’t shared details with you it’s okay to ask for more information and check if there’s anything in particular you should do to prepare. There are a number of things that can be useful to know in advance.

  • What is the interview format? One person or a panel? Case study or competency? Length? 

  • Who will be interviewing you? Knowing the name of your interviewer(s) and their role in the organisation is always helpful. An interview with a line manager or functional specialist may be technical, or knowledge based. An interview with an HR specialist or recruiter might well focus on motivation and skills.  

  • Get the logistics right. If it’s face- to-face make sure you’re familiar with the route/location; if it’s online, make sure you’re comfortable with the technology and your set up is robust.

On the day

Impression management and body language

Creating a good impression right away is important. Make sure your clothes are smart and professional – appropriate for the role. Thank your interviewer at the start – and again at the end. Smile and show your enthusiasm and interest. When you're meeting in person and a handshake is expected (and you're comfortable with it), make sure your grip is firm.   

 Your body language and tone of voice can really help to establish and maintain rapport with your interviewer. Smile where appropriate, keep an upright, open posture, leaning in slightly to show interest. Good eye contact is important – if online you can achieve this by remembering to look at the camera rather than always being fixed on the middle of the screen.   

It’s usual to experience some nerves and while your interviewer will expect this and be sympathetic, there are steps you can take to keep them under control. It’s worth remembering, too, that the adrenalin rush can actually help performance. Good posture makes it easier to breathe and manage nerves. We tend to speak quickly when we’re nervous, so think about pace and have a glass of water to hand in case your throat gets dry. Try to avoid distracting (and annoying!) your interviewer by fiddling with your pen, hair etc. TARGETjobs has some useful tips on impression management, body language and dealing with nerves. 

Answering questions

Having thought carefully about the kinds of questions you’re likely to be asked, it’s worth thinking about your technique, how you’re going to make sure you answer them as effectively as possible and give the interviewer what they’re looking for.

  • Listen closely to the question, pay attention to how it is worded, and tailor your response carefully. Respond to what your interviewer has asked for, not just what you’ve prepared for!

  • If you’re asked a question you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. 

  • When asked a question you’ve not thought about before or if you need a bit of time to formulate your answer, be straightforward and ask for a moment to think about it. By taking a bit of time you are more likely to give a structured, succinct response.

  • If you find yourself drifting away from the point, stop. It’s okay to say sorry, acknowledge you’ve lost your train of thought, and start again. This will help you regroup, show the interviewer that you are thinking and have the confidence to recognise when things are going wrong.
  • Think about how you structure your answers. Use the STAR model when asked to give examples of behaviours and use of skills. Responding in threes, for example if you are asked to give your reasons for wishing to join an organisation, is a technique that also works well.
  • Don’t read out or memorise answers. You won’t sound authentic and will come across as stilted and over-rehearsed. You also risk losing your chain of thought.

After the interview

Follow up with the employer  

Be courteous and follow up after any interview with a thank you note or mail. You can also use this to reaffirm your interest in the role and clarify any outstanding points such as when you might expect to learn their decision. If you’re unsuccessful, it’s always worth thanking again for their time, expressing your disappointment, continued interest in the role or organisation (if that’s the case), and asking if the employer can share feedback with you.  

Reflect on the experience 

Following each interview, a note of your immediate impressions, noting any questions you were asked for future reference and reflecting on the overall experience and your performance. What did you learn about yourself and the role?  Is this really something you are interested in? What might you do differently or better next time?   

Rejection is of course part of the process. It’s important not to take this as a personal judgement and to view each interview as a learning experience – the great thing is that this is a skill you can develop and improve on. Remember also, that we are all very bad at judging how well we’ve really done, and very often when you are focusing on individual questions you wish you’d answered differently, the interviewer has been left with a very positive overall impression. 

Formats


Familiarising yourself with the different formats you’re likely to come across will build your confidence and improve your performance. We outline below some of the particular things that are worth thinking about in each case.


Pre-recorded interview

Pre-recorded video interviews using an online video interview platform like Sonru or HireVue are increasingly common and will generally be used early in the recruitment process. Questions will typically focus on your motivation and key skills: Why are you interested in working for our organisation? Can you give us an example of a time when you made a significant contribution to a team?  

You’ll be asked to record answers to a number of pre-recorded interview questions and will be given a set time, perhaps 30 seconds to a minute, to read through and think about your question, followed by somewhere between 90 seconds and three minutes to give your answer. Once recording is underway you need to keep going, and you will not be able re-record your answers. 

Make use of the opportunity to practice questions, even if you’re broadly familiar with the approach. Answer all the questions and use the allocated time – after all this is a useful guide to the amount of detail that they are looking for. If there is an optional question such as ‘would you like to add anything else?’ it’s generally a good idea to take the opportunity to restate in your own words your interest and key skills, mention anything you’ve not had chance to talk about or give a stronger example to one of the responses you were not happy with. 

Body language and tone of voice are important; interviews will be viewed and assessed carefully by recruiters, potential line-managers or using AI. As in any other situation, good preparation will help you sound confident and minimise 
hesitancy. Despite the fact that the situation is so unnatural, try to imagine you are talking to your interviewer as you would if you were in the room with them. 
Remember to smile too! It’s okay to use some notes as prompts but always be careful to avoid reading directly from them. 

Phone interview

Often part of the early stages of the recruitment process, phone interviews will typically be relatively short, aiming to make an initial assessment of motivation, broad suitability and key skills.  

Particularly in the case of high-volume recruitment, interviewers will often be outsourced, so perhaps not deeply familiar with the organisation or role. They will typically follow a script or predefined list of questions that they will take you through one by one, listening to each answer before moving on to the next question. They will not seek to engage you in conversation, so it will generally feel a bit one way and dry. Try and be comfortable with silence after each answer while your interviewer makes notes. 

Again, approach the interview as though you were meeting the interviewer face-to-face. Even though they can’t see you, good posture and positive body language remain important as they will affect your voice and the energy you convey. Smiling while answering questions, using hand gestures and standing up when speaking can all help you sound clearer and more confident and enthusiastic. Having a few key words written down as prompts is okay but don’t be tempted to use detailed notes or read your answers from a script. 

And remember the practical points – ensure you schedule at a time when you are sure to be free, take the call in a quiet place where you will be undisturbed, ensure your phone has plenty of battery and good reception and have a glass of water to hand.

Skype/online platform interview

Online interviews, whether over Skype, Zoom or comparable platforms can essentially replace the traditional face-to-face interview at any stage in the hiring process. They are increasingly used for panel and case interviews as well as one-to-one discussions.

Needless to say, it’s important to make sure your environment is right, your technology is working well and there will be no distractions or interruptions. It’s always a good idea to do a practice run with any technology to make sure everything’s correctly installed, you’ve downloaded any apps and audio/video are set up correctly. As obvious as it sounds, make sure you have good WIFI/internet/battery levels and appropriate lighting and background. Check your camera angle is set up optimally too. Having a practice conversation with a friend is often the easiest way to confirm that all settings are right. With the best preparation, technical problems can and do occur. If this happens during the interview, let the employer know and don't worry – these things happen to everyone.

Even though you’re not sitting int the same room, recruiters will pay attention to body language, voice tone and be hoping to get a sense of your personality during the conversation. How you deliver your answers can be as important as the content, so you should be aiming to sound confident and respond to questions with enthusiasm and conviction. Try to imagine you are talking to someone you know; this will help you sound authentic. Look at the camera to mimic the eye contact you would have with your interviewer a face to face interview. Remember to smile too!

Panel interview

Particularly common in public sector organisations, panel interviews will typically consist of three or four people, but may in fact involve more, particularly if you have been asked to do a presentation as part of your interview. Panellists might include representatives from different specialisms or roles, including HR, technical experts, line managers or potential team colleagues. A structured approach is generally taken, each panellist asking a couple of pre-agreed questions in turn. We would recommend that you answer directly the person who asks each question, while maintaining appropriate eye contact with others on the panel, ensuring they are part of the discussion.

Interview content/types of question


Employers use a range approaches and types of question to probe different elements of your experience, skills and fit for their role. In some instances the entire interview will focus on a particular type of question, but they will often mix and match, so familiarising yourself with each is important.


Competency questions

Probably the category with which we are all most familiar, competency or behavioural questions draw on the theory that past behaviour is the most accurate predictor of future performance. Effective preparation involves analysing carefully the skills or competencies the employer is looking for, referring, for example to the job description and person specification, and selecting appropriate examples from your own experience that demonstrate where you have shown these behaviours. 

Typical competency questions might include: ‘Tell me about a time when you demonstrated teamwork/solved a problem’ or ‘How have you managed difficult situations? Talk me through when you’ve used your time effectively?’ or ‘What would you do if faced with competing priorities/conflict in a team?’  

To answer any competency question, it’s important to take a specific, individual example from your past experience that will allow you to describe clearly how you used this particular skill. The STAR (R) method is the generally accepted way to structure your answers:  

Situation- Set the scene: give a brief, clear overview of the specific occasion concerned.
Task- Give a succinct description of your particular task or area of responsibility. 
Action- Break down the steps you took into their individual component parts, clarifying why you took the approach you did. 
Result- Again, a brief description of the outcome, showing how you met your objectives.   

Reflection- In instances where, for example, things haven’t gone to plan, it can be helpful to show you have reflected on what you learned from the situation or would do differently (indeed did do differently) next time you were in a similar situation.


The majority of your answer should focus very clearly on the specific actions you, personally, took. If you were working with others it needs to be very clear to the questioner your individual role. As a guide, setting the scene – situation/task should account for 10 to 20% of your answer, the action - what you did around 70% and the result/reflection the final 10 to 20%. Providing enough detail is vital. 

While thorough preparation is important, and you need to spend time thinking about the kinds of examples from your past that will allow you to show you have the skills needed, a common pitfall with competency questions is sounding over rehearsed. It’s important that you respond naturally to the question and not as though you are reciting something that you have learned off by heart.

Strength based questions

Increasing numbers of recruiters now use a strengths-based approach for at least some of their questions. This move reflects in part a desire for a more authentic candidate and recruiter experience, where responses are less rehearsed and both sides are better able to get a genuine sense of fit. There is also a broad recognition that when a job aligns to an individual’s innate strengths, they are likely to engage more, enjoy what they do and perform better in that role.

The aim of strengths-based interviews is to find out what comes naturally to you, and what you do with ease and enthusiasm, rather than exploring simply if you can do something based on providing evidence from past examples. The focus is on strengths, motivations and values, rather than skills. You might well be asked lots of questions in quick succession along the lines of: ‘What does success mean to you?’ ‘What activities come naturally to you?’ ‘Do you prefer quick action or careful planning?’ You are likely to be asked follow-up questions to see how you think on your feet and help the recruiter develop a deeper understanding of what makes you tick.

Self-awareness is key to a strengths-based interview. Reflect on your strengths and think about when you are most energised, what you enjoy doing and what comes naturally to you. Think about why you enjoy activities and be comfortable acknowledging what you are good at. As values and motivations are also the focus, do spend some time researching the company culture and values and think honestly about whether they reflect your own. 

You might well be asked to provide evidence of skills as part of a strengths question, in which case it is a good idea to apply the STAR model. 

Situational judgement questions

Here you are expected to project yourself into a particular scenario and describe to an employer what you would do in a specific situation. While the nature of the question is therefore theoretical, it’s always a good idea to then back up your answer with a specific example of where you have in fact behaved in this way in the past, again drawing on the competency – STAR – approach.  

Case interview

Case interviews are probably most closely associated with consulting but are used by employers across a range of sectors including banking, HR and retail. In a typical case interview, you will be presented with a business scenario related to the role you are applying for, which you will be expected to work through and propose a solution to. This will often involve a discussion with your interviewer during which you will outline your approach, identify issues, develop your strategy, calculate estimates, seek clarification on particular points before making your recommendations. 

Designed to assess your communication and client facing skills, your ability to solve problems under pressure, think logically and creatively, maybe test your ability with numbers as well as your basic enjoyment of the kind of problem you’re discussing, the precise format and level of difficulty will vary across firms. It’s important therefore to familiarise yourself with the different types, approaches and expectations of each employer. 

For consulting case interviews, practice is absolutely critical. Check out CaseCoach which includes a library of 60+ up-to-date cases with solutions and practice drills and also offers a peer-to-peer practice tool.

The majority of employers offer very thorough advice on their website which they expect you to make good use of (after all, doing so is a pretty clear indication of your interest in them). This will include tips on preparation, examples and simulations. 

Legal case study

Many law firms will simulate aspects of the role of a lawyer through a legal case study, designed to assess many of the skills a prospective trainee will need. In this case, the assumption is that these are skills which will come naturally to the potential trainee, and do not need to be practiced in advance.

Why ask me that? What are employers looking for?


Understanding why employers ask specific questions, and the intent behind them, can really help you improve your performance. Here we share some of the questions that students often tell us they find challenging and give some suggestions on what to include in an effective answer.


Talk me through your CV/Tell me about yourself

There are various ways of asking this very common interview question which can feel particularly challenging as it seems to be very broad and open-ended. Keep in mind that the interviewer is looking for you to summarise your past in a way that pulls together the different strands of your experience and creates the impression that their organisation now feels like the logical next step. They don’t want just to hear you say what they can read on your CV; just giving a chronological run through of everything you’ve done so far is not particularly interesting or meaningful. They want to get something extra, perhaps a sense of what motivated your decisions, the things you’ve been most proud of, what you learned from different experiences. They are looking to build an overall picture of how well you might fit into the organisation/team. Think of it as a bit like an elevator pitch! Be succinct, keep your focus on the job and highlight a few key elements and achievements that emphasise what your fit for this role and company. Make sure you convey a real sense of who you are.

What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths?

Again expressed in many different ways, when employers ask you to list your key strengths and weaknesses they are not trying to catch you out and are expecting more than a glib, shallow answer. 

Assume instead that they are hoping to get an appreciation of how self-aware you are. While common sense tells you that you are not going to give an example of a weakness that would be central to the role and therefore exclude you from consideration, be honest. We all have strengths and weaknesses; knowing what they are and being able to acknowledge them to others is a sign of individual maturity. Think carefully about examples you can give, including, in the case of weaknesses, the steps you have been able to take to address that particular limitation.

It takes just as much maturity to be able to acknowledge your strengths; as with all interview questions, being ready to draw on specific examples will reinforce your answer and help convince the interviewer.

Why do you want this job?

Here the interviewer is looking for evidence you have done your research into the organisation and have a genuine enthusiasm for and understanding of the job. Avoid general statements that could be applied anywhere. This is another opportunity to show your fit and highlight specific things that excite you about working there, as well as emphasising why you are a strong candidate. Be as specific as possible and show that your research has taken you beyond reading the job description and the first pages of their website.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

Candidates often find this a challenge; is it a trick question? After all, you can’t see into the future! Essentially, employers are looking for an answer that shows a certain amount of reflection on your part and makes sense in terms of the role and longer-term prospects and expectations within the organisation. They are not going to call you up in five years to check up on you, but it is important that you use the answer to show again your research, understanding of the role and where it can lead, the kinds of opportunities you can expect. It is, in fact, surprising, how often answers to this question reveal either a lack of awareness or misalignment of interests on the part of the candidate.

Tell me about a time when you failed to deliver/overcame a problem at work/handled an argument with a team member/didn’t get on with your boss

These are of course challenging questions but not necessarily for the reasons you might think! Candidates tell us they find it tough to in this context to share information about difficult experiences. Employers know things don’t – can’t – always go to plan and we all fail. Again, they are not trying to catch you out, but looking for evidence that you are capable of dealing with setbacks, learning from experiences. They are looking for honesty, to hear that you have been able to adapt, reflect on what you have learned and have then been able to apply that learning.

What would your peers/colleagues say about you? How would you compare yourself with your peers?

Questions like this are designed to gauge your self-awareness as well as help the interviewer assess your fit within their team. It’s always a good idea to be able to highlight a few specific areas covering professional points, your broader personality and skills. Share examples of specific feedback where you can; show you are able to share positive things about yourself while avoiding boasting or being negative about others.

Brainteasers/reasoning questions eg - How many words are there in the FT? Why are manhole covers round? How many golf balls can you fit into a jumbo jet? How many takeaways are delivered in New York every week?

For some, questions of this type are great fun, for others they strike fear in their heart. The focus here isn’t necessarily on getting the right answer, there often isn’t one! The recruiter (if they’ve thought about it at all) is looking at how you approach and solve problems. Try and break the question down into logical steps, perhaps starting with an estimation or general calculation and then extrapolate in a logical way.

Additional ways to help prepare



Talk to alumni working in your area of interest to get an insider’s view on what you might expect during the interview process. Take advantage of any opportunity to speak to people in the organisation or even in the team itself.

Online tools/interview simulations


LSE Careers gives you access to several online tools which can help you practice your interview technique.


CaseCoach

Focusing on developing your consulting interview technique, CaseCoach covers both case and fit interviews and includes a library of 60+ up-to-date cases with solutions and practice drills. Their peer-to-peer practice tool enables you to conduct mock interviews other over video call and track progress.

eCareersGrad

eCareersGrad is an elearning platform that helps you improve your interviewing skills.

Graduates First

Graduates First's question identifer tool identifies possible interview questions based on details in your job description/person specification. There is also a practice video interview function which includes feedback on your facial expression and provides possible answers and approaches to typical interview questions.

Shortlist.me

Shortlist.me is a platform to help you gain practical experience of video interviewing with the option to record,review and receive feedback on your responses to common interview questions.

Practice


  • Book a practice interview to experience being interviewed and answering the types of questions that are likely to come up. Get feedback on your interview technique. Your consultant will prepare questions based on the job description and information you submit at the time of booking.

  • one-to-one careers discussion can be used to talk about any questions or concerns you have about the interview process and give some broad feedback on your approach and technique.

  • Download a copy of our common interview questions to help you prepare or to practice with a friend.

  • Record yourself on your phone/computer and analyse your performance. This can be a great way of practising and picking up on areas of development, including question structure and body language.

Additional resources


  • Have a look at websites like Glassdoor where you can search the types of questions previous candidates have been asked. Do keep in mind that employers change their approach regularly and there are no guarantees the same questions will be asked. 

  • Speaking to alumni working in the organisation or sector more broadly can be a useful way of getting insights into typical questions and the approach taken.

  • Some employers provide online employability toolkits which can be very helpful. For example, PWC has an E-learn tool.

FAQs


How can I manage my nerves at interview?

It’s normal to feel nervous before and during an interview. The key to calming your nerves is to be fully prepared and to try and anticipate the types of question you might get asked. Breathing slowly and good posture during the interview can really help with nerves too. Booking a practice interview, practising answering questions with a friend or even recording yourself and listening back can all help too. Interviewers know candidates get nervous and will generally do their best to help you relax.

What should I do if English isn’t my first language and I’m worried about my language skills?

Being interviewed in a language when you're not a native speaker is particularly daunting. Again, preparation and practice are key. It’s important to remember, though, that an interview is a conversation and you can’t expect to cover all possibilities in advance, so you need to be ready for and comfortable with the unexpected. Learning answers off by heart will not work – you’ll sound over-rehearsed and will risk sticking to a formula rather than listening carefully and answering the precise question asked. Make sure that you’re taking as many opportunities as possible to chat with people in the language of the interview – read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television. Just getting yourself as comfortable as possible with conversing naturally will be very useful.

Is it okay to have my answers written down for a phone/Skype interview?

Having a few notes or maybe some post-its on the wall with some key word prompts can be a good idea. Keep them to a minimum. What you must not do is read out pre-prepared answers from a script. The interviewer is assessing your communication skills and ability to respond to a question, not your reading skills. Don’t memorise your answers either. You need to be able to adapt your examples to the question as well be authentic and sound interesting.

I have a disability, when should I disclose to an employer?

If you have any questions on disclosure, make an appointment with our expert careers consultant who will be able to guide you.

What should I do if asked an ‘inappropriate’ question?

Be straightforward. Simply explain ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable answering that question – could you perhaps explain why it is important or what you are looking for from it?’.

What should I do if I can’t answer a question or don’t know the answer?

Everyone dreads the moment they just don’t know something, or their mind goes blank. The important thing is not to panic. Maybe it was a particularly complex question and you could ask them to repeat it? Take a sip of water to give yourself a moment to think. If your mind remains blank, you can ask if can come back to the question at another point. Likewise, if, later in the interview, something relevant occurs to you, ask if you can return to it. If you just don’t know the answer or are not familiar with the topic then the best strategy is to be honest and admit that you don’t know. ‘I’m not familiar with that but would be keen to find out more…’ it won’t be because of an individual question that you won’t get a job!

What questions should I ask at the end of an interview?

You should always have some questions to ask at the end of every interview. From an employer’s perspective it’s important evidence of your genuine interest in the role. It is of course just as important to ask the right sort of questions. We generally recommend avoiding those that relate to salary and benefits, or you can easily find the answer to on the website. Instead ask questions that show a genuine interest in the company or role or individual people interviewing you. It can be a good idea to bring up questions that have developed organically during the previous conversation.

What cultural differences might I expect in an interview?

Hand-shaking: we’d generally recommend that you follow the interviewer’s lead, but if you know you are uncomfortable shaking hands, simply be ready to explain politely that you would be more comfortable not doing so. 

Note taking during the interview: some employers will be happy with this, but it’s important to ask up front. If you are taking notes, make sure you are jotting down the minimum. Your focus should be the conversation and engaging directly with the interviewer.

Tone: While we’re not suggesting that you mimic the interviewer, just as the way you dress will reflect the organisation’s style, so too will your language, so be sensitive to whether the tone is formal, more relaxed. 


 

Related pages

Cover letters

Cover letters

Application forms

Application forms
Chat to us