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How to perform well at interviews

The purpose of the interview

Preparation for the interview

First impressions

Types of interview

Competency-based interviews

Traditional interviews

How to handle questions

Typical questions at traditional interviews:

Closed questions

Using examples

Hypothetical questions

How many interviewers will there be?

Questions you can ask

Following up

Further information

Getting an interview is an achievement in itself. Only a small proportion of applicants are selected for
interview (often about 10%) so you have already made a positive impression to have got to this
stage! Many people have a fear of interviews, so here are some tips to help you make the most of this

The purpose of the interview

Firstly, it is for the interviewer to see if you match the requirements of the job. These will
naturally vary with different jobs but are likely to include:

Your personal qualities

How well you express yourself

Your interest in the job

Your motivation and enthusiasm

The recruiters will already have an indication of these from your initial application but now the
interview will assess you in person.

It is also your chance to meet somebody from the organization and assess them: are they offering
what you want?
The ability of an interviewee
to articulate their work
There aren't any right or wrong answers to interview experience is more
questions: how you come across is as important as what you say. Be important than the nature of
yourself if you have to put on a completely false act to get through this experience - being
the interview, is this really the right job for you? aware of competencies
developed through casual
work and that this IS of
Preparation for the interview interest to employers.
Research very carefully the career area for which you are
applying. Key messages: apply early,
Remind yourself why you are interested in this career, research the firm and the
and this employer: enthusiasm is important. chosen career path and link
your experience to the
Re-read your application form as if you were the competencies sought.
interviewer. Try and anticipate the questions they will ask.
Think about any awkward points that might be picked up on, KPMG
and how you will handle them.

Prepare some questions to ask the interviewer.

Plan how you will get to the interview. Leave plenty of time in case of traffic jams or
delayed trains.

Dress neatly and smartly.

Take a small, neat notepad and pen to write down important information the interviewer may
tell you, and after the interview, the questions you were asked, so you can work out better
answers to any you fluffed.

Research the employer - here are some things you may be able to find out from the
employers web site or via Google.

What is the size of the organization?

How long has it been in business?

What are its products and/or services?

What sort of reputation or public image does it have?

Who are its main competitors?

Where is it based? Single or multiple locations? UK or multinational?

What is the organizational structure like?

What are its future plans and prospects?

What is the organisational culture?

What types of training, development and appraisal are offered?

Arriving for the interview

Try to arrive ten or fifteen minutes early. This doesn't just give you the opportunity to visit the
loo time spent waiting in the reception area can be very useful if there are publications about the
employer or their field of work to read. Be polite to everyone you meet, including receptionists,
porters and security staff.

First impressions
These are very important - they set the tone for the rest of the interview.

According to a survey of 1000 recruiters by Fly Research three quarters of interviews are lost
within three minutes of entering the room
25% of interviewers were put off by a weak handshake or lack of eye contact
24% by poor body language

18% by poor posture (e.g. slumped shoulders suggests lack of confidence) or presence

Only 20% waited until the middle of the interview to just a candidate on their knowledge of
the industry and aptitude for the job
One study found a smiling person
According to research selectors make snap judgments was rated as more attractive than
about your trustworthiness, attractiveness, likeability, the same person with a neutral
competitiveness and aggressiveness and spend the rest
of the interview confirming or denying these opinions.
This was only true when the
smiling person was looking at the
Shake hands firmly and warmly, but wait to be invited
other person; when the person
to sit down. Interviewers relate a firm handshake to an
extrovert and sociable personality: normally desirable was smiling but looking sideways,
qualities in candidates. Also as the handshake is at the the neutral expression was rated
start of the interview, it can set a positive tone for the more favourably. So to attract
rest of the encounter. In practice interviews with 98 someone, smile and look at them,
students, those who gave a firm handshake were more and don't smile too much at
likely to be offered jobs. others!
Smile and keep up good eye contact with the

You may be offered tea or coffee. If you feel this will help you to relax, then fine, but
otherwise it is quite OK to refuse politely.

Try to relax - don't perch on the edge of your chair, but don't slouch either.

Speak clearly and not too fast. Give yourself a moment to think about your replies.

Don't fidget and try to avoid meaningless phrases like "you know", "I mean", etc.

See our body language in interviews quiz for much A trainee accountant once told me
more detail on this. about his interview. The interview
had seemed to be going well
when the interviewing partner
had asked about his interest in
cricket. They were discussed the
The standard method of selecting candidates for jobs is to make
merits (or otherwise!) of the
list of key competencies required in the job and then to match
England cricket team when the
these to the candidate's application. However two US
partner asked him if he could
researchers (Higgins & Judge) followed 100 university students
bowl. He said he was the opening
trying to get their first job. They analysed their CVs for
bowler for his club, at which point
qualifications and work experience and talked to the
the partner mentioned that the
interviewers afterwards. Surprisingly the main factor in
firm's team needed a good fast
deciding which ones were selected was whether or not
bowler and asked him when he
the candidate appeared to be a pleasant individual.
could start!

The successful candidates had:

Smiled and made a lot of eye contact

Shown a genuine interest in the interviewer and given genuine compliments

Praised the company: find something you genuinely like about the organisation.

Asked interesting questions: for example "What is your personal experience of working for
this company?"

Talked about subjects unrelated to job, but that interested the candidate and interviewer.
See the panel to the right.

Should you mention a weakness at the start or end of an interview ?

If you have a potential difficulty (e.g. poor exam results or a disability), should you disclose this at
the start or the end of the interview? According to research by Jones and Gordon of Duke University,
candidates appeared more likeable if weaknesses were disclosed early in the interview and
strengths towards the end.

Candidates who disclosed potential problems early on were thought by interviewers to

have more integrity and strength of character and thus were
not not attempting to mislead them. Candidates who mentioned "Questions they might expect to
strengths (such as having been awarded a scholarship) later in face at most interviews (e.g.
the interview appeared more modest than those who blurted it asking for an example of
out at the first opportunity, thus seeming boastful. teambuilding, or showing that
they are a fast learner) are
difficult to answer well if you are
For more details on both the above pieces of research see the
not used to them, and havent
excellent "59 Seconds" by Prof. Richard Wiseman
prepared a list of examples to
draw from. Wed recommend
Types of interview students consider why were
asking the question. For example,
a good answer on teambuilding
Competency-based interviews outlines difficulties you may have
Many large graduate recruiters now used competency-based had with other team-members
(also called "structured" or "situational") interviews in which the and show that you understand
questions are designed to help candidates give evidence of the what you need to do to overcome
personal qualities which are needed to perform well in the job. that, rather than simply tell the
Usually, you will be expected to give an example of how you interviewer that the team worked
have demonstrated these qualities in the past in reply to together really well."
questions such as:
Civil Service
Describe a situation where you had to.....
show leadership
make a difficult decision

work as a member of a team

shown initiative

change your plans at the last minute

overcome a difficult obstacle

refuse to compromise

work with others to solve a problem

Structured interviews can seem unfriendly and off-putting to candidates. They do not give
opportunities for discussion - when you have answered one question as far as you feel able, the
interviewer will move on to another topic. The advantages of these interviews is that they are
standardised - important when many different interviewers are assessing a large number of graduate
applicants - and that they are based upon the skills essential for the job. See the Competency-based
applications and Competency-based interviews pages for more detailed help with this

"Traditional" interviews
These are more like a conversation - but a conversation with a purpose. It is up to you to show
that you are the right person for the job, so bear this in mind when replying to the questions. These
interviews will probably be based largely around your application form or CV. The interviewer
may focus on areas of particular interest or relevance - such as vacation jobs or projects.
How not to do it:
Candidate brought a
large dog to the
Candidate wore a
Interviewers often expect interviewees to talk much more than the
candidates themselves expect to. So don't be too brief in your personal stereo and
said she could listen
answers - but don't rabbit on for too long either. Watch the
interviewer and pause from time to time - he or she will either to me and the music
at the same time.
encourage you to continue or will introduce another question.
When asked him
It's OK to pause briefly. A short gap to gather your thoughts shows about his hobbies, he
thoughtfulness, assertiveness and self confidence. stood up and started
tap dancing around
Be polite, but don't be afraid to enter into a discussion and to the office.
stand your ground. Some interviewers will deliberately challenge your
replies in order to stimulate this kind of discussion. Candidate pulled out
a camera and took a
photo. Said he
How to handle questions: collected photos of
everyone who
Typical questions at traditional interviews: interviewed him.

Without saying a
Questions about yourself: your background and your future
word, candidate stood
up and walked out
Tell me about yourself during the middle of
Why did you choose the University of Kent/ your degree the interview.
Applicant said he was
Explaining gaps on your application form - e.g. year out; so well-qualified that
unemployment; travel if he didn't get the
job, it would prove
How would the experiences you describe be useful in this that the company's
company? management was
What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
Asked her about the
What other jobs/careers are you applying for? many jobs she had
had and she said I
Where do you see yourself in five years time? (This is quite a get bored easily.
common question: read the employer's brochure to get an
idea of the normal pace of graduate career development. Be Interrupted interview
ambitious but realistic) to phone her
therapist for advice
Tell me about your vacation work/involvement with student on how to answer
societies/sporting activities specific questions.

Questions about your knowledge of the employer, or career Dozed off during the
area: interview.
Why do you want to work for us?
Announced she
Why have you chosen to apply for this job function?
hadn't had lunch and
proceeded to eat a
Who do you think are, or will be, our main competitors?
hamburger and chips
during the interview.
What do you think makes you suitable for this job?
Said he would
What do you see as the main threats or opportunities facing
demonstrate loyalty
the company?
by having company
logo tattooed on his
What image do you have of this company?

Closed questions Said he never

These are questions which can normally be answered with a
finished high school
simple "yes" or "no". If you are asked a closed question open because he was
it up, as in the following example: kidnapped and kept
in a wardrobe.
Interviewer: "So you're studying History at the University of Kent?"
Selling the skills you
gained from
vacation jobs.
Recruiters now seem to put
great weight on the ability to
Interviewee: "Yes, I've found it a very interesting course because ..." "sell" the skills gained in
your work experience.
See our page on types of interview questions
Many students feel that their
casual shop or restaurant
Give answers which are relevant and illustrated
job is of no interest to
with examples: employers but nothing
Interviewer: "This is a job with a very heavy workload. Do you think could be further from the
you could cope with that?" truth. Recruiters expect you
to be able to explain the skills
Interviewee: "Well, during my final year I've had a great deal of you gained serving
academic work and I've customers, working in a busy
team, being tactful when
also been working three nights a week at my bar job and kept up my handling complaints etc.
involvement with the squash club. All that has meant that I've had to
be very organised but I've never missed an evening's work or an Being aware of competencies
essay deadline and I reached the semi-final of the squash tournament developed through casual
too!" work IS of interest to
employers. This can include
voluntary work but preferably
Hypothetical questions anything that demonstrates
Some interviewers like to pose hypothetical questions, or questions leadership skills and
that you could not be expected to have anticipated. These questions customer service experience
are used precisely because it's impossible to work out your answer (retail, hospitality, call
before the interview, thus it tests your ability to think quickly, reason centres etc. - anything
logically, and produce practical solutions. involving putting the
customer first).
You may be given an example of a situation that might
arise in your work, and asked what you would do Here is an example of how
about it: one graduate did this on their
"How would you deal with a staff member caught stealing a CV: "All of my work
experiences have involved
packet of biscuits from the warehouse?"
working within a team-based
"How would you deal with an irate customer?"
culture. This involved
planning, organisation, co-
"Your manager goes ill for a week and leaves you in charge. ordination and commitment
You hear staff complaining about the way he runs things, and e.g., in retail, this ensured
how bored they are with their job - what do you do?" daily sales targets were met,
a fair distribution of tasks
"The sales of Woofermeat are falling - what would you do to and effective communication
revive them?" amongst all staff members."

Sometimes questions may be about non-work situations:

"You are a shepherd in the Scottish Highlands, a dam is about to burst due to heavy rain, you
come across the dam keeper with a broken leg, obtained as he was trying to reach the village
below the dam to warn them of the danger. You have your flock of sheep to get in from the
inclement weather. What would you do?"!
"How would you solve London's traffic problems?"

Don't panic! Don't try to blurt out your answer. Take a few seconds to think - this shows confidence
and assertiveness rather than weakness.

Don't try to form your whole answer immediately - just try to say one or two sensible things
first - in the example above, you could say that first you would examine the dam keeper's leg to see
how bad the injury was. This gives you time to think further.

There may be many possible solutions to the problem. The interviewer won't be expecting a
perfect answer. What you actually say in answer doesn't matter, so long as it sounds reasonable,
confident and well-thought-out and you show awareness of the issues involved.

See our page on types of interview questions

How many interviewers will there be?

One-to-one interviews are the most common. In this situation your interviewer is most likely to be
somebody from the Personnel department but, especially in a smaller company, may be from the area
of work for which you are applying.

Two-to-one interviews may involve both a Personnel and a line manager. This can be more tricky for
the interviewee as the questions seem to come faster, giving you less time to collect your thoughts
between different topics. Don't get flustered.

Panel interviews could involve a panel of half-a-dozen or so interviewers. They are relatively rare but
are most likely to be found in the public sector. Direct your attention to whoever is speaking: when
answering questions, begin by directing your answer to the person who asked the question, but try
and include the panel as a whole.

Questions you can ask

At the end of the interview, it is likely that you will be given the
chance to put your own questions to the interviewer.

Keep them brief: there may be other interviewees

Ask about the work itself, training and career
development: not about holidays, pensions, and season
ticket loans.

Prepare some questions in advance: it is OK to write

these down and to refer to your notes to remind yourself
of what you wanted to ask.

It often happens that, during the interview, all the points

that you had noted down to ask about will be covered
before you get to this stage. In this situation, you can The interview is a two-way
respond as follows: process.
You are choosing the
Interviewer: Well, that seems to have covered everything: is organisation
there anything you would like to ask me? as much as they are choosing
you, so ask questions!
Interviewee: Thank you: I'd made a note to ask about your
appraisal system and the study arrangements for professional
exams, but we went over those earlier and I really feel you've
covered everything that I need to know at this moment.
You can also use this opportunity to tell the interviewer anything about yourself that they have not
raised during the interview but which you fell is important to your
application: How not to do it:
real questions
Don't feel you have to wait until this point to ask questions - if the
chance to ask a question seems to arise naturally in the course of the
asked at
interview, take it! Remember that a traditional interview is a interview
conversation - with a purpose. What is your Zodiac
Examples of questions you can ask the interviewer Do I have to dress for
These are just a few ideas - you should certainly not attempt to ask the next interview?
them all and indeed it's best to formulate your own questions tailored
to your circumstances and the job you are being interviewed for! I know this is off the
Make sure you have researched the employer carefully, so that you subject, but will you
are not asking for information which you should be expected to know marry me?
Will the company pay
to relocate my horse?
Is there a fixed period of training for graduates?
When is pay day?
I see it is possible to switch job functions - how often does
this happen? Would it be a problem
if I'm angry most of
the time?

Why am I here?
Do you send your managers on external training courses?

Where would I be based - is this job function located only in ...?

How easy is it for new graduates to find accommodation in this area?

How often is a graduate's performance appraised?

What is a typical career path in this job function?

Can you give me more details of your training programme?

Will I be working in a team? If so, what is the make-up of these teams?

What is the turnover of graduates in this company?

How much discretion do you give graduate trainees to make their own decisions?

What are the possibilities of using my languages?

What are the travel/mobility requirements of this job?

How would you see this company developing over the next five years?

How would you describe the atmosphere in this company?

What is your personal experience of working for this organisation?

Following up
After the interview, jot down some notes of the questions asked and anywhere that you felt
you could have responded better. You may want to work on these points before your next interview.

The interviewer will probably let you know when you can expect to hear the result of your interview.
This may be within a couple of days ... or weeks.

Not every interview will result in an immediate job offer: the next stage may be a second interview or
selection centre.

If you are turned down for the job, you may pick up some useful tips to improve your performance
next time by telephoning your interviewer to ask politely what - if anything - you did wrong. Not all
interviewers are willing to provide this feedback but it's worth a try. Sometimes the information you
get will be vague and basic: often along the lines that you were a good candidate but others were
slightly better.

You can consloe yourself that at least you were selected for interview. Less than one in five of
appliacants are typically intervewed, so you were probably in the top 20 percent!

Dress the part! A fellow

interviewee thought I already

INTERVIEW STYLE GUIDE looked like a teacher as I dressed

in a full skirt suit. It will make
you feel confident and I'm sure it
makes a good impression.
The first rule of dressing for interviews is: Dress smartly but
comfortably. One girl who had
YOU CANNOT GO WRONG BY BEING BORING AND obviously bought a brand new suit
CONVENTIONAL! and 3 inch heels: her nerves got
the better of her, and she twisted
Whatever the job, you want the interviewer to remember you for her ankle by teetering along, 5
your personality and performance: not as "the one with the
minutes before the interview, so
garish tie/short skirt/nose stud ....". Once you have the job,
my advice definitely is FLAT
you can wear whatever the employer approves of. But

Interviewees for teaching posts

you need to get the job first - so play safe! If you look really smart it will give a big boost to your

A study by the University of Texas and Sonoma State University found that levels of extroversion,
self-esteem, and how religious you are can be judged from your physical appearance. (Vol
35, p 1661, Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology)

A survey conducted by TheLadders.co.uk management careers company found for senior male and
female executives conducting interviews. 37% had decided against hiring a candidate due to the way
they were dressed. Traditional formal interview dress is the most likely to impress them whereas the
biggest turnoffs involved casual casual dress,

36% felt co-ordination of colours and styles was an important indicator of the candidates
personality whilst 75% wanted clothes appropriate for the circumstances. 33% considered
whether the candidates style suited their organisation.

Orange was the worst colour to wear at interview (95%) of executives felt it unacceptable, with
red 84% and pink 83% also thought inappropriate. Stains and dirty marks turned off 59% of

Stick to safe corporate colours navy, black. Wear a suit or dress and jacket. Keep heels elegant
rather than teeteringly high. A skirt suit is more feminine than trousers. Keep make up soft, do not
wear too much jewellery. Beware of showing too much flesh, cleavage or leg and of dressing too
casually. Aim to be well groomed, elegant and professional, you will have more confidence and this
will come across to the interviewer.

Gabrielle Teare - Fashion Stylist

Senior executives
conducting Male candidates Female candidates

Positive black socks 77% tights 94%

black leather shoes 56% high heels 69%
tailored navy single breasted mid-length black skirt or dress
suit 51% 64%

white or blue long sleeved pearls 56%

shirt 48%
long sleeved and collared shirt
cufflinks 37%
or blouse 42%
low key tie 35%

no handkerchief showing 35%

Negative no tie 52% no jacket 50% dangling jewellery 99%

chinos 50% big shoulder pads 97%
polo shirts 66% low necklines 95%

jeans 82% bare legs 94%

T shirts 88% sports shoes 91%

leather jackets 70% short skirt 60%

Where can I buy a suit for an interview?

Marks and Spencer's sell suits for about 50 which look smart. They have a machine washable range
at around 100. They are good for both advice and assistance too! Next and Burtons sell suits at
around 100, Asda sell suits for about 30 minimum and Tesco sell smart suits for about 40 (2008
prices). Matalan and Primark also sell very cheap suits. A very cheap suit may be a false economy
as you may not be able to wear it many times before it goes out of shape.

The basics for interview dress for men and women are:

Move your mouse over the figures to find out.

Move your mouse over the figures above.

and what you should look like .....

Well perhaps a comb might help!
Conventional dark-coloured suit Conventional suit or coordinating
(black, navy or charcoal grey are good) jacket and knee-length skirt. Dark
with a conservative shirt: plain pastel colours suggest authority but bright can
shades or modest stripes and dark work with care.
polished shoes.
Wear tights.
Wear a belt and dark coloured tie.
Don't wear lots of frills, trousers unless
Don't wear light coloured socks or too smart, low cut tops, or lots of make-up,
much aftershave! perfume or jewellery.

Make sure your hair is neat and tidy.

Very high heels are not wise - it's

important to feel comfortable in what you
are wearing.

While you don't need to book an appointment in the "His socks compelled one's
beauty parlour the attention without losing one's
respect" Saki
day before the interview, it is a good idea to:
Have your hair cut and styled.
Make sure your nails are trimmed and clean (for that first handshake ...)

Avoid heavy perfume or aftershave

Hide any piercings or tattoos.

Keep make up light and unobtrusive (this is often seen as looking more businesslike than no
make-up); don't overdo it.

See also our body language quiz

First Impressions Count http://ltss.beds.ac.uk/careers/first_impressions 20-minute on-line

video by the University of Bedfordshire to help students with the first stages of interview
preparation. Features 4 students getting ready for graduate job interviews. An image
consultant offers advice on how to dress appropriately to create a good first impression also
voice training, body language and confidence boosting exercises.

Unusual statements made at interview :

I have no difficulty in starting or holding I get excited very easily
my bowel movements.
My legs are really hairy Once a week I feel hot all over

I think I'm going to throw up I am fascinated by fire

I feel uneasy indoors I like tall women

Sometimes I feel like smashing things People are always watching me

In a previous life I was Genghis Khan I NEVER get hungry

Women should not be allowed to drink in I would have been more successful if
cocktail bars nobody had snitched on me

Commercial Awareness

What is it?
Why is it important?

Who wants commercial awareness?

Questions you may be asked to

demonstrate it

Motivation-based interviews

Further information

Employers keep asking about

commercial awareness:
what do they mean and how
can I show them that I have
Commercial awareness could be
summed up as an interest in business
and an understanding of the wider environment in which an organisation operates:
its customers, competitors and suppliers.
It might also encompass understanding of the economics of the business and understanding
the business benefits and commercial realities from both the organisation's and the
customer's perspectives.

Generally it includes awareness of the need for efficiency, cost-effectiveness,

customer care and a knowledge of the market place in which the company operates
(current economic climate and major competitors, for example)

Why is it important?
It is a major criteria for selecting candidates (see the table below). A survey by the CBI and
UUK in 2009 found that 35% of employers were dissatisfied with the business and customer
awareness of graduates.
One major consultancy felt that a detailed
understanding of the company, the issues % of
The Top Ten Skills
facing the industry in which they operate, employers
professional qualifications offered and job shortages among
roles within the company was even more graduates
important at interview than answers to
competency-based questions 1 Commercial Awareness 67%
It shows your commitment to the job you are
applying for. 2 Communication Skills 64%

It gives you more to discuss in an interview 3 Leadership 33%

It improves your knowledge of a particular

4 Ability to work in a team 33%
industry or company and may allow you to
spot career opportunities you hadn't previously
considered. 5 Problem solving 32%

Who wants commercial awareness? 6 Conceptual ability 21%

Financial employers banks, accountancy
firms. Subject Knowledge &
7 19%
Law firms. competence

Consultancies. 8 Foreign languages 19%

Employers recruiting for sales, marketing 9 Numeracy 19%

and customer service positions

Almost any graduate recruiter! 10 Good general education 15%

Source: Association of Graduate Recruiters

Employers may look for evidence of Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century
CA in your answers to general
Tell me about your vacation job last summer.
Tell me about a time when you worked in a team to solve a problem

What is your greatest achievement?

Why are you applying for this position?

Which living person do you most admire?

Or you may be asked more specific questions to demonstrate

your commercial awareness:
What do you know about our organisation?
Why do you wish to enter the .... industry?

What are our main products/services?

What are the problems facing our industry at this time?

What changes have there been in our industry recently?

Who are our competitors? What are the differences between them and us?

Who are our clients?

What do you think the job you would be doing entails?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

What salary do you expect?

How do you keep up to date with what is going on in HOW IT WORKS IN

A few years ago the NHS
What story in the business press has interested you interviewed in the Careers Service
for their management scheme.
most recently?

What is the current Bank of England base rate? Eight candidates were interviewed
but only one of these was put
How many euros would you get today in exchange for forward to the final round.
The candidate put forward had an
What is the FTSE 100? Did the FTSE go up or down average academic record and
yesterday? although pleasant, didn't seem to
have any skills or attributes that a
What was our share price this morning? number of the other candidates
didn't also possess.
Questions about your work experience
What skills did you develop from your work experience? I asked the selector why this
Any transferable skills? individual had been selected. She
What would you do differently if you worked there said it was quite simple. He had
again? spent a day at a hospital
shadowing a senior manager and
What was your experience of working in a team? his knowledge of the NHS and
how it works was far better than
What is the management structure of the company? any of the other candidates she
had interviewed.
How effective is this structure?

Can you describe any good leadership skills you witnessed?

What is their recruitment and retention like?

What would you do differently if you were in charge?

Have there been recent changes in the industry the company operates in?

What market share does the company they have?

Is it a Global Industry? If yes, what are the implications?

Have they been in the press?

What is the company's unique selling point?

For help answering these see our Answers to 150 common interview questions

Motivation-based interviews
Some organisations such as the Financial Services Authority (FSA) have changed their whole
selection process to focus on motivation. The FSA reviewed their graduate selection process as
applications had increased 300% due to the recession, costing more staff time and money.
Analysing candidate performance revealed that competency-based questions were no longer a
reliable indicator of a candidates ability. Assessors were also surprised by the number of
candidates who were unable to say

why they had applied to the organisation

what the organisation did

what appealed to them about the job

"The public sector is increasingly
how they could contribute. required to meet targets and
therefore values commercial
awareness in addition to a
commitment to public services"
Many candidates had failed to research the organisation
sufficiently, only looking at the company website and making Vitae
no attempt to talk to current employees and alumni at the
organisation or to understand the core values and culture.

As motivation and business acumen were the root cause of these issues, they looked at
methods to test this at earlier stages in selection.

The following changes were introduced:

"To successfully secure corporate
Introduction of an online financial analysis test to assess
donations fundraisers need to
applicants' ability to understand and interpret financially know their audience and
related information (business acumen) communicate with them in a way
Removal of competency based questions from the that appeals to their wants and
application form and replacement with motivation and needs.
business acumen questions:
With this in mind, its vital that
fundraisers have a commercial
Why you have applied for a career at the FSA, awareness of the pressures
why are these reasons important to you, faced by and aims of any
how have you prepared for making this companies being targeted for
application? support."
Why you have applied for this particular
graduate programme. Why are the reasons you have stated important to you?
The FSA has frequently been in the news over the past two years. Please outline the
main issues the FSA are currently facing or will face in the future.

Candidates were then asked to pick two issues and to talk about these in depth:

What action should the FSA take to deal with Never say, I want to be in
this issue? Why? What might the implications publishing because I love books.
Of course that is important but
Addition of motivation questions as part of the telephone
you need to make it very clear
interview and face to face interview. that you understand publishing is
a profit-orientated business like
The recruitment team could screen out candidates who had not any other
carefully considered the FSA as an employer or who did not have
the capability to be successful.
.... Being clued up on the issues
facing the industryfrom the
Making the form harder also meant that candidates making changing role of the author to
lots of ill-considered applications (the scattergun approach) did digital rights and intellectual
not even complete the form: they had over six thousand propertyis impressive to an
unsubmitted applications. employer and work experience is
often the best way to develop this
This also resulted in: commercial awareness".

The Bookseller
25% more applications rejected at application and online test stage saving 30K in telephone
interview costs alone
70% of those reaching final stage assessments received an offer, resulting in happier
assessors and candidates.

Some other companies have reviewed their recruitment methods PRACTICE
to take this into account. In these companies interviewers drill A Kent graduate applied for an
down to the core motivations of the candidate, leading to a internal audit position with an
higher percentage of offers of employment being accepted accountancy firm. We advised her
rather than applicants waiting for a better offer to do in-depth research on what
internal audit involved using
Companies want to see that the applicant has gone the Google.
extra mile of meeting people on campus and has made a
well informed decision on the companies they will apply At interview candidates were
to. asked to explain what they knew
about internal audit and she
How to get commercial awareness: managed to speak for nearly five
minutes about this. Later she was
It may seem obvious but read the employer's
told that none of the other
brochure and check their web site for background
candidates knew enough about
information - don't just look at the "careers" section but
internal audit to talk for more
also at the sections for clients, potential clients and staff.
than a few seconds, and they had
Review their annual report
been greatly impressed that she
Find out who the organisation's competitors are:
had found out so much.
you may well be asked this and which ones you have
applied to! Also try to find out the size of the workforce,
the turnover and profits of the company, its share price She was offered the job.
and key activities which interest you.

Read the business press - the business pages of the major broadsheet newspapers should
cover most of the background that you need, but the FT and the Economist will be essential if
you are applying for a research/analysis sort of post.

During your reading, look out for stories that will affect the organisation to which you
are applying, or its clients, directly or indirectly. Current issues (2010) could include climate
change; the forthcoming UK general election; banking reforms and banking bonuses and
whether the economy is emerging from recession.

The professional press: Accountancy Age, The Lawyer, etc will keep you up-to-date with
developments in the relevant sector. See our I want to work in ... pages to find out information
sources for a range of career areas. Graduate publications such as Real World magazine,
TARGET magazine and sector-specific titles such as Lawyer 2B can also help - many of these
are available free from the Careers Advisory Service

Make a point of viewing/listening to business-related programmes on TV and radio

such as Working Lunch, the Money Programme and World Business Review. Some, such as
Dragons' Den and The Apprentice may be designed as entertainment but raise a number of
business issues and can offer good material for discussion.

Do a SWOT analysis on a company or sector of interest to you. Analyse the market sector in
which a specific company works who are its competitors? See
www.kent.ac.uk/careers/EmployerSearch.htm for useful information sources.

Relate your own experience to business. You may be doing casual bar or retail work
purely to earn money but this can also be used to gain an insight into business. What are the
good and bad points about your employer? Who is its target market? Who are its main
competitors? How would you improve the company's image or profitability?

If all this sounds like a lot of work - these are competitive areas which need thorough
preparation to have any chance of success - and your workload once you join any of these
organisations will be even heavier!
What are the top
ten skills that
employers want?

Based on a number of surveys on the skills

required by graduates undertaken by
Microsoft, Target Jobs, the BBC, Prospects,
NACE and AGR and other organisations, here
is our summary of of the skills which were
most often deemed important.

VERBAL 1 Able to express your ideas

COMMUN clearly and confidently in
ICATION speech

TEAMWO 2 Work confidently within a

RK group

COMMER 3 Understand the commercial

CIAL realities affecting the
AWAREN organisation.

ANALYSI 4 Gather information

NG & systematically to establish
INVESTI facts & principles. Problem
GATING solving.

INITIATI 5 Able to act on initiative,

VE/SELF identify opportunities &
MOTIVAT proactive in putting forward
ION ideas & solutions

DRIVE 6 Determination to get things

done. Make things happen &
constantly looking for better
ways of doing things.

WRITTEN 7 Able to express yourself clearly

COMMUN in writing

PLANNIN 8 Able to plan activities & carry

G& them through effectively

FLEXIBIL 9 Adapt successfully to changing

ITY situations & environments

TIME 1 Manage time effectively,

MANAGE 0 prioritising tasks and able to
MENT work to deadlines.
Other skills that were also seen as important
GLOBAL SKILLS Able to speak and understand other languages. Appreciation of other
cultures. See

Study and work placements outside the UK

Working Abroad

NEGOTIATING & Able to influence and convince others, to discuss and reach
PERSUADING agreement.

LEADERSHIP Able to motivate and direct others

NUMERACY Multiply & divide accurately, calculate percentages, use statistics & a
calculator, interpret graphs & tables.

COMPUTING SKILLS Word-processing, using databases, spreadsheets, the Internet &

email, designing web pages etc.

SELF AWARENESS Awareness of achievements, abilities, values & weaknesses & what
you want out of life.

PERSONAL Presents a strong, professional, positive image to others which

IMPACT/CONFIDENCE inspires confidence & commands respect.

LIFELONG LEARNING Continues to learn throughout life. Develops the competencies needed
for current & future roles

STRESS TOLERANCE Maintains effective performance under pressure

INTEGRITY Adheres to standards & procedures, maintains confidentiality and

questions inappropriate behaviour.

INDEPENDENCE Accepts responsibility for views & actions and able to work under their
own direction & initiative.

DEVELOPING Pays care & attention to quality in all their work. Supports &
PROFESSIONALISM empowers others.

ACTION PLANNING Able to decide what steps are needed to achieve particular goals and
then implement these.

DECISION-MAKING Determines the best course of action. Evaluates options based on

logic & fact & presents solutions

INTERPERSONAL Recognizes and respects different perspectives. Open to the ideas &
SENSITIVITY views of others.

CREATIVITY Generates & applying new ideas & solutions

What makes an effective team?

It has a range of individuals who contribute in different ways (see the roles above) and
complement each other. A team made up just of planners would find it difficult to cope with
changing deadlines or plans whereas a team full of spontaneous individuals would be
disorganised: you need both types. A good team produces more than the individual
contributions of members.
Clear goals are agreed that everyone understands and is committed to.

Everyone understands the tasks they have to do and help each other.

It has a coordinator who may adopt a leadership style from autocratic to democratic
depending on the circumstances. Different people may assume the role of leader for different

There is a balance between the task (what do we need to do?) and the process (how do
we achieve this?)

There is a supportive, informal atmosphere where members feel able to take risks and say
what they think

The group is comfortable with disagreement and can successfully overcome differences in

There is a lot of discussion in which everyone participates. Group members listen to each
other and everyone's ideas are heard.

Members feel free to criticise and say what they think but this is done in a positive,
constructive manner.

The group learns from experience: reviewing and improving performance in the light of
both successes and failures.

And what makes an ineffective team

People talk more than they listen and only a few people may contribute.
Some members are silent and don't contribute. They may be indifferent, bored or afraid to

Members ideas are dismissed or even ridiculed and their views are ignored.

There are arguments between members of the group (as opposed to constructive
differences of opinion).

One or two members dominate the others and make the decisions.

Disagreements are put to the vote without being discussed.

Some members are unhappy with decisions and grumble privately afterwards.

Little effort is made to keep to the point or to work to deadlines.

There is a lack of clarity regarding goals and specific tasks are not agreed.

Roles are not delegated to particular team members.

There is a lack of trust and helpfulness.

Members don't talk about how the group is working or the problems it faces.

The roles people play in meetings.

There are a number of different roles that people adopt in meetings some of which are listed below.
These roles are not always constant - one person might adopt several of these roles during
one meeting or change roles depending on what is being discussed. Your score for each category
should give you some idea of which of these roles you play in teams.
Destructive or selfish
group roles to
Autocrat: tries to
dominate or
ENCOURAGER constantly interrupt
Energises groups when motivation is low through humour or other members of
being enthusiastic. They are positive individuals who support and the team.
praise other group members. Don't like sitting around. They like to Show Off: talks all
move things along by suggesting ideas, clarifying the ideas of others the time and thinks
and confronting problems. They may use humour to break tensions in they know all the
the group. answers.

They may say: Butterfly: keeps

"We CAN do this!" changing the topic
"That's a great idea!" before others are
COMPROMISER Aggressor: doesn't
Try to maintain harmony among the team members. They are
show respect to
sociable, interested in others and will introducing people, draw them
others, comments
out and make them feel comfortable. They may be willing to change
negatively about
their own views to get a group decision. They works well with
different people and can be depended on to promote a positive
atmosphere, helping the team to gel. They pull people and tasks Avoider: refuses to
together developing rapport. They are tolerant individuals and good
focus on the task or
listeners who will listen carefully to the views of other group
group relationship
members. They are good judges of people, diplomatic and sensitive
to the feelings of others and not seen as a threat. Able to recognise
and resolve differences of opinion and the the development of
conflict, they enable "difficult" team-members to contribute positively. Critic: always sees
They may say: the negative side to
"We haven't heard from Mike yet: I'd like to hear what you think any argument, but
about this." never suggests
"I'm not sure I agree. What are your reasons for saying that?" alternatives. Puts
down the ideas of
Good leaders direct the sequence of steps the group take and Help seeker: looks
keeps the group "on-track.". They are good at controlling people for sympathy from
and events and coordinating resources. They have the energy, others: victim
determination and initiative to overcome obstacles and bring
competitive drive to the team. They give shape to the team effort. Self-confessor:
They recognise the skills of the individuals and how they can be used. uses the group as a
Leaders are outgoing individuals who have to be careful not to be forum for
domineering. They can sometimes steamroller the team but get inappropriate talk
results quickly. They may become impatient with complacency and about self
lack of progress and may sometimes overreact. Also see our
leadership styles test
Clown: shows no
involvement in group
They may say
and engages in
"Let's come back to this later if we have time."
"We need to move on to the next step."
"Sue, what do you think about this idea?"

Calm, reflective individuals who summarise the group's discussion and conclusions. They
clarify group objectives and elaborate on the ideas of others. They may go into detail about
how the group's plans would work.= and tie up loose ends. They are good mediators and seek

They may say:

"So here's what we've decided so far"
"I think you're right, but we could also add ...."
The Top Ten Skills % of
shortages among
1 Commercial Awareness 67%
The ideas person suggests new ideas to solve
group problems or new ways for the group to 2 Communication Skills 64%
organize the task. They dislike orthodoxy and not
too concerned with practicalities . They provide 3 Leadership 33%
suggestions and proposals that are often original and
radical. They are more concerned with the big picture 4 Ability to work in a team 33%
than with details. May get bored after the initial
impetus wears off. See our lateral thinking skills
page 5 Problem solving 32%

They may say 6 Conceptual ability 21%

"Why don't we consider doing it this way?"
Subject Knowledge &
7 19%
EVALUATOR competence
Evaluators help the group avoid coming to
agreement too quickly. They tend to be slow in 8 Foreign languages 19%
coming to a decision because of need to think things
over. They are the logical, analytical, objective people
9 Numeracy 19%
in the team and offer measured, dispassionate critical
analysis. They contribute at times of crucial decision
making because they are capable of evaluating 10 Good general education 15%
competing proposals. They may suggest alternative
ideas. Source: Association of Graduate Recruiters
Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century
They may say: www.agr.org.uk
"What other possibilities are there?"
or "Let's try to look at this another way."
or "I'm not sure we're on the right track."

The recorder keeps the group focused and organised. They make sure that everyone is
helping with the project. They are usually the first person to offer to take notes to keep a record of
ideas and decisions. They also like to act as time-keeper, to allocate times to specific tasks and
remind the team to keep to them, or a spokesperson, to deliver the ideas and findings of the group.
They may check that all members understand and agree on plans and actions and know their roles
and responsibilities. Acts as the memory of the group

They may say:

"We only have five minutes left, so we need to come to agreement now!"
"Do we all understand this chart?"
"Are we all in agreement on this?"

Lateral Thinking Quiz

The following questions will test your ability to think laterally. If you get more than 50% of
these right you're certainly strong on your lateral thinking skills (or maybe you're just good
at quizzes!)

1. A graduate applying for pilot training with a major airline was asked what he would do if, after
a long-haul flight to Sidney, he met the captain wearing a dress in the hotel bar. What would
you do?
2. What can you hold in your right hand, but not in your left?

3. If you have two coins totaling 11p, and one of the coins is not a penny, what are the two

4. How many animals of each species did Moses take into the Ark?

5. A man built a rectangular house, each side having a southern view. He spotted a bear. What
colour was the bear?

6. If you were alone in a deserted house at night, and there was an oil lamp, a candle and
firewood and you only have one match, which would you light first?
7. What can you put in a wooden box that would make it lighter? The more of them you put in
the lighter it becomes, yet the box stays empty.

8. Which side of a cat contains the most hair?

9. The 60th and 62nd British Prime Ministers of the UK had the same mother and father, but
were not brothers. How do you account for this?

10. How many birthdays does a typical woman have?

11. Why can't a man living in Canterbury be buried west of the River Stour?

12. Divide 40 by half and add ten. What is the answer?

13. To the nearest cubic centimetre, how much soil is there in a 3m x 2m x 2m hole?

14. Is it legal for a man to marry his widow's sister?

15. If you drove a coach leaving Canterbury with 35 passengers, dropped off 6 and picked up 2 at
Faversham, picked up 9 more at Sittingbourne, dropped off 3 at Chatham, and then drove on
to arrive in London 40 minutes later, what would the name of the driver be?

16. A woman lives on the tenth floor of a block of flats. Every morning she takes the lift down to
the ground floor and goes to work. In the evening, she gets into the lift, and, if there is
someone else in the lift she goes back to her floor directly. Otherwise, she goes to the eighth
floor and walks up two flights of stairs to her flat. How do you explain this?

17. A window cleaner is cleaning the windows on the 25th floor of a skyscraper, when he slips and
falls. He is not wearing a safety harness and nothing slows his fall, yet he suffered no injuries.

18. The band of stars across the night sky is called the "...... Way"?

19. Yogurt is made from fermented ........

20. What do cows drink?

21. A farmer has 15 cows, all but 8 die. How many does he have left?

22. If a red house is made of red bricks, and a blue house is made of blue bricks, what is a green
house made of?

23. In what sport are the shoes made of metal?

24. The Zorganian Republic has some very strange customs. Couples only wish to have female
children as only females can inherit the family's wealth, so if they have a male child they keep
having more children until they have a girl. If they have a girl, they stop having children.
What is the ratio of girls to boys in Zorgania?

25. If a plane crashes on the Italian/Swiss border, where do you bury the survivors?

26. If the hour hand of a clock moves 1/60th of a degree every minute, how many degrees will it
move in an hour?

27. How many hands does the clock of Big Ben have?

28. How many degrees are there between clock hands at 3.15 pm?

29. How many times do the hands of a clock overlap in 24 hours?

30. John's mother has 3 children, one is named April, one is named May. What is the third one

31. A cowboy rode into town on Friday, spent one night there, and left on Friday. How do you
account for this?

32. How can you throw a ball as hard as you can, and make it stop and return to you, without
hitting anything and with nothing attached to it?
33. Using just ONE straight cut, how can you cut a rectangular cake into two equal parts when a
rectangular piece has already been removed from it?

34. A man went into a store to buy an item. He asked the assistant:
"How much does it cost for one?"
The assistant replied 2 pounds, Sir"
"And how much for 10?"
The assistant replied "4"
"How much for 100?"
He got the reply "6"
What was the man buying?

One student, desperate to get into advertising, had

been rejected by the main London agencies, so he
decided to try a different approach. He bought some
pink envelopes and a small bottle of expensive
perfume. He placed his CV in the envelopes and
wrote "Private" on the outside. He liberally sprinkled
the envelopes with scent and posted them to the
senior agency partner in several of the biggest
agencies. When it arrived, nobody dared to open the
letters and the graduate was offered several
interviews - presumably for his daring. Note that,
we don't recommend this approach!

1. Offer to buy her a drink! The captain was of course a woman. Many airlines are now hot on
equal opportunities and a candidate who had difficulty envisaging that an airline captain might
be female would not go very far!
2. Your left hand, forearm or elbow.

3. 10p and 1p - the other coin can be a penny!

4. None. NOAH built the Ark

5. White. Only at the North Pole can all four walls be facing South.

6. The match!

7. Holes

8. The outside

9. Churchill was Prime Minister twice, from 1940 to 45 and from 1951 to 55.

10. One

11. Because he is still alive .

12. 90. Dividing by half is the same as multiplying by 2.

13. None - it's a hole!

14. No - because he's dead

15. YOU are the driver!

16. The woman is of small stature and couldn't reach the upper lift buttons.

17. He was cleaning the inside of the windows.

18. Milky Way

19. Milk

20. Water. After the previous two questions, did you answer milk?

21. Eight

22. Glass

23. Horse racing; or other horse sports

24. About 1 to 1. Any birth will always have a 50% chance of being male
or female.

25. You don't bury survivors!

26. One

27. Eight: there are four faces on Big Ben (see the picture to the right)

28. Not zero degrees as you might at first think. The minute hand will be at 15 minutes (90
degrees clockwise from vertical) but the hour hand will have progressed to one quarter of the
distance between 3 pm and 4 pm. Each hour represents 30 degrees (360 / 12), so one
quarter of an hour equals 7.5 degrees. So the minute hand will be at 97.5 degrees: a 7.5
degree difference between the hands.

29. 22: the minute hand will go round the dial 24 times, but the hour hand will also complete two
circuits. 24 minus 2 equals 22.

30. John

31. His horse was named Friday

32. Go outside and throw it upwards.

33. Cut it horizontally half way up (i.e. parallel to the top) . See

34. House numbers.

Over 30. You are a true lateral thinking Guru. Edward De Bono would be proud of you. Or
maybe you are the man himself.
25 to 30. Very good.

20 to 24. Quite good.

15 to 19. Average.

Under 15 - watch The Matrix, the Simpsons and Dr Who a few more times.