10 best job interview tips
Once you've written a stand-out cover letter and landed yourself a job interview, the application process starts to feel very real. But don't worry – our job interview tips are here to help you.
When you think of job interviews, you might be conjuring up thoughts of a particularly painful episode of The Apprentice. But, they really aren't all that bad (we promise).
Remember that your interviewers are hoping to find their ideal candidate, so they want you to do well. It makes zero sense for them to try to trip you up. A little bit of plan and prep is all you need to walk into your interview brimming with confidence, and the rest will fall into place.
Although your CV is crucial in building a picture of you and your experience, an interview is your chance to really sell yourself and wow your potential future employer. Read on for some top tips for interviews for students to help you secure your dream job.
Interview tips and tricks for students
How to succeed in a job interview
Research the role, company and industry
Turning up for an interview without being armed with interesting things to say about the company or sector as well as yourself and your work experience is the easiest mistake to make.
Do some research by looking carefully at the company website, following their social media accounts and googling them to see if you can find any press coverage or even a company blog.
A pro tip is to set up a Google Alert for the company name. That way, you'll get any relevant news about them straight to your inbox.
Why is it important to prepare for an interview? If you're well informed, you'll not only impress your interviewers, but it'll also give you a better picture of what you're potentially signing yourself up to.
It's also a good idea to research the wider sector so you can show awareness of any hot topics and who the company's competitors are.
Most employers say that it's obvious when a candidate hasn't prepared adequately, so the knowledge you gather on these subjects will suggest you have a genuine interest and that you're willing to go the extra mile.
It'll also make conversation flow easily and reduce the chances of any awkward silent moments.
List your skills that are most relevant to the role
After you've done your research on the company and sector, it's time to start thinking about which aspects of your skillset and experience are directly relevant to the company and the job role.
Read through the job description, pull out the most important parts and make a list.
Next to each point, write down any parts of your own CV or things about yourself that come to mind that you know demonstrate you have something to offer that directly relates to each point.
It's pretty much guaranteed that the interviewer will use the job description to direct the conversation, so preparing in this way will give you go-to responses when you hear the key buzzwords.
Prepare these in advance so when it comes to interview questions about a certain competency, an example will pop straight to mind. This can also help prevent you from repeating yourself with the same examples.
For a bit of extra help, check out the skills that employers want the most.
Prepare your own questions
The questions you ask at the end of an interview are very important. Not only will it give you the opportunity to find out more, but it also shows the interviewer that you're engaged, inquisitive and keen to learn about the role and company.
Being able to ask interesting questions is as important as answering them, so take the time to prepare a few.
Best questions to ask in an interview
It's best to keep your questions as tailored to the job role and company as you can, but here are some examples if you're struggling to think of anything:
- "What are the most important qualities of the ideal candidate for this role?" – This shows that you (like your interviewer) are interested in knowing if you're right for the job. It will also give you an idea of whether you've covered everything they were expecting from you.
- "How does the company help employees with career progression?" – From this question, the interviewer will see you're ambitious and it gives them an opportunity to 'sell' the company to you.
- "How is the team structured and who would I be reporting to?" – The interviewer will be looking to see if you would fit into the team. Showing an interest in the people you'd be working with and for will make a good impression.
Wake up early on the morning of your interview
We know it's an obvious one, but we'll say it anyway: get up extra early on the morning of your interview.
You should also aim to give yourself enough time to sit down for breakfast before leaving for the interview. We know that when you're nervous before an interview, it can be hard to eat, but try to have as good a meal as you can.
You don't have to go all out with a full English, but try to eat some brain food beforehand. We recommend a bowl of cereal, some fruit, toast and a cup of tea or coffee. You could also take an apple with you to fight those mid-morning hunger pains.
Before you head in for your interview, have a chat with a friend or family member about something other than the interview to loosen yourself up and get into the swing of things.
Plan out the interview day in advance
Planning everything in advance will put your mind at ease and ensure nothing goes wrong on the day.
Choose what you're going to wear (wearing smart work clothes but nothing too formal will give a good impression) at least a couple of days before the interview.
This will cancel out any potentially disastrous moments where you realise your lucky shirt has a massive blob of ketchup down the front and you need to wash it last minute in a blind panic.
We'd recommend also carefully planning out your journey to the interview and even testing out the route if you have time. It's always better to turn up early (at least five minutes early!) than it is to be late, so make sure to leave some extra time.
It's also best to pack your bag with everything you'll need the night before.
What to bring to a job interview
- A few copies of your CV
- Business cards (if you have any)
- Your passport
- A portfolio of your work (if you have or need one)
- A pen and paper to take any notes
- Any questions you prepared.
Try to stay calm during your interview
Try to calm your nerves on the day by not obsessing about what's ahead too much. After all that great prep you've been doing over the last few days, there's not much more you'll achieve by thinking about it incessantly – it'll only make you more nervous.
Always remember that it's normal for you to get a bit nervous and most employers will expect you to be!
What to do if you feel nervous in a job interview
- Smile and give a firm handshake when greeting your interviewer.
- Ask a short icebreaker question when you first arrive to get things going on an informal level, like "How's your day going?".
- Think about your posture and make sure when you take a seat you're sitting up straight and not fidgeting. Hand gestures can be good for emphasis when you're talking, but don't overdo it. Try not to sit completely rigid either, or you'll look (and feel!) uncomfortable and more nervous.
- Remember that you're talking to a professional and be mindful of your vocabulary. If you start to go on a tangent, stop yourself ASAP and try not to say things such as "erm" too much – take a second and breathe.
- Compose yourself when answering questions and take time to think. You can think back to the notes you've written and then give the best answer that you can.
Answer opening interview questions concisely
The interview will likely start with a few general opening questions. As easy as these questions might seem, they can throw you off if you haven't prepared adequately.
Usually, job interviews will start with a generic opening question like "could you tell me a bit about yourself?". When asked this, try not to launch into your entire life story, as this isn't what they're asking.
What this question really means is "tell us in a few sentences why you're a relevant candidate for this company and role". You could mention things like your degree, uni and what has made you decide to go for a career in this area.
You can also mention where you're from if you're applying somewhere away from home, but keep it brief.
Although these are just warm-up questions, don't take them too informally. First impressions are incredibly important!
Use examples to answer competency-based questions
You can expect that the follow-on questions from the opening ones will then draw on examples and experiences to test your key competencies. This is where your preparation will start to pay off.
Many employers report that a lot of candidates lack a wide range of examples and are too vague in interviews.
Interviewers don't want to hear about what you've been doing at university for every question. If you want to stand out in a job interview, think outside the box by using examples from your life outside of education and at previous part-time jobs.
Handle difficult interview questions confidently
If a difficult question comes up, there's no hard and fast rule for handling it. It's easier said than done in a high-pressure interview environment, but try to stay calm and answer the question as best you can.
Here are some top tips on how to answer difficult interview questions:
- Answer the question directly (avoid waffling and going off on a tangent)
- Give clear and tangible examples when you can
- Show you've thought about how your current skills are relevant/transferable to the job
- As well as talking about your strengths, highlight that you're keen to continue learning and improving in a new role.
Thank interviewers in a follow-up email
Once the interview is over, there are still a few things you can do to give yourself an advantage over other candidates in securing the job. A follow-up email to thank the employer for seeing you and giving you their time is always a good idea. Doing this will keep you at the forefront of their minds.
If you haven't heard back from them in two weeks or more, send an email or call them to ask for feedback.
Even if you didn't get the job this time, remember that every interview is a learning experience and you'll only get better and better at it each time you walk into an interview.
The last thing to say is simply... good luck!
Looking to get the most out of a part-time job? Here are the best-paid student jobs out there.