Aston University Questions
Your application has been successful and you have been invited to attend an interview. This advice sheet will explain about the different types of interviews and the different types of questions that you may be asked. It will help you master the basic techniques you will need to be successful at each stage of the interview process.
Why use interviews?
Interviews are used as a method of securing employment because they allow for a potential employer and a potential employee to learn more about each other. It is a two way process designed to determine whether there is a match across many levels.
Preparation and research are often the most neglected aspects of the interview process. It is important to prepare thoroughly for each stage of the recruitment and selection process, but particularly for the interview. Preparation comes in two parts – company research and personal reflection. You must understand the role and the work of the company and be able to present yourself in an effective manner. You have to ensure you can give a thorough account of the experiences, skills and abilities that you have which are relevant to the job. If you can do all this and overcome your nerves, you’ve cracked it! Here are some useful tips:
Employers expect, and are impressed by, students who demonstrate detailed knowledge of their organisation, their products and markets, and any recent events that have affected their business. It is therefore vital that this part of the preparation process is undertaken in some detail. Any negative feedback received from placement companies often highlights a lack of company knowledge demonstrated by students. This signifies to companies that you have not prepared and therefore are probably not that enthusiastic about the position!
On the other hand, thorough preparation can score you some easy brownie points as a fantastic first answer means you have well and truly started your interview on the right foot.
•The main characteristics of the industry. (Innovative, labour or capital intensive, highly competitive?)
•Past and current growth patterns, plus factors responsible for growth.
•Types of products/services they make/manufacture/sell/offer.
•Be able to name their major competitors and their competing products/services.
•Undertake a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of the organisation.
•Any recent legislation/technical development that will affect their business or working practices?
•Any recent news; management buyouts, takeovers, awards?
•What characteristics give this organisation their personality and culture?
•Has the company recruited ABS students before?
Sources of Information
•Placement Event – you will get to meet final year students who have just returned from their placements. They will have a lot of valuable information about their placement employer, so make sure you talk to any who worked at organisations or in sectors you are interested in.
•Company presentations/workshops – you can pick up a whole array of tips and information when attending company events, so make sure you don’t miss out. Details of ALL the events running throughout the year are available on the Placement Intranet in the ‘Events’ section. Feedback from companies suggests that they can easily identify those students who have attended their company events based on the quality of their applications and interview performance.
•Company Website – there should be a link from the job advert to the company site. This should give you the most current information.
•Additional Websites – these offer company profiles plus financial information –
www.hoovers.co.uk – access to valuable data related to over 43,000 top companies and 600 industries
www.carol.co.uk – pproviding free online company Annual Reports
www.hemscott.net – is the leading UK provider of company information. It is a completely free service that provides financial information on 2,350 UK and Irish listed companies
•Placement Reports – these are available online on the Placement Intranet and in the Placement Resources Room.
•Company Brochures – look in the Placement Resources Room for additional company literature the employer may have supplied.
•Aston University Careers and Employability Centre – based on the 1st floor of the South Wing. A great resource for your company research is the ‘Vault’, available at www.careers.aston.ac.uk – click on ‘Are you a student or graduate?’, then log in, scroll to the bottom of the page and on the left hand side you will find a link to ‘Vault Careers Library’.
•Library – company directories are held here and useful databases/CD ROMs e.g. giving press coverage of any major company. Just approach the library reception
and they will be able to advise you on suitable resources or use the online databases.
Research the job
Read the job advert and job description carefully. This is the time to get your highlighter pen in hand and make sure you have a very clear idea of what the company is looking for. You should already have explored this when you were applying but now is the time to prepare a range of examples of the key skills and abilities they are looking for.
Key skills/qualities tend to include the following:
•Ability to meet deadlines/work under pressure
Personal Reflection – What do you have to offer?
Read through your application form/CV and the covering letter that you originally sent.
Think of examples of how you can demonstrate you have the qualities they want– use situations from all aspects of your life, university, work, sport etc and be prepared to expand on the examples you gave in your initial application.
Plan to talk about your strengths: identify them and link them to what might be involved in the job.
Decide how you will handle questions about your weaknesses. “Being a perfectionist�? is a clichéd answer to this question. It is better to focus on an area for development that you have highlighted you want to improve on. For example if you didn’t like presenting in front of a number of people, you sought extra help at the Learning and Development Centre by attending a workshop on presentation skills.
At the end of the interview you will be asked if you have any questions. It is a good idea to prepare some in advance, otherwise if you say you have no questions the interviewer could misconstrue it as lack of enthusiasm for the role. You could ask about training opportunities, promotional prospects after graduation, or company culture.
Types of interviews
Telephone Interviews – are actual interviews conducted over the phone rather than face to face. Employers are increasingly using them as first interviews as a method of
screening the candidates that they want to invite to the next round of interviews or assessment centre. For more information, read the advice sheet on Telephone interviews.
First Interviews – whether they are held at Aston or at the company’s offices, the first interview is most often used to screen candidates so that only those that appear to meet their criteria go on to the second stage. Therefore, they tend to last between 30 minutes to an hour and are wide ranging, so that the interviewer can discover what your personality, academic knowledge, knowledge of the company and job role and leisure interests are. It is also an opportunity for you to gain information about the placement (work, training, prospects, etc), to see if it is something you would be happy to do for a year.
Second Interviews – can take many different forms, such as a formal interview with a few people, an informal day to look around the offices and meet the current placement students and employees, or a full assessment centre.
You will be asked a number of different types of questions during the course of your interview including:
Contextual questions are used to establish more information about a potential employee than what may be on his/her CV or application form. For example:
•Why did you choose to do these A Levels?
•Why did you choose to take a GAP year before university?
•Why did you fail these exams at university?
•What do you know about this position?
Competency interview questions – these are structured to reflect the competencies or skills that an employer is seeking for a particular placement. These will have been detailed in the job description and will have formed the basis of your CV and Application Form. These are questions which explore past behaviour as a means of predicting future behaviour and performance. For example:
•“Tell me about a time when you have worked in a team�?. (Teamwork)
•“Tell me about a time when you have had to come up with a new idea/process�?. (Initiative)
•“Tell me about a time when you have had to take a risk�?. (Decision making)
•“Tell me about a time when you have had to persuade others to adopt your course of action�?. (Persuasion)
•“Tell me about a time when you have had to change direction mid way through project�?. (Flexibility)
It is important to include the following three elements in your answer:
1. What you did
2.How you did it
3.What was the outcome/result?
A useful acronym that can help you structure your response comprehensively is STAR:
•SITUATION- briefly describe the background situation
•TASK- specifically describe your responsibility
•ACTION – what did you do?
•RESULT- describe the outcome of your action
Don’t forget that employers can only assess what you tell them so although it may feel like you are stating the obvious, it is important to focus on describing the task and your action.
Take note of the following tips and hints:
•Answer the question! Remain focused
•Be time specific – think of an actual occasion
•Focus on what you did
•Being vague “In general�? “I always�?
•Talking about your colleagues as the employer is interested in you
•Being negative! Always be positive even if asked for a weakness!
This is a very fair way of evaluating applicants as all candidates are asked the same questions and an individual is scored based on the examples he/she gives to demonstrate the particular competencies.
Career objective questions
These questions are designed to establish whether a candidate’s career objectives are well thought out and align with the employers. For example:
•Why are you interested in this field/industry?
•Why do you want to work for the company?
•Why do you want to work for this particular business area?
•Where do you see yourself career wise in five years time?
The Interview Day
•What to wear – a suit is usual for both men and women. You will need to dress smartly even if the interview is on campus. This will show that the interview is important to you and will create the right impression. Occasionally employers will give instructions on what to wear. If unsure you can always call and ask.
•Arrive in good time (at least 10 mins early) to find out exactly where you are supposed to be and have time to settle yourself, relax a little and perhaps read any company literature that is provided. If you know you are going to be late due to train problems etc call the company as soon as possible. You must make sure you take the company’s telephone number and the name of your interviewer.
•Smile when you meet the interviewer for the first time and give them a firm and positive handshake when they offer you their hand.
•Eye contact is essential and is an excellent way of conveying your enthusiasm for the job. It is also a good way of gauging the interviewer’s reaction to what you are saying.
•Listen carefully to everything that is said to you and don’t be afraid to pause when replying to their questions as it gives you time to think. If there is a panel of people, always reply to the one that asked you the question – don’t give the answer to somebody else!
•Volunteer information – make conversation and tell them things. Don’t just answer yes and no. Make the interview easy for them.
•Speak clearly – try not to mumble or rush your replies.
•Remain positive – show your enthusiasm, optimism and friendliness. Play down your negative points and emphasise your positive ones.
•Be you – do not make things up! Remain honest and truthful, otherwise you will be discovered. Be yourself or you may be landed with a job you cannot cope with or will not enjoy.
•Try not to gesticulate – too much! Waving your hands and arms around when explaining a point can be very distracting to the interviewer, as are nervous twitches – try to be aware of them. Try not to fiddle with buttons, necklaces, watches, pens, hair, nose, etc. Sit well back in your chair and let your body relax to prevent nervous movements.
•Try not to worry – getting nervous is natural and helps to get the adrenaline going. Take deep breaths before you go in to calm yourself and try to remain positive and confident. The first few questions are usually to help you relax – you may discuss your journey for example.
•Do not get annoyed – if the interviewer tries to provoke you, do not rise to it and do not walk out. Very occasionally ‘stress interviews’ are used to see how you react – this is unlikely to be used for placement interviews, but it is wise to remain aware that such tactics exist.
•If you are taken to lunch or are given a tour – remember that you are still in ‘interview-mode’ and they will still be monitoring you. It’s always worth keeping up to
date with current affairs as you may find yourself discussing this over lunch or on the way to the lift – read a quality newspaper to keep informed.
Most companies are happy to provide feedback on interview performance, so if you have been unsuccessful, contact the company for a summary of how you fared. It is often those students who seek and act on feedback that then go on to secure a great placement – so don’t be shy in asking why you didn’t get the job. Take the feedback on board, act on it and move forward to the next interview.
Help and Recourses Available
Mock interviews – Following your attendance at the Interview Briefing Sessions in October and once you have an interview organised with an employer, you can also book a one to one interview session via the Placement Office or online via the Placement Intranet. You can experience a mock interview and gain some valuable feedback to help prepare you for the real thing.
When booking a mock interview please ensure you have prepared thoroughly. You will be given a handout which details what you need to do in advance of your appointment – make sure you follow this.
Interview skills workshops – throughout the year there will also be a number of interview skill workshops run via the Placement Office, Aston University Careers and Employability Centre and by companies – make sure you take full advantage of all of these opportunities as they really do make a difference.
One to one appointments – you can book a 15 minute one to one appointment via the Placement Intranet for quick advice and tips on interview techniques.
AGCAS DVD: Making an impact available to watch or loan from the Careers and Employability Centre.
You might also find it useful to consult the following online resources:
http://www.prospects.ac.uk/interview_tips.htm – useful tips on how to succeed at interviews.
www.aston.ac.uk/careers – offers lots of useful information via the Career Management Online package.
www.realworldmagazine.com – you can find useful articles on interviews.