How to prepare for a Graduate Interview?
Your graduate interview is the first step of your professional career and quite likely your first professional interview. It’s vital that you’re as prepared as possible to help stand out from the crowd of your peers. You’re interviewing among hundreds who have a similar educational background and so you need to nail the graduate interview to secure the role and the firm you want. The Communications Clinic has decades of experience in helping graduate do just that. Below are some of our Top Tips.
Starting with impact:
A significant proportion of graduate interviews will start with some variation of a “tell me about yourself” questions. The question might be; bring me through your CV? or it might be, tell me about your experience to date? Regardless of how it is phrased, this is a question that gives you a golden opportunity to start the interview with impact and make a strong first impression. It’s an open goal. And yet it’s a question that candidates often fail to prepare for. It’s a simple question, but not an easy one.
Don’t let the opportunity go to waste. Have a concise, structure and practised answer that is tailored to the job you’re applying for.
The answer needs to give a clear overview of your work and educational experience to date. It must be heavy on specific achievements and outcomes and it must be relevant to the needs of the employer.
Think of the answer as containing three key segments.
1. Your educational experience.
First detail your college degree and the subsequent results you’ve achieved. Include the subjects you studied that are most relevant to the role and the specific projects you excelled in. You should also discuss your extra-curricular activities here.
2. Your previous work experience
Then you discuss any internships, part-time and summer work you have undertaken up until this point. The key here is to ensure that you don’t just detail the duties you were charged with, but highlight the achievements you had and the extra responsibilities you were trusted with.
3. Tie it all together
You need to end the answer by telling them why you are in front of them. Why your educational, work and extra-curricular experience, combined, makes you a strong candidate for their graduate programme.
Know your own achievements:
Irish people are modest by nature. We find it hard to sell ourselves. But in a graduate interview, you have to. Your prospective employer needs to know you can do the job. The best way to do this is to base your interview around concrete, objectively proven achievements. These can stem from college, work experience or your extra-curricular activities.
A good exercise when preparing for your interview is to get a blank page and force yourself to fill it with the specific, provable achievements you’ve had. For example, strong exam results you’ve obtained, projects you’ve successfully delivered in work and roles or responsibilities you’ve taken on outside of college requirements.
These achievements should form the basis of your interview and should help you decide on the best examples to use for the competency section of the interview.
Prepare for the Competency-based questions:
Most graduate interviews are now competency based. Your graduate interview almost certainly will be. This is the key area. You have to be prepared to nail each competency question that comes up.
Competency-based interviews look at your ability to do the job detailed in the job specification. They do this by examining whether you have the key skills needed.
Simply, they contain a series of questions that ask “Do you have this skill?”. The key for competency based questions is specific examples, with positive outcomes that you can relate back to the needs of your prospective employer.
For a detailed breakdown of how to approach competency based interviews in your graduate interview click here.
The competencies they will be asking you about in your graduate interview will be outlined in the job specification but some of the common ones would be;
- Communication Skills
- Team working Skills
- Listening Skills
- Organisational skills
- Time Management
- Problem Solving Skills
- Decision Making Skills &
- Dealing with Conflict.
Basically, the interviewer needs to know a few things;
- Do you experience in using this skill?
- Do you have an example of using it to good effect?
- Do you know why that example went well?
- Can you implement it for us in this role?
The questions can be posed in a variety of ways during the graduate interview. Tell us about a time you showed effective communication skills? How do you solve problems? Would you consider yourself a strong decision maker? Tell us about a time you dealt with conflict in a team?
Regardless of how the question is phrased you need to make sure the interviewer knows you have loads of experience in showing the skills, that you have a good specific and memorable example of a time you used it to good effect, that you know why it went well and that you know how and where you will utilise that skills for your future employer.
The basic structure to follow is;
Opening Overview Statement
This is a few sentences which details your extensive experience in the area
Specific Memorable Example
Examples and stories are the silver bullet in all communications, this includes interviews. They help the interviewer remember you as a candidate and they offer a proof of concept of your abilities. For each competency, you need two specific examples of times you successfully showed you have that skill set.
Structure your example so that it follows the following;
Detail the problem you faced; Detail the scale and importance of the task ahead of you, you need to ensure that it is as clear as possible how difficult the challenge ahead of you was.
Describe the actions you took; What did you do, step by step, to address the problem or challenge. Ensure that you use the word “I” as often as possible here.
Give a positive outcome: Spend time talking about the eventual outcome. Give objective evidence of your success. It’s not enough to say it went well, you need evidence.
Key Learning from the example:
The interviewer needs to know that you have learned from the example. Detail what skills you showed that worked effectively. They need to know that you know why the above example went well. And they need you to spell out exactly what the above examples proves.
You should have two to three key learnings.
Relevance for the Role:
You need to prove to the interviewer that you know why they need this skill. Make them picture you in the role by spelling out why your skills are relevant.
The easiest way to show the above is to take an example. Say you are applying for a position in Audit with one of the Big Four accountancy firms. They may ask you “Tell us about a time that you showed strong communication skills?”
I’d like to think that communication is one of my strongest skills. Whether it be during my internship last summer with a consultancy firm, in my role as secretary of my college society or during my part-time job, I’ve had to communicate with colleagues, clients, customers and fellow students, consistently.
I’ll take an example from my final year in college. We had an upcoming presentation that was worth 20% of our final grade. Myself and one other student from our team were presenting for 20 minutes on a semester-long project. The morning of the presentation the other student called me to let me know that he was sick and unable to make it that morning. I got notice 90 minutes before the presentation kicked off.
As my other team members were uncomfortable presenting, I stepped up and took on the entire presentation. I quickly got up to speed on the second half of it, found time to do a dry run before the presentation itself, then delivered solo for 20 minutes and dealt with any questions.
Thankfully the presentation went well. The lecturer actually complimented my presentation style on the day, I was the only presenter who got praise while up on their feet and we eventually got an A in that project.
What I feel I showed there is an ability to communicate and adapt under pressure, an ability to present to a high standard and an understanding of the importance of practice.
So, for a role as an auditor, you’ll need me to communicate with clients, with my colleagues and maybe eventually in the years to come to partake in client pitches. That’s a skillset I’m confident I have.
You need a version of the above example. In your own words. For each and every competency listed on the graduate job spec. You might even need two.
Be ready for the negatives
They may also ask you the competency questions from a negative point of view. They can ask you to tell them about a time that you didn’t communicate well or that you were involved in a team that didn’t work together.
The key for these questions is that you give an honest example but spend your time talking about what you learned from this example and show them that you’ve applied that learning since.
For example, tell them about a presentation that didn’t go to plan. Then, stress that the reason it didn’t go well was because you got unexpectedly nervous. As a result, you have learned to practice and handle nerves and went on to give several successful presentations.
Know your own pitch for the job:
This is a basic mistake that people make in graduate interviews. They can’t easily articulate why they should be hired. They get ready for every question the employer might ask and never consider what they want to get across.
You need to be crystal clear on your pitch. Ask yourself;
- What are the three or four central reasons that make you a strong candidate for the role?
- What are the key skills or experiences that you have that make you stand out?
- If you could ensure that the remembered three things about you, what would they be?
If you are asked in the interview Why you are right for the role? Or What can you bring? you need a well thought out answer. One that is specific to your employer’s needs, and that is backed up with specific evidence.
Anyone can answer this question by saying they are a strong communicator, they are hardworking and that they have a passion for the industry.
To stand out you need to be specific and the way to do that is to pick three key points, structure them in a way that is easy to remember for the interviewer and follow the rule of:
Key statement; then Evidence.
Give them the opening point “I’ve well developed and proven communication skills”. And then the evidence. “I’ve proven these consistently. I’ve consistently been graded highly on college presentations, I was chosen to present at a client meeting as an intern, I have reached the semi-finals in college debating competitions and customers consistently praised my communication skills to management when I worked in retail.
Even if you’re not asked this in the interview, you still need to have the answer worked out. Because if you’re not clear on this yourself, there is no possible way you will get it across to the interviewer.
Practice out loud:
A graduate interview is a verbal interaction. It requires verbal practice. That seems simple, but it is overlooked by the vast majority of candidates. You need to practice your key examples and answer out loud. Talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to yourself. Just talk. And not just at the end of your preparation. Talk out your answers from day one. It will considerably speed up the process.
Scripting your answers and learning them off by heart makes you sound rehearsed and it’s difficult to remember. Thinking your answers through in your head is next to useless. The only effective way to prepare is to practice answering the question. Talk until you are tired of hearing your own voice. And then practice ten more times.
You will need to deliver the answers on the day, under pressure, so you need a muscle memory of saying them out loud.
Research the company:
You need to know about the company. That’s a basic requirement. You need to know beyond the About Us page on the website or on the graduate programme literature you received.
If you don’t have a detailed, three-pointed, specific answer to the questions of “What do you know about us?” and “Why do you want to work for us?” you are wasting your time.
For example, all of the key law and accountancy firms have differentiators. No firm believes they have the same values, unique selling points and benefits as others in their sector. Because they don’t.
Do actual research. Talk to individuals working for the firms and if you don’t know anyone, find someone. It’s Ireland and LinkedIn exists. It’s possible. Read their material and their e-zines. Work out what makes the firm exceptional and be able to discuss it.
Then, make sure that you have that point linked to you as a candidate. It’s not enough to say you want to work for a Law firm because they are experts in company law, if you don’t then say that you have always excelled in company law and so feel it is a strong fit.
Research the sector:
Firms want candidates that have a commercial acumen. Therefore, it tends to be tested in graduate interviews. You need to be able to discuss new industry development and current affairs stories. You must do your homework. You need to know what are the dominant news and business stories at the time of your interview.
You need to be able to discuss each issue. It’s not a memory test, they don’t just expect you to know the facts. You need to be ready to give an opinion, provide insights and see trends. You need to be able to discuss how topical issues may affect the industry long term.
To prepare you need to read analysis and opinion pieces in Irish and International publications in the run up to the interview. And remember that every candidate is going to be discussing the major events of the time. Try to be different. Think of different issues to discuss and find new angles on the most popular issues.
Be ready for questions
Your graduate interview will likely end with this question and it is your last chance to have an impact. They will remember the first and last thing you said most clearly. So not being prepared for this can really affect your success.
First a few don’ts:
- Don’t ask a question that you should have known the answer to from reading promotional material, looking on the website or by googling.
- Don’t ask a question that is purely focussed on you. Nothing about when you will hear back, what the salary will be, do we finish early on Fridays…
- And don’t just say “No thanks, not at this moment” when they ask.
You have a few options here:
You can ask a question that comes from a position of research. I know this about the role, could you tell me a bit more? Or I know that this development is coming down the line for the sector, how might that affect your business? This shows curiosity and genuine interest.
The other option is not to ask a question, but to tell them why you don’t have a question. This shows you’ve thought about it, but you have your research done. So “thank you, but I don’t have any other questions. I’ve researched the role thoroughly, talked to your recruiters at various events and so I feel I have a good understanding of the role. Thanks a million for your time”.
Get in Touch
The above tips really only scratch the surface of what you need to prepare for a graduate interview. The Communications Clinic offers tailored one to one graduate interview preparation sessions to help you get over the line and secure the job you want. We put you through an interview, record it, assess it and make you better.
If you call us on or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and mention you read the above article we can book you in for a Graduate Interview Session for a reduced fee.