What to expect in your first graduate job interview

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What to expect in your first graduate job interview

The likelihood is that you've never had a proper interview, have you? Not really a proper interview.

Yes you might have had chats about working in your local pub or you have responded to an interview script at one of the many high street chain outlets but never a proper suit-on, gleaming shoes and brushed hair type interview.

That's OK. It's only when salaries start to get awarded that you can expect this type of interview. I had never had a formal interview when I left university and my first few were complete car crashes. So take this advice as coming straight from experience rather than a formulaic listicle of dos and don'ts.

A side note before you read on, disasters in graduate job interviews do happen, they're just an unfortunate occurrence and, to use a well-worn football cliché, you can just not turn up on the day. I've written about interview disasters before and they're all straightforward enough, but graduates often panic because of the unknown so here is what to expect from your first graduate job interview.

Be Prepared

"You need to prepare for interviews" graduates are always told. What is that supposed to mean? What kind of preparation are you supposed to do? You obviously need to lays some groundwork for the "big day" because going in half-cocked is only going ruin your chances.

So what do you need to prepare? Firstly, you need to know the role very well. You need to understand exactly what it is you're applying to do. Employers like to see you've thought about yourself in the role and understand what it is you're being paid to do.

The second area is understanding the company. People are very proud and protective of where they work and a lack of understanding about that can really put people's noses out of joint, as well as your chances out the window. They might not be a household name but they could still be the industry's Big Dog. What do they do? How to they make their money? What are they going to do next?

Sometimes this is tricky and you can easily get bogged down in research so make sure to keep an eye on where exactly you'll be working in the job description. For example working for Premier Inn is different to working for Whitbread and vice versa. The differences may be subtle but could make all the difference.

The final area of preparation you need to think about for your first graduate job interview is understanding how all of this fits together. How does what you would be doing work with the company's wider aims? How would you contribute in this role? Knowing how you exactly, as the proverbial cog, fits into the larger machine will help you convince the interview the job should be yours.

If you're still not sure about how and what to prepare for interviews, read our advice on Interview Preparation and Technique.

What to wear

What you're going to wear to an interview is usually a massive fuss over nothing. It doesn't matter at all what you wear for an interview. You're not gonna get the job because you spent that bit more on a suit or because you spent longer ironing your shirt/blouse. You have to dress formally. That's all there is to it. There's no variations available, your options are a suit, a suit or a suit. You might not wear a suit if you do get the job. It could be a hip, cool design agency with a juicer and everything, but you're wearing a suit to the interview. A nice M&S or Next suit, nothing too bold, you're not in Paris - let's keep it conservative.

Answering the questions

Another thing that gets many graduates flustered and panicking is the prospect of spending an hour in a room with someone as they prod, poke and probe you with difficult questions. This will happen but it's never as bad as you think it will be. The thing to remember first is that you wouldn't be there without a chance of getting the job.

The questions will be tricky, but it really depends on the interviewer. What I've found is the types of questions posed in interviews can reveal more about the person you're going to be working for than they can about you. So you should take this into account about your "cultural fit" at the company.

What they will actually ask you tends to be either focused around your CV or Covering Letter and experience to find out more about what you've done and how you've got where you are. This is usually defined by the mammoth question sometimes posed at the start of interviews, "So tell me about yourself" or "Can you talk me through your CV".

Alternatively, they could opt for a competency based interview, - "Tell us about a time you've done A, shown B and made a Type C decision..." Usually nothing massively surprising as they'll want to match your skills against the job's requirements.

Your turn to ask the questions

Nearly always, in every interview I've had, you get your turn at the end. "Is there anything you'd like to ask us?" This is it. The big one. The moment to shine and seal the deal. You absolutely must have something in the locker here. Something, anything. Even if it is "How will my successes be measured?", "What does the typical day look like for someone in this role?" or the evergreen "How would you describe the working culture in the office?"

Questions like "Can we talk about the Bunsen?" or "What time do I get to go home?" will obviously be met with disapproving eyes.

Your first graduate job interview is going to be a stressful affair obviously. Into the unknown with all the hope and expectation of finally getting your career kicked off, but you will get there. You might not get your first job after that first interview, but it is worthwhile learning each time you have an interview. We publish reviews from interviews to help ease this unknown element, but they are always reworked and taken on a subjective basis. So take confidence from your invitation to interview and prepare for whatever they might throw at you.