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Powerful job interview tips for graduate programmes

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Making a positive first-impression is one of the secrets to landing quality jobs and internships. We’ll walk you through some time-honoured job interview tips.

Congratulations! You’ve gotten through one of the trickiest parts of the job search: writing a compelling application and getting chosen for an interview. In this article, we’ll go through some of the actions you can take to improve your performance and the rationale behind each piece of advice. Knowing the why can be used to better evaluate, understand and implement our recommendations. We’ll start with preparation, followed by in-interview decorum and wrapping up with some key takeaways. Let’s get moving.

Learn as much about the company as possible

You likely did a lot of this before submitting your application, so the reasoning should make a lot of sense. If you understand who you’re interviewing with, you can mention their accomplishments, ambitions and things you find compelling about their business. You’re able to be specific with examples of why you’d like to work at this company when the time comes. Even if none of this comes up in the interview, it helps to be able to think about questions you’re given in the context of their business rather than generally. This also helps with the next point.

Consider and establish your ambitions

Even before stepping into the interview, understanding or developing your own plans for the future are critical. This is due to employers adoring applicants with clear career direction. It shows they have some defining drive behind their decisions, rather than mere necessity (the “I don’t care; pay me” attitude). It also informs them in what areas you’d best suit their company and how they can meet these ambitions.

Just by coming to this article you’ve shown yourself to be conscientious. Apply this quality to some self-reflection. Where do you want to be in five years? Ten? Fifteen? Why do you want to be there? How can this company you’re interviewing for help you get there? Once again, even if it doesn’t come up, other answers will benefit from having these ambitions solidified.

Prepare insightful questions

Asking high-quality questions isn’t just a way to fill in the blanks of their job posting. It shows what sort of thinker you are. We’ve explained what a ‘good’ question entails in our study tips article and the same concepts apply here. In short, a good question should try to give the person you’re asking enough specificity so it’s actionable and useful to you, while also not being broad enough to become meaningless. Making them concise by removing redundant dependent clauses or context is crucial. You’ll be tempted to embellish your questions to display what you know, but some interviewers will interpret this as showing off. Make your goal to genuinely learn more about the company, your opportunities for growth and the job’s nuances. If you put that first, you can’t go too far wrong.

Practice with a friend

The rationale here is simple: it’s just good practice. You’ll be formulating answers in real-time to questions you’re likely to encounter. It’s a chance to observe your body language and even ask for notes from your friend or third party observer. You won’t be able to parallel job interview conditions perfectly, but this is still great prep.

Grab some generic questions online and perhaps ask them to throw in a few company-specific ones of their own. They’re your friend, so you’ll be sorely tempted to stray off-track, so just do your best to resist. Spend the time calmly answering the questions your friend throws at you, asking them to hurl plenty of difficult ones. Perhaps some reasoning puzzles you’re likely to get, or industry-specific tasks if you can find any. Professors might be able to help in this regard; doesn’t hurt to email or call them. Make sure to ask them their opinion on how you did, in addition to others who might be watching. Use our recommended formula for insightful questions so you can learn if you were acting naturally, speaking calmly etc. Buy your friend a coffee or reverse roles to help them out once you’re done!

If you’re doing an online interview, either with a person or recorded, practice answering and emoting in front of your webcam. You can pull up a list of questions on your monitor, start recording and try to answer each question in a concise, single take. This could greatly improve your confidence, as it can feel quite unnatural simply speaking into a camera and not receiving any feedback. Keep a timer or stopwatch handy so you can keep each answer to under two minutes, as you’ll have quite stringent time restrictions during the real thing.

Get your hardware and software sorted if you’re doing a remote interview

Easily overlooked. There’s nothing worse than getting prepared only to end up ten or fifteen minutes late because Windows needs new drivers or Skype’s three updates behind. Get your computer fired up well in advance and do a dry run with the software you’ll be using. Make sure your webcam’s good to go, microphone’s on and everything’s set. Maybe even record a little video to get a sense of the quality they’ll be experiencing on your end. Is there enough light in the area you’ll be sitting? Too much? Are you a silhouette? Do you have mobile data if your wifi crashes? Be your own producer and make sure everything’s ready to go from a technical standpoint. Nothing’s worse than being late and stressed out at the same time. All this is even more important when doing a solo recorded interview.

So what happens when the big day comes around? Well, you can start by getting dressed.

Use your research to dress the part

Unless you’re a tech billionaire that just sold their startup, defying your company’s corporate culture with avant garde fashion choices will likely rub people the wrong way. Test the bounds of dress code after you’ve gotten a better understanding of the workplace (after being hired), but not before. So what can you do? We’ve talked about what to wear to an interview before, but to sum it all up:

  1. Roughly determine what sort of culture the company you’re applying for maintains. You can do this in all manner of ways, such as looking for office pictures, forums, making phone calls or even peeking into their offices a few days prior if you’re feeling cheeky.
  2. Dress to fit in with the crowd. If you’re off to a big four consulting interview, keep it business. Keep it modest. Mid-size company? Business casual. Startup? Dressy casual.

Even if you’re doing a remote review, dress up appropriately, including pants! There are horror stories of grads whipping out their laptop who get up for a drink of water thinking the interview hasn’t started and, well… Employers get more than they bargained for.

So what can you do once you’re sitting down at the interview?

Ask clarifying questions where necessary

When asked to complete a task, consider a problem or anything else, don’t be afraid to ask for more pertinent details. This shows you understand the problem and the knowledge it requires. It also shows you’re not giving canned answers, as you’re adapting on the fly.

It always pays to remember an interview is a two-way street. You don’t have to picture a dark boiler room with a flickering light swinging overhead and a musty old detective spraying you with questions. Just asking more about them is a great way to display your knowledge discreetly and learn more.

If you’re doing an online interview, particularly a solo recorded one, there’s another course of action you can take.

Just admit when you don’t know something

You’re interviewing for a grad position. There’s no shame in not knowing the minutiae of this job. Asking questions is your first course of action, but if you’re asked something you simply don’t know the first thing about, just admit it and express your eagerness to learn. Hey, even whip out a paper and pen to write it down in front of them if you’re feeling particularly assertive. If you feel like you could still contribute to part of an answer, it’s also OK to admit you don’t know for sure upfront and then outline the process you’d go through to understand the question and develop an answer. Show enthusiasm for learning what they’re talking about and that’ll work in your favour.

If you’re facing down the lense of your webcam doing a solo recorded interview, don’t worry if you haven’t got an answer. Just admit it with a mental shrug and give your best process for how you’d arrive at one. Expressing your enthusiasm for learning is once again the best strategy.

So what do you do after the interview?

Be careful of after-interview conversation

Even if it’s in the elevator or on the street, if you’re talking to the people who interviewed you after the interview is over, watch out. Plenty of candidates have been disqualified on the back of an idle comment they made after letting their hair down. Remain professional and treat any following conversations, even if they’re just about the footy, with professionalism. Your character is an important indicator of how you’d mesh with corporate culture. Maybe refrain from telling them how you and Trent necked all those tinnies last Friday. Seriously. This happens. No, we can’t believe it either.

Conversely, this can also be an opportunity to recover. If you feel like you blew it during the interview and find yourself engaged in casual after-interview conversation, stay engaged with the material. Continuing to ask questions (if the dialogue calls for it) about undiscussed elements of the interview, such as a common industry issue or talking point, is a great way to continue displaying interest.

You’re not off the hook if you did an online interview. Make sure that webcam’s well and truly off before you start cheering, crying or both.

Now you should be well-versed in the art of the job interview for any ANZ (Australia & New Zealand) graduate programme. Let’s sum it all up.

  • Before the interview,
    • Learn about the company,
    • Establish your ambitions,
    • Prepare insightful questions for the employer,
    • Practice with friends, and
    • Make sure your hardware’s sorted.
  • On interview day,
    • Dress appropriately,
    • Ask clarifying questions, and
    • Admit when you don’t know something.
  • Post-interview,
    • Be careful of casual conversation, and
    • Turn your webcam off!

Time to get out there and do us proud! We know you will. If you’re still looking for an interview, check out our guide to graduate jobs in New Zealand for advice on CVs, application targeting and writing cover letters.