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Employers will want you to go through at least one selection interview as part of the recruitment process. Typically, most large employers will invite you to a screening interview with a member of their HR/Personnel department. The outcome of this interview will:

  • Lead to you being invited to attend a second, more detailed interview,
  • Lead to you being invited to attend a selection (assessment) centre where a detailed interview will be one of the tasks you face
  • Lead to your application being dropped.

"Interview categories" With thanks to CareerPlayer, Graduate Jobs and Career Advice on video



Preparation for the interview

To stand the best chance of being successful at interview, you must prepare thoroughly. For graduate jobs, you face intense competition and you will not succeed if you do no preparation and attempt to answer questions “off the top of your head”. Here are some tips on how to prepare for interview:

  • Research employers thoroughly- look at their website and if it details work they do, clients they work for or cases they have been involved with you must be prepared to discuss these at interview. Find out from Careers, Employability and Skills if your target employers are delivering recruitment presentations on campus or attending Careers Fairs as these present you with the perfect opportunity to meet young graduates working in the area you hope to enter and they provide a different perspective on graduate work from a website or glossy brochure. Remember, a recruitment panel will want you to know why you did or did not attend an event at your university. You can also check which employers are visiting Queen's by going to
  • Research the Sector- employers will expect you to demonstrate an understanding of their business, the sector within which it operates, who their competitor are and may also wish to know if you have applied to any similar employers. This information is generally sought by employers seeking consistency in your approach. For example, if you are being interviewed by a large multi-national and they discover your other applications are to smaller local employers, they may doubt your commitment to the sector they operate within. Also, if you are applying to, for example, Investment banks in the City of London you need to read quality press about the City, financial trends and the economy in general. No one will expect you to be an expert but they will expect you to demonstrate evidence of your interest in the job, the company and their market sector. 
  • Review your application form- employers will have used the information provided on your application form to decide on whether or not to shortlist you. However, they are likely to ask you questions about the content of your application form at interview. Remember your interview may take place many months after the vacancy closing date.
  • Review the Job Description and person specification- you will be required to demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the job. You may be required to answer interview questions using examples which differ to those provided on your application form.
  • Look at"Interview tips" With thanks to CareerPlayer, Graduate Jobs and Career Advice on video



At the interview

There are some things you need to plan ahead for and consider when attending an interview:

Leave sufficient time for travelling to the venue and take account of rush hour trends:

  • If you can, you may wish to make preparatory journey to the venue so that you know where exactly you are going to and how to get there.
  • Arrive early enough to settle yourself but not too early as this can you give you too much time to think about what lies ahead and can work against you. Some feeling of nervousness is to be expected and trends to enhance performance but too much stress can adversely affect your ability to perform well at interview.

Think of how you will dress:

  • You should dress in a manner consistent with the culture of the employer- not necessarily what you would wear to a night club or a night out with friends- you are attempting to project a professional as opposed to a fashionable image. Sometimes the two can be combined but take your lead from how others in the organisation you have applied to dress.
  • Where culture is casual or smart casual, it is still best to be more formal at selection interviews.
  • Avoid flamboyant jewellery, face and tongue studs etc., gimmick socks and ties (e.g. Simpson's, South Park) and if you have long hair, tie it back, neatly to allow selectors to see your face at all times.

Non-verbal communication:

  • Remember to enter the interview room confidently and shake hands firmly with the panel only if they initiate the handshake.
  • Often how we say things at interview is as important as what we say. Selectors will look for confidence and you must project this by smiling, engaging in eye contact with all panel members and sitting in a business-like manner- do not slouch or look laid back even if the interviewer is casual in approach. Conversely, do not look so rigid that the interviewer can see nervousness through your posture.

What to expect from the interviewers:

  • All interviewers make notes while candidates answer questions. This reminds them of your answers to questions and helps them to allocate you a mark for each of the recruitment criteria when you have left the interview room. You should not be put off by this note taking and should try and ignore it.
  • If you are at a panel interview, the Chairperson will introduce the panel members and will hand you to each to allow them to question you.
  • The panel will challenge you intellectually and seek to examine how closely you match the requirement of the job applied for.

Answering interview questions:

  • Ensure you answer the question that is asked of you. Speak up and speak slowly to allow the panel to hear what you are saying and to process your message. Try to be grammatically correct in your use of English and keep the language simple- no one gets a job by using big words and jargon. Avoid using colloquialisms and items of language specific to regions. For example in Northern Ireland many people run the phrase "Do you know?" into something like "djuno?" Not everyone, particularly interviewers outside of Northern Ireland, will understand such linguistic idiosyncrasies.
  • If you do not understand a question, ask for it to be rephrased as this is better than attempting an answer which may or may not be what the employer is expecting.
  • Always be polite and friendly, not overly familiar and also not so formal you appear aloof and distant.
  • Have a look at this "Public Speaking" video with thanks to CareerPlayer, Graduate Jobs and Career Advice on video



Likely interview questions:

Typically an interview will start with easier questions about you:

  • Why have you applied for this job?
  • Why did you decide to read.... at University?
  • Tell us about your work experience?

These questions allow you to talk about a topic you know well, yourself and allow the interviewer to get to know you a little.

As the interview progresses you will probably be asked questions which test your competency in areas directly relevant to undertaking duties required in the job. These questions will be difficult and will include areas such as:

Managing change:

  • Give an example of an unforeseen problem that you have had to cope with. How did you react? What action did you take? What could you have done differently to achieve a positive outcome?
  • Give me some examples in the last six months of situations where you have challenged the way things were done, what happened?
  • What examples are there of when you had to appear positive about a change you did not believe in? How did you do it? How convincing were you?
  • What examples have you of setting targets for yourself which were more stretching than what was actually required?

Being customer focussed:

  • What actions have you put in place to measure the quality and service you deliver? Give me an example how this has improved the quality of work.
  • How would you describe your communication style when dealing with customers? Give me an example of when you have done this and the impact it had.
  • Tell me about a time when you were able to build a successful relationship with a difficult customer.

Problem Solving:

  • Describe a mistake you have made that could have been avoided. What exactly happened? How did you react? What do you wish you had done and why?
  • Give an example of when you have come up with different solutions to a problem?
  • Describe your typical approach when faced with a complex problem. What examples do you have to illustrate this?

Working with others:

  • Give an example when you have worked in a team situation to solve a complex problem. How you approached this task? What did you achieve? What was your contribution to the group?
  • Give an example of a time you worked in a team which did not achieve its objectives. What could you have done differently to help the team achieve its goals?
  • How would you describe your leadership style? Give a recent example of a situation where you have been a leader. How did you achieve your goals?

These are a few examples of competency based questions which are now the norm in graduate recruitment. It should be apparent that preparation is critical to your success and remember, an interviewer may ask you to provide more than one example.

"Curveball questions" with thanks to CareerPlayer, Graduate Jobs and Career Advice on video



Further help: You can arrange a practice interview by booking an appointment

Useful booklets, online and multi media materials are available from the Careers, Employability and Skills. Details are available in the Information Resources section on

Interviews by Pauline Glasgow


The Careers, Employablity and Skills also holds relevant workshops throughout the academic year, advertised on