It's normal to feel a sense of panic on finding out that you have a job interview. This section aims to dispel some of the fear by giving you more information about what to expect in an interview and how to prepare effectively.
At its most basic, an interview is a series of questions designed to find out whether you are the right person for a job. This series can take different forms:
- Classic 1:1
Still the norm for most companies, this is you and the interviewer in an office at the organisation.
A series of 1:1 interviews, each with a representative of a different function (eg technical, HR) of the organisation
Common in the public sector and for academic job interviews; you sit in front of (typically) up to four interviewers who ask you questions generally in turn.
Increasingly common is business (cheaper and more efficient!); basically a classic 1:1 interview where you can't see your interviewer. Generally pre-arranged although for some occupations they may be unannounced if a large proportion of the job involves telephone contact.
In addition, you may be asked to give a presentation or complete a test or exercise. For technical jobs, you will certainly be asked technical questions. These may be interspersed during the interview, or you may have a separate technical interview.
Some interviews are much more formal than others. Until recently, interviews for postdoctoral research posts could be held over a cup of coffee or at a conference bar. Now, however, they are becoming more formal and indeed interviews for Fellowships and lectureships are among the most rigorous and demanding of all interviews.
Remember, interviews are two-way processes. You should assess whether you want to do that job in that place with those people. If you feel uncomfortable with that prospect, it would be a good idea to think about why before you accept an offer!
What will I be asked?
Although every interview and every job are different, the basic questions you will be asked are really quite similar. There are five styles of questions in a typical interview:
- Polite chit-chat
Designed to put you at your ease. May not be actually 'in' the interview or involve the interviewer - but remember you are on duty, all day, with everyone you meet. Likely questions include:
- Did you get here OK?
- How was your journey/hotel?
These fairly easy questions get the interview going and try to be as conversational as possible. You might be asked:
- Tell me about yourself
- What appealed to you about this job?
- Are you applying for anything else?
- Probing questions
Are you the person who filled in the form? Do you really want this job? No, they won't actually ask that but the questions will be around that theme:
- What are your strengths/weaknesses?
- Where do you see your career going?
- More details about the competency-based questions on your application
- Tricky questions
Do you have the skills required for this job? Will you fit in with how we work?
- (More) competency-based questions
- Tell me about a time when...
- What if?
- Hypothetical situations
These signal the end of the interview - now you can relax (a little!)
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
- When might you be available to start?
- Do you have any questions for us?
- You can expect to hear from us by...
For more detailed advice on how to answer different types of interview questions, see the Careers Advisory Service guide to interviews.
Arm yourself with as much information as possible about
- The job
- what would you be doing each day?
- what are the career prospects?
- what training might you get?
- The company
Read the company's website and the business pages of newspapers. Find out
- their mission, values and USP
- who their competitors are
- the state of the sector
- the main issues affecting it
- The interview and interviewer(s)
When you confirm your attendance at the interview, ask who will be interviewing you and what the interview will entail (if you haven't already been told). This could help you anticipate questions and will ensure you aren't thrown by a sudden request to do a presentation!
Some other things you should think about:
- Your travel arrangements
Where exactly is your interview, and how will you get there? Will your expenses be refunded? If you will need overnight accommodation, do ask them for help in booking it. And, most importantly, ensure you have some means of letting them know if you are unavoidably late.
- What to wear
Smart dress is the norm: suits for men and jacket/skirt for women. A good guideline is to wear something your mother would approve of! Do check in advance that it is
- still the right size
- Do you get nervous?
Interview nerves are normal and can be beneficial - the adrenaline can make your brain work faster! Here are some strategies to help:
- breathe slowly and through your nose (helps prevent hyperventilation)
- practice (so the sound of your voice doesn't make you more nervous)
- take the application form and job description with you, to remind yourself that you CAN do the job!
- Body language
Only 7% of the impression you give comes from what you say; over half is from your non-verbal communication. To make the most of yours:
- make eye contact (for panel interviews, look at all the interviewers, but particularly the person who has just asked you a question)
- resist the temptation to fiddle - hold your own hands if necessary
- keep your legs still
- cultivate a firm handshake - it conveys confidence
- Handle questions well
You'll have seen people at conferences NOT doing this, but answering the question they wanted to answer. Did you get annoyed? Then so will an interviewer! Strategies for successful answering:
- ask for clarification if you need it
- pause to think - better that than an ill-thought-out answer!
- stop when you think you have answered the question. If they want more, they can (and will) ask
- remember that for hypothetical questions there is NO right answer, they just want to observe how you think
Interviews for academic jobs usually involve a panel of people, and almost always include a presentation on a topic related to your research. Questions will focus on your current and future research (make sure you have some future plans!) and teaching experience. Make sure you research the departmnent you are wanting to work for and have a clear understading of their current research and teaching emphases and strategies and be prepared to demontstrate how you can contribute to these. For guidance on what to expect from academic interviews and presentations and some sample questions, see the relevant sections of the Vitae website and the Manchester Academic Careers website.
For one-to-one help with interviews including arranging a mock interview, contact Anne Cameron, the Researcher Career Development Adviser.