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Preparing for Interviews (and Assessment Centres)

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1 Preparing for Interviews (and Assessment Centres)
David Henderson Careers Adviser Very few people relish prospect of job interview. Major success however!!! Your CV has persuaded employer you could meet requirements. Interviews can come at any stage of selection process: can be one to one/panel/anywhere/telephone. How to give yourself best chance of success??

2 Interviews and Assessment Centres
Preparing for interviews Performing at interview What questions will I be asked? What can I expect at an assessment centre?

3 Practical preparation
What is the format? First interview Second Interview Technical or competency Panel Telephone Assessment Centre Interview practice e.g. mock interview, friends – practice talking about yourself Questions for the employer! Basics – avoid unnecessary stress (location, date/time, travel arrangements, dress, items to take etc)

4 Know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses
Know your CV and Application Form INSIDE/OUT! Strengths: your ‘unique selling points’ Weaknesses: Give examples that can be ‘corrected’ / areas for development Strengths – Unique Selling Points (don’t wait to be asked!) Write a list – be prepared to back up with examples Write a short statement about yourself and your suitability for the job – this may help you to answer ‘open questions’ like: “Tell me about yourself” “Why do you want this job?” Weaknesses – Give example that can be corrected (eg IT skills) “I’m a very impatient person, but I learnt that you can get more out of people if you give them a bit of space to do something you’ve asked. A ‘perceived’ weakness etc… Weaknesses: Give examples that can be ‘corrected- (eg IT skills)

5 Know the job and the employer
Talk to someone doing the job Familiarise yourself with the role Tip: refer to case studies on Target Jobs, Prospects, employer websites & professional bodies The Employer Presentations at University, company reports (Hemscott, Morning Star), careers literature, websites Shows commitment, enthusiasm, motivation Tip: search for company related articles on online websites of the Guardian, Times, Independent etc The Job CAS – list of graduates willing to talk to you Employer’s website Prospects website

6 Knowledge about the job
Knowledge of the organisation Business publications/sector specific press Business directories

7 Psychological preparation
Selector are not there to embarrass you or show your weaknesses Conversation not an interrogation Interviewer sets the pace, but you participate fully You are there to secure the position – opportunities to make your points Does the company match your expectations ? Positive attitude – you are here for a reason!

8 Aim of the interview To assess the knowledge that you have marketed in your initial application To evaluate your transferable skills under pressure To judge how you would fit into their organisation, institution, department To create a positive impression (on both sides!) Ultimately, they want to know: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you fit in? BUT It is also an opportunity for you to judge whether you want to work for them CAN – ability, knowledge, qualities, skills… WILL - Motivation FIT - ??? Company culture, etc…

9 First Impressions Be polite to everyone (they could all be asked for their opinion!) Professional and friendly manner Be confident/establish eye contact The interviewer may be nervous Quote from booklet – top of page 6.

10 What you say / How you say it
Listen to the question Try to quantify your answers – don’t just give yes/no answers Volunteer relevant information about yourself Get across pre-planned key points How you say it Clarity but also enthusiasm and conviction Body language conveys 65% of what is communicated, words convey 35% How long should I speak for? Difficult to quantify; ensure that you answer question fully Focused answers; avoid narrative and over-explanation Use judgement; body-language of interviewer Quote from booklet – bottom page 6

11 Key Questions Why are you applying to us?
What interests you in this job? Why should we employ you? What do you consider your strengths?…and your weaknesses? How did you choose your degree subject? Why Durham?

12 Competency Questions Designed to let you sell yourself and evaluate your transferable skills under pressure Provide specific examples; not general opinions or philosophies Need to impress / interest them here Consider why question is being asked (make your answer relevant to the job for which you are applying). E.G. Achievements - Motivation, overcoming difficulties, problem solving E.G. Career Choice – appreciation of what skills are needed in this role, evidence of when you have used said skills E.G. Team Work – effective interaction with other people, what constitutes good teamwork, barriers to effective teamwork etc

13 STAR Quality Situation - describe with clarity
Tasks - outline what needed doing Action - your actions taken (what you did but crucially HOW you did it) Result - outcomes/reflections

14 Example Questions Teamwork/Leadership
Tell me about a time when you worked hard to get on with others. What steps did you take to improve relationships within the team? How did you encourage open discussion? What was the most difficult aspect & what was most personally satisfying? When have you had to work with a complete stranger? How would you motivate an underperforming team? Decision Making/Organisation Tell me about a time when you had to make a practical decision about priorities and tasks. What specifically were you trying to accomplish? What was difficult /easy about this? Tell me about the other options you considered. What were the influencing factors you took into account? What was the final outcome? How would you prioritise between two competing projects?

15 Example Questions continued…
Customer/Client Relations Tell me about a time when you experienced very good (or bad) customer service. In your opinion what constitutes excellent service? Why is this important? Communication Give me an example of an occasion when you had to persuade someone? When have you had to present a case? What approach did you adopt? Problem Solving Give me an example of when you sat yourself a challenging goal, and explain how you achieved it. What sort of things put you under pressure? Give me an example and explain how you coped. Commercial Awareness When have you improved an organisation or service? What commercial experience have you gained from p-t employment?

16 Competency snapshot – Barclays Retail
Open questions addressing career motivation and commercial awareness What do you know about Barclays Retail Bank? How did you find this information? Why are you attracted to this position in finance? What is Barclays doing at the moment? What do you think you will be doing if you receive this position? (I stated some things, and the interviewer asked me what they would involve specifically) Describe a time when working as a team you have had to analyse information and deliver an objective in timed conditions. How did you ensure the task was completed on time? What sort of information did you have to analyse? What did you learn for the experience? (cannot use university examples) Describe a time when you have had to deliver a difficult message which let down or disappointed someone? How did they react? Describe a time when you have convinced a team to follow a path they were initially resistant to. how did you convince them? Why did they not want to follow the path initially? What was the result? What did you learn? Very specific competency questions…you are expected to provide answers that critically evaluate your contribution and impact.

17 Challenging Questions
What would you describe as your greatest strength? What would you say is your major weakness? How would you define your approach to team working? Would you say you were a follower or a leader? How well do you work under pressure? How would you rate yourself from 1-10? Have you ever had a bad experience with another employer? What would you say is your greatest achievement and why? Describe how you have overcome a major obstacle in your life How would the skills gained from your course/previous employment help our organisation? Are you applying to other jobs? Consider topics that are challenging or less comfortable for you! I hope I’m not asked about…

18 Challenging Questions
Technical/role specific What research skills do you have and how have they been applied? What analytical techniques have used in a laboratory environment? What is your favourite product/brand and why? Tell me about your understanding, and experience, of working with young offenders? Commercial Describe a company you think is doing well/badly and explain why you think this is so. What do you think are key qualities for a company to have to be successful? What significant factors have affected this industry in recent years? (The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is a key factor for accounting and especially audit.) What do you understand of the role this firm plays in this industry? Are you applying to other jobs? Abstract If you were a sandwich filling what would it be and why? If you could be a cartoon character who would you be and why?

19 Technical snapshot – Trafigura
Which derivatives could Trafigura use to hedge against scenarios x,y,z in liquid, illiquid markets? What risks are involved in shipping Angolan oil to US refineries? Technical, commercial questions concerning both financial instruments and a specific market (oil); use of jargon and finance terminology

20 Sector specific questions...
Unilever – questions linked to business function Finance - Interesting that Unilever has the cash to make a large acquisition in a recessionary environment. How is the Unilever share price doing vs. peers? Marketing - How has the recessionary background impacted our marketing spend year on year? How do we present value to cash-strapped consumers through our brands? Customer Development - How has the growth of discount supermarkets changed our business model?

21 Sector specific questions…Market Research (Ipsos Mori - healthcare)
Competency questions linked to decision making, leadership, teamwork, results, organisation Why Durham and degree subject Technical question about statistic based project experience What do pharma companies need to do to gain market access? How is the recession affecting healthcare businesses? Who are the main competitors of Ipsos Mori and why didn’t you apply for a job with them?

22 Sector specific questions…Professional Services
Give an example of a company that you think could improve its performance. How? Why Ernst & Young and not Deloitte, KPMG, PWC etc? Why Business Advisory? Give an example of a team that you have worked in that did not function. Why and what could you have done? How do you think you will spend your first year? What are the main issues concerning Ernst & Young this year? (the challenge of emerging markets or broader issues linked to commerce such as mortgage collapse and consequent effects for business: more reluctant to invest in consultancies and professional services?)

23 Sector specific questions...Faststream
Building relationships: What are the components of a good team? When have you been part of a successful team? What did you contribute to its success? Provide an example of working with someone from a different background? Handling conflict: Provide two examples of working with difficult people. Learning and developing: When have you benefited from feedback? Have you given feedback to someone?

24 Sector specific questions...Law
Why did you decide to study history and not law; it is a rather strange choice if you knew you wanted to enter the legal profession? - this was designed to trip up those candidates who had just picked a career in law without thinking about it. Why did you pick Durham University? Why did you apply to our Manchester office rather than London? If a firm was relocating from the south to the North, how would Eversheds go about attracting its business in the face of the other competition? What three things would a client look for in a solicitor? What three things would a client look for in a law firm? Why did you decide to apply to Eversheds rather than a 'magic circle' firm? Why a career in law?

25 Sector specific questions...Corporate Finance
What are the four steps that define a merger deal? How would you invest £100,000? What do you know about…Operational Risk Management/Islamic Finance etc Why…asset management? What is your understanding of a ‘hostile takeover’? What is a hedge fund/derivative/fixed income product?

26 Question Style Positive questions (self-expression) Open Probing
Clarifying Poor Questions Leading questions Laden questions Limited choice Don’t assume that the interviewer is experienced and don’t be thrown by poorly constructed questions.

27 Academic Study - Post-Graduate
Material from 1st Degree relevant Questions on Thesis or projects Approaches to research Research strengths of Dept How will you fund yourself / course ?

28 Telephone Interviews Additional sifting & selecting tool for employers Prepare in the same way that you would any other interview Environment Professional manner – do not treat this as an informal chat Prompts / notes / copy of CV or App form Hand gestures / body language / voice

29 The Interview - Important Points
First Impressions Body Language - Body language conveys 65% of what is communicated words convey35% Answering their questions – what you say & how you say it! At the end - Q’s/positive conclusion After the interview - reflection/make a note of Qs asked - feedback/practice

30 Assessment Centres These are used by many employers as a stage of
selection They can include individual and group tasks, presentations, psychometric tests, panel interviews, structured discussions, ‘non-assessed’ socialising opportunities Using a variety of different methods can give an employer a good overall impression of you Range from ½ - 2 days (employers premises/hotel) Remain positive: a weakness in one area may be overcome by a strength in another area! Unassessed: Never relax your guard – especially near the bar!

31 Selection Methods Aptitude Tests (verbal/numerical/spatial)
Personality Tests (styles of behaviour) In-Tray or E-Tray Exercises (prioritising/decision-making/time management/information management) Case Studies (+ interview) – management consultancy/law/finance (often involves analysing a company and making recommendations based on financial data) Briefing Exercise (Civil Service: 10min pres and 20min Q + A) Debate – often in Law interviews (globalisation, EU, interest rates) Voice Mail Exercise Written exercise e.g. drafting letter or document Critical Thinking (comprehension, logical reasoning) Presentations Role Play Discussion Groups e.g. Cancer Research Social Assessment e.g. Barclays Capital Pages of booklet

32 E-tray Exercise Difficult to prepare for but there are useful online resources with which to develop your understanding of what is required:

33 Group discussions Possibly based on a relevant case study or scenario:
give opinions and contribute…you can only be assessed if you are involved don’t be aggressive listen to others value and respect the contributions of others encourage others to keep to the point but don’t be overly controlling! remember peoples names use body language to show interest

34 Case Studies Often linked to a group activity but can be individual activities Basis for interview/presentation Subject matter not always important but ability to analyse information, prioritise key issues and make recommendations that you can support! Means of assessing commercial awareness, problem solving, decision making and information management skills Prior knowledge not required but important to practise and appreciate relevance to business area

35 Case Studies Useful resources
University of Kent ( McKinsey & Company ( Bain & Co ( Boston Consulting ( Oliver Wyman ( Ace the Case ( /page/758891) Capital One ( OC&C Strategy Consultants (

36 Presentations Usually 5 -20 mins (shorter if prepared on the day)
Preparation key – understand topic, purpose, audience, time, facilities Logical structure “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them” Interesting but simple Notes as a prompt, not a script Practise your delivery – clarity, enthusiasm, timing, change pace Be prepared for Q & A Plan your presentation along the lines A-B-A – highligh what you are going to tell them, tell them and then summarise what you have told them Pitch talk at appropriate level for audience e.g. expert scientists, HR managers Don’t give too much detail Aim for conversational delivery – not news reader. Try to learn as much of content beforehand and just refer to small prompt cards as reminder Make eye contact with everyone in the audience at some point – talk to them not at them. Keep to time – nerves can make you go too fast or hesitate Speak clearly – don’t mumble, talk to notes or screen, use colloquial language, speak louder than you think is necessary – project to back of room. Don’t fidget as talk but you can move around, just don’t obscure screen TRACT – Thanks questioner, rephrase the question for rest of audience, answer question, check that questioner is satisfied, thank them. KEY IS PREPARATION – MAKES YOU MORE CONFIDENT AND PREFORM BETTER

37 Interviews + Assessment Centres Prepare and Present
Be yourself Confident in the examples that you use for competency questions Be willing to expand on any responses that you make Don’t be thrown by the unexpected question Stay calm Buy time to think Remain positive throughout Show them that you are right for the position and for them! At the end of the interview think about what impression you want to leave with them: ‘If you can’t think of good questions [to ask them] don’t ask stupid ones.’ Ian Jackson, BT

38 Tip from an Interviewee
“Prepare, think positively, ask for feedback later on and, whatever happens, aim to learn from the experience.”

39 How can CAS help? Videos/DVDs The interview & assessment centre DVD
Case Study DVD Books Great answers to tough interview questions Pub. Kogan Page Mike Bryon, How to pass graduate recruitment tests Pub. Kogan Page Online psychometric tests: MyPotential & Kenexa ( tres/psychometrictesting) Information Staff will direct you to the available resources and help you to book an appointment with an adviser should you wish to discuss your interview! Useful links on the CAS website (Interviews and Assessments) advice/students/generalinformation/interviewsandassessmentcentres/

40 Feedback from other students / alumni (www. dur. ac
Feedback from other students / alumni (


42 Events for your diary Practise assessment centre exercises (group activity & presentation) CV & Application clinics can be used to discuss upcoming interviews Mock interviews, assessment centre workshops, skills sessions delivered by employers Employer events throughout Epiphany term...keep checking the events diary (Careers Advisory Service Online - and weekly ed events bulletin

43 Please also refer to the resources in the Careers Centre!
Useful websites Please also refer to the resources in the Careers Centre!

44 Careers Advisory Service
49 New Elvet Open 10am – 5pm Tel /1424 advice

45 Any Questions?

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