We’ve prepared this guide as a general aide to those of you who might be facing a job interview soon, whether it be for an internship with us or anything else. We hope you find it useful!
Preparing for an interview
Getting ready for an interview can be a daunting prospect, especially for a challenging role with a broad role profile and person specification, like one of our parliamentary internships. This brief guide aims to give you some useful hints and tips on how to prepare in advance so that you can present yourself well and answer the sorts of question you are likely to face in a way which best demonstrates what you could bring to the role.
The point of an interview
First and foremost point to consider is what an interview is actually for. If you really think about this in quite a practical way, and try to think of how you would answer questions accordingly, you will be on track for a good interview.
The point of an interview is to give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate directly what they could bring to the role, by giving answers which display their skills, attitudes, personality and/or knowledge. You will be given a limited time, and limited questions, with which to try and get your best selling points across. Bear in mind that the employer is on your side with this – they want you to succeed, because they want to be able to select a good candidate. So try not to be afraid of the people interviewing you, instead focus on how you can make their job easier. How can you make it easy for them to select you?
The answer is simple. For most job advertisements, when applying you are given a role profile and usually some sort of person specification. Generally the interview questions will be structured around addressing aspects of that person spec. So think about how you can answer questions in ways which directly “tick the boxes” on that spec by demonstrating how you meet those criteria.
Preparing for questions
• Read the role profile. Ask yourself, if you were interviewing for this role, what would you ask? What attributes would you want to see in a candidate? Now try to answer your own questions!
• Research! Learn as much as you can about the general background of the role, the area of work it is in, think about general knowledge someone working in that role should have, and try to learn some yourself. Example: If part of a role is to be aware of and respond to news stories, maybe it would be useful to make sure you are well read up on the news and think about which of the stories might be relevant to the role. If a question comes up asking you to name an example of a story and what you would do about it, you’ll be ready!
• Don’t spend all your time thinking and guessing about “telling them what they want to hear” and trying too hard to get “buzzwords” and hot topics into what you say any way you can. The panel will give you a relevant question if they want to hear that from you, just be ready to answer it and if it is relevant to the question, go for it.
• Do you know who your panel will be? Learning something about them can be helpful, is there any public information on their recent work and accomplishments, or their position on important subjects, etc?
• Above all, if you are applying for a role in which you will be employed by a particular person, learn something about them. Everyone is flattered to think that people know something about them and were interested enough to find out, and it shows good preparation and initiative – the kind they probably would like to see in the successful candidate!
At the interview:
• While many interviews try to be relaxed and not too formal, a job interview is a fairly formal occasion. Dress appropriately, make sure you are polite, but it is OK to laugh if a member of the panel makes a joke to try to set you at ease, and even make one yourself so long as it isn’t inappropriate humour! Remember one of the things the panel is deciding is how you would be to work with day-to-day, so try to show the best parts of your personality if you can.
• Most interview questions are carefully written to target a particular area or areas of the person or role specification, so above all else make sure your answer is actually about the question – don’t let yourself get too lost talking on tangents about something you mention along the way that isn’t really relevant unless the panel asks you a follow up question.
• The best way to stay focussed on each question is to give yourself a moment to think about the question before answering. Even just “re-reading” it in your head can make a big difference. If you didn’t follow the question fully, or are not sure what it is aiming at, feel free to ask for it to be repeated and/or clarified.
• As with the application form, the panel is most interested in hearing examples of things you have done that show what you can do – proof of your ability. Anybody can sit there and claim to be good at time management for example, but why should the panel take your word for it? Rather than just claiming things, talk about a particular occasion where you had to use the skills or knowledge in question, or how you learned them in the first place. Compare these two answers and decide which one you think is more convincing and better demonstrates an understanding of the skills needed and how to apply them:
“I think I’m a good time manager, I am really organised and I write lists and work as hard as I need to get everything done.” – this is all just claims made without any evidence. Why should the panel believe you?
“When I was working on my final year project I lost quite a lot of time due to illness. When I got better I was really pushed to get everything done by the deadline, so I thought about what to prioritise, worked out roughly how long each part would take and made myself a schedule and did my best to stick to it. I had a few nights with not a lot of sleep but I got the project finished on time and was really proud of the mark I got and it taught me a lot about how to organise myself when under pressure for time and stressed out.” – this answer doesn’t make any claims, instead it demonstrates a real example of something you did, and shows that you took a positive approach and learned useful things in the process. This answer makes it easy for the panel to “tick the box”!
• Accept that you are going to be nervous – this is perfectly normal. Just try to remember that the panel want you to do well and they know you will be nervous – after all they have almost certainly been in your place before and know how it feels. If you need to, take a deep breath, smile, think about the question again or what you were talking about and continue. The panel will understand!
Looking for more advice? Check out this article on the Guardian about preparing an interview presentation and being ready to answer questions at the link below: