All 8 entries tagged Interviews

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January 11, 2013

Preparing for telephone interviews

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Phone interviewWhen we think of interviews there is a pretty typical scenario we conjure up: office, suits, candidates waiting nervously outside the door. Well, unless you're really lucky and manage to find a job without a formal interview (rare but it can happen!) this is probably a scenario you're likely to encounter at some stage in your job search. But your very first interview may be altogether different - it may just be on the other end of a phone. Telephone interviews are frequently used as a screening tool by graduate recruiters to help select candidates for the next stage of the selection process. Just like any other interview you need to practise and prepare, so don't wait until your phone rings. Find out now what to expect and how to respond.

Don't get caught out...

  • Some employers will ring out the blue, so make sure you're ready to take the call. Have some (brief) prompt notes and a copy of your CV/application ready to hand. Jot down some examples of key competencies for quick reference.
  • If you are given a specific time, then you can make more effort to manage your environment and minimise distractions. If you're using a landline switch off your mobile and vice versa - you don't want to be interrupted by other calls and text messages.
  • Always keep your phone fully charged and find a strong signal. Losing your connection or conversational flow, can affect your confidence and may well frustrate the interviewer. They are time poor, so not likely to be terribly forgiving of avoidable mistakes.
  • If you're expecting the call, try to approach it as you would a face to face discussion. And treat it with the same seriousness. By all means, make your surroundings more comfortable (and it's always a good idea to keep a glass of water handy to help with the dreaded dry throat) but lying on your bed, with the TV on (even with the sound off!) is probably not conducive to a good interview performance.

During the interview

  • Don't assume that the interviewer has read your CV or application thoroughly - some will, but others merely scan the documents prior to the interview. You need to provide comprehensive answers with good, relevant examples - just as you would in a face to face interview.
  • On the other hand, don't waffle on. Telephone interviews are quite tightly timed and may only last 15 or 20 minutes. Do your research beforehand (this is not the time to wing it...) and try to condense the salient points into concise interview notes. With this preparation under your belt you should feel more confident about providing good, crisp answers. If you focus on evidence and examples you should do well.
  • It's normal to feel nervous and you may be tempted to write out verbatim answers, particularly if you're not a native speaker or are worried you might 'go blank'. Try not to do this. If you rehearse and regurgitate answers it will make you sound forced and robotic.
  • Word of warning: the interviewer is likely to hear you tapping away on a keyboard, so you might want to think twice about 'googling' information during the interview. Unless you are a highly proficient, stealth typist using an inaudible touch screen, it's probably best to avoid doing this.
  • If you don't hear the question properly or need further clarification - ask. You won't get another chance and it's much better to take the initiative than meandering round the question.
  • You can't judge the reactions of the interviewer or pick up subtle clues from body language, so if in doubt ask the interviewer if they're looking for another example or need more evidence. You can simply frame this in terms of, "Have I answered that question fully? Would you like me to elaborate?"
  • Smile! This may seem an odd suggestion given the interviewer can't actually see you, but smiling (and being animated) will help convey energy and enthusiasm.

Questions

  • Some firms will use an external recruitment agency for telephone interviews so you may not be speaking directly to an employee of the firm. They may have a checklist of standard questions, so the process can feel a little impersonal.
  • Depending on the sector, questions may range from the broad and general to the detailed and specific. If you're applying to financial services organisations you may be subject to a more thorough grilling, including technical, competency and motivational questions.
  • It's probably sensible to brush up on your commercial awareness, just in case. Almost all employers - regardless of sector - will look for some commerical insight, and many applicants are still failing to deliver the goods.
  • Try to prepare one or two questions to ask at the end of the interview. Ask sensible, intelligent questions (not things that can easily gleaned from the company website or promotional material). This is your opportunity to leave a positive, final impression.

If you have a telephone interview coming up and are worried about what to expect or how to handle it, you can talk it through with a job search adviser or careers consultant. Practice makes perfect, so why not book a mock interview to help you hone and refine your interview technique.



December 02, 2012

A grad's eye view: managing your job search

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Tips

There's plenty of information out there to help you prepare for interviews, but it's often the experiences and insights of your peers that resonate most strongly. Esther, a recent Warwick MSc graduate, has taken time out to reflect on her experiences and share her top tips for a successful job search...

It is not easy to find a graduate level job in this economy, but it is possible. Overall, the people who get graduate-level jobs are not necessarily the most talented, but rather those who are the most ready. This is why you have to be meticulous in your job search strategy. So, here are some tips:

  • Start looking early: I was lucky to end up with two offers at the end of my Master’s degree, and therefore have the opportunity to choose. But I sent my first CV about a year before I signed my first contract and I sent my application to my current company in March, signing my contract in September. This is why you have to start looking while you are still at Uni.
  • Treat all interviews as good practice: An interview is like a one-man show. All the spotlights are on you, but the audience has yet to be won over. In order to have a great show, you need to have a lot of rehearsals. You may need a couple of interviews before it becomes routine and you know what questions to expect and what answers to give.
  • Be ambitious but realistic: You need to aim high, but do not cling to a dream job (or dream company) that you don’t have the capacities to get. You WANT your dream job but you NEED any job in your field. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Aim to get a job in your field first; then you’ll be able to apply to your dream company once you have acquired real experience.
  • Use a list of key words that employers want to hear (e.g. hard working, team-oriented, ability to multitask, extensive knowledge of……., etc) and have a short story connected to previous experiences to illustrate each keyword : It is all about selling yourself. It is up to you to demonstrate that a couple of baby-sitting hours made you an expert in client relations, or that serving beer at a bar for a summer has sharpened your analytical skills. Acing an interview requires a lot of upstream preparation.
  • Do not put something on your resume that you could not talk about for at least 5 minutes. You do not have to start scratching things from your CV, but think about how each line can serve as an opportunity to showcase skills that the company is looking for.
  • Looking for a job is a full time job: It is costly in time and money. You need to develop a routine and stick to it if you want to be successful (e.g.: Decide that you have to look for opportunities and send applications from 1 to 4p.m. every day, until you get a job).
  • Debrief in writing every interview that you have: How long it lasted, what questions they asked, what exercises you were given and what you didn’t know. This will help you avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Excel sheets are a very good tool for this.
  • No matter what happens, always stay on good terms with your interviewers: A thank you email after an interview process is a must (whatever the outcome of the encounter). I was recently contacted by a company whose first offer I had previously declined a couple of month ago, for a second interview for an even better position. I fully believe this happened because of my tenacity to show politeness and potential corporate spirit throughout the first interview process.


Esther graduated from Warwick with an MSc in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management and is currently working as a strategy consultant for a company specialising in pharmaceutical consulting.


November 17, 2012

The graduate recruitment process

selection

The graduate recruitment process can seem really daunting: even if you survive the initial application sift, you can still look forward to a further two or three stages before you reach the final hurdle. But the key to success lies in preparation and understanding what the interviewer is looking for, so I caught up with Claire Jones, Student Recruitment Officer at PwC, to ask for her top tips to beat the odds.

Whichever opportunity you're applying for at PwC (or anywhere else), there are some things that you should be thinking about so we've put together some hints and tips:

Do your research

We'll expect you to be able to talk coherently and confidently about PwC, the position you're applying for, the business world in general and yourself. The more you know about these things, the more prepared you'll be, so you'll have to get researching.

Think about investigating the following sources of information:

  • Our brochures and website (careers and corporate)
  • The financial media (press, television, internet)
  • Relevant professional bodies (especially if they offer a qualification you're interested in pursuing)
  • Anyone you know who works for PwC (or a similar firm)

Don't just give them a quick glance the day before your interview. Examine them, understand the issues and keep yourself up to date.

Completing your application form

Remember first impressions count so the application form is a major opportunity to sell yourself. Before you complete the form, you may find it useful to gather accurate details of your university and secondary education exam results, work experience and employment. While completing the form, remember to:

  • Read and follow instructions carefully.
  • Proof read everything you write including checking grammar and spelling.
  • Be concise as you can elaborate at interview.
  • Don't repeat statements you've read in our brochures and website.
  • Don't be vague or lie about your results as we will check your academics at a later stage in the process.

Taking the tests

These tests help to determine your numerical, logical or verbal reasoning ability.

  • You can practise taking the tests before you sit the real ones.
  • The test will be timed and you should work as quickly and accurately through the questions you're presented with.
  • Ensure you read each question carefully and that you understand what's required before committing yourself to an answer, especially where multiple choice answers appear similar.

We'll also ask you to complete an Occupational Personality Questionnaire and you may be asked to complete a Student Talent Questionnaire.

Preparing for interview

Interviews can be nerve wracking, but the more prepared you are the more relaxed you should feel. Ensure to:

  • Do thorough research prior
  • Remind yourself of the things you've done that can help you demonstrate the skills and qualities we've listed
  • Think about the questions you're likely to be asked and your responses
  • Come up with questions you want to ask

We'll be looking to find out:

  • Why you want to join PwC
  • What you understand about the work we do
  • What you think about the vacancy you've chosen

During the interview

Be truthful and concise, answer the exact questions asked and don't ramble about irrelevant things. Our interviewers are not given a set list of questions to go through but you can expect most to be in relation to our 'Global Core Competencies' such as:

  • What do you know about our business?
  • Why have you decided to apply to us?
  • Are there any issues or current affairs that interest you?
  • What has been your biggest challenge?
  • When have you worked in teams?
  • How are you able to juggle your commitments?

Remember, we're not expecting you to be perfect but preparing for some of these questions will certainly help you to feel confident that you've given it your best shot.

At the assessment centre

  • Prepare what you're going to wear beforehand - if in doubt, dress conservatively.
  • All materials required such as paper and pens will be provided for you. You can bring your own calculator but if you choose not to, one will be provided for you.
  • Make sure you bring all necessary additions eg reading glasses, inhaler, prescribed medication.
  • You'll undertake numerical, logical and verbal reasoning tests (depending on your business area) so prepare yourself for these and work through the practice information sent in advance.
  • During the written exercise, you'll be required to read the briefing materials and prepare a written report on the given subject.
  • You'll participate in either a group discussion or individual exercise so ensure that you speak clearly and audibly so that the assessors can hear you.
  • There'll probably be at least one and up to 11 other participants attending the same assessment day but remember you're not in competition with them but judged on your own, individual merits.

And finally - good luck!


October 16, 2012

Avoiding interview pitfalls

interview nervesIf you've been invited to attend a face to face interview, you're clearly doing something right. Selection for graduate schemes (and internships) is multi-stage, so you've already survived the initial screening, psychometric tests and telephone interview. There's now clear blue water between you and the hundreds of applicants who fall at the first hurdle. At this stage you can afford to feel confident, but not complacent. There's still some distance between interview and job offer and many potential tripwires lay ahead. You're probably familiar with the more common interview 'don'ts' - arriving late, answering your phone - but there are more subtle (and less conscious) ways you can scupper the outcome. Try and avoid them.

Think about your body language, I mean really think.

Now you may be thinking this is pretty obvious. And it many ways it is. Most people are conversant with the basics: firm handshake, good eye contact, warm smile. But there are far more subtle ways that you can betray your indifference, nerves or desperation...

  • Posture – sit too close and you risk crowding the interviewer, too distant and you may appear cold and detached. It sounds cliched but sit upright: try to imagine a string tied from the top of your head to the ceiling. This is a great tip that works well for presentations and interviews.
  • Hand gestures – I have to declare an interest here. I am an inveterate 'hand talker' and when animated, excited or nervous my hands assume a life of their own! Small hand gestures can help emphasise your point, but too much and it becomes a distraction. It's an interview not an audition.
  • Arms – try to keep them loose and 'open'. If you fold your arms, it can make you appear closed and unfriendly. You need to establish and sustain a rapport with the interviewer, not frighten them off. Think about the image you want to project.
  • Fidgeting – you may find interview nerves or excitement exacerbate your natural tendency to fidget. Twiddling a pen, fiddling with your hair, tapping your knee - all send a clear sign to the interviewer that you're losing the battle with nerves. It's normal to feel anxious during an interview, but when nerves manifest in overt physical gestures it may cast doubt on your ability to 'check yourself' and work under pressure.

'Do you have any questions?' Is it ok to say 'no'?

This crops up time and again in mock interviews and is a real source of anxiety and confusion. There's no definitive answer; one school of thought suggests that it's better to say 'no' than risk repeating yourself or asking an irrelevant question. I think there's some merit in this but I worry about the impression it leaves the employer. You may have aced the interview but risk ending on a flat note. Is this a wise strategy when the competition is so fierce? So, how should you respond to this tricky question:

  • Keep it generic – this is the safe option but may show a lack of imagination. Typical questions include: "What is a typical day like?", "What words would you use to describe the working culture?"
  • Make it personal – relate the question to your role/progression within the company. Typical questions include: "How would my performance be measured and what are the mechanisms for feedback?", "How much guidance is available to help employees develop and realise their career goals?"
  • Use your research – this is a way to really stand out from the crowd. By thoroughly researching the organisation or company (check our commercial awareness post for useful tips), you're much more likely to come across news and info that you can weave into an intelligent and thoughtful question. Typical question: "I have read x about the marketing strategy of this company. How might this influence the release of future products?"
  • Keep it brief – I would advise 2 or 3 questions at most. You don't want to monopolise the interviewer or appear arrogant.

Know when to stop (talking)

If your interview is scheduled to last 30 minutes and you're still talking after an hour, this isn't a good sign. You need to provide full, comprehensive answers but know when to stop. Respond to the non-verbal cues from the interviewer (or panel) and if in doubt, pause for a moment and ask if they want/need any further detail. Talking a mile a minute is both irritating and counter productive: the salient detail will simply get lost in the waffle. There are a few simple rules you can follow to help you find the balance:

  • Take deep breaths and pause don't leap in. Collect your thoughts, formulate your response and then answer the question.
  • Make it relevant – illustrate and substantiate your answers with one or two good examples. Don't provide a verbatim account of your work/life history.
  • 'Read' the interviewer – is s/he looking bored or engaged. If you catch the interviewer nodding off or checking their watch, you've probably said enough.

Interviewing is a skill just like any other. Practice makes perfect! If you've got an interview coming up why not book a mock interview with us and get those mistakes out the way before the real thing.


August 27, 2012

What are your weaknesses? The killer interview question…

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Mr Egg

It doesn't matter whether you're a seasoned pro or completely green, there are some interview questions that just invite dread. There's one that really seems to get pulses racing: "what are your weaknesses?" And I can see why. It seems to undermine your whole interview strategy; why would you give the recruiter reasons to reject you? Well the key here is to understand the psychology behind the question.

Why recruiters ask this question

Asking about your weaknesses – or variants on the theme – is not part of a malign plot to trip you up or make you stressed (though it can feel like it!). Interviewers often ask this question to gauge the following:

  • How well you respond to pressure. Can you provide a thoughtful, considered answer without crumbling? Are you able to maintain your composure?
  • Honesty and integrity. All of us have 'weak spots' but a strong candidate will take ownership of their weaknesses, showing both insight and self awarenes.
  • Evidence of personal growth. Being able to identify your weaknesses and take corrective action.

Don't play the 'perfectionist' card

Although the tide has started to turn, you'll still find many careers sites recommending the 'weakness into a strength' approach. I think recruiters are probably clued up enough to see beyond such a transparent – and cliched – strategy, and I can't help feeling this is guaranteed to provoke irritation. Just play out this scenario:

Interviewer: "Tell me about your weaknesses?"

You: "Well, I consider myself to be a perfectionist and I set myself extremely high standards. This makes it hard for me to delegate work and I sometimes tend to obsess over the smallest detail. However, I do recognise this can be a problem and I am trying to find a good balance between managing the project and seeking colleagues input and feedback"

What you hope the interviewer hears:

  • I am a high performing employee
  • I take the initiative
  • I see projects through to completion
  • I have no 'real' weaknesses

What they're really thinking:

  • I'm not sure you're a team player
  • You could be a bit high maintenance
  • You're not willing to learn
  • You're being disingenuous and lack self-awareness

Don't talk yourself out of a job

First of all, you need to give serious consideration to your weak points. And I do mean before the interview. You don't want to be caught on the back foot, trying to find an answer to a question that can make or break your interview. Think about the job spec and the role in general: if you proclaim a discomfort with public speaking, only to find it's an career essential, than don't be surprised if the interview ends fairly swiftly!

Try to find something that you've struggled with in the past, but are now trying to overcome. You don't want to be too candid and start checking off weaknesses like a shopping list, so it's best to identify one particular area and share your 'journey' through a brief narrative. I often pose this question in mock interviews and rather liked this answer:

"I'm not naturally the most organised person and in the past this affected my ability to meet multiple deadlines. This was certainly the case during my A levels, and I used to make lists and keep a day planner. When I started at Warwick I bought a smartphone and I use the alerts and apps to good effect. I find it much easier to manage my academic and extra curricular commitments and haven't missed a single deadline. I'm confident that I can now manage this weakness and feel able to meet the challenges of a professional workplace"

You may be wondering whether this was such a smart move. Who wants to admit they're disorganised? Well, as our student recognised there are some skills or traits that don't come naturally. Recruiters are expecting you to admit to some personal or professional weakness - they'll be far more surprised if you don't. Networking is my achilles heel - I really have to work at it. Can I say honestly that I've conquered my natural aversion to networking? No, but I have learnt some pretty useful techniques over the years and can – if needed – work a room. Like the student above, I've found ways to manage my weaknesses, so the impact on my professional life is negligible. Take a similar approach with an interviewer and you won't go far wrong.

Is there a 'right' answer?

There are good answers, bad answers and some downright ugly ones that will see you consigned to the 'reject' pile with lightning speed. Don't, for example, reply 'chocolate' hoping to find the recruiter's funny bone. There's a time for offbeat humour - the interview isn't it. So, is there a definitive, industry standard, universally accepted 'right' answer? No. This is one you have to work out for yourself, but get it right and you'll move just a little closer to that job offer.



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