How to be Successful at Interviews

How to be Successful at Interviews

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So… you’ve drafted an application that is practically perfect in every way, you’ve avoided the employer’s rejection pile and you’ve been invited to an interview, an assessment day, or an “informal chat” (heads up: there is probably going to be very little about this chat that is “informal”!). Congratulations – you’ve probably already beaten a lot of people to get this far!

Great, but what now? Maybe you’ve had an interview before and maybe you haven’t. Maybe your interviews in the past have gone well, maybe they’ve not gone as you would have liked them to. We interview a huge range of students in the NLS Legal Advice Centre for many of our different projects and placements. Again, some go well, others go… well, they just go.

So what can you do to make sure that you’re memorable for all the right reasons? Here are our top interviewing tips that should get you in a fighting position for that ever-elusive job offer:

  • Not your best look...

    Not your best look…

    Dress appropriately. You never get a second chance to make a first impression – and yes, they do matter! Don’t show up in your dad’s old suit that’s 3 sizes too big, and definitely don’t rock up in your uni hoody and jeans. Equally, don’t wear those shoes that make you look mega impressive and business-like but make your feet go numb after about 5 minutes, or that pair of trousers that are ever so slightly too tight. Make sure that you’re comfortable and confident, whilst also dressed smart to get an instant tick.

  • Know the position and what it entails. By this point, you’ll have read the advert for the position countless times and you’ll have sent off your application, so you probably think you know the role inside out. You may well do. But before you go to the interview, make sure that you have read everything about the job that has been provided. Beyond the advert for the position, is there any information on the website, or in the company’s publications, that may go into more detail about what you would be doing? This level of knowledge will show that you are really interested in the position and may well set you apart from the crowd.
  • Preparation is the key to success. Someone at some point in your life has probably told you ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’. Well, there’s more than a little bit of truth to that. Take the time and think about the position you’re applying for; what sorts of questions do you expect to be asked at interview and how will you answer them? Clue #1: you will be asked why you want this role. Clue #2: ‘I don’t know, I just do’ is a terrible response. Clue #3: you will also be asked, in a roundabout way, why you would be good at the job. Clue #4: ‘I don’t know, I just will be’ is also a terrible response. Have a think about what you want to say and avoid the awkward silence as the interviewer wonders ‘is that all you’re going to say?’.

    Not a great start...

    Don’t be “that person”!

  • Show up in good time. If your interview is at 9am and you arrive at 8.58am, consider yourself late. Make a good impression and get another easy tick by arriving in plenty of time. Then you don’t have to panic when your train is inevitably 10 minutes late (if you’re lucky…). Often there will be some of the organisation’s publicity dotted around the office so have a read of it. This will not only pass the time and give you more of an insight into the job, it will also look good to the interviewer – it shows you’re actually interested!
  • Be yourself. The age-old advice, although it is as true today as it ever was. We don’t mean that you should instantly start bantering with the interviewer, or recounting your most recent round of pub golf, as impressive an achievement as THAT was. Stay professional and remember that you’re in an interview, but let your personality show through. Talk about things that interest you or that you’re passionate about, as long as they relate to that job. By all means have a sense of humour, but gauge it for the occasion. Don’t start cracking out your Dad’s favourite jokes – they weren’t funny at Christmas and they’re definitely not going to be funny to the person on the other side of the table, even if they do laugh politely. That’s not ‘LOL’ they’re writing next to your name, it’s ‘RLY?’.
  • Don’t panic. If you do, you’re going to come across as unprepared and a bit of a nervous wreck. You’re not going to be able to show off how amazing and impressive and perfect for this position you are. But at the same time, don’t not panic. Don’t get complacent to the point where it doesn’t look as though you care about this interview and would rather be at McDonalds tucking into a double Sausage and Egg McMuffin with brown sauce.  Take the interview seriously, but don’t have a full on panic attack. On that note…

    Send the right message from the start.

    Send the right message from the start.

  • Confidence is crucial. Make eye contact with the interviewer(s) when talking. Shake hands with the people in the room when you enter. Try to keep your voice from shaking as much as you can. Put your hands on your lap and don’t fidget if you can help it. Most importantly, smile! This will make it at least look like you’re happy to be here, applying for the position, even if you do secretly want to be back in bed catching up on Suits and The Good Wife.
  • Keep it professional. This should go without saying, but remember that you are applying for a job. There is nothing ‘informal’ or ‘chatty’ about this, no matter what your invite says. Avoid words such as ‘innit’, ‘chill’ and ‘cool’ at all costs.  There is nothing ‘sick’ about missing this opportunity because you were behaving as if you were in the SU catching up with friends.
  • Take your time. You don’t have to answer every single question right away. Pause and think through the question. How you should answer it? What do you want to say, and what is the best way to say it? Have a drink of water to fill the time, or simply tell the interviewer that you’d like a minute to consider your response. Don’t get flustered, and don’t stress. It’s much better to come up with a considered, thoughtful answer than something garbled and incoherent.
  • Answer the question asked. If you’re asked what skills are important for the job and how you display those skills, answer both parts of that question. If you don’t, you may not be prompted on it but it will definitely be held against you. Be careful not to ramble on. Keep your answers relevant and to the point.

    Bad interview

    There’s no way back once you’re caught out!

  • Answer honestly. Don’t exaggerate anything and certainly don’t lie. You’re in a situation where it is going to become very obvious very quickly if you haven’t read the full Brexit Supreme Court Judgment when you said 5 minutes ago that you had. Major oops.
  • Back up what you say with examples. It’s always great to hear that you can think through situations quickly and logically and can use your initiative to find solutions. Use your initiative here and give an example of when you’ve actually done so. Anybody can say whatever they want, it’s another thing to demonstrate that you have and will actually do this.
  • Be enthusiastic about the job and the organisation. That sneaky bit of reading you did before your interview will set you apart when you say that you were really impressed to read how much compensation they’ve recovered for their clients in the past year. We’re not encouraging a vomit-inducing level of brown-nosing, but a bit of flattery never hurt anyone.
  • Listen, then speak. Don’t interrupt the interviewer. Even if you weren’t finished with what you were saying. Just don’t do it.
  • Ask questions at the end. We’re not talking about questions such as ‘what is the meaning of life?’ or ‘so when do I start?’. You won’t get an answer to these questions but you will leave a bad taste in the mouth. Also, don’t ask anything that you could easily have discovered the answer to from actually reading about the company. Ask relevant questions related to the position that you couldn’t have found out from doing your research beforehand. This shows your genuine interest in the job.
  • Ask for feedback if you are not successful. Don’t wait 4 months then decide to get in touch now you have another interview coming up – odds are they’re a busy place and they won’t remember you. Ask for feedback as soon as you can after the interview so that it is still fresh in the mind. This will be useful to you in so many ways. Not only will you be able to avoid the same mistakes next time, but you’ll also be told what you did well and what you should keep doing. Don’t be hurt by criticism, take it on board and be ready to smash it next time!

If you want further help with your interviewing techniques contact Ed Mosley in Employability (edward.mosley@ntu.ac.uk). Also, put your skills into practice! The next NLS Pro Bono recruitment will take place around the Easter holidays and will be for our Outreach Project. Keep an eye on our NOW Learning Room for more information.


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