Interviews: The student’s view

My perspective on interviews is that they are very much akin to a first date. Generally, people get way too nervous about them, sweat too much and end up giving a completely false impression of what they are actually like.

Often, the problem is that people’s perception of a job interview is that it’s an intimidating, horrifying experience. Imagine for a second if the perception of an interview was based on the following (all of them true) factors:

  • You have been invited for interview to talk to someone about yourself, maybe a bit about the company and the industry in general, but mainly about yourself. This person already thinks you must be quite good (or at the very least they think you have a good CV), otherwise you would not have been invited.
  • This person is likely to be very bored doing interviews all day and will relish anyone who they feel they can have a genuine conversation with.

If you consider an interview that way, then a lot of the initial trepidations should (at least to an extent) be subdued.

As I mentioned earlier, the interviewer is looking for someone who can actually hold a conversation with them. The number of candidates who cannot manage this is actually larger than you might think. A lot of people attempt to be so straightforward and business-like that they appear wooden and robotic.

Keep in mind that whilst the employer wants to see that you know your stuff, they also want to see if you would fit in at the office. More importantly, they also want to make sure you are able to engage with their clients and customers when the time arises.

Don’t be too dry or overly serious. Obviously, don’t treat the interview as an evening out with your mates, but there is a reasonably clear line as to what you should and shouldn’t say. There is a phrase which works called “Grandad acceptability”; if you think the topic of conversation would be suitable for a chat with your Grandad (sports, politics, current affairs, your studies etc.) then it’s probably alright for an interview too.

One of the most common regrets from an interview is not getting the chance to mention something which you are particularly proud of because it never came up. Rather than waiting for the interviewer to ask you about it, either direct the conversation that way or wait until they ask you if you have any questions and mention it then. 

For example, when I was on one of my vacation schemes, I went and actively sought out Exeter graduates to talk to; showing initiative and getting my name known. In the follow-up interview, I was keen to mention this fact; so when I was asked if I had any questions, I asked whether the interviewer felt ‘the City’ was now a meritocracy. When he replied that he thought it was, I mentioned that his opinion was shared by the Exeter graduates I had met during my time there. Mission accomplished!

Finally, ask other people to quiz you before your interview. Parents are usually a good route and can actually be invaluable help if you butter them up correctly. If your parents aren’t from a managerial background, or any job in which they would have interviewed someone, then your fellow students are another good bet. It’s also best to ask someone in the year above who has already been through the process. Asking someone who is in direct competition with you might not be as helpful as you first think. Exhibit A: “So you’re saying they conduct part of the interview in French?! Really!?”

All in all, with good preparation, confidence and a positive attitude, any interview should seem a lot less daunting than on first inspection.

Written by Rob McKeller

Former President of Exeter University Law Society