How to perform your best in your school leaver programme interview
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It’s almost inevitable that you’ll be nervous before an interview for a higher apprenticeship or school leaver programme. If you know what to expect and have done your preparation, however, you should be able to perform well and make a good impression in spite of your nerves. Nerves can even be an advantage, as long as you can keep them under control – they’re a sign that the interview really matters to you and will give you the focus and alertness you need to succeed.
Interviews can take many different forms. You might be asked to take part in a video or telephone interview; these usually take place relatively early on in the recruitment process, after you have submitted your application form. You may have a first interview followed by a final interview, or be given interviews that focus on different areas such as your technical knowledge, motivation or skills. You could be interviewed by one or two people or a whole panel, and your interviewer could be a senior partner, a member of the HR team or your prospective manager. Alternatively, you could be interviewed by a mixture of staff of varying levels of seniority.
As part of your interview preparation, find out as much as you can about the format that will be used and the probable focus of the interview. If you’re attending a face-to-face interview, check out our tips below on what to do on the day. Some interviewers will also ask you to give a presentation as part of the interview process.
Some recruiters will give you an interview that combines competency, motivational, strengths-based and technical questions. Others will offer you more than one interview and give each session a different focus. Generally speaking, larger employers are more likely to invite you to more than one interview.
Competency interviews are widely used and you are highly likely to experience this kind of interview at some point. This style of interview focuses on questions about your skills and competencies and aims to find out if you are a good match for the role.
Prepare yourself by finding out more about the skills and competencies most employers seek. Make sure you know if there are any skills and competencies the employer is particularly keen on and check what’s required for the role you are applying for. Come prepared to discuss times when you’ve shown the competencies they are looking for. For example, if you are asked about teamwork you could bring up your involvement in sports teams or voluntary organisations such as the Guides or Scouts. You may have already mentioned examples of your skills in your online application form and the interview is an opportunity to talk about these in depth, or to mention further examples.
Motivational interviews aim to find out whether you are genuinely motivated to take on the opportunity on offer. Your motivation will make all the difference to your performance at work, so it’s hugely important to your prospective employer. Typical motivational questions include asking why you are applying to this particular employer for this particular role and what you expect to be doing during your first year.
Strengths-based interviews are intended to find out what you enjoy doing and are good at. In a strengths-based interview you might be asked which subjects you most enjoyed studying at school or about a time when you achieved something you were really proud of. Other typical strengths-based questions include asking about what you find easy to learn and the kind of tasks you enjoy least.
Technical interviews are typically used for roles in science, engineering or IT. The aim is to assess your ability to learn and understand information about the technical side of the business you are applying to. You may also be asked about your understanding of what the company does and the different areas in which it operates. Rolls-Royce is an example of an employer that invites applicants for its apprenticeship scheme to a technical interview.
Phone interviews are typically used to screen candidates after the application form stage. You might be interviewed by someone from the HR department or from the team you are applying to work with. The questions are likely to be competency-based and you should aim to sound committed and enthusiastic. Have a couple of questions prepared in case you get the chance to ask them; however, this isn’t the place to go into detailed discussions about pay, terms and conditions – save that for the final, face-to-face interview, which you will get through to if you succeed at this stage. Make sure that background noise is kept to a minimum during your phone interview and be sure to pick up the phone with an appropriate greeting to kick off your interview.
Video interviews or online interviews are used by some employers instead of phone interviews. These may be live – for example, they may be conducted via Skype – but you are more likely to be asked to use a video interview format in which you are presented with a series of pre-recorded questions and invited to record your answers. For example, Grant Thornton has introduced online video interviews for its school leaver programme. A blog post about video interviews on Grant Thornton’s site for trainees includes the following tips:
- Set the scene for your video interview. Think about lighting and check what is going to be visible in the background. If your room’s a mess, clear a suitable space.
- Dress as you would for a face-to-face interview – a smart, dark-coloured suit is the safest bet and makes a good first impression.
- Take time to familiarise yourself with the set-up and try out the practice session. You might prefer to turn off the video view so you’re not distracted by seeing the video of yourself as you make it. Remember to look at the camera – this is the equivalent of making eye contact with your interviewer.
Panel interviews involve being asked questions by a group of people. Try to find out who you will be interviewed by before the day; if you are not told this as a matter of course, ask your contact at the organisation you are applying to. Once you have your interviewers’ names it is well worth looking them up online; you may find profiles of them on the employer’s website.
If you do find yourself facing a panel, make sure you know who’s who and who does what. Direct your response to whoever asked the question, but make sure you make brief eye contact with the others as well.
You may be asked to give a presentation when you come in for interview. For example, candidates for Deloitte’s BrightStart scheme who are invited to a final interview are also asked to give a five-minute commercial awareness presentation to a senior member of staff, which will be followed by ten minutes of questioning. You’ll be given the presentation topic before you come in for the final interview, so you’ll have time to prepare.
These tips will help you with your presentation:
- Check what visual aids and equipment will be available. Are they expecting you to turn up with a PowerPoint presentation on a memory stick? Make sure you know what they are looking for.
- Make sure your presentation has a structure – a beginning, a middle and an end. Five minutes is probably just about long enough to set the scene, make a few points and wrap up. When you are planning your presentation you will probably include too much information to start with and will then need to prune it back. Practise if you get the chance – it will help with your timing.
- Try to keep your body language positive and confident. Smile, make eye contact and don’t rush. Give particular thought to what you are going to say at the very beginning to introduce yourself and the subject you are going to be talking about. First impressions count.
Brush up on your research into the employer, the industry and the role. Make sure you’ve looked through any advice available on the employer’s website. Re-read your application and make sure you know what to expect from the interview – contact the recruitment team directly to ask if you’re not sure. If you are going to have to give a presentation or talk in depth about a specific project, make sure you’ve prepared. Think about the key competencies required for the role and prepare examples of times when you’ve shown them.