If you’re tired of putting your foot in it and want to get your foot in the door instead, read on for our top tips for making the right impression.
We’ve compiled our best advice to ensure you leave the boardroom feeling buoyant, with expert help from two of our alumni who have plenty of interview experience - from both sides of the table.
While this might seem obvious, it will really make a difference.
With more information than ever at our fingertips, there’s absolutely no excuse for not brushing up before the big day. You should look closely into the job and the employer, including things like ethos, structure, areas of expertise, challenges and current projects.
Tim also highlights the importance of doing your homework: “Be thorough and look through any publicly available material, particularly about the key current issues for the organisation you’re applying to. I look for candidates who have studied Barclays, have done their research, and are sufficiently knowledgeable to ask basic questions about our business - though I’d never expect them to be experts. ”
Practise everything - from your handshake, to your ‘I’m-your-perfect-candidate’ walk.
Think about how you would respond to common questions like ‘what are your weaknesses?’ or ‘what motivates you to work in this industry?’ It’s also good to think of examples from your experience of when you’ve dealt with a difficult situation or have exemplified outstanding commitment or talent. You should know the qualities you have that make you right for the job.
If you can, perhaps ask a friend to interview you and offer constructive feedback afterwards.
It’s a fine line, however, between thinking about how you might answer questions, and giving answers you’ve memorised to questions which aren’t necessarily being asked. It’s crucial to be able to think on your feet; “at Slaughter and May, we’re looking for candidates who offer clearly thought-out answers, but also an ability to think around a subject and provide innovative ideas”, says Robert.
If you’re considering lying in your job application, don’t. It’s fine to focus on the positive aspects of your job experience and choose your wording carefully, but if you haven’t actually spent five years managing a team of volunteers on a local youth project, you will soon unravel when asked about it.
This rule, adds Tim, also goes for the interview itself; “I think one of the biggest traps people fall into is to start talking about things or get sucked into a discussion topic which they don’t understand, and that’s a slippery slope - if you don’t understand something, say so, don’t pretend you do. Be open and honest about what you know, otherwise it can lead to a disappointing outcome”.
This one speaks for itself; we’ve all had that moment where all eyes are on you as the inevitable ‘any questions?’ is uttered, but as Robert suggests, it’s important to ask about things you really want to know, rather than asking for the sake of it, or worse, asking things you could have easily found out beforehand; “one of the elements that frustrates me time and time again is where interviewees have the opportunity to ask a sensible question, but then simply do not listen to the answer, and no conversation or reaction flows from it - it looks too much like ‘going through the motions’.”
In other words, if you can’t think of a good question, don’t ask a stupid one.
Don’t tell them your weakness is that you’re a perfectionist; they’ve heard it hundreds of times before. Try instead to think of a genuine weak point, but talk about it a positive light - difficulty designating jobs to others, for instance, can show a commitment to following your projects through to fruition and is something you can easily change moving forward.
Use your judgement to figure out how long your answers should be; be as concise and eloquent as possible, and avoid borrowed language or metaphor where you ought to stick to more accurate, descriptive language.
If you start to repeat yourself or feel like you’ve given a bad answer, bring your answer round to a natural close, take a deep breath and move on. It’s only human to make at least one mistake when being questioned under-pressure; stay focused and don’t let it ruin your chances.
Interviewers aren’t just looking for experience and academic credentials - they’re looking at you as the whole package, so don’t be afraid to show a bit of your character. “Focus on enjoying the interview process and remember that it is your opportunity to promote yourself”, says Robert, “and also your opportunity to find out - to the extent possible - whether you would fit into the firm.” If you’re light-hearted and funny, then let it show; smile, feel free to laugh if the interviewers make jokes, and make light of yourself if you fluff up a question.
“You may be tempted to try to live up to an image and to leave your personality at the door, but you’re not likely to be very successful” says Tim, “it can be helpful to show a bit of humour, personality, and even - to a degree - own up to a weakness, in order to get the interviewer to engage.”
We asked our experts what qualities they think are essential for top graduates to stand out at interview. Here’s what they had to say:
Our aim at interview is to find out about the candidate and, in particular, how they think and reason - clearly thought out answers and reasoned arguments are key for us, together with a balance of humility and realism. From our viewpoint, our first focus is intellect - we focus, therefore, on academic results (both the actual marks, the type of subjects studied, and the route to those results), but we’re also looking for rounded people who have made the most of their time at university in whatever pursuits they are interested in.
Robert Byk (LLB 1996)
Someone who’s thought about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and also, someone who’s got a bit of a game plan - they’re not fishing around for ideas, they’ve actually got ideas for themselves and can express them in a reasoned way that shows their self-confidence.
Tim Ritchie (BA 1978)