Graduate Interviews rank second right behind English, as the event any international student and my clients are nervous about when I talk to them. They are closely linked but being placed in a situation where you could be asked ANY question in a foreign language is a daunting prospect.
This guide is 8,000+ words, so feel free to jump around, using the contents below. I wanted to give you as much detail as possible about how to ace graduate interviews as an international student.
Deconstructing Graduate Interviews
To master something, we must first deconstruct it, and understand its simplest parts.
All types and styles of interview can be understood as having 4 simple parts:
- Certain Types of Questions (Questions) > Skip to Part 4
- An Understanding of the Company and Role is implied (A fixed company and role) > Skip to Part 5
- An Interviewer who will judge you on a set of criteria (Grading criteria) > Skip to Part 6
- How you present yourself in a controlled environment (Your emotional and psychological state) > Skip to Part 7
This leads us to ask 4 questions before any interview:
- What type of questions will they ask?
- Am I clear about the company and the job I will be doing?
- How will they decide whether I am successful or not?
- How can I prepare well, so I am as confident and professional as I can be?
We deal with each of these questions in depth later.
When will you get a Graduate Interview?
After filling out your application form, and smashing those pesky online tests, you could be asked to attend the interview immediately, or within a couple of weeks.
Did you say immediately…
I did, but not in the sense you would understand an interview, you will be asked to answer several video interview questions, where you will give your answer straight to the camera which will be submitted to your employer. You would expect this at the stage just prior to going to an assessment centre.
Like we see from EY below:
In the Learning on the Job section, you would answer video interview questions as part of the immersive application:
I have completed Stage 3, I think there were 14 questions in total, mostly numerical related to case-study (6-7 pages). First question was written one, and there were two video recording questions related to some specific technology article.
Anonymous, 2018 EY Applicant
For telephone or Face to Face graduate interviews, you would wait at least a week before hearing back.
How long will my graduate interview last? How many questions will there be?
A video interview could be as few as 2 questions.
But generally, you would expect an interview to last between 15-45 minutes. Even video interviews would have at least 5 questions with 3 minutes to answer each question. For example, PwC’s Stage 3 Process, which is taken just before the Assessment Centre has 7 video questions each lasting at least 3 minutes.
We train all our clients to expect at least 8 questions for a generic interview and speaking for 2-3 minutes per question.
Length can also depend on the type of question.
Strength based questions by their nature are blunt and direct like
‘How do you define success’
Answers will tend to be less than 1 minute, as opposed to a generic competency question like ‘Tell me about a time you led a team’ which could last 2-3 minutes easily.
Some video questions may ask you to present your findings from a brief case study which could last five minutes.
In today’s technology conscious environment, it’s rare for a first interview to last longer than 30 minutes which breaks down to 10 questions.
If you can find the interview duration, and divide by 3 minutes this should give you the rough number of questions.
Different types of interviews
Face to Face
By far the LEAST likely type of graduate interview you would come across. Deloitte, BDO and several Engineering firms used to carry out face to face interviews, but with the quick rise of video interviews. You are only likely to come across a face to face if you are applying for a smaller firm.
Though face to face interviews are still common for a second interview. They are often incorporated as part of the Assessment Centre.
You would expect to sit with at least one Partner/Director/Senior Manager/HR Manager. People can change depending on staffing. Panel interviews (where you are interviewed by 2 or more people) are rare in the UK. Though possible if you are joining a small firm or say a boutique PE firm.
These interviews can last up to an hour and may just be a straight forward conversation.
When preparing clients, I always say if the conversation starts steering to common interests, your background or just general conversation then the interview is going well.
In final interviews, depending on the job, prepare for tougher questions around motivation, commercial awareness of your industry and perhaps 1 or 2 technical questions about the role, to check your basic understanding of the job.
Tips for Face to Face
- Breathe. As an international student who doubts their English fluency, you will either speak slowly and haltingly or very quickly to mask your mistakes. Neither works. So, remember to breathe and slow down the conversation and nail your pronunciation
- Research. Sometimes you will get to know who is interviewing you beforehand. Look them up on LinkedIn to find shared interests. If not be well prepared to talk about the company and role. Ultimately though you may never see them again, you will be working in their department and they will want to add someone who can increase revenue
- Ask questions. Go there prepared to not only answer but also ask good questions. Though interviews are nerve-wracking for you, they are boring for senior staff. They may have been doing interviews all day, so good questions are refreshing. You could ask:
- How did you start working here?
- Where do you feel the company is going?
- Why do you think I should work here?
- What is the most exciting project you’ve worked on here?
- What problems is the industry facing?
- Do you have any books you would recommend I read?
- What’s your best advice for a new graduate?
- What are common mistakes you see new graduates making?
- Be Smart. Dress to impress, leave jewelry and obvious designer labels at home. But be as smart as you can, to the point that your mother would shed a tear. There is no excuse for turning up with an un-ironed shirt and no tie.
- First Impressions Count. Smile be friendly and engage in small talk if asked. The old saying is true that there is no second chance to make a good first impression. People judge you subconsciously within 5 seconds of meeting you. Rightly or wrongly leave a positive impression
Video interviews have exploded from relative obscurity 4 years ago, to be a part of most hiring processes. Whether you record a single video as part of an online assessment, or you take part in a full video interview.
By video interview, we mean an automated process whereby you are asked a series of questions, and then your camera records your answers. A person is not present to carry out the interviews.
Video interviews tend to be short. They last no longer than 30 minutes, and more likely to be 20 minutes or shorter. Standard time allowance is 2 minutes to read and prepare an answer to the question that is displayed on the screen and 3 minutes to answer it.
The benefit for both you and the employer is that they don’t have to pay someone to interview you, and you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home.
Video is the one to prepare for, as chances are high you will get this as part of your assessment with everyone from PwC to Goldman Sachs now using them.
Be warned! Chances are before your video is even watched by a human being, it will be screened by an AI Computer Vision script which looks at facial expression, emotions and possibly language (though currently, it seems costly to use Natural Language Processing combined with Computer Vision)
See just one companies example of emotion recognition below:
Tips for Video Interview
- Avoid Evenings and Weekends. This is a tip for those who do not have their own internet connection. If you share Wi-Fi communally then try not to record your video in the evening or at weekends when everyone is streaming video. It may distort the video or even break the connection, and there is no guarantee your potential employer will believe you and give you another chance
- Rehearse. Fluency is King (or Queen) in video interviews. Unlike face to face or telephone interview you don’t get the chance to start again. So, rehearse those answers
- Record yourself. If you know you are going to have a video interview, then record yourself! You can see just how you come across, look and sound way ahead of time and tweak everything before hand
- Do not Disturb. Make sure everyone knows you are doing a video interview, even put a sign on the door. Just make sure you are not disturbed, on pain of death!
- Be concise. Three minutes is along time to talk for, and you don’t need to use all the time that you have. Talk for 2 minutes is time enough. Some companies like Hirevue (most popular technology for big companies) will auto-detect, no sound and minimal movement and cut the video when it is edited
- Don’t read a script. I cannot stress this enough, I have met so many international students through the years, who write and use scripts and fail hard. Even if you are looking at it on your laptop it is incredibly obvious you are reading out loud. Your tone will be flat and artificial, and you will fail. Rehearse.
- Look Good. There are so many tips for how you should get set up, dress and have your background set up. This video from NTDTrainingVideos really nails it
It’s hard to believe that telephone interviews only started becoming mainstream in the UK in 2003. Today they are becoming a thing of the past, being replaced by video.
However, many large companies have not transitioned over to video interviews, due to the number of positions they have. Companies with less than 100 or so graduate places may find it just as easy to use existing HR staff and telephone interviews. Notably BT, HSBC and Shell still use telephone interviews.
Phone interviews tend to last 30 minutes but no more. Expect 8-12 questions and follow up questions.
Say you are asked:
Tell me about a time you worked in a team?
You answer the question and then the interviewer says:
What do you think good teamwork is?
Follow ups, are a sign that you haven’t quite matched the skills that the employer is looking for. No need to give another example or just repeat. You need to make it clearer that you know what good teamwork is and what you would do.
Tips for Telephone Interviews
- Quiet Please. Make sure you are somewhere that is quiet without background noise. I have interviewed people as they walk down the street and was so distracted, I couldn’t decide on whether they were the right candidate or not.
- Practise by Dictation. Just like the video interview, you know you have a telephone interview, so practise recording your voice and listening back, this is a great technique for improving what you say, how you say it and the mistakes you make
- Stare at Nature. Find something easy to look at where you can collect your thoughts. You might be tempted to hover over your laptop and Google anything you don’t understand, but this is a big mistake. Remember as an international student you need all your brain power to listen in English, translate, understand, translate though, speak in English. Minimal distraction will help you think better
- No scripts. Just like the video interview again, don’t be tempted to speak from a script. Anyone listening to know will be able to tell you are reading from a piece of paper and fail you
- Water. Have some liquid at hand, for if your throat gets dry or you just get nervous
- Pause. Got a question you don’t understand. Ask the interviewer to repeat it, and then use the question to start the answer. Speak slowly and clearly to give yourself enough time to think
For some more tips, Linda Raynier really nails it, plus she has a great series of videos on a wide range of subjects relating to interviews and looking for a job:
A consistent area of weakness when preparing international students for their upcoming interview, will be their knowledge around the company and the role. I’m not saying you have to memorise the history of the company or what you will do every year of your 3-year training contract, but a little bit of work goes a long way.
15 minutes to nail “Why do you want to work for this company?”
So, you have sent out tens maybe even hundreds of applications. You read this with disbelief saying, ‘ How can I be expected to learn about all these companies?’
You aren’t. I can give you a simple 15-minute trick that will make your employer seem liked to read and digested their last 100+ pages of their annual report.
We are going to use PwC as an example, as I’ll explain in another post they are the biggest private sector graduate recruiter for international students in the UK (private sector means they are not publicly funded by the government, in that case, the biggest employer in the UK is Teach First which hires 3,000+ graduate teachers every year in the UK. Which unfortunately is only open to UK and EU nationals)
In my experience, when asked why they want to work for PwC, most students will give an answer like the generic one below. It’s generic because I could say the same about almost any large employer:
PwC is a multinational firm specializing in accounting and professional services. Here I would be given the opportunity to grow and learn from people all around the world. I have access to big clients and receive fantastic training. PwC is a company that cares about its employees and provides great training and support. They promote diversity and the rights of minorities like women and LGBT community. They are a company that cares about its employees and will push me to grow into an outstanding professional. I share their core values and ideals like honesty and excellence, this is something I have tried to hold myself to all my life. I believe in doing the right thing and always giving my best. I know that working at PwC I can excel and will be able to deliver a great client experience and operate as a willing and flexible member of the team.
The answer looks nice, but actually, there are no hard facts, nothing I could specifically tie to PwC, that I couldn’t say for Deloitte or any other big company that comes to mind.
So, this is where our 15 minutes well spent come in. Every private company will produce an annual report. Which is an aggregation of the company’s financial statement, income and balance sheet as well as a report from its various departments and business ventures.
Think of this like a really long letter you get once a year from distant cousins you never see, at Christmas to tell you about all the family’s accomplishments.
Now if you are lucky, a company like PwC displays their annual report in an easily digestible series of infographics here.
Spend 15 minutes going through the annual report (if they still display it in a PDF format, then you will want to read the Chairman or CEO/Managing Partner’s fee pages) . You don’t need to read everything. Just a few key facts, so your generic answer about PwC becomes something like this:
PwC is the UK’s largest professional services firm. Employing over 14,000 staff and serving over 25,000 clients from Rio Tinto to Lloyds Bank, with an average feedback score of 8.63 out of 10 and 54% of clients referring PwC to their partners. I would have the opportunity to learn and grow with the finest talent working for the biggest clients. Moreover, PwC is a company that cares, staff contributed over 60,000 hours of volunteering work, as the company is committed to giving back to the community. Diversity is at the forefront of the hiring agenda, with almost half of new joiner being female and 29% coming from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. PwC is the only company of its kind in the UK to exceed £3Bn in annual revenue, with turnover this year growing a further 5%. The company continues to be at the forefront of technological innovation and is a company that I would be proud to work for and represent
Anyone listening to your answer will appreciate you have spent a little bit of time and effort.
What job should I do?
When I ask an international student what job they want, they will often shrug and say:
“Whatever job can give me a Visa.”
If you don’t have a specific goal, your path will be endlessly long and frustrating. Knowing what role, you want to do is crucial, as you can develop the answers and skills required for that role.
You can always use a career’s service or a career coach, to help you choose specific roles, but I encourage you, to ask yourself a few simple questions before choosing a role:
- How likely am I to get a Tier 2 Visa doing this role?
- Does my role need to be connected to my degree?
- Am I being realistic about getting this job? (I offer an example of many international students who are seemingly enthused by becoming a management consultant, yet their English fluency is just not good enough)
Often, it would serve you to do your homework, go to career fairs, meetups, speak to as many people as you can. Also look online to find reviews about the jobs and the interview process:
The most popular graduate forum in the UK. Great place to find up to date information about ongoing application processes and contact existing students, as well as hundreds of pages of resources
A great single platform, to learn about companies, research previous interview questions and find out what existing employees think about the companies that they are working for
Ratings from former graduates and interns who have worked at large companies. Really useful for finding out insider information and learning about company culture.
The most popular graduate job board in the UK. A treasure trove of jobs, information and advice.
A relatively new site which promises to deliver only jobs that can provide a Tier 2 Visa. Untested but the UI looks promising.
Create an Excel list, write down all the roles you would like to apply for and then start sending out those applications.
Understand the job you will be doing
Once you know the roles you are applying for, spend an hour or so and Google about finding out as much as you can about the role including:
- What would I do in this job 9 to 5?
- What training can I expect to receive?
- What key skills would an employer want me to have?
- Where would I be after 5 years at this job?
- What would I really enjoy about this role?
Many international students I speak to, won’t know much about the job you are applying to, so a few tips
- When you get the interview, go back and look at the job role in detail, for example below is a job description from BDO about a Tax Graduate role
Notice the areas I have highlighted in yellow (shakily!) this includes information about, the type of training you would get, daily roles, skills needed and expectations, all of this gives you further terms you go and Google further and find more about
- Use other websites to learn more about the role. There is a treasure trove of information for you out there including sites like:
Just make sure when you get asked those dreaded motivation questions:
- Why this company?
- What made you pick this role?
- Tell me why you the right person for this job?
You are well prepared.
What types of questions could I be asked?
There are 6 types of questions that you can be asked in an interview, ranked here in order of the likelihood you have asked them. The exception would be technical question if you are applying to be, say a software engineer. There are roles which will naturally lend themselves towards a particular type of questions. Big ticket consulting firms like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group will lean towards brain teasers and case study style questions. So just like I laid out in Part 3, make sure you know the company role well. This will also help you to prepare for what type of question you will expect at each stage.
Also, worth noting that 1st round interviews will be quite different from final interviews. The types of questions asked will change. Generally, from generic competency questions to specific questions about you, your background, technical competency and commercial awareness.
Use sites like Wikijobs<link> and Glassdoor<link> to build a list of likely questions you could be asked.
Companies using them: Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, KPMG, HSBC and many more, be surprised if you don’t get asked…
The most likely question you will come across as an international student interviewing for a Tier 2 Visa Graduate role in the UK is a competency question.
the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.
So essentially these are questions which test whether you have the ‘skill’ to do the job you are applying for effectively. Competency questions are evidence based. This means you need to provide an example to demonstrate that you have that skills. Say for example ‘teamwork’, you can’t just talk about how much you get on with people and like working in a team.
Questions tend to start with: ‘Tell me a time…’, ‘Give me an example when…’, ‘How do you…’
Good further information can be found here at Prospects
Give me some examples
- Tell me about a time when you work as a team?
- Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict?
- Give me an example of your leadership ability?
- How do you resolve a disagreement in a team?
How do I answer them?
I find initially international students can really struggle with these types of questions, as let’s face it, they are pretty odd. These are not the normal type of questions you would expect to answer with your friends or at home.
So, we use the STAR technique:
- Describe the Situation and when did it take place
- Explain the Task and what was the objective
- Give details about the Action you took to achieve this
- Close with the Result of your action
We tell a story.
As this is the most common type of question you would be asked let’s break down an example.
‘Give me an example when you led a team’ – This is a question to test to see if you have the skills and qualities of leadership and teamwork.
When I was at University, me and several others had to carry out a piece of group work for a presentation. We did not know much about the subject we had to present on. A Technology companies. I did not know much about Finance, but I am good at working with people, talking with others and making presentations. So, I asked each of my team members what they would like to do and then we each were assigned roles.
My job was to prepare the presentation as I don’t mind speaking in front of other people. Also, I am good at Power Point and using the computer. I tried to help other members of my team when they were having problems and see if there was anything more that I could contribute. We worked really hard and managed to get the project finished just in time
When an answer or response is generic, it feels vaguely relevant but just not that interesting
In the answer above, we have so many questions:
- When did this happen?
- What was the actual project you were working on?
- What was the name of the company?
- How did you clearly demonstrate leadership?
- What is involved in good teamwork?
- How well did the presentation go?
It lacks a lot of specific information that leaves us feeling unsatisfied. Time and time again, we will return to this difference between an answer that is generic (samey, meh) to an answer that is specific and clear.
Situation: During my postgraduate studies at Dundee University I was put into a team of four for our asset management module
Task: Between us we had to choose a company and carry out a financial analysis using Excel, and they present the Strengths and Weaknesses of that company. As well as using a mathematical model to show whether we believed it would be a good investment or not. We chose Apple
Action: As I didn’t have a background in Finance, and have only just started my studies, I deferred the leadership to one of my classmates. While they discussed giving out tasks, I suggested we should each do something which plays to our strengths. Two of our team would carry out a financial analysis of Apple. 1 would create the model based on the analysis. Then I would put the presentation together in PowerPoint and lead the presentation. We have a heavy workload and several times we were falling behind, so I would call each member and see if they needed help or if there was anything I could do. I helped to co-ordinate communication and resolve any differences between the team.
Result: Our presentation went well, and we received a high grade from our tutor who was impressed with the depth of our analysis
Ok, so I know I’ve laid the answer out in a much clearer format. But can you see just how clear and to the point we are now? I even bolded the words which relate to the skill, so the interviewer knows you understood the competency question.
There is an excellent in-depth post you can read with more examples here at Zety
Companies using them: Aviva, EY, Deloitte, Barclays, BAE Systems, Cisco, Nestle, Unilever
These questions are becoming increasingly popular because they are more natural to answer, shorter and also more direct.
‘What makes you successful’ doesn’t need you to provide a long answer, just a quick list of skills and traits. Therefore, these questions are not evidence-based they are personality-based. Your answers will directly reflect who you are as a person today and what is important to you.
Unfortunately, these questions are much harder to practice for, so make sure your English fluency is top-notch, so you can deal with difficult concepts and vocabulary.
Give me some examples
- How do you define success?
- What makes you right for this role?
- How do you stay organised?
- Why did you choose your degree?
How do I answer them?
Strength questions are tough. As you are answering from the heart. But there is a method to the madness. Take the question about success. On the face of it, it seems pretty cryptic right?
Actually, it’s trying to identify what is important to you, so success could mean:
- Challenging work
- Hard problems
- Personal recognition
Each of these would be important for a different type of role. Money is an important motivator for a sales person, while challenging work is certainly true for consulting. Do your homework before the interview and put yourself in the role, and think what would be important for the type of person who become a…
More examples and explanations here at Prospects
Companies using them: EY, PwC, increasingly pretty common in Online Tests and Immersive Assessments
PwC as the UK’s largest private sector graduate recruiter has paved the way for using situational judgement test questions in its video interview immersive assessments.
These questions specifically test your logical reasoning in a work-based scenario.
They explore different types of scenarios you could find yourself in at work, with a twist. Say a colleague is going on holiday and dumping their work on you, or you get asked to present a report by a pushy client.
The questions do have common sense answers, but you need practice. Particularly if you have had limited work experience
Give me some examples
- A customer calls and complains about a service that he received over the phone from one of your colleagues. The colleague is your friend and you know that due to company policy your colleague was unable to deal with the customer’s request. How do you respond to the customer?
- A colleague gets in touch with you just before you are about to leave work. She tells you that she has been unable to get some important information from a client which will allow the team to finish an initial report. She is leaving for holiday tomorrow and wants your advice about what to do. How do you proceed?
- Along with 2 other colleagues you have spent the past week preparing for an important client presentation. During the meeting your manager will present a number of options that will hopefully help your client save money and encourage to use further services that your company offers. You notice that one of your colleagues has used financial data that is out of date. It is too late to reschedule the meeting. What would you do?
How do I answer them?
Firstly, a lot can be learnt from answering these questions, by practicing these questions as online tests. They are a wide variety of Online Test providers who offer a cheap and easy to use online platform:
Job Test Prep: 1-month membership for £39.99, or 6-month membership for 6 months, 250+ tests
Assessment Day: Access a free trial account with 20 sample tests and then pay £39.99. 100+ tests.Job Test Prep: 1-month membership for £39.99, or 6-month membership for 6 months, 250+ tests
Practice Aptitude Tests: £39, 181+ tests
There are lots of costs effective options for you to practise.
Answering the questions comes down to 2 things; awareness of business systems and common sense.
So, for example with the first question, though it may be tempting to offer your own opinion, pass it onto your colleague or just avoid the customer, you would follow a normal procedure:
- Listen and note the customers grievance
- Assure the customer that you will look into this for them
- Take down their contact details if you do not already have them
- Ask if there is anything else you can do
- Following the complaints handling procedure
For each question, understand what the business process is you would follow in a reasonable and logical way
Whatever industry you work in, it will be expected that part from your regular duties you begin to pay more attention on the general industry around them. Commercial awareness is knowledge of your industry and what is affecting it.
Some questions may include incorporating your knowledge of the company you are interviewing for and how they could help a company in the news and give you a chance to demonstrate your knowledge of the services and products that the company provides.
Give me some examples
- Tell me about a company that has been in the news recently?
- Tell me about a recent piece of news that would affect us or our clients?
- If you could buy any companies stock who would it be?
- Tell me about a company that is struggling and how we could help them
How do I answer them?
I have consistently found international students lack commercial awareness. Even if they want to work in Investment Banking, if you ask them about their favourite stock they look at you blankly. Remember for every role there will be an industry specific news site which can provide you all the information you could need. Install a app on your phone, read it on the way to class, keep in touch with what is going on in your industry. This will be especially impressive during a final interview if you can converse about issues that senior managers may be facing or looking at.
- Investment Banking: Bloomberg, CNBC, BBC Business
- Professional Services: Accountancy Age, Accounting Today, ACA, Chartered Institute of Taxation
- Consulting: Consultancy News, Management Consulting News
- Marketing: Marketing Week, The Drum
- Engineering: The Engineer
- Technology: Wired, The Verge, Hacker News
- Law: The Law Gazette, The Lawyer, The Law Society
These are questions which relate specifically to jobs which are highly technical in nature. Software Engineering is the perfect example, using tests like pairs coding, whiteboarding and answering series of technical questions. You would see the same from Investment Banking Front Office questions. As well as Engineering positions.
Give me some examples
- How do you value a company?
- What is verification and validation in software engineering?
- Explain a complicated technical concept to me as a non-technical person
How do I answer them?
Swot. These types of questions suit academics, but ultimately treat it like a test. As an international student you will be no stranger to studying hard. Certain types of Tier 2 jobs demand a higher level of technical knowledge, so just review your module notes before the interview.
These are my personal favourite for types of questions. Very popular with big-ticket consulting firms, and Investment Banks like Goldman Sachs, and Technology giants like Google. These answers require you to be thoughtful and not necessarily correct. They ask thought provoking problems that require you to think carefully and logically.
Give me some examples
- How many burger stands are there in Glasgow ? (Derivative of Goldman Sachs Question
- A Russian gangster kidnaps you. He puts two bullets in consecutive order in an empty six-round revolver, spins it, points it at your head and shoots. *click* You’re still alive. He then asks you, “do you want me to spin it again and fire or pull the trigger again right away?” For each option, what is the probability that you’ll be shot? (Facebook)
- You have a 3-gallon jug and 5-gallon jug, how do you measure out exactly 4 gallons? (Google)
- Why are manhole covers round? (Microsoft)
How do I answer them?
Take your time. The most common mistake I see international students is they rush, almost falling over themselves to demonstrate how smart they are. They may get the right answer, but when they get it wrong, it’s really wrong.
They are called brainteasers for a reason. Stop and think, also speak your thinking process out loud. That is what employers are most interested in. HOW you get to the answer.
Questions like the burger stands in Glasgow are almost impossible to answer with absolute accuracy, so require deductive reasoning. Whereas the 3- and 5-gallon jug question has an answer you just have to think about it slowly. All these questions have one thing in common. You need to think outside of the box and latch onto what isn’t said as much as what is. For example, for the jug’s questions, people often forget you can throw water away and refill the jugs.
How can I best prepare for my interview?
When to start preparing for my interview
This really depends on your level of English fluency. If you hand on heart can say that your English is fantastic as an International student, then you can start preparing for an interview a few days to a week away.
But if you are reading this now and you know your English leaves to be desired then go and check out my guides on English Speaking and Listening. Having a good level of English is the number 1 skill for getting a Tier 2 job as an international student. There is no way around it. So, don’t put off the discomfort, confront it and embrace it.
What to do include in your preparation
Here’s a quick checklist to follow for your upcoming interview:
- Stick the date in the diary and figure out how many days you have to prepare. As a rough ball park if you can prepare for 5-10 times prior to the interview you are in a great position. So, make 5-10 30 minutes slots available in your schedule. This will only apply for the interview you really want. If you have multiple interviews you may just have to do the best you can, and trust yourself that you will be answering similar questions in each interview
- Research the likely questions and nail your motivation answers. Use all the resources I provided you in Part 3, to really understand the company and role. Start making a list of questions. Are they competency, strength, SJT ?
- I tend to get clients to only practice questions they see more than once. If you really can’t find any questions then you may just have to practice from a standard list of questions, of the type you will expect.
- Practice 20-30 questions MAXIMUM. I have come across clients who literally wrote documents over 100 pages of questions. The key is SPEAKING not writing.
- Pick 6-8 good examples for your competency questions. Try to choose experience from work or your voluntary experience. Pick some examples that are based outside of your studies. Feel happy talking about them and know the examples inside out. Later you will be able to use them for a wide range of questions
- Rinse and repeat. Read out the answers, record yourself, listen, correct. Get to the point where you are comfortable answering without the script.
- Use cards or a randomizer to answer questions for say 20-30 minutes. When you feel confident answering most well (80%+) you are good to go. I say most because you will never answer exactly how you planned, but as long as you get most of it you will do well.
Key information to learn
You want to go into the interview confident on:
- What type of questions will I be asked?
- Why I want to work for this company and key facts which interest me
- Why I want to do this role and what I will do
- 50-70% of the questions asked.
You may wonder why not know 100% because questions change all the time. If you need to know everything, chances are you are being too hard on yourself, rigid and controlling.
If you’re practice and English fluency is good enough, you will be able to adapt your answers and vocabulary to any interview question.
How interviews are assessed
What are interviewers looking for from successful candidates?
This will change depending on the nature of the interview, during a video and face to face interview, the interviewer can see you. So, body language and especially eye contact is very important. In a telephone interview, they have fewer markers so they will be mainly be guided by the tone and content of your answers.
All interviews are assessed as per a company’s core values. This is the foundation for all interview processes.
Let’s take PwC as an example:
PwC are kind enough to provide questions with their 5 core values, so let’s break these down to show how this knowledge can help us during the interview. Remember understanding a company’s core values, lets us know what the company considers important. Crucial knowledge as an international student looking to get their first Tier 2 Graduate job.
We need you to lead yourself and others, regardless of your grade, by making a real difference in the work you do. This means delivering results in a responsible, authentic, resilient, inclusive and passionate way.
- Do you learn from your opportunities and take the time to develop your personal approach to work? How do you improve yourself in your personal time? How do you learn from your mistakes? How do you develop relationships with people?
- Do you lead others to be the best they can be, whether your part of a team or leading one? Give me an example of your leadership skills? How do you encourage good teamwork? Give me an example when you have fostered a collaborative environment?
- Do you always act with integrity and uphold professional standards? Is there a time when you have refused to break the rules? How do you deal with a colleague or client who is withholding information? How do you maintain excellence in your work?
In your role you apply a range of technical capabilities to deliver quality and value for our clients and PwC.
- Do you maintain professional standards and always produce high quality work? Tell me about a time when you multitasked? Tell me about a time when you worked under pressure? How do you maintain a high quality of work?
- How do you build and maintain your technical expertise and knowledge? How do you keep up to date with business news? Tell me about a piece of news that affects PwC or our clients?
- Do you share your knowledge, to deliver insights, with others? Tell me about a time when you helped someone else? Tell me about a relationship you built up outside the workplace?
You’ll bring business knowledge and awareness, or have a willingness to learn about business, and can bring innovation, and fresh thinking, to create distinctive value for our clients and PwC.
- How do you keep up-to-date with business and industry trends? Tell me about a recent piece of business news? What excites you about the industry you are applying for? How does your degree relate to the job that you are applying for?
- Do you consider all facts and think broadly about data when making recommendations? Tell me about a difficult decision you had to make? Tell me about a time when you failed?
- Do you see opportunities within changing business environments which can add value? How would you sell a product to a client? How to you adapt to change?
In a continually complex and changing world, you’ll need to operate and collaborate effectively, with a mind-set that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries.
- Do you consider a broad range of perspectives in your thinking? Tell me about a time when you have resolved a conflict? Tell me about a time when you took on someone else’s point of view?
- Do you embrace and see opportunity in change? How do you adapt to change?
- Can you bring fresh insights to our clients and PwC? Tell me about a recent piece of news which would affect us and our clients?
You’re skilled at building relationships of high value which are genuine and rooted in trust.
- Do you communicate with confidence? This would mainly be reflected in how you communicate during the interview
- Do you build and maintain strong and authentic relationships, within your business network and develop new ones outside of it? Tell me about a time you built a relationship outside of school and work?
- Are you passionate about providing exceptional services? Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond to provide great customer service?
Researching your companies core values, and then thinking of what questions could be asked, and tying this is with your research into past questions will give you a great foundation to meet the criteria which will be matched to those core values.
What is AI Software looking for in successful candidates?
Companies like Hirevue are omnipresent in video interview now. Using sophisticated algorithms which register emotion, tone, and even basic language fluency (The state of Natural Language Processing in 2019 is not able to accurately pick up spoken fluency in a conversational context, but this is sure to change)
However, remember that AI software is programmed to pick up the same skills as a human being would, while removing the level of discrimination that a human may present (for example racial prejudice or sexism)
So, AI represents a boon for international students as it is a truly objective judge but does mean you must think carefully about your body language, and positive emotional facial gestures (Smile!)
Understanding how to meet the skills needed
Know the skills you need to demonstrate in the job, go back and review Part 3 of this Guide, understanding what job you need to do and key facts about the company you want to work in.
The rest is about the process.
During your interview
- Body language is essential regardless of the type of the interview
- Smile, you can hear people smiling, like when you tell a joke on the phone and your friend doesn’t laugh but you can tell they liked it
- Be positive and motivated, sound energetic
- Maintain eye contact, if face to face to through a video
- Speak clearly and slowly, fight the urge to speak quickly. As an international student who is interviewing in a second language give your brain time to think
- Try to sit still, don’t fidget or play around with your hair or a pen, it can be distracting for you and whoever watches you
- Listen carefully to the question, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat it, if you didn’t understand the question
- Use the structure and preparation you put in place. Stick to a reasonable length answer, 2 minutes. If the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask to follow up questions
- Avoid one-word answers, or very short responses, unless being asked a direct yes/no question
- Breathe! If you get nervous, take a deep breath and collect your thoughts. Breathe during your answer.
- Sound natural and don’t read from a script
- Speak clearly and confidently avoid word padding like ‘err’, ‘yeah’, ‘you know’.
- Don’t be afraid of silence, your interviewer will be making notes. Be patient and don’t try to fill it with aimless chatter
At the end of the interview
- At the end of the interview you’ll be offered the opportunity to ask questions. Take time to consider what things you really want to know, so that you make the most of this opportunity. Your questions could help you to demonstrate:
- Your knowledge of the job, employer and industry; this can further demonstrate your commitment. If you’re applying to a very competitive area, this part of the interview could help you stand out.
- Active listening; if you think of any additional questions on the day, perhaps from the small talk or interviewer introduction at the start of the interview. Maybe your interviewer mentioned something you’re keen to find out more about.
Preparing yourself Psychologically
Everyone gets nervous. If we use a different word. Nerves just means that we care, and we cannot control the outcome. We fear the unknown.
Turn nerves into excitement. Do you like surprises ? Of course, because these are unexpected but pleasurable. Few people enjoy problems.
I can guarantee you, having prepared international students for thousands of interviews over the past 7 years, that they all got nervous.
What won out, was preparation. Just like a soldier going to war and being shot at , their training and practice kicked in and they produced under pressure.
Still your nerves, by practicing more.
Preparing the night before
Sleep and relax. If you are attending an onsite interview and the travel time is longer than an hour, I often advise staying at a cheap Travelodge nearby. Just in case there is terrible traffic or an unforeseen disaster.
Take the time to review your notes one last time, and then have a long hot bath, watching something relax and get a good rest.
Sleep is more important for performance than anything else. If you are not well rested your brain will operate well under par.
Have your clothes laid out, alarm set an hour early. Breakfast to hand. Make the day of the interview as easy as possible. Avoid decision fatigue.
Preparation tips for success
If you read half of what I wrote, you will have enough tools to prepare successful for any graduate job interview!
As an international student applying for a tier 2 graduate job, there are no shortcuts to success.
Prepare even when you don’t have an interview. Make time for finding a job, even 15 minutes a day.
The path to success is paved by little steps, not giant mountains. The mountains are still there , but each little step helps us traverse them. Only once at the top do we see how far those hundreds, or thousands of steps brought us.
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