Interviewers are humans too. It may not feel this way when you are faced with what appears to be an interrogation officer in a suit who is scrutinising your CV or the effectiveness of your contribution on your final year team project. But while on the one hand we are the strict gatekeepers of the organisation you want to work for – keeping an watchful eye out for mismatches – on the other hand we’re eager talent scouts looking for people who not only can do the job but who really want to do the job and more. To abuse two over-worn clichés, we aren’t just looking for ticked boxes but for the potential to perform beyond the box. And some of what we look for just can’t be captured in the usual interview format.
Most final-year students know how to get through at least a first-round graduate recruitment interview. The types of questions that interviewers ask are almost standardised, well known and not overly taxing to train for if you make any effort to prepare (and, ideally, attend interview training at your campus careers office). You need the admirable but not overly assuming strengths; the weaknesses that can double as strengths or that you are clearly able to work on; a non-mercenary reason for wanting to join the company; and a story or two about how you led a team of fellow students from a state of disorganised chaos to success. That’s over-simplifying, to be sure, but nonetheless there are few trick questions that aren’t in the book or on Google.
And this is how it should be: there should be no surprises or trick questions, because the objective is not to test your ability not to be caught out, but to test whether you have what it takes. The problem is that most graduates have little relevant work experience and have therefore had little opportunity to prove what they can deliver. What that means is finding the factors that differentiate one inexperienced graduate from the next – in particular, the factors that promise good future performance.
If I am honest, then, apart from the usual behavioural competencies that you should be able to demonstrate by using examples from university experience (communicating and collaborating well with others; the ability to plan and organise; initiative and a drive for results), what I believe we really look for are three extra things, which aren’t so much competencies as character traits. Those things are willingness, resourcefulness and maturity.