It's a great achievement to have been accepted on, or to have graduated from, a top university. But whether itís an internship or a graduate job that you are after, the reality is that there are likely to be a lot of other smart people going for the same position.
With recruiters increasingly saying that graduates, while having strong academic records, are weak on the soft skills (including interviewing techniques) it's never too early to start thinking about improving yourself in this area.
Some tips and tricks:
Know your company
Öand your department, your potential boss and your interviewer too (of course this is not always possible). As it was with the university you entered, the company wants to know why it is specifically them you are interested in and will give little time to anyone arriving and saying, "I don't know really, I just fancied working in investment banking."
Spend a lot of time researching the prospective company. Get in-house newsletters and see what staff are up to. Search for them on Google. What is the company's CSR and diversity policies and do they appeal to you? What achievements or contracts do they have that appeal to you? What is it about the CEO's latest press interview that impressed you most? What is it that makes this company stand out from their competitors? You don't want to go overboard, but a very healthy dose of knowledge about who you are applying to can only be a good thing.
Don't know it all, by the way. Have questions of your own to ask, especially pertinent and recent ones: perhaps about a recent client, acquisition, piece of international news or boardroom shake up.
Do a little bit of learning about body language. Many of the people that might interview you are versed in the arts of body language while others, particularly entrepreneurial types, do this naturally and your body language will have an effect on them even if they don't believe it does (and even if you don't). Get a book and learn the basics. Your aim is to appear confident without being cocky, well-researched without fawning, and show that you will fit in and be an asset to the company in question.
This is particularly relevant to those planning to work overseas. Lets take Asia and the West as an example. In many Asian cultures, particularly in Japan, making eye contact is considered arrogant and confrontational while long pauses to consider answers are the norm. In most western countries, making eye contact is the norm and avoiding it will make you look nervous; long pauses, meanwhile, can make you look uncertain and that you are trying to find ways of hedging a question.
It is your responsibility to make sure you know what is expected of you in this regard.
Personality and Aptitude Tests
Tests like this are becoming increasingly the norm for graduate recruiters and, although they are not 100 per cent across the board, there's no harm in preparing for them in advance. There's a high chance you'll have been exposed to more famous ones such as the Myers-Briggs Aptitude Test. Whether or not you believe in them you are likely to come across them at some point in your career. (Check out our tips on psychometric testing
Look up as many as you can, take a handful of them, become experienced with the kind of questions that are asked and the answers that might be expected. One graduate says that he answers questions he sees on TV shows or in newspapers as if they were being asked of him, and as such has an armoury of answers ready for the occasion. Also, dress well, get lots of sleep the night before and make sure your CV is up to date and with no significant breaks in it. (Check out our CV tips)
You should see the opportunity interviews offer for you to present yourself professionally and show you are the right person for the job. The key to successful job interviews is confidence in yourself, your ability to do the job and the ability to project that confidence during an interview, in a relaxed and calm manner. Ultimately, you are trying to sell yourself and your skills. Being at ease with yourself during job interviews is a potent and compelling selling point in itself. By answering questions confidently, you will have a better chance of winning internships or full-time jobs.
Get with the international program
Research shows that an increasing number of graduates want to work overseas, either as a first position or at some point in their career. Without meaning to state the obvious, if you intend to apply for a job in a country that is not your own, get to know as much about what is expected from nationals within that country. Although you're not likely to offend your interviewers by making small social faux pas, it is clear that showing them that you can easily adapt into and operate within their culture will be a massive boost to your chances.
Most graduates look to stay in the country they have studied in (or to return to their country of origin) so make the most of the Careers Services at your university; talk to recruiters at offices you've done work experience in; ask alumni from your home country if possible. In short, arm yourself with whatever plus points you can, it just might give you the edge.
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