FALLING AT THE FINAL FENCE? FIND OUT WHY
You jumped for joy when you got invited for interview! You thought the meeting went well… But you’ve just heard you didn’t get the job. Oh. What went wrong?
Smart graduates take a moment to feel gutted (and have a little cry if needed) — and then push on with the post mortem. “You may be tempted to just forget the whole thing — but if you do that you’ll miss out on vital information that you need for future applications,” says Cary Curtis, founder of graduate recruitment agency Give A Grad A Go.
“It’s important to look at what you could have done differently, so you can improve next time”, he says. “Start with the positive — you got an interview, which means your skills and experience are strong. Now all you need to work on is your interview technique — which is much easier to fix.”
Ideally, your interviewer will give you some feedback. But what if they won’t — or it’s vague or unhelpful? For every graduate who’s been left scratching their head, Cary explains the five most common reasons why you got the interview, but not the job — and how to make sure you do things differently next time…
1) YOU WAFFLED. We know what it’s like — you’re so keen to impress that you hear half the question and start talking… and talking… and… sorry, what was the question again? “It’s tempting to jump in with both feet, especially when you’re nervous — but it’s important to keep your answers clear and structured,” says Cary. “Remember, your interviewer is as interested in how you order and present your thoughts as they are in the actual content of your answer. Being clear is especially important if you’re going for a client-facing job, like sales or account management. They want to see that you can keep calm and communicate effectively under pressure.”
NEXT TIME: Take the time to make sure you’ve understood the question properly. “If you’re unsure, say, ‘Do you mean…?’ and rephrase the question. This also buys you extra time to think.” Says Cary “Remember the STAR method to answering interview questions (Situation, Task, Activity, Result) — it will give you a neat structure for answering questions and stop you going off on a tangent.”
2) YOU DIDN’T JOIN THE DOTS. There’s you, and there’s the role you’re interviewing for. Make sure you connect the two. “This is especially important when talking about your achievements,” says Cary. “The interviewer is assessing what you’ll bring to the team, so remember that everything you say should link back to what makes you suitable for the position. Often graduates assume the link is so clear that they don’t bother to underline it. But what’s obvious to you isn’t always obvious to an employer”.
NEXT TIME: Hammer it home. “On the job description, next to each job function and requirement listed, jot down an example of how you fit the bill — using specific examples from your academic achievements, extracurricular activities and any previous experience. Making the connection clear in your mind will make it easier to help the interviewer see the link too.”
3) THEY DIDN’T FEEL SPECIAL. Think all supermarkets are the same? All banks? All PR agencies? Well — newsflash — the people who work there don’t agree. “Every employer wants to see that you understand what sets them apart from their competitors,” says Cary. “If you want to work there, you need show that you ‘get’ what makes them unique.”
NEXT TIME: “As part of your research make sure you dedicate time to articulating exactly what it is that attracts you to that company. Not only will this help you decide if they’re the company for you, but when they ask, ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ your eagerness will naturally shine through.”
4) YOU WEREN’T BUSINESS-SAVVY ENOUGH. Your interviewer knows you’ve graduated recently and this role would be your first proper job. But that doesn’t mean they’ll forgive you for pitching up without any sense of how business — specifically, their business — works. “Graduates often wonder what ‘commercial awareness’ means and how they can possibly be expected to have it when this is their first graduate job,” says Cary. “But all it really means is showing how aware you are of the developments, trends and ‘goings-on’ in the industry.” One more thing: make sure your knowledge is bang up-to-date. “Stale commercial awareness — about how the market looked a year ago — is no good to anyone,” says Cary.
NEXT TIME: Don’t bluff — know your stuff. “As part of your interview research you should be using your time to get a complete rounded picture of the company and industry,” says Cary. “What niche does the company ‘own’? How is their market changing? What do they do better than their competitors? When you’re able to talk about what you’ve learnt without it sounding like you’re reading from a script, it’s a good sign you’re ready to face the real thing.”
5) YOU FORGOT TO BE YOURSELF. Be honest, were you a slightly weird version of yourself in the interview because you were nervous or trying to be professional? “It can be tough for graduates to strike the right balance,” says Cary. “You don’t want to be too informal, but at the same time it’s important to show your interviewer how you’ll fit into the team, so you need to give a sense of who you are as a person.”
NEXT TIME: “Where many graduates fall down is they view the interview like an exam where the focus is on getting all the answers ‘correct’. Instead you should try to think of it as simply meeting someone new, with the aim of leaving them with the best possible impression of you. Changing how you choose to view the interview will make all the difference to how naturally you come across.”
AND FINALLY…. Cary says: “Everyone knows that being rejected is tough, and it’s especially disappointing if you made it as far as interview stage. But don’t think you’re ‘Back to square one’, because you’re not. Review the experience, note what you’d do differently next time and move on. If you can use what you’ve learned, your next interview will be better, boosting your chances of getting that job. Good luck!”
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* WHERE ARE YOU GOING WRONG IN INTERVIEWS?
Which of Cary’s 5 reasons do you think applies to you? How are you improving your interview technique? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about how to handle interviews? Share your thoughts with other graduate job hunters below!