Interviews can often seem overwhelming like you’re under a microscope in the harsh glare of a light, but they don’t have to be. Regardless of what format your interviews are in this year, here are six tips to help you interview better.
You can never know exactly what questions you’re going to get on the day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. Some interviewers will send you sample questions in advance, but if you don’t get any, a simple google search will provide plenty.
It’s a good idea to have a few mock interviews with different people. Start off with someone you know very well – like a parent or friend – so you can focus on what you’re saying without feeling so awkward or worrying about presentation.
Then practice with someone you don’t know so well and who you have a more formal relationship with. If don’t think your school is putting on mock interviews, ask them to. Your teachers can ask you academic questions that a family member probably can’t. You could also ask around your community. Someone probably has interview experience who would be willing to help you.
Give a realistic representation of yourself rather than trying to present yourself as someone you’re not. If you’re bubbly, don’t try to appear serious. Equally, if you’re a more serious person, don’t feel the need to be more effusive.
You will appear far more relaxed and confident if you’re being yourself. If you put on another persona, it can come across as very forced and part of your attention will be occupied by maintaining it. That means you won’t be able to apply all of yourself to answering questions.
Remember, there is no “ideal” personality and the university wants to discover what you are like.
The first thing to do in an interview is to build rapport with the interviewer. They’re on the spot too, and conducting interviews – be it in person or online – in a format they’re not used to. Stilted awkwardness is highly likely, but luckily, we have many social tools to overcome this.
Small talk might seem forced at first, but it’s designed to help start conversations and introduce people. The normal structure of common questions like “how are you?” can feel uninspiring but that familiarity means you aren’t expending mental processing coming up with questions. Instead, you can watch for body language cues and spend more time building that rapport.
So when your interviewer engages in small talk, smile and remember it’s designed to help you get to know them – and them you. The more rapport you’ve built, the easier conversation will flow when the questions move onto academic matters.
When you’re asked a question, show your process and don’t be afraid of saying you don’t know. Often academic questions are pitched above A-level because interviewers want to see how you think rather than what you know.
Don’t just sit there in silence as you think, but talk them through what’s going on in your head as you puzzle it out. The interviewer can help nudge you along if you get stuck or are going the wrong way. Verbalising your process can also help your problem solving as putting it into words can tell you if something seems sensible or not.
Working aloud can take some getting used to, which is why rehearsing is so important and building that rapport will make it feel less awkward.
The night before an interview, make sure you go to bed early. You don’t want to be yawning and cradling a coffee mug during the interview. For one, it doesn’t make you look eager, and the interviewers want to find people who are excited to come to university and engage with the department.
Getting to sleep when your mind is obsessing over the next day isn’t always easy, so the next tip might help there!
The most important thing to do before an interview is to relax. You won’t give the best possible representation of yourself if you’re a ball of nerves wound together with tension. When you’re at ease, you will come across as much more natural and engaging. However, relaxing before an interview is easier said than done.
Distraction is often a good way to force yourself to relax. Swotting up on interview tips right up until the moment will only keep it at the front of your mind, so immersing yourself in another activity beforehand can often help. And this tip also works for other stressful appointments like exams!
Make sure it’s an activity that keeps your brain active – such as physical activity or a craft – so you’re alert and thinking fast when it comes for the interview. More passive relaxation activities like watching a show aren’t as helpful. Just make sure you set a timer so you don’t miss the interview! A relaxation activity the night before can also help you drift off and feel more prepared.
Good luck with your interviews, and remember it’s not the be all and end all!