If you’ve never interviewed someone for a position, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of interviews. You might think that a bad interview shouldn’t make that much difference; it’s just an hour or less of one day, compared with the history of achievement and experience that can be demonstrated by exam results, or by a CV.
By contrast, most people who have carried out interviews say that they are a major factor – if not the biggest factor – in deciding whether to hire someone, whether to accept them into a school or on to a university course, and even whether they should be considered for a position of responsibility such as being Head Girl or Head Boy. This can be unfair, because it means that a bad day, even one beyond your control, can affect your chances disproportionately. And as interviews can’t be held “blind”, the effects of unconscious bias are felt more through interviews than through other aspects of an application process.
Unfair as it can be, this means that interview skills are hugely important. In fact, if you have time to do just one thing to improve your academic and career chances, then learning better interview skills could be the best investment.
This isn’t just about answering questions – though there’s plenty you can practise in that respect. It can be about body language, how you enter the room, how you shake hands, and how much eye contact you make. Filming yourself being interviewed is particularly valuable here, as we seldom realise the impact of our own body language until we see it for ourselves.
In terms of the questions you are asked, many interviews – no matter what they’re for – will draw on the
same bank of questions, such as discussing a time when you solved a problem, or enumerating your greatest strengths and weaknesses. There are lots of common answers to these that are best avoided, as your interviewer is likely to have heard them many times before and won’t learn anything new about you.
Finally, an interview is supposed to be a two-way process; it’s not just about you impressing the interviewer, but also about finding out whether whatever it is that you’re interviewing for is right for you. A key skill for interviewing is therefore being able to ask the right questions to work this out, so that if you’re offering the role or place, you’ll know for sure that you’ll want to accept it.