Nailing the job interview

In the previous post, we gave you some tips on applying for summer internships. As important as it is applying to internship and job opportunities, it's crucial that you're well prepared for an interview.

If you are successful in your initial application process, you will most probably have an initial interview with a member of the HR department, followed by assessment centers and further interviews with more senior members of the department you applied for

Interviews can be over the phone, on a video call, or in person. Before preparing for these, it's important that you have a good idea of the recruitment process, particularly the style of interview. For example, some firms use platforms such as HireVue to help with more generic interview questions, whereas some will be in person and ask more technical, job-specific questions.

Preparing for your interview

Regardless of the medium, we know that interviews can be a daunting experience, but preparation is key! That's why we’ve listed some tips on how to prepare and perform at your best at interviews;

Do your research

It's important that you are well informed about both the role you've applied for, as well as company values. You want to focus on questions such as;

  • What's their biggest drive?

  • What is their competitive edge in the market, and how have they achieved this?

  • What differentiates them from competitors- both in internally and externally?

  • What are their core values, and how can you add to these?

Most of the information you're looking for can be found on their website, but you may want to ask current, or ex employees for more unique factors, such as their emphasis on corporate responsibility. All of this, of course, is to prepare you for the big 'But why do you wanna work here?' question.. Like obviously to get paid

Just kidding! You should always be passionate about the jobs you're applying for- and if not, make it look like you are.

Answering competency based questions

In most interviews, you are almost guaranteed at lest a few competency based questions. These questions are for the interviewer to observe how you've made best use of your skills. Questions can include the following;

  • Give me a time you demonstrated strong leadership skills

  • Explain a difficult situation you faced, and how you solved it it

  • Give me a time you had to use your communication skills

When answering these questions, you can use the STAR analogy (Situation, Task, Action, Result). This will help you structure your answer, and provide clear details of the situation at hand, and your role in providing a positive outcome.

Mock interviews

One of the best preparations you can make use of is through mock interviews. It's completely up to you how you want to do it- weather it's with friends, successful candidates or even your professor! You mock interviews can be more generic, or specific to the job role, for example, if you are preparing for a Consulting interview you may want to download some case studies online and work through them with your colleagues.

Another option is using Pramp. Pramp is an online platform which allows you to practice mock interviews, with a greater focus on coding questions. The way this works is that you are assigned a buddy based on your available dates, who is also looking to practice for similar interviews. You then have an hour-long session in which you and your buddy take in turns for play both the roles of the interviewer, and the interviewee.

When playing the role of an interviewer, you pose a common coding question that is provided to you prior to the interview, along with the solutions- this allows you to understand the situation from the perspective of an interviewer, and observe some common mistakes people make. It also provides you with a different perspective and approach to solutions, helping you with future problems you may have. When playing the role of an interviewee, you solve a coding question and obtain feedback. This also helps you improve your problem-solving skills, and write more clean code during an interview, that is readable and easy to understand for your interviewer.

However you decide to approach it, I would definitely recommend doing a mock interview prior to the real thing. It helps enhance your ability to better explain your train of thoughts to others, and helps you become comfortable with interviewing around unfamiliar people.

Know yourself!

When preparing for interviews, don't get carried away and ignore the most basic questions, such as 'Tell me a bit about yourself', or 'What are your strengths/weaknesses'. It sounds stupid- but you'd be surprised as to how many people struggle with answering these. Make sure you keep the responses short and simple, and always relate it to your career ambitions and why you've applied to the job in the first place- the interviewer doesn't want to know about your 6 month back-packing trek around Thailand (...sorry, I'm sure you had a great time)

Technical interviews

When preparing for more technical interviews, Pramp is a great resource to use. For more technical interviews, Leetcode is also a great way to prepare for programming problems. Leetcode is a platform in which you can find common coding questions posed during interviews at different companies. It allows you to filter out questions for various uses, such as a list of top 100 Technical Interview questions, or questions from the specific firm you are interviewing with. It also includes questions from top firms such as Google, Facebook, Uber and Apple, and so is definitely worth a look at.

Leetcode also has a daily challenge, in which you are given a problem to solve each day. By doing as many problems on this website you become familiar with the possible questions asked during a coding interview, and how to come up with optimal solutions, and you get better at writing clean and fast code. You can also use the questions found on the website during a mock interview with a friend, which can help make it more interview-like.

Here is some more advice on how to perform well during a technical interview:

  • Read the problem carefully and make sure you understand it well before proceeding to come up with a solution

  • Don't be afraid to ask your interviewer questions (Such as what type of data you are given, how big is the data you are given, what to do if ….)

  • Walk your interviewer through your understanding of the problem, along with any ideas you have relating to the solution

  • If you can't come up with a complex solution, don’t worry. Start with simple basic solutions to the problem (like a brute-force)

  • Think about any observations or ways you can improve your solution

  • Don’t forget to mention the complexity of your solution- Why is your solution good? How many operations you are doing? Are you using any extra space?

  • You should talk your interviewer through your coding- for example; “Here is the part where we iterate through the array”, “Here is the part where we sort the names”, “This is the variable that keeps track of the current time”… etc. An alternative to this is to finish implementing your solution, and walk your interviewer through your implementation in the end- here you can run an example manually, and show what your solution is actually doing

  • Give your variables suggestive names- for example; providing a variable that keeps track of the time a customer spent in the queue the name ‘a’ or ‘b’ may be confusing when you have bigger code, so a better way to do it would be for example a variable named ‘time_in_queue’)

  • Try your best to explain your train of thought, and reasoning with examples

Additional tips

Experience, experience, experience..

One of the best way to get better at interviews is to have as many as possible. Although mock interviews add great value, nothing compares to a real-life interview experience. Plus it's better to be upset about an interview that went badly than to regret not applying in the first place!

Ask questions

Another tip is to ask questions after your interview is finished. Not only does this show your interest and enthusiasm in the firm and the job you’re applying for, it also helps create good rapport with the interviewer! Be careful not to waffle here though, only ask questions if you're genuinely interested in the subject area.

Dress to impress (but don’t be fashionably late…)

Make sure you’re dressed in formal attire, or business casual if you’re feeling brave- it’s always better to be overdressed in my opinion. Also make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of the interview, so plan your journey ahead! Arriving earlier may also help you get free office snacks… Good for morale

Just be yourself!

We know, we know- you’ve heard it a million times, but there’s a reason why. Recruiters typically interview hundreds of people a week, and so are quick to differentiate a genuine candidate from the rest. That’s not to say you should start talking in your East London roadman slang… But be honest with your goals, aspirations, and the experiences you've had- you’ll be able to relate to these better, in turn giving more detailed and meaningful responses.

Mastering good interview technique is an extremely valuable skills to have- and this all comes down to experience, preparation and commitment. As mentioned earlier, the more experience you have, the better you will get at them- so be confident with the preparation you've done, and don’t stress too much!

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