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Interview prep: practise and role playing

Team GradAustralia

Practise, practise, practise: Why you need to practise, what to do ahead of time, plus, sample interview questions and answers.

Okay, we’re going to give it to you straight: Your success in an interview depends on how well you can deliver winning answers to what are often very common interview questions. It’s about whether you can sit in front of your assessors, look them straight in the eye, and talk about yourself in effective and appropriate ways without too much floundering.

Seems easy, right? Well, you might be a bit of a verbal gun at the pub on a Saturday night, but add in nerves and a rather uncomfortable pantsuit and you may be entering stutter city.  

Is it necessary to practise?

Is it necessary to cook chicken before you eat it? Do you have to wear clothes in a library?

We like to ask rhetorical questions but we don’t like to leave things ambiguous. So the answer, dear friends, is a resounding, Yes! (sorry to all the nudists out there).

Practising isn’t about standing in front of your family with debate cards, rehearsing every answer until your oration skills rival that of Obama’s.  Instead, we encourage you to write out your answers so you have them in your head. This means you’re not putting your thoughts together in an impromptu fashion during your interview.  

There are two main benefits to this:

  1. You can think of the very best stories to describe who you are
  2. You can connect these examples to ways that you were responsible, creative and earned your stripes.  

When you plan out a few standard answers you’ve got the time and headspace to think of examples from your life when you’ve shown leadership or worked through problems in a team. Thinking on your toes means that you often grab the first thought that comes into your mind and try to stretch it to fit a professional context. Here, you’ve got time to link your best stories to how you might operate if you got the job. You’re basically giving yourself the best shot to prove your candidacy.

Here are some of the most common interview questions and how to create your own answers for each.  

Tell me about yourself?

We covered this one last week but it’s worth mentioning again.  With this kind of question you can start anywhere – your childhood, your high school graduation, your first day of university.  What your interviewer really wants to know is how you communicate and organise information in your head to tell a story. If they want to know something more specific, they’ll ask.  

It’s important to note that you’re not being asked for a list of your greatest accomplishments, so keep the bragging to a minimum.  

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Pwooar, this is a doozy. Talk too much about how awesome you are and you’ll be written off as a megalomaniac.  Then again, if you go into too much detail regarding your shortcomings, you’re a basket case with no self-esteem.  

Think about the requirements of the job and try to connect your strengths to those. If you’ll be working with a large team, refer to how personable you are, or your stellar communication skills. Use specific examples to illustrate your point.

When discussing your greatest weakness, you can mention qualities that aren’t critical to the job or spin your answer to describe something you’ve recently improved upon.

For example, 'I’ve always been involved in a lot of activities in addition to my academic schedule through school and university. In the past, I had a hard time knowing my limits and burned out a few times physically. I’ve since taken up yoga and created a really healthy balance for myself. It’s given me the opportunity to move at the pace I like to go, but also the tools to check out and recharge when I need to.'

Again, keep your answer short and succinct to make way for meatier questions.  

Why do you want to work at this company?

This is your chance to show how much research you’ve done. It’s a time to discuss a few of the things that excite or particularly interest you about the company. This can include culture, group activities, or the fact that they were the first to adopt a certain internal communication application in Australia. Employers want to know that you’re committed to their particular brand, not simply that you need a job.

Why do you believe you’re the best person for this job?

Although you should cover the standard job requirements and how you fulfil each criterion, you should also think about other contributions you could make. What gives you that edge over the other graduates. For example, 'I have always loved writing things, even as a kid. I had four penfriends going at once when I was ten. I’ve always been passionate about words, and I’m excited that I can make a career out of it within this agency.'

In this instance, you have shown how your skills suit the requirements, demonstrated your passion for the job, and acknowledged the company culture and how you might fit in.  

Can you give me an example of a time when you took the initiative?

This kind of question gauges whether you can think creatively in order to solve problems. Your example doesn’t need to revolve around a time you grabbed the reins and took the lead. That’s not what initiative means. It’s about coming up with an idea and voicing that idea to others to improve a situation.  

Employers are not asking whether you’re a cowboy who regularly bucks the rules, but rather whether you’re motivated enough to develop good ideas and use them to implement change within a team.  

Even if you have no direct work experience, talk about an instance when you introduced a rewards chart to your babysitting charges to improve behaviour or taught your mum how to create a website so that she could turn her crochet hobby into a side business. Each of these examples shows that you had an idea and were able to see it through to create a positive outcome.

What are your salary expectations?

Another of the least fun questions of all time. Here you need to show how you value your own skills, but not put yourself out of salary range. If you’d rather not discuss numbers, you could say something sensible like, 'My salary expectations are definitely in line with my experience level.' Alternatively, you could come with a target figure, which you should state is based on average compensation for a graduate within your industry. For example, 'I understand that positions like this pay around $55,000 so I would be happy to begin discussions at this point.'

If you do begin a discussion around numbers, let your interviewer know that you’re most interested in finding the right job for you first and foremost before discussing salary.  

5 points for interview prep:

  1. Put together a list of practice questions.
  2. Write out each answer so that you have them in your head.
  3. Link your own experiences and life stories to each and be prepared to give examples to illustrate your points.
  4. Remember to be succinct in every response.
  5. Decide where you stand when it comes to discussing salary to avoid any awkward situations.