Interview Tips and Tricks
With so many people applying to each job, being offered an interview is quite an achievement in itself. Celebrate, pat yourself on the back, and then start preparing for the all-important day. You now know that the company thinks you’d make a good future employee so all you need to do is get over the final hurdle. Here’s some advice on how.
Before the Interview
The key to succeeding in your interview is preparation. If you’re well prepared you know you can handle just about anything that’s thrown at you - and that will help to make a really good impression. Here’s what to consider:
- Read over the job description. So much time normally passes between sending off your application and being interviewed that you may well have forgotten exactly what you’ll be doing. Familiarising yourself with the requirements will help to focus your preparation.
- Read your application again. Nobody has a CV that covers every aspect of their life, so remind yourself of what you focussed on when you applied. There may well be questions during the interview on the work and/or experience you mentioned. You should be able to have a detailed conversation about what you did, what you learned and (possibly) how it informed subsequent decisions.
- Make sure you’re up to date on the company’s news and the sector in general. This will demonstrate your interest in the company and the sector they operate in, and it will help you ask useful questions when you talk to the company’s employees. If the role you’re being interviewed for is technical make sure you have a detailed understanding of how the product/technology works.
- Brush up on your notes. You’re being interviewed to work in a certain area - be ready to show the interviewer you know what you’re talking about. Don’t go mad (it’s not an exam) but have a solid understanding of your subject.
- If you’ve been asked to prepare one, make sure your presentation is just right. You have to stick to the time limit without speaking too quickly. Know everything about what you’ve included in the slides!
- Look at lists of potential interview questions. Websites like this one are really helpful. Come up with a good answer to each - the question you decide not to bother thinking about is bound to be the first they ask!
- If you can, get a friend to do a practise interview with you. It will be helpful to see what others think needs further explanation. If you happen to know Jeremy Paxman, don’t ask him - nobody needs that stress before an interview...
But your preparation isn’t only about what to say:
- Get your wardrobe ready. Unless the company tells you otherwise, dress smartly. For women, this means wearing a tailored dress, trouser suit or a skirt suit. Men should wear a suit and a tie. Don’t think that because the company photos have the employees in smart-casual wear or branded t-shirts you should go for a similar look. It’s an important event and first impressions really do matter: being well-dressed shows you care about the opportunity. If it turns out that you’re overdressed (the employees are your reference here, not the other candidates!) men can always remove your tie and/or jacket to match their appearance.
- If it’s a face-to-face interview, plan how you’re going to get there. In particular, make sure you arrive early - nothing gives a worse impression than turning up late to your interview.
- If it’s an online interview, check your background, internet connection and noise. You will be judged on what’s behind you! Have a practise call with someone to check your internet connection is fast enough for video and make sure where you’ll be calling from is quiet enough for the occasion.
- Have a good night’s sleep. Yawning at the interviewer doesn’t give the best impression.
- Eat something beforehand. Nobody does well on an empty stomach!
- Give yourself enough time beforehand to prepare mentally for the interview. It’s normal to be nervous beforehand, but having a brief look over the notes you’ve made will help to settle the nerves. Keep reminding yourself that you have got what it takes to get the job: that’s why you’re being interviewed.
During the Interview
Now that you’ve done the preparation, it’s time to show them what you’ve got. Bear these things in mind:
- First and foremost: relax! Whilst the company is using the interview to decide who to employ, they aren’t trying to catch you out. They want to see who will fit into their team well - after all, they’re choosing their future colleague. Remember that if you’ve got this far, the company thinks you have what it takes to work for them.
- Try to work out if the job and working environment are right for you. You’ve got the perfect opportunity to decide if you think you’ll enjoy working there. It’s no good for anyone if you end up in a job you hate.
- Remember the interview isn’t the only time you’re under observation. Often, your behaviour and attitude from the moment you work onto the company’s premises will be considered when the interviewers make a decision. Your general behaviour should be as if you’re going in to work for the company, not just for an interview. Always be professional.
- Engage with the other candidates. If the company is taking on more than one person, one of the other candidates will hopefully one day be your colleague. The space sector is also unique in being a quite a tight-knit community - chances are, you’ll meet some of the other candidates again at some point in your later career even if you don’t work at the same company. It’s a great opportunity for some friendly networking!
- Show how keen you are. Ask employees you meet about their work - this will also help you to decide if the company is right for you. In the interview, show the interviewer how passionate you are about working in the sector - the space industry is filled with people who love their jobs!
- Be open and friendly, but don’t make jokes. Act as you would if you were already employed at the company and having a talk with someone much more senior than you. The problem with making jokes is that if they don’t work, it can make for a very awkward atmosphere. Worse still, you might inadvertently offend someone.
- Honesty is the best policy. Do not be tempted to lie or even exaggerate - it will come back to bite you!
- Be honest if you don’t know the answer to a question. Some technical questions may be deliberately too difficult to give the interviewer a chance to observe your logical thinking and reasoning.
- Come up with some questions to ask the interviewer at the end. This shows you’ve given the role and the company proper consideration beyond the responsibilities. This might include the company’s plans for the future, their outlook on challenges the industry is facing and even how the interviewer got to where they are now. Lots of companies have outreach programmes, social events and sports clubs - there’s bound to be something you want to know more about. But:
- Don’t ask about salary and holidays unless the interviewer brings it up! If there wasn’t an advertised salary, try to find out what’s realistic for your level of experience in companies of a similar size in the sector so that you can make a reasonable suggestion if you’re asked for your salary expectation.
- Be ready for the team exercise. A lot of interview days will feature this. Just remember the basics of teamwork and you’ll be fine! Be prepared to take the lead, but don’t be forceful. Contribute as much as you can but never talk over others. Listen to everyone’s suggestions and always acknowledge and consider them. Don’t be afraid to voice concerns you might have about the way your team is going about the task, but always be polite. Be aware that because everyone will have read the same things about how to prepare, the atmosphere may well be unlike any group project you’ve ever done, with everyone trying to lead while being overly considerate of the contributions others make. There’s not a lot you can do about that, but it’s nice to know in advance!
After the Interview
Now that you’ve done all you can, all that remains to be done is to wait for the result. If you don’t get the job, don’t be disheartened. There is normally very little separating candidates after interviews so the tiniest detail in someone’s favour could have tipped the scales. Be proud of your achievement in getting this far and use all you’ve learned in the process to be successful at the next interview you get.
- Ask for feedback: this will tell you where you might need to improve for the interviews you’ll do in the future.
- Consider reapplying in the future. You’ll have a double head start: the interviewers know you already and you’ve been through the exact process before - there is no better preparation than having been there before.