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Grads: how to prepare for an interview

The Power of Preparation

So, it’s that time of year again, when the panic of Finals finally releases its death-grip around the throats of undergraduates, and the panic of Jobs takes its place. The graduates of 2010 will, it is rumoured, have a worse time of it than those of 2009, now that there are two years of ex-students battling it out for jobs.

Some will have already secured their first roles; some will be well on their way. However some, those who are less sure about the direction they want to go in or those who had just assumed it would ‘all sort itself out’ (I was one of these dreamers) will now be looking around at the recruiting landscape and somehow, perhaps even unconsciously, be reminded of the Trenches.

Oh, it’s not so bad. But gone are the days when any graduate with a 2.1 from a decent university could happily expect to get a job within a few months. Now, I think, being ‘good’ is not quite enough. What sets some graduates apart from the others is Commerciality.

Commerciality does not mean that a candidate has had work experience, it is an understanding of the way business works. At FreshMinds Talent, I am always excited to meet recent graduates who have first got a solid grasp of the industry or sector they want to go into, who can name companies within that and list the kinds of jobs they would reasonable expect to go into.

Let’s look at some examples:

Question to a graduate interested in marketing: Could you tell me about a couple of companies you really admire?

Bad Answer: Umm … well … none, really … I hadn’t really – oh, well obviously [names a company they have interned for] … yeah.

Good Answer: I really like Gu Puddings. I’ve always admired their marketing – especially with the umlaut above the u which makes it much more European - and think they’ve added some great products that strengthen the existing brand. They’re also pretty exciting, what with the recent television adverts; I think they’d be an interesting place to work for on the marketing side.

Question to graduate interested in consultancy: So, why are you interested in consultancy?

OK Answer: Well, I really like doing different things and I love doing projects, so … yeah, I think that consultancy is versatile like that.

Great Answer: Well, I know that consultancy can be stressful, with long hours and am totally prepared for that. I think that while I’m young, I want to put my all into a role and consultancy really allows you to do that. My skills are in research, analysis and finding solutions to issues and my Economics degree has shown me how I can apply those skills to business. I’m also very communicative and would love the client-facing aspect. I’ve done lots of research and looked at case studies on consultancies’ websites – I was really impressed.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?

OK Answer: No, no, I think you’ve explained everything really well, thank you!

Clever Answer: I think you’ve explained everything well, I just wanted to know whether you had any concerns or things that I could work on, either on my CV or in my interview style?

So you’ve just got your Maths degree, what are your plans for the next six months?

Average Answer: Um, I’m not sure, I haven’t really planned. I’m pretty open to anything … I mean my degree was pretty general. Something involving numbers?

Good Answer:  My degree was great because it has given me some transferable skills. I’m planning on focusing on finance – I’ve done a couple of investments internships and found those really interesting. Banking is the other major thought and I’ll be applying for some grad schemes. I don’t want to restrict myself just to finance though, I’m aware that there’s a lot more out there. I want my job to be numerical, analytical and challenging. Is there anything you could recommend that I could go away and research?

In each case, the difference might be as little as the candidate having thought about these issues on the tube to the interview. But what a difference it turns out to be. It’s hard to think fast when under the pressure of an interview.

The moral of the story? Do your preparation. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, think and come up with an answer that shows you have thought about it.

Maria Onyango is a Candidate Manager on our Interim Team