Getting an interview after graduating can be both exciting and terrifying – it’s your first opportunity to really sell yourself and your skills, but it might also be your first ever interview. So how do you make sure it goes well? We spoke to Abby Guthrie-Svanholm, hiring manager for Findcourses UK, Findcourses USA and Educations.com, who makes a point of hiring graduates fresh out of their bachelors or masters’ degrees, to find out what top 5 mistakes graduates make in interviews.
Here’s what Abby had to say:
Firstly, we think hiring recent graduates is great. New graduates can bring a fresh perspective to the table, having just come out of studying (often in a related field, but not always), and their passion, enthusiasm and drive is one of their finest qualities. What we also love about hiring graduates is that, unlike those who have been in the workforce for a number of years, we can mould them to our company’s ethos (our principles are performance, passion and professionalism) and they’re not likely to bring baggage with them from previous roles (for example, assuming that just because they’ve had one bad manager that all managers will be equally bad).
Graduates are also very career focused – and rightly so. The beginning of your career is arguably the most important, as it sets the tone for where you want to see yourself in 2 years, 5 years or even 10 years. This drive and enthusiasm is always welcomed by employers – not just by us – and it’s a great advantage to graduates.
That having been said, here are the 5 biggest mistakes made by graduates at interviews:
1. Forgetting the basics
It should be common sense to turn up to an interview on time and wearing smart attire. Turning up late means you have to make your first interaction with the company an apology: which is never great. In terms of what to wear, research the company beforehand to get an idea of dress code. For example, ours is very relaxed (smart casual bordering on casual) but that doesn’t mean we would judge someone for turning up in a suit. In fact, we’d rather you were overdressed and came across as professional- it shows you’re taking the interview seriously.
Secondly, try not to wear anything too outrageous. This might sound odd, but you want the interviewer to be focused on you – not the very unusual earrings you decided to wear, or your brightly patterned shirt.
2. Not doing your research
This is a mistake that I see from people who have been in the workforce for a number of years, as well as graduates. Now, you might think that this is bad because it shows you don’t know a lot about the company (which it is) but the main reason it’s such a big no-no is that it causes the interviewer to spend your interview time talking about the company, rather than listening to how great you are.
Your ultimate goal in an interview is to walk away with an offer: whether that’s a second interview, or a job contract (although second and even third interviews are incredibly common.) So anytime spent not selling yourself and your skill sets is time wasted, from a graduate’s point of view.
3. Not giving examples
Because a lot of graduates don’t have formal work experience, they often freeze when they’re asked about their skills and how these have practical applications. For each skill you have listed on your CV, come prepared with an example of how this skill helped you overcome a real-life situation, and don’t be afraid to draw on examples from your course. For example, if you have listed communication skills as being a strong point of yours, you might say something like:
“I have good communication skills. I led a project at University and my group had difficulty understanding what the professor wanted us to deliver in terms of our presentation. It was up to me to approach the professor, which involved me flexing my communication tone, and to deliver and disseminate that information back to the group, in order to ensure we could work together to meet our goal.”
4. Coming across as inflexible
If you’re a very recent graduate, chances are you won’t have specialised skills yet that have been put to the test in a business environment – and that’s not a problem. What’s important for most employers is to see that you have done some level of self-reflection in terms of what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
But… don’t box yourself in.
If your passion, for example, is writing, it’s not wise to come to an interview with the attitude that you only want to write. After all, most employers look for someone that’s open to discovering new talents, or developing the skills they already have.
Be passionate with what you know and love, but don’t develop tunnel vision – this limits the employer in terms of where they can place you within the company and it can cause them concerns for your professional development plan (as, with most people, you will develop and grow a lot, in a variety of skills, across the course of your career.)
5. Asking about salary/not knowing how to answer the question “how much are you expecting to earn?”
Salary is always an awkward question. If it’s not brought up in your first interview, we recommend not asking (it’s far more appropriate to ask once you have received an offer, and negotiate from there, or in your second interview.) However, if you want to get an idea of your future earning potential, build this into your questions at the end.
A subtle way of finding out your salary potential is to ask what the progression opportunities are like for people that start in a role similar to the one you’re interviewing for – and it’s great to ask the employers for specific examples of employees who have worked their way up through the ranks. This will also give you an indication of how much you can expect your paycheck to grow during your time with the company.
If the employer raises the subject of salary, by asking what your expectations are, it’s good to come prepared. However, try not to just take the average salary for that role and present that number. Entry level positions tend to be below this. So position is like this: “I know the average salary for this role is around £28,000 per year. I appreciate I would be coming in at entry level, however, so would be receptive to your salary offer on that basis.”
Bonus Tip: Be humble & ask good questions
Make sure you have a few questions in your back pocket for the end of the interview. One I love is asking your hiring manager what it is they love about their job – after all, the interview is as much a chance for you to see if you would like working there as it is for the employer to see if you would be a good fit.
Another bonus tip is being humble. We especially like it when people attribute a portion of their success to the people around them – whether that’s a group at university, or their friends and family. It shows us that you would work really well in a team and would be willing to pitch in and help your colleagues for the overall benefit of the company, and not just for your own benefit.