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Job interviews can be intimidating, but simply preparing well can make the difference between succeeding or failing, regardless of how nervous you are. In this article we pull together advice on how to prepare for job interviews and how to know what questions you’ll be asked. 

Key tips:

Prepare your answers, and your key points. Our easy-to-follow Interview Preparation Worksheet (download from right hand side of the screen) will take you through the key points and help you to work out what to say for all the likely questions. Preparing well can really help you to sound relaxed and confident in an interview, and make the difference between failure and success.  

Revise about the company and the role. Many groups will ask in the interview: ‘what do you know about our company?’, ‘have you looked at our website?’, or ‘what do you think this job entails?’. It’s vitally important to have revised so that you can respond for these for three reasons: first and foremost, so that you know whether this is an organisation you want to work for! Secondly, to demonstrate that you’re an organised, thoughtful employee who is well prepared and has good initiative, and thirdly simply because these are the only questions for which you can’t make up an answer on the spot! Take half an hour to an hour the night before the interview to read about the organisation and note down its objectives, history, questions you might have etc. You don’t have to memorise all the facts, just know enough to be informed.

Keep your answers to two minutes – three absolute max. Don’t speak for hours on each topic; you need to answer the question fully, but try not to waffle too much. Completing the Interview Preparation Worksheet will help you to work out what you want to say in a coherent and fluent manner. 

On the other hand if you’re nervous about the interview, make sure you DO answer the question fully: ensure that your answers are several sentences long. One-word or very short answers won’t show the interviewers your key skills and qualities. Again the Interview Preparation Worksheet will help you to be prepared so that you can answer fully. 

In an ideal world, an interview should feel like a polite (albeit relatively one-sided) conversation, developing a sense of rapport if you can; the interviewee should be giving enough information for this ‘conversation’ to flow, but without talking for hours and boring the interviewers. It’s a balance, so you need to work out how think you will react (whether you know you’re a waffler or whether nerves make you clam up), and prepare yourself accordingly. 

Have questions prepared. This is surprisingly important: all interviewers will give you the chance to ask questions, and this is where many interviewees struggle. Preparing in advance can make the world of difference. Asking banal questions about lunchbreaks, paid overtime, or holiday allowance is not recommended unless you have a specific reason, since it suggests you care more about being out of work than being in it! Instead, try preparing an intelligent question that shows the interviewer you’ve considered and are genuinely interested in working in this organisation. For example, you could ask something about the methodology of the research study in question. Alternatively, you could ask something that shows that you are also being selective in choosing your place of work; you could ask the interviewers what they enjoy about working for this organisation, or what it’s like to work here. You could also ask about the project’s aims for future (as long as you make it clear you’ve done your homework!) – for example, where do the interviewers see the project going. 

Practice out loud. If possible, with a friend; if not then practice on your own, but it must be out loud. It’s important to practice verbalising your answers, because you’ll find ways of answering which are fluent and coherent. You’ll be prepared and therefore more relaxed in your interview, and 

Be as confident and relaxed as you can. Smile.

  • If you’re really nervous about interviews, don’t worry. Interviewers are human too, and mostly they will try to put you at ease and want you to do well; they’re not testing you, they’re simply seeing if you’re a good fit for the role. Part of being a good fit usually involves also being personable and fitting in with the team, which is why it’s important to be as relaxed as you can. Make sure you remember to breathe and smile, and try to relax. 
  • If you’re nervous, visualisations can really help. Before the interview, take the time to imagine the interview, and imagine yourself stepping in and being confident and engaging. Imagine how it feels to answer the questions self-assuredly, how it feels to smile in an interview situation, and how it would feel to impress the interviewers and have them respond positively to you. Do this several times, including just before you go in! 
  • On the other hand, if you’re already a very confident person and you don’t suffer from nerves in interviews – remember that working in research doesn’t need you to be a sales person. You want to develop a sense of rapport, so a joke here or there is fine, but you need to be polite and respectful rather than over-confident.

Learn from your mistakes – and your successes. After the interview, no matter how it went, scribble some notes. What did you think you did well, and what do you think you did badly? Make sure you note both down for the future.  You can request feedback from interviewers after the event, so even if you don’t get the job, you can ask for feedback which could help you in future. 

Remember that interviews are for you as well as for the company. You won’t want to work in every organisation in the world; some won’t fit your values, or the team won’t be the right fit for you. Remember that this interview is your chance to see the organisation and see if it’s a place you’d like to work. Keeping this in mind will also help your sense of self-assurance during the interview if you’re feeling nervous!  

On the right hand side of the screen you'll find a Preparation Worksheet, which will help you to plan what you'd like to say in an interview, and gives you specific tips and example answers. Also provided is a real example of a Skills Assessment Questionnaire, which could help you to think about the things employers would ask of you.