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Job interviews: an overview

Love or hate them, most people will attend a job interview at some point in their working life. If you’ve been invited to an interview you should congratulate yourself - the level of competition for each role is often high - so to be chosen from all the applications received is a great achievement in itself.

Interviews are designed to help us and you decide whether you’re right for the department you applied for. A good recruitment process is one where the right candidate is identified for the right position.

Stephanie Ahrens, Credit Suisse

Different types of interviews

Interviews vary in format, as does the number of interview stages that you may need to attend.

You can explore the different types of interviews that usually take place in the hiring process and what you can expect during each one.

Face-to-face interviews

Still probably the most common type of job interview, a face-to-face meeting of some kind will nearly always happen in the hiring process. Be it a one-on-one interview, or meeting multiple people from the organisation at the same time.

The format of this type of interview can be as simple as a fairly informal chat over coffee, to an assessment centre, or a panel interview.

Do ...

  • Arrive on time - not only make sure that you don’t arrive late, but don’t arrive too early either. Don’t arrive at venue any more that 10 minutes before your interview, as this might make the interviewer feel rushed and stressed. If you do arrive really early, sit in a nearby café, go for a walk or wait in your car until it’s time to go in.
  • Shake hands firmly and offer a warm greeting when you meet the interviewer/s.
  • Look the part! Find out about the company’s culture and dress code in advance if possible. A full suit wouldn’t be appropriate attire for a job in a creative design agency, likewise a smart-casual outfit wouldn’t be suitable for a job as a bank manager.
  • Be courteous to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to people you might meet in the lift.
  • Use positive and appropriate body language and maintain eye contact when listening to and answering the interviewer/s.

Don't ...

  • Smoke or eat any strong-smelling foods before your interview, these smells will linger and be noticed by the interviewer/s.
  • Forget the name/s of the person/s interviewing you, be sure to use their name (occasionally) when responding to their questions.

Panel interviews

Panel interviews are face-to-face interviews, but with three or more people conducting the interview and asking questions. Take a look at face-to-face interviews for some extra tips.

The kind of people that you might be interviewed by for panel interviews could include:

  • The hiring manager.
  • Members of the team that you're applying to join, and / or the person that is leaving the role.
  • A Human Resources representative.
  • A colleague from another department that works closely with the department that you're applying to join.
  • The client that you would be working with, if you secured the role.

Do ...

  • Try and find out more about the people on the panel in advance, to help you understand their backgrounds and how they might work with the person in role you’re applying for. This could be from their job titles in your interview confirmation email, looking at their profiles on LinkedIn, or asking the consultant if organised through a recruitment agency.
  • Greet each person with the same warmth, friendliness and professionalism.
  • Try and memorise their names when meeting, use their name when replying to the individual during the interview, but not more than once per person.
  • As you reply to questions the panel members may write notes on your answers – don’t let this faze you as it’s a way for them to recall information about the different candidates.

Don't ...

  • Forget that when you’re asked a question by an individual from the panel, to maintain eye contact with them as they deliver the question, but as you start to answer subtly turn to and look at each member of the panel when communicating your answer back to the panel.
  • Feel intimidated by a panel interview. It might feel alien to be interviewed by a group of people, but remember that they will want to bring out the best in you and it’s your chance to shine.

Telephone interviews

Telephone interviews are traditionally (but not exclusively) used for first-stage interviews. Time is often very precious to hiring managers and telephone interviews give the employer the ability to establish the best candidates to meet in person, which is obviously the opportunity for them to then share more about the role in greater detail, further explore your skills, to get insight into each other’s personality and for you to learn about the expectations of the role.

Do ...

  • Research the company and competitors, as you would with a face-to-face interview.
  • Be sure to find out if you’re calling the employer or if they’re calling you.
  • Find somewhere quiet to talk to the interviewer, somewhere without distractions or interruptions.
  • Try and use a landline where possible, a poor mobile phone signal may hinder the conversation.
  • If using a mobile phone or hands-free landline handset, make sure the phone is fully charged.
  • Sound enthusiastic, engaged, friendly and use positive language.
  • Have your CV and a copy of the job description with you, in case you need to refer to them during the interview.
  • Make a note of any questions that you want to ask the interviewer.

Don't ...

  • Eat, smoke, or chew gum! Although having a glass of water to hand is advisable, to prevent your throat drying up while talking.
  • Interrupt the interviewer. Without visual cues, it can sometimes be hard to judge when someone has finished talking, but wait a couple of seconds to ensure they have finished before you start speaking.
  • Multitask! No tapping at your computer, feeding the dog or doing the shopping! The interview should be your sole focus
  • End the call without a thank you and without confirming the next steps in the interview process.

Video / Skype interviews

In an age where we rely on technology much more, employers and recruitment agencies are moving towards utilising video interviews. By using tools such as Skype instead of telephones, the interviewer can see your non-verbal cues, enabling them to read your body language and build a better rapport than might be possible through just a telephone call. 

Do …

  • Find a quiet space to conduct the interview, be aware of what can be seen in the background behind you, a clothes horse with undergarments hanging or your bedroom would not be appropriate.
  • Make sure that your laptop / phone / tablet is fully charged or plugged in.
  • Try and use a Wi-Fi connection where possible, especially when using a mobile phone or tablet, as mobile data might be unreliable and / or slow.
  • Ensure that you'll not be interrupted by family, pets or visitors and turn off the TV or radio.

Don't ...

  • Forget to smile and maintain eye-contact, it may be tempting to look at the screen, but remember that the webcam should be where you maintain your focus.
  • Overlook the fact that you should show the interviewer you're engaged, by giving non-verbal and verbal responses such as nodding your head, saying “Mmmm” in agreement etc.
  • Assume that a video interview is any less formal! Wear something smart, like you would do for a face-to-face interview.

Academic jobs interviews

Interviewing for an Academic role (e.g. a lecturer or researcher) is quite different to interviewing for other types of roles.

Usually it will involve you being interviewed by a panel as opposed to an individual, you may be expected to do a presentation or a task as part of the interview. Furthermore, anticipate that you’ll be asked competency-based questions, as well as being asked to provide examples of any research, any work published and to elaborate in detail on specific previous, relevant experience.

Of course, no matter what kind of interview you’re attending, preparation is always essential. The interview will encompass a variety of different topics and not just your PhD research.

Do …

  • Consider wider factors that affect institutional direction - this could be government legislation or performance indicators such as university rankings (The Teaching Excellence Framework, Research Excellence Framework, Destination Leavers of Higher Education, Guardian and Times Higher Education university rankings).
  • Research the courses that are offered by the institution - this can help you prepare for any teaching related interview questions.
  • Have an awareness of how research publications are linked to income generation for the institution. Think about your own research plans.

Don't ...

  • Forget to consider student demographic for the institution - you could look at HESA data or student statistics for the institution to learn about student numbers, student domicile, age, disability etc.
  • Overlook the ‘bigger picture’. Much more importance is placed on the ‘student experience’, you can find out more about this aspect by looking at the national student survey results (NSS) - think about how you would support this aim.
  • If you’re asked to present a topic on a subject you're familiar with, i.e. your PhD then don’t bore the panel but try to be your own expert.

Questions you may be asked at an academic interview

Research

  • Why did you choose to do a research degree?
  • Tell us about your output in terms of publications and journals.
  • What publication are you most proud of and why?
  • Tell me about your PhD research assuming that I’ve no knowledge of your subject.
  • What do you see as the main benefits of PhD research?
  • Give us an example of a paper you’ve read, not directly related to your research.

Funding sources

  • Where will you apply for research funding?
  • How will you convince a funding body to fund your particular research?
  • University department.
  • What skills can you bring to the department?
  • Why do you want to come to this university?
  • What do you think you’ve gained from your post-doctoral research?

Teaching experience

  • Tell me about your supervision and teaching experience.
  • Give me an example of a concept from your subject area that’s known as being difficult to grasp. How would you teach this to first-year undergraduates?
  • What subject areas do you think you would find easy to teach to undergraduates and what subjects would be challenging?
  • Can you provide evidence of giving advice and guidance in helping a student stay on the course?
  • Tell us how your OU experience is relevant to a conventional university?
  • Having looked at the criteria for membership to the HEA, how would you evidence the need for CPD/reflecting in practice?

Hints and tips

  • Explore who’ll be on the interview panel and particularly find out any research interests they might have.
  • Research the university department thoroughly and gauge current research activity and any plans they may have for future direction.
  • The panel are usually interviewing against a tight specification or specialised role - ensure your interview answers are relevant.
  • If you’re asked to prepare a presentation or lecture, ensure that you practice beforehand for flow, content and to check that you stay within the time limit. Prepare for questions that could be posed by the panel in relation to your presentation, often the panel will act as the student.
  • It's worth spending time creating your presentation – aim for something that will be imaginative to attract the panel’s attention and make you stand out of the crowd.

Research funding

Bristol University Careers Service website has tips on applying for research funding. Even if you lack experience in this area, you'll be expected to know whom to approach in your field and have a basic understanding of the application process.

Useful resources

Useful tips

Regardless of the type of job interview, there are a few key pieces of advice that you should consider for all interview methods:

  • Be punctual.
  • Speak clearly and politely, at an even pace, not talking too fast or too slow.
  • Smile! (A smile can even be heard over the phone).
  • Be detailed and yet succinct in your answers, you need to answer the question posed with a thorough response, but resist the temptation to waffle or go off on a tangent!
  • Listen - Not only to each question being asked, but make a mental note of key pieces of information that you may want to refer back to in your answers, or ask questions about later.
  • Have your questions to ask at the end of the interview ready.
  • Thank the interviewer/s for their time and confirm the next steps in the hiring process.
Front cover of Your Career Planning Guide

Your Career Planning Guide

Deciding what you want to do with your career can feel like the start of an exciting journey, but it can also feel daunting if you're not sure where to start. Your Career Planning Guide is available to all students, you'll need to be signed in to access the guide.

Last updated 6 months ago