The ten most common questions asked at graduate interviews

We asked students what questions they were asked at graduate selection interviews by a variety of employers and for a range of jobs.

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Whereas we doubt if this survey is very reliable it does give an idea of the key questions to watch out for, and to prepare answers to, at interview.

Of course questions were sometimes asked in slightly different formats. For example,”Why do you want this job?” was sometimes phrased “Why do you want to be an accountant/social worker/journalist?”

1. Why do you want this job?

One of the most predictable questions and very important! You need to demonstrate that you have researched the employer and tie your knowledge of them into the skills and interests that led you to apply. For example, an interviewee with a small public relations agency might say:

“I’m always ready to take on responsibility and feel this will come more quickly with a firm of this size. A small firm also gives the chance to build closer working relationships with clients and colleagues and I’ve found through my past work experience that this makes an organisation more effective as well as more satisfying to work in.”

Try to find some specific feature on which the employer prides themselves: their training, their client base, their individuality, their public image, etc. This may not always be possible with very small organisations but you may be able to pick up something of this nature from the interviewer.

2. Have you got any questions?

At the end of the interview, it is likely that you will be given the chance to put your own questions to the interviewer.

  • Keep them brief: there may be other interviewees waiting.
  • Ask about the work itself, training and career development: not about holidays, pensions, and season ticket loans!
  • Prepare some questions in advance: it is OK to write these down and to refer to your notes to remind yourself of what you wanted to ask.

It often happens that, during the interview, all the points that you had noted down to ask about will be covered before you get to this stage. In this situation, you can respond as follows:

Interviewer: Well, that seems to have covered everything: is there anything you would like to ask me?

Interviewee: Thank you: I’d made a note to ask about your appraisal system and the study arrangements for professional exams, but we went over those earlier and I really feel you’ve covered everything that I need to know at this moment.

You can also use this opportunity to tell the interviewer anything about yourself that they have not raised during the interview but which you fell is important to your application:

Don’t feel you have to wait until this point to ask questions – if the chance to ask a question seems to arise naturally in the course of the interview, take it! Remember that a traditional interview is a conversation – with a purpose.

Examples of questions you can ask the interviewer

These are just a few ideas – you should certainly not attempt to ask them all and indeed it’s best to formulate your own questions tailored to your circumstances and the job you are being interviewed for! Make sure you have researched the employer carefully, so that you are not asking for information which you should be expected to know already.

  • Is there a fixed period of training for graduates?
  • I see it is possible to switch job functions – how often does this happen?
  • Do you send your managers on external training courses?
  • Where would I be based – is this job function located only in …?
  • How easy is it for new graduates to find accommodation in this area?
  • How often is a graduate’s performance appraised?
  • What is a typical career path in this job function?
  • Can you give me more details of your training programme?
  • Will I be working in a team? If so, what is the make-up of these teams?
  • What is the turnover of graduates in this company?
  • What are the possibilities of using my languages?
  • What are the travel/mobility requirements of this job?
  • How would you see this company developing over the next five years?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere in this company?
  • What is your personal experience of working for this organisation?

3. Describe a situation in which you lead a team.

This is an example of a competency-based question. Many graduate positions involve people management, where you will be expected to plan, organise and guide the work of others as well as motivating them to complete tasks. The interviewer needs to assess how well you relate to other people, what role you take in a group and whether you are able to focus on goals and targets.

Outline the situation, your role and the task of the group overall. Describe any problems which arose and how they were tackled. Say what the result was and what you learned from it. Examples could include putting on a drama or music production; a group project at university; a business game or Young Enterprise scheme or being team leader in a fast-food restaurant.

This, and other skills which the employer considers essential for effective performance in the job, should have been highlighted in the job description or graduate brochure – so always be prepared to give examples of situations where you have demonstrated these qualities! While your example should indicate the nature of the team and the task, you need to focus on your own role as leader and on the personal qualities that led you to take on/be nominated for this role and which helped you to succeed in it. Leadership involves many skills: planning, decision-making, persuading, motivating, listeni

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