Your Guide to Interviews

Here’s how to impress any interviewer you come up against

Around this period of time, a lot of interviews will be coming up for cadetship and co-op programs. From experience, I know that interviews can be daunting so I wrote this post to give you some advice. Before I start, it is important to understand that there isn’t a single approach to do well in interviews. Different recruiters look for different things and I’m simply giving you advice based on what worked for me.

Interview preparation

In my opinion, the best interviewees are excellent improvisers. Despite this fact, I still think preparation plays an important part to doing well in an interview, especially for those that aren’t as confident with their ability to think on the spot. Preparation only becomes harmful when you try to memorise your responses. Instead, the purpose of preparing is to give your answers more structure and to ease the anxiety of not knowing what to say.

For me, I prepared by writing down all the experiences and extracurricular activities that were relevant to the position. Under each experience, I would then write down specific situations where I displayed certain qualities such as leadership or working under pressure. It is crucial to constantly tell stories and give examples during an interview so this is a powerful approach to refresh your memory.

If you feel the need for even more preparation, it’s worthwhile to write down a list of mock questions and dot point how you would approach each question. Don’t try to predict the questions and memorise answers for them because you almost certainly won’t get the same exact questions in the interview. Just get an idea of what to say which will help you adapt and improvise to whatever the interviewer throws at you.

Another thing I would highly recommend is to do mock interviews with your friends. This will help you become more comfortable in an interview environment and it’s a great confidence booster.

Types of questions

This section provides a list of the most common types of questions that will pop up in the interview and I’ll give you some general tips on how you can tackle each section.

1. Personal questions

Examples include:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is the most important thing to you?
  • Why do you deserve this cadetship/scholarship?
  • What does leadership mean to you?
  • What sparked your interest in this program?

These are questions that the interviewer will ask to get to know more about you at the start of the interview.The questions here should be very basic and straightforward. Just be honest with your answers and let your personality shine.

2. Behavioural questions

Behavioural questions are designed to allow an interviewer to see how you deal with different situations.

Examples include:

  • When was a time you dealt with a sensitive situation?
  • Tell me of a time you had to meet a deadline
  • Describe a time you had to make a decision without much information
  • Tell me of a time when you had to work in a high pressure situation
  • Tell me of a time you had to solve a problem
  • Tell me of a time when you had to inspire someone

Interviewers tend to be nice and will stick to broad situations like the examples I have provided above. In terms of the approach to these questions, be logical and structured with your answer. Briefly describe the situation that you faced to provide the interviewer with some context, talk about how you faced the situation and also be sure to tell them about the final result.

The main challenge here will be to quickly recall a situation which the interviewer has asked about. This is why I say preparation is important where writing down all your experiences will help you with these types of questions. If you absolutely cannot recall anything relevant, talk about another similar situation. For example, if the interviewer asks you — “tell me of a time you had to meet a deadline” and you can’t think of anything, you could talk about your experience with time management.

3. Problem solving and brain teasers

These questions test your creativity and your ability to think on the spot.

Examples:

  • How many windows are there in Sydney?
  • If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be?
  • You wake up alone in a desert. What do you do?
  • How many planes fly out of Sydney every day?
  • You are organising a Christmas party. How do you go about this?
  • Tell me a joke

These questions might seem ridiculous but all of them have come up before. Nicer interviewers might skip these types of questions but don’t be surprised if something like this actually pops up. In terms of the numerical questions like ‘how many planes fly out of Sydney every day?’ the interviewer doesn’t care about your final answer. Instead, they want to see your thought process and how you would solve the problem in a step by step manner.

For the brain teasers, I really can’t give you any broad advice since the possibilities here are endless. Just try to think outside the box and give a witty response which the interviewer won’t expect.

4. Industry specific questions

These are ‘technical’ questions which are specific to the industry that you’re applying for (engineering, finance, IT etc). Interviewers will understand that you guys are still high school students so they won’t expect you to have a great deal of technical knowledge. That being said, I still encourage you to do some research and get a good idea of what people actually do in the industry (i.e. if you’re interviewing for an accounting position, you should do some research on what people do in Assurance or Tax)

If the interviewer doesn’t ask you any technical questions, I would advise to not bring it up unless you’ve done extensive research. This is because the interviewer may grill you on the topic to test if you really know your stuff or whether you’re just reciting something you read on the internet.

General tips

Control the interview

During your interview, there may not be enough time for the interviewer to ask about your main experiences or extracurricular activities. If there’s a particular experience that you want to talk about, don’t wait for the interviewer to ask you about it. Instead, show initiative and take every opportunity you can to bring up this experience (make sure that it is relevant and answers the question).

When you do this, the interviewer will start to ask more questions about that experience that this will be the opportunity for you to expand on it with more depth. The point is don’t sit and wait for the right question because it may never come.

Cues from your interviewer

Throughout the entire interview, you should be closely examining your interviewers to see how they act. Look at the way they sit and the way they speak. Are they smiling a lot? Are they being friendly and casual or are they serious and expressionless?

Based on how your interviewers carry themselves, you should do your best to match them. For example, if your interviewer is joking around and being very casual, that’s a cue that they want to see you lighten up. I’m not saying to completely change your personality and be somebody that you’re not. Just try to match your interviewers because it’s a good way to build rapport.

Confidence vs arrogance

There’s a fine line between being confident and being a dick. The most common interview tip you will get is to ‘just be confident’. Whilst this is certainly good advice, some people try too hard to seem confident which can come across as arrogance to interviewers. Yes, you need to sell yourself but balance it with humility and make it clear that you still have much to learn.

The harsh reality is that you’re applying for junior level positions which requires you to suck up your ego by following directions and to play a supporting role. If you go into the interview claiming to better than everyone else, don’t expect to happy when results come out.

There are no right or wrong answers

After doing tests for years and years, high school students become stuck in the mentality of stressing over what’s right or wrong. Let me make it clear that is no correct answer to an interview question.

If you look on the internet, you’ll find a whole bunch of information about ‘the perfect way’ to answer certain interview questions’. For example, common advice for tackling the ‘tell me about yourself’ question is that the interviewer doesn’t want to hear about your interests or what you do in your spare time. Instead, the supposed ‘perfect’ response is to talk about your education and experiences. However, I know people that break these rules and still manage to kill their interviews.

Interviewers are human beings and each of them have their own opinions about what makes a good applicant. This means there are many viable ways to approach interview questions so don’t blindly follow any advice you get (including the advice I’ve written in this post).

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