How to Handle Interviews & What to Expect

on 1/9/11

Let's face it interviews are one of the most dreaded and awful experiences that we come across, very few people enjoy the interview process - what you may be surprised to know is that includes the interviewers!

You may get nervous, not answer the questions in a way you would like, or make a complete hash of your interview, but so will a lot of the people interviewed. Also the ones with the coolest heads in interviews are not always the best for the job, but will probably be asked back for a second interview or get offered the position, whereas because you are unprepared or let nerves get the better of you miss out on a dream job.

So here what we want to do is give you some sound advice to help you show your personality and skills to ensure that you have confidence in an interview situation and also that you can avoid some of the common mistakes students, graduates and many others make all the time.

Preparing for an Interview - The Basics

  • Make sure you have re-read the original job advert, and / or the personal / job specification (if you have one)
  • Make sure you have printed off a copy of your CV and covering letter, re-read this and make sure you have matched your skills with those of the job (if you haven't remember to address this in the interview).
  • Prepare your portfolio ready for the interview in advance (don't leave until the last minute) and make sure your portfolio is relevant to the position you are being interviewed for.
  • If you have been asked to complete a 'mini project' (which is now fairly standard practice) make sure that you have followed the brief and that every thing is mounted professionally etc.
  • On a practical level, confirm that you are attending, also check your route / timings and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there.
  • Before the interview do any further research you can (you should have already done this before applying for the job) for instance if a retailer go in store, if a product design company look at their products or visit projects they have worked on if possible, look for any latest news i.e. expansion, press coverage of ranges, exhibitions they have just attended.
  • Also research the role you have applied for, speak to any friends or family that may do this or a similar job - ask them what they would look for in this role.
  • Think about the questions they may ask you, then put together answers the more prepared you are the more likely you can come up with a good answer in interview don't learn them off by heart though, but think of key points, good words to use or examples.
  • Are there any negatives in your application, think how if asked about them you can turn them into a positive or show how you have overcome them, whatever you don't want them to ask you they invariably will - so make sure you can explain that career gap or changing courses for instance.

Informal Interviews

Watch out for informal interviews as they can lull you into a false sense of security! 'Come along we will just have a chat about how you might fit into the team.' This can be difficult as it may be 'just a chat' but if you don't come across in the right manner you will have blown your chances, plus it can be very difficult without any formal structure to concentrate, or sell your best qualities.

The main types of informal interview are:

  • Telephone - You may not have even realised that you were being interviewed on this one - so always make sure you talk to any prospective employer in a professional manner.
  • Face  to face - They may not have  made an effort but make sure you do - treat as if a formal interview, be prepared and focussed.
  • Casual surroundings - Bars, restaurants, exhibitions or the middle of busy design studio can all be used as venues so be prepared for people being able to overhear you, you should still sell up your skills qualities even if you feel a bit foolish.

When in an informal interview situation it can be difficult to ask key questions, such as pay or conditions, you may not even know at the end of it whether you are ebing offered the job or not. So make a short list of key questions you would like to know, you can also gently steer the meeting as you go through it with questions like ' Can I just ask...' 'That sounds great ... but.' Normally those that prefer informal interviews are those that are fairly laid back themselves (so they will be wanting to see if your personalities can get on) or it can be a way of weeding out the ones that are no good before the main interview stage.

Telephone Interviews

With telephone interviews they can phone you out of the blue which can be unnerving, if you are not ready or are in a noisy place it is best to be honest and say can I call you back in 2 minutes so that I can go somewhere quiet. This will give you the chance to quickly prepare and also ensure that you are not distracted or contunally interupted.If you have applied for a few jobs where they say they are going to call you it is worth prepping in advance or having a pack of information / key pointers in a handy place.

  • Normally pre-arranged for a suitable time and date - so if this is the case prepare like any other interview.
  • Make sure you are somewhere quiet without distractions and good mobile signal
  • Have your CV with you
  • Be yourself – no phoney accents etc, if you get the job it can be hard to keep up the accent for the next 5 years.
  • Make sure you smile down the phone – you can tell!
  • Don't panic, they can't see you are in your pyjamas still - but make sure any flat mates etc answer the phone professionally and that you don't sound half asleep.
  • Recruitment agencies are particularly prone to telephone interviews because of the volume of candidates, they can be the toughest.

Formal Interviews

In some ways formal interviews are the easiest ones, as they can be reassuringly simple. Most formal interviews will last between 30 minutes to 1 hour depending upon whether it is your first or second interview and the practices of the company.

There are, however a number of different ways a formal interview will be conducted, but you should normally be informed as what to expect. These are:

  • Face to face - Traditional style of interview where they will tell you a little about the job, you will be asked a series of questions before you will be expected to ask some of your own. Nowadays you will normally be invited for 2 formal interviews, you could also be asked to undertake any of the following too.
  • Induction Day - Very popular with retailers and a good way for their HR departments to be able to see lots of potential employees, normally these consist of tours / presentations about the company, team building style tasks, informal interviews and presentations.
  • Psychometric Testing - Again a popular interview process, where basically you get to answer lots of multiple choice questions in short space of time - these can often be completed online or at interview stage
  • Presentations - You could be asked to do a formal presentation that you have been asked to prepare for or be put on the spot & given a few minutes beforehand, this is to see how you act under pressure and as most jobs entail lots of presenting, it is worth brushing up on your skills before your interview.
  • Competency tests - Can be a mixture of things from a maths or English test to you having to do elements of the job you have applied for i.e. for buying - put together a small range or for pattern cutting an actual pattern.

Induction Days

The idea of induction days is for the company to see as many potential candidates as possible, whilst you find out more about the company and make sure you are suited for the role. During the day it is important that you stand out from the crowd, without becoming too pushy or too much of a show off. Remember you will be being watched throughout the day, so make sure you stay friendly & polite and don't be too cliquey with the other candidates.

Normally induction days will consist of presentations and team building exercises, and you may be seperated into groups, don't worry if people in your team are not as competent as you - try taking the lead or helping to direct the group forward. Make sure you put in 100% effort, as your effort will shine through regardless.

If you are asked to complete a role play task, take it seriously even though they can be a bit embrarassing - they are actually quite helpful for companies to see you in action - if you relax and get on with the task the initial embarassment will go away.

Competency / Psychometric Testing

Testing is normally carried out where you need traditional skills such as maths & english, they are mainly used by the larger companies & major retailers. They are also used in the practical roles too where you need to have a particular competency level, so it could be a pre arrranged design brief or for fashion a pattern cutting exercise. The key characteristics are:

  • Mainly testing on Maths, English & personality (which can be quite difficult to prepare for)
  • Often formal testing in a ‘school’ like environment or online prior to interview
  • Usually no calculators etc are supplied, but make sure you take with you just in case you can use in parts of the paper.
  • These are normally carried out for full time recruitment, but can be done for internships too!
  • Pre arranged designed briefs and mini projects are becoming more standard
  • Don't lie in Psychometric test, as they are designed to catch you out, so there will often be 2-3 questions that ask the same thing in a different way. They also can be very helpful for you to find out


Presentations are also fairly common practice and again it is worth practising your presentation skills, as this will help you throughout your career. If you are asked to do a presentation it is worth following some of these basic pointers.

  • Make sure you have you have a visual point of reference if possible, powerpoints (if you are pre-briefed) are always great as they give the audience something to concentrate on, moodboards or presentation boards can also be good - but a visually strong powerpoint is often better.
  • Always think about the visual impact of what you are presenting, it really does help you stand out from the crowd.
  • Try to practice or do a run through of your presentation, also ask family, friends, lecturers. Anyone who will listen!
  • If given a length, don’t over run – practice will help you with your timing, but also if running over try & move through the slides quickly - but not too rushed, try to pace yourself
  • Always end the presentation, don't just stop
  • Be aware of your body language
  • Don't read out your presentation, use cue cards too much, its better if you use your powerpoint as a reminder and just talk naturally - again the more you practice the better and more natural it will become.

Recruitment Agency Interviews

When you are going for a recruitment agency interview or they are interviewing you on the phone, make sure you try & make their job as easy as possible. Be honest, organised and make sure you show them how good you are. Most recruitment agencies will conduct the following:

  • Informal & formal interviews (plus will brief you from any interviews they get for you).
  • You will need to still dress smart / casual
  • Will need you to complete lots of form filling
  • Competency Testing
  • Act like a job interview as they will represent you – make a good impression
  • Show proof of eligibility to work in the country
  • NOT for placements, they will only offer permanent positions only, plus normally want you to have completed 1 year's placement or have relevant experience
  • Try not to register with lots, you should only need to pick a few
  • Read their guidelines

A Few Interview Do's & Don'ts

To get you started we have put together a few basic do's & don'ts to help you:

  • Do be prepared to be interviewed by possibly more than one person, this can be a bit daunting the first time, but just apply the same principles to all of those interviewing you
  • Don’t be late! - Obvious but true.
  • Do take your CV & covering letter with you
  • Do make sure that your portfolio is not too large or cumbersome to manage, and make sure you can talk your way through it in a positive and relevant way
  • Don't be negative about yourself, your work, your previous colleagues or employers
  • Do dress appropriately
  • Do speak clearly & look confident
  • Do be aware of your body language – try not to fidget
  • Don't have a cigarette before going into the building.
  • Smile

During Interview

Bizarre as it seems, but we know of people that have been agressive in interviews, argued or just mumbled or been confused about the job they are applying. They have also said detrimental things about their course, ex employers and basically said they are taking the job until something better comes along! So be careful & considered about what you say.

Make sure you consider the company & the interviewer (they could have interviewed 5 people in 1 day), they want someone who can do the job they are offering, who wants to stick with them, and who is enthusiastic & will fit into the team. So make sure you again follow some of these simple pointers:

  • Introduce & make sure you behave courteously at all times
  • Show tact, manners and maturity at every opportunity
  • Be confident and maintain poise
  • Ask questions when appropriate, but also listen to the answers - don't talk over the other person
  • Take time to think and construct your answers to the questions and avoid rushing into a vague and senseless reply - try repeating the first bit of the question back before answering this will give you time to think i.e. What are your achievements to date ... My achievements so far are .....
  • Show willingness to start at the bottom and work yourself up
  • Don't say you are using the job as a stepping stone for example say 'that although the job is in production, you would really like to become a designer.'
  • Thank the interviewer – if you are really interested in the position let them know

Finally, to give you a chance to prepare we have put together some of the questions you may be asked or you may wish to ask in an interview. Remember some of them are set to trip you up, so make sure even when answering a negative style question you end it with a positive or how you have turned things around. Without being too overtly cheesy, the company is looking for you to be informed, committed, hardworking & honest, and enthusiastic for the job role on offer. So make sure your answers reflect that. They will off course expect you to be talented & have the right skills as well!

Typical Questions Asked at Interviews....

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • What  have been your achievements to date?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
  • What part of your degree have you liked the most?
  • What part of  your degree did you dislike the most?
  • How do you respond working under pressure?
  • Why do you want this position?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?

Good Questions to Ask at Interviews

  • What future plans are there for this position?
  • What opportunities are there for development and promotion?
  • Who are the people I will be working with?
  • When will I hear back if I am successful?
  • Try to ask open ended questions.. Who, What, When, Where, How & Why?
  • Are there any things that you feel you are unsure of about my suitability for this role? (It gives you a chance to cover any last points and rectify any last minute reservations) 

Bad Questions to Ask at Interviews

  • When do we get paid?
  • What benefits do it get?
  • What is the social life like within the company?
  • Am I expected to work overtime?
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