Job interviews represent one of the most important parts of the job hunting process, and regardless of how many you have had so far, they never seem to get any easier. Finding the optimal balance between selling your skills, meeting new people and being enthusiastic can take its toll, even on the most seasoned of candidates.
Mastering your interviews
Administration in the higher education sector is becoming increasingly competitive. As a result, the only way to guarantee success is to plan for it; preparation is key. Here at the AUA, we are constantly thinking of your professional development and career mobility, so we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips that will enable you to master the art of the interview and become a sought-after candidate.
Before we get into details, consider these three overarching tips to keep in mind while job hunting:
Make sure that you maintain a positive attitude throughout the entire process, have confidence in yourself, and always give practical examples of your professional skills and qualifications.
Do your research
The first step in preparing for the interview is researching the requirements for the role and outlining three of the main skills that the employer is looking for. Think of your past professional experience and find relevant examples that showcase these skills. Considering many job interview questions ask you to reference examples of your past experiences, this exercise ensures that you will be prepared to demonstrate your suitability for the role, without feeling ‘put on the spot’.
Your research should also include learning about the organisation in general. When researching a university, make sure you focus on the particular department as well. Considering that many higher education institutions in the UK are the size of multinational corporations, it’s advisable to also take into consideration the department’s achievements, history and future outlook.
Illustrate your work
Use every opportunity to showcase the fact that you are a professional and detail oriented individual. Bring handouts to an interview such as copies of your CV for each interviewer, examples of your work (statistics if your job is digital, visual materials if your current position relies on graphic design) or copies of your presentation, if your interview requires you to create one.
However, make sure you don’t overwhelm them with paperwork; a top-level one page CV and two extra pages of work examples are more than enough.
Remember, your interviewer only knows what you allow them to see; by bringing in concrete samples of your professional journey, you allow them further insight into your achievements.
Top tip: Place handouts in individual folders for each interviewer, so they look organised and neat. This will help you stand out from other candidates during the post-interview stage.
Prepare for potential questions
No two job interviews are the same, but most will include a few trick questions designed to analyse not only your verbal answer, but also your attitude. Researching common interview questions and attempting to answer them at home before the interview means that you will not be caught off guard during the meeting. Here are a few examples:
What is your greatest weakness?
Perhaps the most challenging question you could be asked in an interview. The key to answering this is to focus on non-essential skills. Answers such as “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard” sound, at best, insincere.
For example, if the job’s main focus is in the marketing department, you could frame your answer the following way:
“While I am always keen to learn new skills, I have to admit that I would be far better at compiling an internal newsletter than I would be at administrating financial operations. However, knowing my limitations and being willing to overcome them through learning has always been an asset throughout my career”.
Top tip: Make sure you research common interview questions and prepare your answers before the interview. Where appropriate, try to add a positive spin to your answer.
Interview your interviewer
Many candidates do not realise that an interview is a two-way street; it is as much for employers to learn about you, as it is for you to interview the potential employer and establish if the position is a right fit for yourself. At the end of an interview, when you are asked if you have any questions, taking out your notebook with a few queries gives them the impression that you are serious and genuinely interested in the role. We’re included a few questions you might want to consider below;
- Who is your ideal candidate?
This question is a fantastic way for you to address any gaps you believe your previous answers did not fill with regards to the role profile, and it also gives you a glimpse into exactly what they expect from their employees.
- What’s the best thing about working at your organisation?
Asking this gives you the opportunity to really see if the employer is proud to work and manage that environment, and if the organisation/department is the right fit for you.
- How do you measure the success of your employees in their individual roles?
This question gives you an idea of how you are expected to perform and how closely your work will be scrutinised, allowing you to ensure that the management style is one you are truly comfortable with.
Thank them for the opportunity
A great way to distinguish yourself from other candidates is to write a well crafted thank you email, or send them a thank you card after the interview. This elegant touch shows that you are attentive and eager to fill the role.
Top tip: If you are writing an email, make sure you send a personalised one to each of your interviewers within two hours of the interview, thanking them for the opportunity to meet the managers and see their offices, and include one short paragraph outlining why you are the right fit for the job.
When sending thank you cards, the fastest way for them to reach their destination is to prepare them before the interview and leave them with the concierge/place them in the postbox of the organisation. This means they will receive their handwritten thank you’s the same day.
Remember, one of the best ways to stand out in the crowd is to have a diverse portfolio of transferable skills.
The AUA offers you many opportunities for professional development, such as:
- A wide range of events that can enhance your professional profile and increase your peer network in higher education: take a look at our current events and find one that might just change your career!
- The CPD Framework, a valuable tool that can help you develop from your current position to your desired one
- The AUA Postgraduate Certificate, designed to help you stand out from other candidates by offering a deeper understanding of leadership and management in higher education