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Interview Masterclass with Amy Holdsworth

On Friday 19th January, OxWIB were delighted to welcome Amy Holdsworth, who does freelance recruitment and consulting, to give our members an interview masterclass.

First, we went through some likely interview experiences, and what to do in those situations.

If you turn up on wrong day for your interview, do you:

a) Run away (an unsurprisingly common solution)

b) Throw the internet or the recruiter under the bus – blaming them for providing the wrong timing would be the best option, as you are already prepared to do the interview.

c) Play dumb and not acknowledge it

If you spill something over yourself before the interview, would you:

a) Call in sick and reschedule

b) Be late and buy new clothes

c) Make joke about it – this is the recommended option, as making a light-hearted joke about the situation will make you seem human.

If there’s a skill/qualification they want but you don’t have it, do you:

a) Pretend you have it

b) Admit you don't have it

c) Say you will learn – this option shows that you’re open to learn new things, and you can ask if they offer any relevant training.

Some useful tips:

  • It’s natural to be nervous, but make sure your hands aren’t sweaty when you go to shake the interviewer’s hand. Bringing hand sanitizer with you will go a long way!

  • It’s better to wear comfortable clothes than distractingly uncomfortable smart clothes

  • Make pleasant small talk on the way in, perhaps ask about the office or area, as it will make you more memorable

  • Always have a pen and paper to look prepared and organised (but you don’t have to use it)

  • If you are offered tea/coffee/water, always accept it, as it will give you an opportunity to get comfortable with your surroundings when they leave the room, and taking a sip will give you a chance to think between questions

  • Relax and let them lead and set an agenda – you can always ask about how the interview will be structured

  • The first 10 minutes of the interview should be non-work related. Try and stalk the interviewer beforehand to find something you can have a conversation about

  • Smile! It will put both yourself and the interviewer at ease. They will want to hire someone who will be comfortable with any clients they put you in front of

  • Interviewers may be looking at the “Beer Test”: Even if a candidate has all the relevant skills on paper, interviewers will be looking to judge whether you have a personality that will make them feel like they could go for a drink with you. Therefore, even if you’re worried about coming across as informal, it’s worth expressing your personality and coming across as someone that is friendly and approachable.


If you’re going to be late, call as soon as you know how late you will be. It’s best to overestimate how late you will be, as you don’t want to have to call up again! Feel free to give an excuse, and give yourself as much time as possible – once you’re late, you’re late.

But don’t arrive too early either, as this could stress the interviewer out and they might rush what they’re doing or just forget you turned up as you were too early. It may even give the interviewer the impression that you don’t have anything important to do. If you happen to find that you’re too early, maybe go for a walk around the local area, and make sure you’re not more than 15 minutes early.

Answering questions

What do you do if you don’t know how to answer the question? You could ask to have a moment to think about your answer, or if the issue is that you don’t understand the question, you can ask them to be more specific or rephrase. Watch the body language of your interviewer to gauge whether you’re going in the right direction, and you can always pause and ask if you’re unsure.

It is likely that you will be asked competency based questions, which are usually done by HR. These include questions like “describe a time you had a bad experience with someone you worked with and how did you resolve it?”

Look on the internet for a list of these questions to practice beforehand, as they are intentionally difficult and designed to catch you out. The key is to be as truthful as possible, but you can make up a scenario if you rehearse it well.

When you’re asked for an example, the best approach is the STAR method:

  • Situation: explain what happened

  • Task: what needed doing

  • Action: how you did it

  • Result: if the outcome was positive, great! Talk about how well it went. If it was negative, put a positive spin on it by explaining what you learned from the task and what you would do differently next time.

Phone interview It’s important to prepare for a phone interview like you would for a face-to-face interview.

Dress as you would if you went to a face-to-face interview, as it will make you feel more confident if you’re in the correct attire and look the part. Make sure there won’t be any noise and that your phone is on silent. Building a rapport through the phone can be harder, but stay friendly and positive.

If it ends up being a total disaster, you could press the mute button on and off constantly to mimic bad reception, then make a joke blaming technology. People always have problems with technology, so as a last resort, this technique may be useful and would be better than staying silent on the phone.

Skype interview You might be asked to do a Skype interview. If it’s distracting to see yourself on the screen, put something over it to block it out or close it. Make sure the space around you is tidy and presentable with reasonable lighting, and wear a full interview outfit just in case (you don’t want to be caught out wearing pyjamas with a smart top!). Check what time they will be calling you and make sure your connection is working. If you need a breather during the interview, don’t be afraid to look down and take notes.

Questions to ask interviewer At the end of the interview, you may have a chance to ask your interviewer questions. Don’t hold back about being personal – it’s a chance to ask them why they chose the job and the company, and what the pros and cons are. You could also ask them for helpful tips or advice for a graduate entering the job market, or about the training you might receive on the job.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from your interviewer, as it will help you prepare for any more interviews you may have. Ask them what the next steps are, and if there’s anything you can do when you leave the interview room to better your chances – they would usually appreciate that fact that you are willing to go up and beyond. They will never be annoyed at you for asking questions! Interviews work both ways – you will want to see whether the company is truly the right fit for you, so it is important to leave the interview with a good idea of the company and the role.

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