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Worst and Best Interview Stories

I interviewed, Nancy, Zoë and Stephanie about their worst and best interview experiences. Here’s what they said…

Question 1: Tell me about your worst interview experience.

N: It was a university interview to study Biology and the very first question was ‘Why do you want to study Biology’ to which I had two answers. The first was cringey and honestly, quite self-centred and just revolved around things I enjoyed doing. (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) My second answer was the one I really intended to say: it expressed my academic interests, explained my choice of EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) and involved the application of biology in the real world. At the time, I was really interested in how we can use biology and design to help solve issues in the world. For me, this was a BIG part of why I wanted to study the subject but the nerves got to me, I froze and didn’t get to truly answer the question. Apart from the fact that I felt like my shallow answers were being judged, I was also angry at myself for not doing myself justice basically.

I looked and the interviewer had a sheet next to her and after I said my first meh answer, I could see a scale from 1-10 and she circled one at an extreme end. I’m still not sure which end she did circle but I think I know which one.

Z: It was 2018 and as a final year student, I was applying for a role as a Strategic Analyst. It was one of those roles that I just sort of applied for even though it was so different to the other roles I’d applied for which meant that my preparation didn’t really help with this particular interview. Imagine the thick of winter in Newcastle (very cold) and I also decided to wear kitten heels and I had a new bag my mum had given me that year. Of course, my toes were freezing and as I stepped into the room, the latch on my new bag fell off and everything, including my vaseline flew across the room. It was also intimidating talking to other interviewees who had all secured various offers already and at this point, I had none. Dude to the shaky start and my feeling very unprepared, I did find the interview content quite hard although I managed to get to a few of the answers in the end.

It was a long day of interviews and by the end of the second one, I honestly considered giving up and going home. I stayed until the end and after my bag broke again as I was leaving, I knew that the results of this interview might not be positive. I was right- they never got back to me!

S: The actual interview went quite well but an interview includes the entire experience surrounding the conversation- from your journey there to how confident you feel that day. When I interviewed for my current job, I arrived to the office and went to reception only to find out that my name wasn’t on the list of people to be interviewed that day! (this is actually one of my worst fears) I was definitely meant to interview that day and I had an email to prove it as well. Luckily, whilst I was still at reception, someone from the HR team who knew me was walking by and asked me why I was in the office that day. They eventually realised that it was just an administrative error and found two people who were available to interview me. Although the interview itself went quite well, I was definitely flustered by the experience of not being on the interview list!

What would an ideal interview look like for you?

Nancy: You have to be prepared, look up your interviewer, the interview format, past successful applicants and most of all know why you’re applying for the role. My ideal interview would also be one where both my interview and I would be comfortable and one where we can discuss interesting ideas and topics. (like a conversation but still formal!)

Zoë: I love it when the interviewer gets interested by something I’ve mentioned and can easily talk about. I had one interview where we spent the majority of the time talking about books and short stories which was amazing but obviously at the end, my interviewer related it back to the subject.

Stephanie: From experience, I like interviews which feel like conversations as opposed to a tick-box exercise or a really difficult quiz. Interviews which feel like natural conversations can help you feel more relaxed and perform better.

What’s the best interview advice you’ve received?

  • N: Appearance and first-impressions! It’s important to do the obvious things like smile but also don’t overthink how you come across and remember that the interviewer is also human.
  • Z: Be yourself! You don’t want to be hired for a job because you faked some version of yourself and then have to maintain this façade for a long time!
  • S: The best advice I’ve received is slightly more industry-specific but when you’re applying for client facing roles, the interviewer will want to know whether they would regret leaving in a room with a client or if they’d be confident to do so.

Which do you find easier- virtual or face to face interviews?

  • N: In terms of how nervous I get, virtual interviews are easier but face to face interviews make communication and displaying good body language a lot easier.
  • Z: Face to face. I don’t like being too relaxed in an the interview as things can get really casual that way. The formal setting makes me remember my environment and sets the tone for the interview.
  • S: Face to face interviews because it’s easier to show your enthusiasm through body language that way. If you do have a virtual interview, just make a conscious effort to ensure you come across as engaged.

What’s the one thing you do before every interview?

  • N: Stress! On a serious note, I try to not to be looking at my notes every minute up until the interview, it’s important to relax. It’s similar to what you might do before an exam, I’d stop revising a good amount of time before and just ensure that I’m calm and in a good headspace. If you have an interview coming up: research, know the company or the organisation well and have something you’d like to contribute. You don’t want to come across with the intention of simply taking, consider how you can add value to the organisation.
  • Z: Pray. To anyone who has an interview coming up, I would recommend that you go online and find out more about the interview process, know about the company and make sure you can rationalise anything you say you find interesting about the company. If there’s a recent deal they did that you’d like to mention, why was it interesting to you? What was the impact or result of that deal? I also like to brainstorm things I do which are outside the reason I’m interviewing there and practice being able to explain why those skills or experiences make me more suitable for the role.
  • S- Before any big thing, I pray to ground myself and release any anxieties. I also drink water and use the toilet, turn my phone off and just try to eliminate any potential distractions.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as I did hearing them too. It’s important to learn from other people’s experiences so let’s examine some of the key lessons from these insights.

Main takeaways:

  • The start of an interview is very important. Make sure you do everything within your control to ensure that this part is smooth. Arrive on time (this means early!), dress comfortably but appropriately to the work setting and do your research. If it’s a group interview or there are others around, try not to be too affected by what everyone else ‘seems’ like.
  • Be sure to talk! The interviewer is there because they want to hear you talk about your experiences and why you’d suit the role so feel free to explain your answers and take your time.
  • Before the interview, do something to help you release stress: get outside for some fresh air or listen to your favourite song.
  • Get yourself in the right frame of mind- dress professionally (especially if your interview is virtual!) and finally, don’t overthink it! You’ve been invited to interview because they think you could potentially suit the role.

To anyone with interviews coming up, goodluck and let’s continue the conversation- what are some of your best and worst interview stories?

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