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Interview Tips

This article was originally published in the May edition of PsychNews, the Brunel Psychology Society newsletter. You read this article in its original form, or a number of other interesting on

Know What You Are Applying For

Common Interview Questions

Tell me about yourself

Why have you applied for this position?

Why do you want to work for this organisation?

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

What is your greatest achievement?

What can you bring to this job above anyone else?

Can you tell me more about your interests and activities?

In what ways are you a team player?

What do you know about this organisation?

Can you tell me about a time when you have failed to achieve a goal?

What problems do you think this organisation (or someone in this position) would face, and how would you deal with them?

Can you give an example of when you’ve gone “beyond the call of duty”?

Why is there a gap in your CV?

Why are you interested in Psychology?

What news story has interested you recently?

Questions taken/adapted from Innes (2009)

By the day of your interview most of your work should be done. Spend time to research the company you are applying to, familiarise yourself with their history, principles, services, and key staff. The interviewer may well ask you a question like “what do you know about our organisation?” and if you’ve done your research it’s a free ticket to making yourself look great. Some books quote a statistic of 80% of interviewees not doing any research before their interview, so this puts you ahead of a majority of your competition. Avoid mentioning any bad press however.

If your interviewer has published any articles it can do you no harm to have a read of them then mention them at this point too, but avoid criticising them!

Also spend time researching the role you are applying for, both in general terms of the role title and if possible in specific terms of the position you are being interviewed for. For example if it is a research assistant role find out as much as you can about the research you will be helping with.

Prepare Your Answers

Most interviewers use pretty predictable questions, and you can turn this to your great advantage by planning your answers well in advance. For each of the questions I have listed in the side box, write down exactly how you would answer it in the interview, then think hard about your answer. What is the interviewer actually looking for when they ask this question? Have you addressed what they are looking for? Have you painted yourself in the best way? If necessary rewrite your answer until you’ve got it right. But remember: you don’t want to appear rehearsed or scripted in the interview itself!

Not only does careful preparation of answers to the common questions make the difference between a good interviewee and a great one, but it will also greatly improve your confidence in the interview which will come across clearly to your interviewer.

Look the Part

When you go for your interview first impressions count (Barrick et al. 2010). It is said some interviewers make their decision within thirty seconds of meeting candidates, so you really need to present yourself in the best possible way, and a big part of this is your physical presentation.

Top Ten Interview Mistakes

  1. Doesn’t ask questions
  2. Condemns past employer
  3. Is unable to take criticism
  4. Exhibits poor personal appearance
  5. Appears indecisive, cynical, lazy
  6. Comes off as overbearing, overly aggressive, a
  7. Shows up late to interview
  8. Fails to look at interviewer while interviewing
  9. Is unable to express self clearly
  10. Places an overemphasis on money

Kador (2010)

Ensure you are well dressed and well groomed. Wear smart clothes that fit (try them on the day before the interview to check for damage, missing buttons, droopy collars etc.), and don’t forget to trim fingernails etc. Ladies use a sensible minimum of makeup, guys remove or trim facial hair, and everyone should remove any facial piercings. Go easy on perfume and cologne, stand up straight, and greet your interviewer with a confident smile and don’t forget the importance of a firm handshake (Stewart et al. 2008). With all of this you should come across as a confident professional who takes their work seriously.

During the interview maintain comfortable eye contact (but don’t stare!), and sit in a confident “open posture”. That is, keep your hands in front of you unclasped and open, and avoid crossing your arms or legs. Lean forward slightly to show interest, keep that smile, and nod appreciatively at appropriate moments. Some research indicates that visualization can improve your success and perceived confidence (Knudstrup et al. 2003).

Never Lie

Lying on your CV or in your interview is a seriously bad idea. Beyond just being dishonest, you never know when an interviewer might catch you out, and if that happens you can kiss that job goodbye! A colleague I once worked with wrote on her CV that she had “advanced Excel skills”, a trait critical for the position she applied for. However when she was given her first piece of work it became obvious that she had no idea how to use Excel at all, and she was swiftly sacked. Even lying about your interests and hobbies is risky, you never know if your interviewer shares that hobby and may start asking you questions about it!

Ask Questions

Questions You Can Ask

What would you like to be able to say about your new hire six months from now?

What is the largest challenge facing your staff at the present time?

Who would I be reporting to, and can you tell me a little about them?

What do you like best about this company? Why?

By what criteria will you select the person for this job?

What are the department’s specific objectives for the next three months?

Can you tell me a little about the people I will be working with?

Could you describe a typical day in this position?

Do you have any reservations about my application to this role?

Are there any specific areas in which you believe my qualifications are lacking?

Is there anything else you feel it is vital that I know about

the company (department, job, your expectations, etc.)?

Taken from Fry (2009)

Having a couple of relevant questions to ask the interviewer shows enthusiasm, interest, and is yet another chance for you to sell yourself. However avoid asking pointless questions for the sake of it, or turning your interview into their interrogation by throwing lots of questions out. In the second sidebar I have listed a number of potential questions you could ask; I would suggest asking a maximum of three or four questions at most.

Remember though that not all questions need to be left until you are invited to ask them, and some questions are hugely beneficial if you ask them at the start of the interview but useless if you ask them at the end. For example:
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about yourself?
CANDIDATE: I’ll be glad to. But first, may I ask a question?
CANDIDATE: My question is this: By what criteria will you select the
person for this job?
(Kador 2010)

Follow Up

The interview is over, time to go home and wait, right? Wrong. Preferably the same day of the interview it can be beneficial to send your interviewer a letter or email thanking them for the time they took to interview you and for telling you more about their organisation and the role. Conclude by briefly re-iterating your key skills that make you suited to the job (use bullet points if you wish). This also gives you a chance to drop in anything you may have missed in your interview, and makes you stand out in the interviewer’s mind which can greatly help your chances when it comes to their decision time! If you are unsure of how this should look, see if you can find a copy of Beshara (2008), and on page 83 there is an example letter.

Handling Rejection

We all experience failed applications at some time or other, and it can be hard not to take it personally or get disheartened. Remember that you are not being rejected as a person, your unsuccessful application is not a sign of your individual worth. Remember also that this is only one application and there are lots of other jobs out there, and your experiences applying for this position will have taught you more about interview technique and applications.

The most important thing to do now, both for your immediate peace of mind and longer term benefit, is to request feedback from the interviewer. Write a letter or email graciously expressing your disappointment at not being selected for the role at this time, and asking if they could give you some feedback to help you improve your future applications. This opportunity to improve your skills is invaluable and Tony Beshara (2008) puts this wonderfully: “‘No’ is the second best answer you can get.” If you are really keen on the position it is worth adding that you hope they will bear you in mind if this position reopens for any reason or if a similar position becomes available. This way you are down but not out, and you are building your network of contacts, which can be crucial later in your career.


Barrick, M.R., Swider, B.W. & Stewart, G.L., 2010. Initial evaluations in the interview: relationships with subsequent interviewer evaluations and employment offers. The Journal of applied psychology, 95(6), pp.1163-72.
Beshara, T., 2008. Acing the Interview: How to Ask and Answer the Questions That Will Get You The Job, New York: AMACOM.
Fry, R., 2009. 101 Smart Questions to Ask On Your Interview 3rd ed., Course Technology.
Innes, J., 2009. The Interview Book, Pearson Education Ltd.
Kador, J., 2010. 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill Professional.
Knudstrup, M., Segrest, S.L. & Hurley, A.E., 2003. The use of mental imagery in the simulated employment interview situation. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18(6), pp.573-591.
Stewart, G.L. et al., 2008. Exploring the handshake in employment interviews. The Journal of applied psychology, 93(5), pp.1139-46.

Study Technique

Studying can be a real bitch. Especially with a reading-heavy course like psychology, and doubly so because you have a mix of facts, dates, names, theories, and more abstract things to remember. So developing a good study technique is key to survival. I am only now starting to get real study technique down, for the first year there really didn’t seem any need since we could wing it and revise hard near exam time.

The biggest change this year is the sheer quantity of reading we have to do. Some modules are worse than others of course, and a stark example of that is that our Developmental Psychology reading for the last lecture amounts to more than almost the entire reading for Individual Differences. When the term started I began by doing all the reading and taking notes on the reading before the lecture, then taking notes in the lecture, then if possible re-reading the relevant parts after the lecture. What I have realised is that although it is still important to work hard, you can also work smart and lighten the load significantly. So this is my current plan:

-Skim the reading. I don’t mean read fast, this is quite literally a skim over the text, just noticing the way it is structured, maybe a few words that jump out, any headings, and possibly vague topics.

-Speed-read the text. There are a lot of pages online that give the basics to speed-reading, but quickly they are: use a finger underneath the line to follow (or lead) where you are reading. This helps you stay focused, maintain speed, and prevent regression or jumping (going back and re-reading things and jumping around the page reading words at random); have a good environment free of distractions; do not worry if you miss something, keep going. There are more but these have been the most useful for me.

-At the end of each section summarise what you have read in your head.

-Take printed slides into the lecture and make notes on the slides.

-Re-read only the relevant parts of the text, this time taking notes and combining that with your notes from the lecture.

-Return later and test yourself then re-read your notes. I have read a study (which I do not have the details of to hand) that found that constant revision of something is less effective at committing it to memory than revising with increasing gaps. I believe it was optimal at something like a day after first learning, a week after that, three weeks after that (don’t quote me on this!). Various studies and theories also claim that it is more effective to study in a small group (obviously not the reading parts) because even explaining things to others helps you remember and understand it better and may highlight weaknesses in your understanding that you were not aware of.

I did look into memory techniques too, but although there are some fantastic techniques for remembering long number sequences, remembering theories, names, and dates remains quite tricky. Having said that some time ago I watched a fantastic video about brain anatomy memnomics (how the hell do you spell that?!) that I will have to post here.

If anyone has any other effective study tips please let me know!


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