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Graduate Series: Job Interviews: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Securing a job interview is a significant achievement and presents an excellent opportunity to express to the hiring panel why you are the ideal candidate for the role.

Whether it is your first job interview or one of many, it is often nerve-wrecking. With time and experience though, you can build your confidence, hone your skills, and become comfortable with the interview process.

This article provides an overview of the various types of job interviews, effective preparation techniques, and tips on how to enter any interview with poise and confidence.

Panel and 1-on-1 Interviews

Single candidate interviews are inevitable in the preliminary stages of graduate recruitment, regardless of the industry, and whether it be in the APS, a private company, an NGO, or elsewhere.

In some cases, candidates may also be required to partake in a second interview with someone more senior, or their future supervisor, especially if the first interview was conducted via pre-recorded video, digital recording, or phone call.

Modes and Formats:

The interview may be conducted by one interviewer or by a panel, depending on the size and type of organisation.

It may occur via different mediums including in-person, video, phone, or pre-recorded. Digitally recorded interviews are becoming more common for graduate applications which have a large number of applicants. During these interviews, you will be shown questions on the screen and record your answers in real-time.

Types of questions:

Preparation is key when it comes to interviews, and understanding the types of questions you may be asked is an important aspect of that. Panel and 1-on-1 interviews usually contain motivational, competency based and behavioural-centred questions to assess capabilities, prior experience, cultural fit and motivation.

Behavioural questions: these questions will ask for examples from past workplaces to assess your key competencies and personal traits. Examples might include “Tell us about a time you have handled a stressful situation and how did you stay calm under pressure?” and “Give an example of a situation where you solved a problem in a creative way”.

Motivational questions: These questions assess your motivation, interest, and fit for a role by focusing on your career goals and values. Examples include “Why do you want to work for this company?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Competency-based questions: These questions are a subset of behavioural questions and aim to assess your skills, knowledge and experiences. Examples include “Describe a project where you had to use different leadership styles to reach your goal” and “Tell me about a big decision you've made recently. How did you go about it?”

Group Interviews

Group interviews are an increasingly popular way for employers to assess candidates for graduate positions as they allow recruiters to assess how you work with other people and behave in stressful team environments. They are commonly held at a later stage in the recruitment process.

They might be conducted as part of a larger assessment day or by themselves, online or in-person.

Group interviews follow a less predictable pattern than individual interviews, though there is a general structure:

  1. The session usually starts with an ice breaker and round of introductions.

  2. Groups are usually provided with a problem-solving task, but can also be presented with a prompt or role-playing activity, and/or behavioural and competency-based questions. Team-work is key.

  3. To conclude, groups usually debrief on the activity, for example by presenting their results to the other groups.

During the group interview, it's important to be confident, but not overly assertive. Listen actively to what the other candidates are saying and engage in respectful, constructive dialogue. Avoid interrupting or talking over others and try to build on their ideas. Remember, the interviewers are not only assessing your individual skills and experiences but also your ability to work effectively in a team.

How to prepare:

  • Review the job description and identify the key skills and experiences required for the role, then reflect on specific examples where you demonstrated those competencies or behaviours. Be ready to discuss them in detail.

  • Familiarise yourself with the company, such as their history, mission, and values. Explore their website and social media channels. Also research the relevant industry by reading industry publications and similar resources.

  • Reflect on your career goals and objectives. Think about previous experiences and examples that demonstrate your drive and motivation, and practice articulating them in a concise and clear manner.

  • Familiarise yourself with the STAR method. It is a popular technique for answering interview questions that require you to recount a specific example of your past experiences or skills.

It provides a clear format to tell a well-structured story by laying out the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

  • Situation: Set the scene and provide relevant context.

  • Task: Describe the responsibility you were given or the situation you faced.

  • Action: Explain the steps you took to address it.

  • Result: Describe the outcome that your action achieved.

  • Practise answering a variety of interview questions and scenarios with a friend or a careers professional from your university. Apply the STAR method where appropriate and watch your confidence grow with practice.

  • Solve case studies and problem statements by searching for them on the internet, looking through past university exams, or even by joining a consulting, defence, or international relations society.

  • Choose professional and polished attire that aligns with the company culture and dress code; for office jobs, wear business professional attire unless specified otherwise.

Practice, practice, practice

Job interviews are all about developing your expertise. And like any expert, the more you do it, the more confident and polished you become. Those jitters may never completely disappear, but with experience, they'll gradually fade into the background.

The secret to conquering the interview process lies in practice and preparation. Familiarise yourself with the industry, workplace and job role, understand the type of interview you'll be facing, and choose an outfit that aligns with the dress code ahead of time. With these steps in place, you'll be well on your way to securing your dream job in international affairs.


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