How to break the get-the-interview-but-never-get-the-job cycle

Are you one of those graduates that keep on getting job interviews but never get offered the job?

It’s probably not your fault. It’s just that you haven’t been properly taught how to interview well.

One of the reasons most people don’t interview well is that very few of the interview opportunities they have actually lead to a job offer. Sounds simple, but that means they have less experience of interviews that lead to job offers than interviews that lead to rejections.

In other words, a graduate can go along to lots of interviews and still perform poorly at them all, as going along to lots of interviews does not necessarily mean that you will be good at them. You may be good at getting interviews but not good at actually succeeding at them.

How to break the failed interview cycle

So what is it that you need to know to break this get-the-interview-but-never-get-the-job cycle?

People get jobs when they can convince the employer that they know what they re talking about, have the necessary skills to do the job and they can fit in at the company.

There are graduates who look great on paper but when they turn up for the interview they fail because they are weak in this area. Perhaps they try to wing it; perhaps they talk too much about the wrong or irrelevant things. Perhaps they allow their nerves to get the better of them because they are sitting there thinking more about why they won’t get the job than why they will.

This is one of the reasons why after working with in excess of 500 graduates we launched our online learning tool, to help graduates with this very key and specific skill. Given its importance, it’s a matter of great surprise to me that it is something that is not taught at school or university in a way that actually helps graduates to break down the constituent parts.

Since an interview is little more than the need to gather together and communicate very specific information, the secret is preparation. If you can prepare yourself well for the interview you have more chance of improving your interview skills.

Preparation will help to ensure that you

  • Answer questions about your hard and soft skills well
  • Answer questions about why you want to work for the company well
  • Demonstrate that you have a real interest in the position, company and field

One of the overlooked truths about being well prepared for your job interview is its ability to direct and focus your attention on what is most important. When you know that you are well prepared you will spend less time worrying about whether you are going to answer questions well enough or not.

You will spend less time thinking about whether you are going to get the job or not. Your mind will be filled with useful knowledge about the company and the position and how your skills prove that you were made for this role.

Another outcome of being well prepared is that it will help you to build up your knowledge and expertise in and around the company and its industry. After a while preparation becomes much quicker and easier and the knowledge you have will become like second nature.

You really will become an expert and know what you are talking about. You won’t have to work as hard to try to convince the interviewer, as it will show. And that is the secret to breaking the get-the-interview-but-never-get-the-job cycle.

The one habit that will improve your interview chances quicker than any other

It isn’t the best qualified that gets the job, but the best prepared

There is a misconception that prevails in the minds of most graduates that it is the best qualified person that gets the job, but this is simply untrue.

Others believe that is the person that is good at speaking that has the upper hand, but again this is not necessarily so. The secret to improving your interview skills is not to be the best qualified person or to be good at speaking. It is not to be good at answering or asking questions either, although you need these skills, too. It is to be prepared.

Qualifications are important and speaking is an asset but the graduate that shows he or she has prepared well for the interview, and the position being advertised, has a far better chance of impressing an interviewer than anyone else. I cannot stress this enough.

Breaking it down: graduate interview skills

Put it this way. What is an interview but a collection of bits of information about specific topics. People often forget this. Whether you are a school leaver or graduate with dreams of becoming an investment banker or Tory MP, if you can ‘decode’ the whole interview experience and break down its constituent parts, all of which are learnable, it will help you hugely.

An employer needs to know a number of specifics about an interviewee, particularly:

  1. What their skills are (both hard and soft)
  2. Why they want to join that particular organisation in that particular industry

Now, while you need to be able to string together a sentence and to be skilled in both answering and asking questions at the interview, the real deal clincher is going to be how much information you have gathered in preparation to do this. This is going to determine your ability to answer the questions, the questions you ask in return and the enthusiasm and confidence that you show while doing both. This latter point is of utmost importance because it is through this that the employer becomes convinced that you are really interested in the position, the company and the industry or field and not just reeling off facts.

Preparation improves your interview skills

The ability to interview well is the result of acquiring a number of specific skills and the ability to articulate them in a clear and concise manner but juggling it all can feel a bit like looking for the needle in the haystack. With so many skills to think about it is no wonder that people find it hard at first. Preparation, if you like, helps you drill down to what really matters. It gets rid of the cluttered thinking that accompanies so many when it comes to being interviewed.

Whether it’s 4,000 people applying for a job with Costa Coffee or 160 people chasing a single graduate vacancy at Merrill Lynch, it’s a very tough and competitive world out there.

However, the great news is that there is much that you can do to improve your prospects and to out shine other candidates at the interview, simply by preparing.

How graduates can avoid underemployment

When qualified graduates are forced to settle for jobs that don’t need a degree or part-time work it is generally seen as underemployment and there has been a distinct rise in underemployment in recent years.

There is a new demographic emerging amongst young workers in the UK. Graduate employment figures are on the rise and a notable increase of students are finding work after university. However, data shows that 47% of recent graduates in 2013 worked in jobs that required no further education.

Full-time hours are also hard for graduates to find as they enter the job market for the first time.

Overqualified, underskilled

Many graduates find it difficult to avoid underemployment. The toughest challenge graduates face is proving to potential employers they have the practical skills and experience to fulfil a job in their field of studies. With so many graduates fighting for few positions, a degree alone isn’t enough to land the job.

Even as the economy slowly recovers, it will be the graduates with previous working experience who get their foot in the door. Likewise, students who have been busy making contacts throughout their studies will know the right people to find suitable positions and bag themselves an interview.

New opportunities for strong candidates

Things are certainly looking better for graduates as we approach 2015 as business owners regain faith in the British economy. Employment figures show that more graduates are filling positions and employers are more willing to take on young talent.

This is great news for the latest crop of graduates and students, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. While the government takes steps to ensure there are never twice as many doctors as the country needs, this kind of regulation doesn’t apply to other fields of study and so competition will continue to be fierce.

As talk of better employment rates reach young people, university applications rise and 2014 saw a record number of applications across the country. Graduates will have to be among the best candidates if they can turn their degrees into relevant employment, and students need to prepare themselves for a competitive job market.

How to avoid underemployment: work experience and networking

Something that won’t change as the economy and employment rates improve is that business owners want candidates with previous work experience. Employers want to see that graduates have the essential skills that can only be learnt in the workplace, and the initiative to go out there and get them.

The students who have made it in tough recent times have built a CV of work experience alongside their studies to showcase their skills and forward thinking, while good networking is priceless for graduates entering the job market.

Alongside a CV with an employment history, a collection of contacts means you can hear about job openings that aren’t publicised on the usual recruitment websites. Thousands of graduates visit the same sites every day and it’s difficult to stand out from an online crowd. Students need to dedicate time during their studies to build a contact list and relevant work experience. This is what it takes to get ahead in a competitive job market after graduation.

Five things I wish I had done at university but didn’t

Graduate Michelle Nelly shares five mistakes she made while at university – so other graduates don’t make the same ones.

University is a big part of many people’s lives and usually referred to as ‘the time of your life.’ However, not everyone can relate to this feeling, as some do not make the most of this opportunity of a lifetime. This is why hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Here are five things I wish I had done whilst I was at university but did not:

1) I wish I had done a year’s placement

Funnily enough, before I went to university I was so keen on doing a placement that I applied for a sandwich course as part of my degree. This usually means after your second year and before your third year, you will get to take a year out of university either to work for a year or study abroad.

This all seemed good and well until I realised it wasn’t easy to get a placement and even harder as I wanted to do this placement abroad despite not speaking another language popular in most countries. Because of this, I gave up and decided to go into my third year instead.

This was definitely a regret of mine as doing a placement before the end of one’s studies gives students an edge over other graduates who have overlooked this opportunity. This is because nowadays many employers want graduates who not only finish university with a good degree but also someone who knows how to behave in a professional environment or has knowledge of their chosen field.

It is really important that you get a summer internsip after your second year if you decide not to do a placement. If you do well on your internship you may be offered a place on a graduate scheme.

2) I wish I had got to know my lecturers

During my time at university I made the mistake of not getting to know my lecturers till the last minute. I occasionally spoke to them after lectures but did not get to know them well enough to engage in more personal conversations. However, in my final year, I realised the importance of getting to know your lecturers especially as many lecturers are more than happy to help students with how to successfully complete their modules – which was common sense really as no teacher likes to see his or her pupils fail.

By failing to build such a relationship with your lecturers, I realised you could only do yourself harm because regardless of you attending their classes or not, they still get paid whilst you as a student do not make good use of your tuition fees.

3) I wish I had done a summer internship

After failing to do a placement, I managed to do a week of work experience in a public relations company. This made me realise that there are numerous ways students can set themselves apart from the crowd especially if doing a year’s placement does not seem like an option. An alternative to a placement year can be a summer internship, which is another way of gaining valuable work experience and setting yourself out from the crowd.

Sometimes students forget that their summer holidays are three months, which is more than enough time to take part in an internship. Despite some internships being unpaid, making them an unattractive option for students, to an employer this demonstrates a sense of commitment and thirst for knowledge.

Getting an internship will help when it comes to fiinding a graduate job.

4) I wish I had made the most of university facilities

Every university has an abundance of facilities on offer to its students but not every student makes the most of such facilities. Every time I attended a lecture, I walked passed an amazing library with an abundance of material that was always available for me to borrow.

Other facilities within the university that I felt like I did not make the most of were the student support hubs and on-campus jobs. By making the most of what my university offered, I would have been able to better place myself for the work world.

5) I wish I had chosen the right group of mates

A large proportion of my modules was achieved by group work. More often than not, students pick group members based on their friendship groups and unfortunately I fell into that stereotype.

It is always better to work with those who will push you to do better rather than working with friends for friendship sake instead of focusing on yourself and your grade. Since employers are now looking for prospective employees who can work well in teams, universities are becoming more aware of this and incorporating this in many modules.

Despite the things I wish I had done at university, I do not regret any of my experiences as you live and learn. It is a part of life but hopefully my experiences of what I could have done but did not do will make you open your eyes to the opportunities you may not be realising and make the most of it while you have time.

Find out how Graduate Coach can help you develop the employment advantage you need to get the job you want by making the most of your time at university.