DRESS TO IMPRESS
WHAT NOT TO WEAR
Work on the basis that you’re interviewing them too. Make them sell themselves to you. Ask questions about the course, the university, even the interviewer – everyone likes to be given the chance to talk about themselves, lecturers especially. If you each do about 50% of the talking, chances are they look upon you as someone who’s interested, confident and a good listener. Having said that, asking them about the stains on their chinos or how they lost their virginity is probably pushing it a bit too far.
Make use of careers advisors, friendly teachers or friends who’ve been through the process themselves. Spend time learning about the university and its staff – their websites are a good place to start. Learn to talk about yourself in glowing terms, while avoiding sounding like you keep your head in your colon. Clean your shoes. Wear a skimpy outfit – lecturers are perverts. Women should do the same.
Body language is important, but don’t become too self-conscious about it, as that’ll seem unnatural and you’ll lose track of what you’re trying to say. Simple things like smiling, not slouching, shaking hands firmly, looking interested, not fidgeting and maintaining eye contact are worth bearing in mind.
Preparation is key. Try thinking of at least five good things about yourself – reasons why they should want you in their department. Then make a point of squeezing at least one of them into the answers you give to their questions. (For example: “Why do you want to study Botany?” “Oh, it’s always been my passion. I remember the day I built that Ghanaian orphanage, I thought to myself, oh how I love plants.” And so on. Okay, maybe be a bit more subtlety.)
Preparing for and anticipating questions is good too. But don’t learn answers off by heart. That’ll come across as stilted and you don’t want to miss the point of their question. Don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know something, or to ask for the question to be clarified, or even to ask if you can answer the question later.
Read any books you are asked to read in advance. Talk about them with people who’ve read them. Discuss them with teachers and friends.
Some schools and colleges offer practice interviews. Do it. And if your school doesn’t, then get a serious-minded friend or family member to do one for you. If you can find someone who doesn’t like you very much, even better.
Don’t just turn up for the interview and leave, make a day of it. It’s possible that a few hours spent wandering the campus will clarify your feelings about it. Do you actually want to live here? Does everyone look miserable? Does it smell funny? Are those human bones? Some people like big concrete monstrosities, some people like idyllic little places out in the sticks; some people like big, some people like small; no one likes Jamie Oliver. Luckily, he’s not offering university places this year.
After the interview, hopefully, they’ll make some sort of offer. But some people have to be rejected. In which case, ask yourself, who wants to go to a dump like that anyway?
Once you’ve got a date, circle it on your calendar in yak’s blood. Then, make sure you book time off work or school and, if you’re relying on mates or family to get there, make sure they keep the date free too.
If you’ll be putting yourself at the mercy of public transport, book your tickets well in advance (not least for the cheap fares). Also, there’s no harm in asking if the university will cough up anything towards travel expenses, though anything going might be reserved for the most hard-up students.
In any case, check out sites like thetrainline.com or nationalexpress.com or, for getting across London try tfl.gov.uk/journeyplanner or even walkit.com. Drivers can get door-to-door directions from the likes of maps.google.co.uk and multipmap.com. International students should also check directly with the universities for the other relevants on channel hopping and accommodation arrangements.
Make a note of who’ll be interviewing you, and jot down their contact number or e-mail address. It might be an idea to save these details straight to your mobile, too, in case you run late on the day.
What does your invite say about the format for the interview? Can you expect a cosy fireside chat discussing Sartre, or a gruelling panel interview about your strategies for peace in the Middle East? How long will it last? Will there be a chance to have a look round the university or department, and to chat to other students? (These are well worth doing in any case).
Have they asked to send or bring any supporting evidence, or to complete any practical work? In which case, make sure you’ve got the necessaries to hand, or allow yourself time to find or prepare them.
Some places (like the Oxbridge colleges) may even expect you to sit written exams while you’re there. And if you’re applying for courses like music or drama, a practical audition may be the focus. If you’re going for a language course, some or even all of the interview may not even be in English. Find out before you go
The aim of the interview is to find out:
- A bit more about you as a person and your interests
- How you’d fit into the university and what you can contribute to it
- Your passion for the subject and the course you’re applying for
Read over your application a couple of times to remind yourself what you wrote and think of the kind of questions they might ask.
Chances are, they’ll want to know more about any hobbies you mentioned. So it’s a good job you were totally legit and didn’t make any up. Isn’t it, world’s youngest-ever karate champ?
Have another look over the prospectus, revisit the Uni Chooser and remind yourself why you want to go there. And don’t be ashamed to drop into conversation that you’ve done your homework and already have a strong case that you and the uni would make a perfect match.
Get hold of the course outline and get an idea of the teaching methods and topics covered, and be actively considering how it will work for you. If you’re desperately keen for practical lab work and the course is purely theoretical, you may need to investigate your options a bit more.
Bone up on your subject. That means reading the papers, catching any relevant programmes on TV (no, B-list Celebrity Ice Dancing Numpties, or whatever, doesn’t count. At least, not beyond media studies,) and generally tuning into the wider picture. You don’t need to be an expert, but they will want to see a genuine interest in the subject.
Whatever you do, don’t BS. Your interviewer will probably sniff it a mile off, and getting caught out could be toe-curlingly bad – especially if it turns out he or she wrote your class textbook.
Think about what to wear. Unless you’ve been told to dress for a particular situation or activity you’ll probably feel more at ease in something smartly casual than a suit and tie anyway, especially if you’re the kind of person who feels more at home in jeans and a tie-dye.
Showing up drink- or drug-addled won’t impress. And conjugating self-reflexive verbs, from memory, in French, could all seem a bit Guantanamo the morning after six pints of lager and a bucket of sick.
Double-check your clothes are all clean, ironed (if they need to be) and have buttons, buckles, zips and flaps where they should. Ditto your shoes.
You’ve hopefully been preparing thoroughly all week, so try to put it out of your mind for the rest of the evening and think about or do something completely different. Assuming there’s no chance you’ll end up tied to a lamppost in your underwear in a completely different continent your brain will thank you for the chance to switch off, and it’ll leave you relaxed and refreshed for tomorrow.
If you didn’t hear the question, or didn’t understand it, don’t be afraid to speak up. And if you really don’t know something, admit it rather than trying to blag it.
Think of ten keywords or phrases that sum up why you deserve a place on the course, and try to drop each of them into your answers. Think achievements (exam results, prizes or the student newspaper you set up at school), charity work, sporting success, or that time you met your favourite biologist.
You could also drop in some of the things you’ve learnt from your preparation – you really like the way the course is taught through small discussion groups than impersonal lectures, for instance.
Push can’t predict your interview questions for you, but you can anticipate some of the main ones by approaching it from your subject:
- Why do you want to study x, y or z?
- Why do you want to study it here?
- What do you think about the latest developments in the field?
- What hobbies and outside interests do you have?
- What’s your favourite book / author, and why?
- Who do you admire, and why?
- When did you realise you wanted to act?
- Tell me more about that time you went to Africa to build an orphanage…?
- What have you learnt from being captain of the football team?
- What do you enjoy or dislike most about school?
- What are your strengths or weaknesses?
- What career plans do you have and how does your work experience relate?
Don’t forget it’s not all one-way, though. This is also your chance to find out if this is somewhere you can live for the next three years (or more), and that the tutors and the course are going to live up to your expectations. And at around ten grand a year, you can see why Push bangs on about finding the right university for you.
From your own prep looking over prospectuses, the Push profile and course outlines, what else do you need to know to decide about studying here?
- Are there strong links to industry?
- Is there help finding a job afterwards, or in arranging work experience?
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
This year, chances are you'll have to attend at least one interview, so listen up. As if the stress of being grilled over your academic strengths and weaknesses, your hobbies and interests and your life plan weren't enough, there's the outlawed jeans issue to contend with. So what do you do? Don't panic. Take control. And, if possible, take a crash course in advanced ironing.
Talking your way onto the university or college course you covet, the job you hanker for, or the work experience placement that's going to get you exactly where you want to be, may well be the first interview situation you ever put yourself in. You need to impress and while you've done a lot of the legwork already with your application (just remember: you're practically a genius for getting to an interview in the first place), visual impressions count. According to Kim Zoller at corporate training company Image Dynamics Inc, 55 per cent of another person's perception of you is based on how you look. Another study, the Hamermesh-Biddle project, claims that attractive people have higher incomes in every sector - even those that don't require public contact, such as construction work and telemarketing. All of which means that you need to consider your appearance carefully.
The good news is that anyone can be perceived as attractive. Whether or not you're blessed with looks that could rival Angelina Jolie for Brad's affection or sweep Mischa Barton off her feet, if you take a little time and care, you can look professional, comfortable and actually rather attractive, thank you very much!
That said, you're not going for alluring with your interview style. "We want people to look smart," says Susan Matthews, an admissions tutor for pharmacy at the University of East Anglia. For most course and work environments, you don't want to rock the boat. Smart trousers or a simple skirt, dark colours, an ironed shirt and neat (recently cut or tied back) hair will do. These days, few recruiters expect you to wear a full-on suit - especially if you're talking about university and college applications - but they will want to see a smart, respectable and organised candidate.
"It's very important to be comfortable, otherwise the stress of the day is made much worse," says Matthews. "It's also good if personality comes through with what you're wearing. We're not just looking for academia - we need candidates who can work as professionals. If they wear the smartest of their normal clothes, we can get an impression of a person, not just a CV." That's the happy middle ground between frumpy pinstripe and inappropriate rebel; think sophisticated, muted and stylish.
"We expect students to be nervous, but give yourself the best chance to do well. Eye contact is crucial. Don't slouch and don't bring loads of bags with you," advises Matthews. Wringing your hands, crossing your arms, adjusting your clothes - all those nervous gestures scream insecurity. "Steer clear of clothes, jewellery or hair styles you're tempted to fidget with."
Traditionalists, in many ways, get it easy. "Black and boring has always worked for me," says trainee accountant Michael Primack, 23, of his interview outfit. Perhaps he's got it right: according to a survey conducted by Management Recruiters International (MRI), 34 per cent of executives think that business dress has gone too casual; they want you to smarten up.
Of course, there are exceptions. "I did a fashion course," says Jana Waters, 22. "How you look is part of the interview. I wore clothes I'd made myself, and I made sure I talked about them with the tutors who interviewed me. When I later went for job interviews, I went for a look that was professional but individual and unique."
"Whatever you're being interviewed for, your mind and ideas are always of more interest that your clothes," says Matthews. "But give yourself the best chance you can." Make sure your clothes are clean. Polish your shoes. Take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself: would I recruit me? If the answer's no, get back to the wardrobe. And whatever you do, don't reach for those jeans.
In 2018, a study of the UK workplace shows that only 1 in 10 people now wear a suit to the workplace. Certain industries will still expect it (legal profession, accounting, etc) but even those industries are indulging in a bit of 'dress-down Friday'. It is becoming more and more important to employers that their staff dress suitably, but also in a way that allows them to feel relaxed, comfortable and boosts their wellbeing...which can only be good for overall productivity. We're not saying don't wear an suit to a university or employer interview, as it is still commonplace to do so for many people (and almost the easy choice). But, do research your industry and the types of attire people wear / you'd be expected to wear. If you're really not sure, just go down to the company or university department and sit, watch and make notes on what the people there like to wear. That way, whether it is suit or no suit, you won't be caught out on interview day.