Interview techniques

Have you got an interview for an exciting job or a research post? If the only preparation you're planning is a trip to the hairdressers and five minutes shining your shoes, then think again.

You'd be amazed by how many interviewers complain that job applicants know next to nothing about the company they're coming to work for, or have not taken their interview for a research position seriously enough. With all the information that is now available online, there's simply no excuse for failing to do a bit of basic background research on a prospective employer.

Your first port of call should be the organization's website. Company websites will provide you with information on their products and services, annual review and financial performance, and latest developments. Equally, research institutions will provide you with background information about their research areas, collaboration, funding and details of the academics and their specialism.

If you really want to stand out, carry out similar Web research on their key competitors – again, look at how they’re performing financially, and note any key product differences. It takes a bit of work, but that's the kind of information that will really give you the edge at interview.

Next, review the press. Have a look at the websites of newspapers with good business coverage, such as the Financial Times or the Daily Telegraph. Obviously, if the company has made record profits recently or been involved in a major scandal, you'll want to know about it. Equally, keep up to date with your field of interest by reading the relevant journals and articles. You don't want to be left in the dark about high-brow research – especially if it's been done by your interviewer.

Finally, use your contacts. Do you know anyone personally who happens to work for that company, or in that field? It needn't be your closest friend – it could be a friend of the family or someone you used to work with. Phone or e-mail them explaining that you have an interview and ask them if they have any advice.

If there's any major nugget of information you fail to find out during your researches, keep it in reserve as a question to ask at the end of the interview.

Once you have researched the company, it is time to think about the types of questions that you may be presented with at the interview. A few questions that often crop up are

  • Why do you want this job/research post?
  • What can you contribute to this position?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
  • What relevant experience do you have?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

More information

Rob Yeng's book Answering Tough Interview Questions for Dummies includes more than 200 interview questions and is written for all jobseekers, ranging from those new to the job market through to very experienced individuals.

Members of the Institute of Physics can also download a copy of the Physicists’ Guide to Interviews, which provides some advice on how you should structure your answers. To request a hard copy or large-print version of this booklet, e-mail members.careers@iop.org.

This information was supplied by the Institute of Physics, which offers a range of careers advice and resources for people with a background in physics.