How to Dazzle at Interview: An Oxford Psychology Graduate and DPhil Psychiatrist's View


Interviews can seem scary and hard to prepare for as you never quite know what to expect. However, they are extremely important, with many selections for school and university applications made almost entirely on interview performance alone. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do during the interview and in preparation that can really help you stand out. With School and University admissions deadlines approaching and interviews imminent, check out these top tips for success:


1.         Conveying your passion and motivation is essential: Interviewers want to work with people who they can trust to get on with work without needing to be pushed. Those with a genuine interest and passion are going to be more likely to do this.


How to do it?

·      Make plenty of eye contact throughout. It can be awkward if you’re not used to it or if you’re feeling anxious, but it will make you more persuasive and easier to listen to.

·      Smile. It shows that you enjoy what you’re talking about.

  Be open in your posture and gestures. When we feel nervous it’s easy to retreat by looking down, fiddling with your hands and slouching. Sitting up and using your hands to gesticulate whilst you’re speaking this conveys a much more positive attitude and will help you feel more confident.

2.         Preparation is key: there is no way of being prepared for every question. Part of the point is that they want to test how well you can think on your feet. But there are still some ways to make sure you are as prepared as possible.

How to do it?

·      Really think about why you want what or where you’re applying for. Then think deeper. Why is it this specific course you want to study? Why this school or university? Why specifically is it right for you? If you’ve really thought about these things advance, your passion will come across as much more genuine.

·      Get used to talking about your subject (University) or preferred subjects (school). You may have spent plenty of time writing essays on your subject, but talking about it on the spot is a very different skill. Get your friends and family members to ask you questions about your topic. Practise explaining concepts concisely in a way that is easy to understand. If there are sums or formulae you normally work out on paper, try and see if you can practise working them out in your head. In an interview you may not be given paper.

·      Interviewers will often end by asking if you have any questions for them. While it’s perfectly okay to say no, it can be a good opportunity to further show your interest. Think about whether you do have anything you would genuinely like to know. Don’t ask anything that you could easily find out yourself from google, or anything that’s likely to have a long and complex answer. But is there something you’d like a recommendation on? Or a concept you’d like to know the main application of?

3.         Show your thought process: a lot of interviewers are not looking for knowledge, they are looking to see if you’re motivated, and if you’re teachable. To see if you’re teachable, they need to see how you think and how well you pick up new concepts.

How to do it?

·      Before you answer out loud take a moment in your head to plan your answer. The silence might feel long to you but it won’t to them.

·      Take your interviewers through the different steps of how you got to your answer.

·      You can refer to things you’ve read in your answers so they know you’ve explored around the topic. But ultimately they want to know what you think, not what experts in the fields that you’ve read think – they already know about this!

·      Often there’s no right or wrong answer, so they just want to see how you get to your conclusions. If there is a specific answer they’re looking for and you get it wrong, then if you’ve talked through the different steps you took they can see why you gave the answer you did, and help point you in another direction.

One final tip is simply to try not to panic. There will be challenging questions that you don’t know how to answer. This is the point of an interview. If you start to panic at these then you won’t get to show either your passion or your knowledge. If an interviewer thinks you’re worth it they will push you. Therefore, the best interviews are often the ones that seemed to be the most gruelling and difficult. Don’t let this get you down.

By u2 mentor, Poppy (Psychology, Oxford & DPhil in Psychiatry, Oxford)

u2 offer extensive interview preparation support with our team of Oxbridge-educated mentors. With Sixth Form Entry and University, particularly Oxbridge, interviews approaching, it's time to start some mock interview practice! Interviews can be arranged at our Head Office in Chelsea or Online.