Questions and answers about interviews

Q. Can I explain the interview adjustments I need at the beginning of the interview?

A. No. It’s not a good idea to leave it until the interview has started to let the interviewer know which adjustments you’ll be needing. This is because the interviewers won’t have enough time to put the adjustment in place. Even if the adjustment is something like a bit more time to answer the questions, they employer might be interviewing someone else straight after you so won’t be able to extend the interview. Whereas, if they know in advance that you’ll be needing extra time they can factor this in when planning the interview slots.

It’s recommended to contact the employer about the interview adjustments you require at the point you are invited to the interview, rather than on the day. It might be that you’re not sure which adjustments you’ll need, or what’s possible, and so you might be having discussions with the employer which takes time too. All the more reason not to wait until the beginning of the interview.

Q. Can I reference my disability in my interview answers?

A. Yes. In terms of when to do this, it could be:

  • at the beginning, maybe as part of your answer to a question like ‘tell me about yourself’
  • it could be that one of your motivations to join the company is related to your disability, so you might decide to reference your disability when answering a question such as ‘why do you want to work for us?’
  • you might choose to refer to your disability when asked a competency question which requires you to give an example of a skill e.g. teamwork, time management, organisation, problem-solving, communication, project management etc.
  • depending on the job role /industry, you may be asked a question such as ‘how would go about designing a digital event?’ or perhaps ‘how would you deliver a presentation that would appeal to different audiences?’. This could give an opportunity for you to talk about usability, accessibility and inclusivity, areas you may be familiar with because of your disability.

Avoid referring to your disability every time you are asked a question as this may lead to repetitive answers. The interviewers will also want to hear about your overall suitability, so your personality, skills, experience, knowledge, and motivations.

Q. I’m worried that they’ll ask me about my grades and my lack of work experience. How should I answer?

A. I’ve noticed than many students and graduates say that they lack work experience, and that their grades aren’t as good as what they had hoped. This has been particularly noticeable since the pandemic.

‘talk me through your CV’ (a common interview question) is an opportunity to address lack of work experience, and to give context to grades achieved too. When giving your answer, describing any mitigating circumstances is a good idea (e.g. my internship was cancelled at beginning of pandemic, I had an undiagnosed disability at school which meant I had no study support and this affected my grades.) You could go on to explain that since you’ve had study support in place at university, your grades have improved.

You might say that you’ve joined a society, undertaken volunteering, or taken part in virtual events or industry competitions, in an effort to gain work experience. It would be effective to mention what you learnt / picked up on during, for example, your volunteering, and how this is relevant to the role you’re applying for.

It might be that you feel you have built up resilience. Maybe you are proud of the recent grades you’ve achieved. This could form part of your answer to.

One thing to remember is to answer the questions as they fall. If you are not asked anything about grades, and the job advert doesn’t stipulate specific grades, then you’d need to think about why you’re choosing to bring this up at the interview.

Q. People talk about body language at interview. I’ve never had a formal interview before. What does ‘be engaged, professional and have good body language’ actually mean?

A. Being on time for the interview, eye contact, nodding, actively listening, smiling, having an open posture, and what you wear are all things that get noticed at an interview. It’s not so much a case of if you do these things well, you’ll get the job. It’s more that it’s noticeable if a candidate doesn’t look at the interviewer when answering or seems to be taking the interview very casually because of how they are dressed.

In terms of posture, mirroring how the interviewer is sat (this sometimes just happens naturally) or at least making sure you’re not slouched and looking down can help ensure that you are coming across as engaged.

Students have said to me before that they don’t smile in everyday life so why would they do it at the interview, particularly as it would mean they’re not being authentic. How would they be able to keep this up once in the job?

It’s not that if you smile at the beginning of the interview and a few times during, and nod occasionally throughout you’ll be expected do this in the job. In the same way if you wear smart clothing for the interview, it doesn’t necessary follow that this will be the expected dress code in the office.

I think if someone finds eye contact particularly hard, this might be something you mention ahead of time, so the interviewers are aware. If you think flagging this with the employers would make you feel less anxious about the interview, then this is something to consider. The interviewers won’t expect or want you to maintain eye contact the whole time at an interview.

You don’t have to wear smart clothes, smile, look at the interviewer when answering, and nod during the interview if you don’t want to but it’s useful to be aware that these are social norms for interviews and it’s helpful to think about what impression you’d like to make.

Interviews are not typically a great way of getting an insight into the workplace environment and the culture of the organisation. Interviews are formal and nerve-wracking. Good ways of finding out what it would be like to work there is:

  • to attend an Open Day if they have one
  • speak to employees
  • arrange to go in one day to visit the office (this is sometimes possible even as a candidate)
  • some companies have social media accounts, with videos of employees and the workplace
  • Are there groups, clubs, or societies available for staff to join?
  • Do they have flexible working or hybrid working policies?

Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, LSE

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