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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

5 steps to acing an interview

Research, reading, podcasts, TED talks and the news are all great sources of information to prepare

for interviews. Your teen could have great grades and work experience, but if they visit a prospective

university or employer with little or no knowledge about that organisation they are highly unlikely to be successful in gaining a place.

The good news is they don't need to spend hours getting interview ready. In fact, a little time researching online from the comfort of their bedroom could well give them the edge over others. Here's what they should look out for and how to go about it.

Company, university or college - find out more!

If they are visiting a company to ask if they can volunteer, intern, shadow, or indeed work, they should find out about the company beforehand. This could include the brand overall, where they’re located, how many people are employed, how long they’ve been in business, their specialism, their values and the latest about them in the news (if there is anything). It’s also wise to find out a little about key employees, such as the Chief Executive, Chairman or founder.

Knowing the size of the organisation, how long it’s been established (especially with new universities or colleges) and positive aspects of its reputation will give relevant talking points and show that your child has thought broadly about why this organisation is right for them, rather than focusing only on course content or the job itself.

Express why it appeals

If they're keen on taking a specific course or entering a certain industry, why are they keen? Are there movers and shakers in that industry that have inspired them? How does it strike a chord with their personality and values? Was their interest piqued by someone they know, something they read, or something the saw on TV? Is it an essential stepping stone to a future ambition? They need to explain why they're passionate to help demonstrate they'll remain motivated long term.

For college and university applications that are based away from where they live, finding out information about the local area will help them discuss why they would feel comfortable living there, should they get the place. This is especially true if they are based in a more rural setting and the university is city based, or vice versa.

Talk to other people

If they can, they should also speak to people who are already doing it (or have done it in the past) so they can hear about first-hand experience - whether that's students or professionals. Ideally, this would be face-to-face, but phone call or emails are possible alternatives. There are three benefits to this approach:

  1. They are proving their interest by investing time and effort into finding out more;

  2. It will give them things to discuss at interview that are different from what others are saying. Only they will have done their specific research, so they can explain how they went about it, what they learnt and which bits interested them most;

  3. Reality is often different from theory! They might like the idea of something, but on further investigation find they’re not as keen - always better to find out sooner rather than later!

Setting themself apart

With young adults of a similar age group, there’s a tendency for the curriculum literature to be quoted

over and over in applications and interviews, often covering very similar themes. Get your child to stand out by being able to quote something outside their set texts.

But here’s the important thing. They must be able to discuss it and say how it has had an impact on them. There is little point in mentioning they have read something if they have nothing to say about it. Your child is looking to demonstrate that they can read something, digest it, summarize it, establish an opinion and express themselves. It doesn’t matter whether your child concludes that they liked the book or not – it’s how they say it that matters.

If their goal is to study a specific subject or business area, then they must research around this prior to applications and interviews. A good starting point is to see what’s available online, and then focus on one or two books that they can read to develop their knowledge in their particular areas of interest – whether it relates to the subject itself, or people who are known experts in the subject.

For example, if your child wants to read business studies, there are thousands of business areas to research and this could feel overwhelming; so why not select either a type of business or business expert and find out how they became an expert and inspiration. Such as:

  • how One and Only (established in 2002) became one of the premier, highest rated resorts in some of the world’s most beautiful places;

  • how Harley Davidson started in a wooden shed as an engine to power a bicycle

  • how Zoom started as a day-dream to solve the problem of a long-distance relationship.

This approach should enable them to spend their time doing something they enjoy, and be able to connect it to a goal they have set themselves for the future.

Not every teenager loves to read, so podcasts, audio books or TED Talks are a practical alternative approach to achieve the same result, and they’re a great way to reduce screen time too.

Current affairs

It’s a good idea for your child to be able to demonstrate some general knowledge. They should keep an eye on the news to be aware of headline stories. During interviews, news topics can often be “elevator talk” – i.e. something that is mentioned when someone meets them at reception to take them to the interview room. It may not be part of the interview, but it can have an influence. Not knowing anything about world events suggests a lack of interest, which may not be true, but does not reflect well.

For teens with limited interest in current affairs, spending a couple of minutes each day capturing the highlights will probably give them just enough information to keep on top of subjects people are talking about.

Hourly news bulletins on the radio, daily headline summaries on their phone or watching the first five or ten minutes of the evening news are quick ways to stay in touch. If they’re not interested in sports, then keeping an eye on World Cup events or national highlights (such as Wimbledon) means they will not be at a loss if someone strikes up a conversation with them.

If they’re not sure about news articles or are struggling to get a balanced view, they could try reading opinion articles to see what other people are saying so they can develop their own thoughts, having

read two different sides of an argument.

News can cover a huge range of topics: what’s happening in the world – at home and internationally, sporting events, the environment, celebrities, popular television programmes, politics, tech and people interest. Even if your teen isn’t too interested in current affairs, there should be something featured regularly in the news that gets them interested and fired up to find out more.


Enjoyable ways for your teen to stand out

If you’d like to know how your teen can build their character, develop skills, stand out from others and improve their chances of success at interviews, all while doing things they enjoy, read our suggestions in The Parents’ Guide to Standing out from the crowd. It includes sections on:

  • Self-development and increasing confidence;

  • Getting work experience (including virtual placements);

  • Benefits of research and how to take a different approach;

  • How different hobbies impact mental and physical health;

  • Which hobbies hone different transferrable skills

  • Recommendations for non-curricular online courses


We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy, Vanessa and Darius -


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