8 essential placement interview tips for students

31 May 2018 By Northern Lights

8 essential placement interview tips for students image

Last month I spent the day at Lancaster University, helping first year students in the management school with interview practice for their placements. I did this as part of my contribution as an Honorary Teaching Fellow for the university.

I interviewed 14 students during the day – and spotted a number of themes. I’ve used these for the tips here. The exercise was based on the students applying for a (theoretical) internship at the company we have just launched, Next-Up. The briefing didn’t get through, so the students had done their research on Northern Lights – or not, as we shall see!

1. Research the company you are applying to


I asked each interviewee, “What do you think of our company?”  This turned out to be more of a challenging test than I realised as the organisers had given them a link to a lighting company in Derby by mistake!

So what did they think of our company?

  • Some had researched me as an individual as well as the lighting company and worked out which company it should have been. Full marks to them!
  • Some had even spotted the new company, Next-Up and chatted about what they thought of the idea behind the business – helping ‘unretirees’. That was really impressive
  • Some had researched the lighting company and had interesting things to say on it and what impressed them – that gets a high score for interest and commitment
  • A few ‘hadn’t had time to do any research’. Not so impressive?

I did gently make the point to those who had done no research, that I had left my home at 7.30am and was giving up a whole day to do the interviews, without any payment. Like others, I am very happy to help others – but you expect them to make an effort in return.

The first tip is therefore

  • Research the company
  • Research the individual interviewee (if you haven’t been given a name, do ask – it shows interest and preparation) and check it all ties up
  • Have an opinion on the company – read a blog, look at the News page and jot down a few points about what you like or questions that you have
  • And think through why you would like to work for them – it’s a very typical question to ask

2. Relax, smile and be energised

A lot of interviewees looked nervous. Two things will help you to look confident, even if you are nervous!

A big smile always works well.  Pin that smile on your face before you walk into the room – it will make you feel good and it creates a good feeling for the interview.

Create energy with your body language.  My interviewees tended to sit bolt upright and their hands often squashed into their lap.  It looked tight and uncomfortable.  A  good posture is to lean forward slightly – which makes you look interested.  And if you can, put an arm on a table, but in a relaxed way.

I discussed body poses with a few students and they kindly allowed me to take photos to share.  Ben gave me the before and after shots below to make the point. Thanks Ben!


3. Don’t criticise others

I asked most of the students a question around what they had found challenging in jobs they had had.  For one, it opened up a floodgate about the employer and how the manager hadn’t been great and it wasn’t a good place to work.

Don’t do it. No workplace is perfect and I guess no-one wants to think you go around criticising the company you work for. The comments may be perfectly justified but they bring a negative feel into the discussion and start raising question marks in the interviewer’s head – was the problem really theirs or yours?

4. Be positive

I also asked people what they enjoyed about something – it could be their course or a job or anything.

I remember one started by saying, ‘The great thing about the course was …’  This positivity works really well in an interview.  Everyone wants people who are enthusiastic and look for the good things at work and make others feel good.


5. Have a few stories ready

I have written a lot about the power of storytelling.  Think of a few of your best stories and the points you can make from them. You will feel confident telling a good story, you don’t have to remember the details – it will all be there in your head – and it will bring your character and ability to life.

As an example, when I asked one student about what had been challenging, she gave a really good story about getting a team to work together on a project. She said she had encouraged a positive atmosphere in their team, listened to everyone’s suggestions and tried to make everyone feel good about some aspect of the project that they were involved with.

This story told me a lot about the person.  They are a good team player, they get the best out of people and are a motivating person to have in your business.  Exactly the sort of employee most companies want.

6. Have an opinion

An interview is a two-way process and the more interesting you are in your answers and discussions, the more the interviewer will enjoy this and rate you.

One or two students made very flattering comments about my businesses.  I am only human – I set up Northern Lights 28 years ago and am very proud of it and of course I am proud of the new business we are launching.  I loved their feedback. Most people are proud of the company they work for – and want you to be proud of what they do too.  Don’t be dishonest if you think a company is rubbish (but in which case you shouldn’t really be going for an interview) but focus on the things that you think are impressive and you (genuinely) like.

And try and have an interesting answer for any question thrown at you (this is where your stories can come in handy!) – there is nothing more killing to an interview than a hesitant ‘I’m not really sure’.

7. For example …

Two of the best words in an interview are ‘for example’. So if you say ‘I’m really creative’, don’t leave it at that but explain it. Add on ‘For example, in my last year at school I came up with the idea for xyz and put together a team to do a project – which won the region’s prize.’

8. Do create a LinkedIn profile

I can’t remember any of the students having a strong LinkedIn profile and many didn’t have one at all. I wrote an ebook on this some time ago, but all the points are still valid. At 99p from Amazon, From Student to Salary will show you how to use LinkedIn to be found by job recruiters and contact people who might give you a job.

LinkedIn is the ‘go to’ place for all recruiters so you want to be on it and have an interesting profile as well.  I also looked at each of their profiles before the interviews to get a feel for who they are.  It’s what people do these days.

Those were my main tips for placement students.  Do let me know if you have others – and if you were interviewed, what you got from the session.  You may not agree with everything I have said!

Pin on that smile and good luck.


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