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The basics
Study abroad : Essentials

Essentials: Acing an interview

How do you ace an interview, whether for a job, a place at a university or as part of a visa process? Read our guide for interview situations, including questions to expect, how to prepare and more...

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At some point in your career, you’re going to find yourself in an interview scenario. Whether it’s for an undergraduate position on a study programme or for your first job in the big wide world of work, it is pretty important that you learn to showcase your potential in person on the spot.

Interviews can be nerve-wracking even for those who have been in them many times. Essentially you’re being judged on your skills and talents, though it can be easy to over-think an interview, especially at university level when it is part of an admissions process. However it’s useful to have this experience so when it comes to obtaining that first graduate job, you feel comfortable in this situation.



Confirming your interview

Once you know the details about your interview, put this in your calendar so you don’t forget it! Look up the address for the location of your interview on Google Maps and work out the best way to get there in time for your appointment.

If you have a legitimate reason as to why you cannot attend the interview, let the company/university know as soon as possible so they can reschedule. Note, this must be a legitimate reason such as a prior appointment you have which cannot be moved. Make sure you communicate the importance of this prior engagement and why it cannot be moved so the other party understand.



Check that your smart clothes are ready or at least will be ready in time for the interview. This can vary slightly depending on whether it’s an interview for a university or for a job, but generally should meet the following:

Men – An appropriately-coloured suit (black, grey or navy) with a white shirt, tie and dress shoes (polished). Your hair should be neat and tidy, and you should shave too.

Women – A pantsuit or skirt with a blouse or shirt and black mid-heel, closed-toe pumps. A cardigan may also be acceptable depending on the scenario. Hair should be tied back in a ponytail or bun. When it comes to make-up and jewellery, keep in mind the impression you want to give off.


Preparing for questions

You should look at an interview as an opportunity for someone who is already interested in you to learn more about you and put a face to words on a page, having read your CV. Getting to the interview stage is a big achievement in itself; if you take this positive outlook, you’ll find the entire process a lot less stressful. However while you should be proud of yourself for getting to this stage, don’t get cocky or arrogant as there is still some way to go yet.

What you can expect to be asked will depend on the context of the interview. Here are some questions which you can expect to be asked, depending on the interview:

University interview

  • ‘Why do you want to study at this institution?’ – Think about why you want to study your course or subject at that particular institution. Is it especially well known for the area you wish to study? Has someone of significance in the field also studied there (someone who inspires you)?
  • ‘What experience do you have or what have you done which shows your interest in this area?’ – Think about what experience you have which is relevant to the course you want to study. You’ll probably have thought about this when writing your personal statement and your interviewer may use your statement as a guide for the interview and for you to expand further. This question will be easy if you’re extremely passionate about your subject – the opportunity to talk about it freely (possibly with someone with a similar interest) will make time fly by.
  • ‘What do you see yourself doing upon graduating?’ – This is a standard interview question. Don’t worry too much if you haven’t planned beyond your studies but think about possible career paths you might aim for later. Don’t worry if you haven’t got anything set in stone yet; but if you do have a plan, now is the time to say so – this shows that you are goal-orientated and ambitious, which is a positive quality.


Job interview

  • ‘Why do you want to work here?’ – Do some research about the company or organisation beyond what it says on their website. Find out about their origins or what they’re currently working on.
  • ‘Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years time?’ – This can be an opportunity to ask about possible career progression within the company; this demonstrates that you’re not just looking for a temporary job until something better comes along.
  • ‘How well do you work in a team?’ – This is where work or volunteering experience can come in useful as these are usually performed as part of a team. Work experience can include retail or service employment which might not seem applicable, but does working under pressure with others.


Immigration interview

Immigration questions are usually very simple and clear-cut. They’re used by immigration staff to ensure that a student is coming to a country primarily to study and not simply for the immigration benefits. Many countries have seen their student immigration system abused unfortunately hence why interviews are sometimes required. Don’t worry if you are asked to attend an interview as many have to do so. Questions will be simple as they will usually be with someone working on behalf of that country’s immigration agency, and not affiliated with the institution themselves. Questions you might expect can be:

  • ‘Why do you want to study this course at this particular institution?’
  • ‘What are your plans once you graduate?’
  • ‘Do you have the finances to fund your studies in the country?’ How do you plan to support yourself?’

You will also be asked to bring specific documents to your interview for officials to verify in person and to help them process your visa. Provided that you have everything on you, your visa can be processed as soon as possible (even that day possibly).


No matter the interview scenario, you can ask a friend or family member to sit down with you and ask you questions in a mock interview scenario. This way you can practise giving an answer (though try not to sound like you’re reciting an answer from memory as this will sound fake and artificial – you’ll want to sound genuine and sincere).


On the day

Make sure you leave home with enough time to reach your interview. If you’re using public transport, check the route the night before online to make sure there aren’t any planned or unexpected delays which will affect your journey. Ideally you should arrive at the location with about 15-20 mins to spare so you have time to find where you need to be. Do not be late as you may lose your interview slot.

Remember to take any documents which may be required of you. If you’re attending an immigration interview, there will probably be a list of documents which you’ll be asked to bring with you. Consult our checklist of essentials documents to give you an idea of what you might need when applying for a visa.


The interview itself

Try to relax. Breathe normally and make sure you’re well hydrated. Remember that the person speaking to you is a human being as well! If you’re attending an immigration interview, this should be more of a formality whereas a university or job interview will call on you to actually persuade and convince the interviewer that you’re the right candidate.

Listen to every question carefully before answering. If something is unclear, it is OK to ask for clarification but do so politely.

Try to avoid making jokes until you’ve properly established the tone of the interview, though usually you should remain formal and professional (more so in university and job interviews). Instead of making jokes, be friendly and receptive.

For university and job interviews, try to think of a good question to ask at the end as this shows you think independently and it gives you an opportunity to "turn the tables" and learn more about the interviewer. Common questions might include, ‘How did you reach your current position?’ or ‘What’s your background?’

Some interviewers in a university or job interview scenario may give you an unexpected “curveball” question at the end to see how you do under pressure or when confronted with something you didn't plan for. While your answer will still be considered, it’s how you deal with this scenario which they’ll be taking note of. Don’t worry if you make a mess of this question though; usually it won’t be too important and the interviewer will have already gotten all the information they need from their previous questions.


Some helpful videos regarding interviews:

‘When and how are admissions interviews conducted?’


‘When does a university in New Zealand conduct interviews?’


‘What is the interview process for a UK student visa?’


Read more:

Have a phone (and Skype) interview instead? Read our guide