Posts Tagged ‘Interview Skills’

Smart, Smart-Casual or Casual? Cracking the Interview Dress Code. 


Deciding what to wear to interview can be tricky. Traditionally a suit has been the default option and in many cases this still holds true. However as office cultures in many industries have become more relaxed sometimes a less formal interview outfit may be appropriate (or even advisable).  So, if you’re trying to decide what to wear to an interview, Suzanne Ball, from our Careers Adviser team, gives some tips on how to crack the interview dress code.

Focus on the company and the role

If you’re being interviewed for a traditional corporate role, particularly in sectors such as banking, finance or law, then a suit is still essential interview wear, particularly for men.  A suit is a safe option in other sectors too but you can also consider other smart options for many roles (see below). If the job you’re being interviewed for involves wearing a uniform or lab coat or spending time working outside you will still need to look smart but a formal suit may be not be necessary. There are some cases where a smart-casual or casual outfit might be more appropriate for example if you’re applying to a small start-up tech company, particularly if you know it has a relaxed office culture, or if you’re applying for a creative job.

Look at the company’s website

If the company has pictures of people doing the type of work you’re applying for, take note of what they’re wearing.  Ideally your interview outfit should be smarter than the everyday norm.

What will you be doing at interview?

If you know the interview will involve activities such as spending time outside (maybe for a site visit) or doing a lab-based task then make sure you wear (or at least take) appropriate footwear/clothes with you.

Has the employer given any tips?

Read the email and any information the employer sends you when you’re invited to interview. Some employers will tell you if there’s a casual dress code or indicate the types of activities you’ll be involved in during the interview process.  If in doubt you could ask about dress code when you email to confirm your attendance.

What does smart or smart/casual actually mean?

  • SmartA suit or tailored jacket with co-ordinating trousers/skirt or dress. Bear in mind that a suit will be the best option for some roles and men should always wear a tie. Keep shirts/tops/jewellery neutral and black is safest colour for shoes (particularly for men).
  • Smart/Casual. A suit could still be appropriate but perhaps worn with a coloured or patterned shirt or even a smart, plain T shirt. Ties are optional.  Co-ordinated jacket/trouser/skirt/dress combinations will also work well and you could consider less tailored options (but be wary of fabrics that crease easily). Brighter ties, colours and statement jewellery may also be appropriate but consider the industry/role you’re applying for.  You’ll have more options regarding shoe style and colour but avoid trainers unless you’re confident they would be acceptable.
  • Casual. This can be a bit of a minefield. Jeans may be appropriate but make sure they’re new, clean and unripped. If you’re thinking of wearing a T shirt or sweatshirt make sure they’re new and that any images or slogans are appropriate. Knitwear should be new and not bobbly or misshapen.  Trainers may be OK if new but avoid flip-flops!


Whatever the dress code…

  • Use minimal perfume/aftershave or don’t wear it at all.
  • Handbags or document cases should be clean and not battered looking. Make sure your bag is big enough to hold everything you want to take without bulging (but don’t take too much with you).
  • Footwear should always be clean and not scuffed or “down-at-heel”.
  • Make sure you look well-groomed. Clean hair and trimmed fingernails will give a good impression and make sure that there are no missing buttons or frayed edges on anything you’re wearing.  Iron any garment that looks even a little crumpled. Try to fit in a hair-cut before the interview and make sure your hairstyle will survive if it’s windy or raining outside.
  • Don’t show too much flesh – low cut tops and miniskirts (women) or overly unbuttoned shirts (men) are never appropriate. Try to avoid bare legs even if the weather is hot.
  • Plan your outfit a week or so before the interview and do a quick check for stains, missing buttons etc. This way you’ll have time for a quick trip to the dry-cleaners if necessary.

When in doubt…

Dress smartly – it’s usually better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.

For more detailed information and suggestions on planning your interview outfit check out our Interview Fashion Pinterest board

Suzanne Ball is a Careers Adviser working with students in the Business School at the University of Hertfordshire. She regularly tweets in regards to Business School related information on @HBSCareers.


How to answer scenario interview questions


There are a many different types of questions that can be asked at an interview, from traditional questions such as: ‘Why did you apply for this job?’ to behavioural questions such as: ‘Can you give me an example of a time you have worked effectively in a team?’

Sometimes you may be asked scenario questions, which are similar to behavioural questions. However instead of asking you to discuss a past experience you’re presented with a hypothetical situation. An example of this type of question is: ‘What would you do if you were dealing with a difficult telephone conversation with a client/customer?’

Watch the video below as Careers Adviser, Suzanne Ball, explains the best way to deal with scenario interview questions.

What counts as ‘conflicting priorities’ and how do I answer that question?

Often, in applications and at interview you get asked this question – ‘How have you dealt with conflicting priorities?’ or a variation of this question. But what does the employer want to hear?


The question is designed to test your organisational and prioritising abilities – how do you problem solve or deal with demanding deadlines? The employer seeks for you to demonstrate strategic thinking and your ability to understand business objectives, in relation to your own, which should inform how you organise yourself.

Before you can answer this question – think of an example. An easy one is you’re working part time whilst studying. Your manager asks you to come in and do extra work but you also have an important upcoming assessment deadline. You want to facilitate a positive relationships with your manager but simultaneously your degree is extremely  important too.How do you deal with such conflicting priorities?

The answer will of course be your own. You could walk the employer through your thinking and logic when making decisions. It could be that you explain that education is important but your work ethic means a lot to you so you come in to do the extra hours but you then time manage effectively and spend time in the library to complete your assessment to a high standard. I sadly can’t answer the question for you – you’d have to think of an example for yourself.

The key in answering this question is explaining effectively your thinking process behind your actions. For example, some people refer to The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, as below


Overall, there is no right or wrong answer. All the employer wants to hear from you is a clear explanation of how you deal with pressure/a deadline. As a student, there will be countless examples of conflicting deadlines you’ve faced. Always make sure you walk them through your rationale and thinking of dealing with such situations. The end result for them is to be satisfied that you will be able to withstand pressure and it’s something you’ve dealt with before. The employer wants to be confident that you can work independently and self-manage – so simply assure them of it, using excellent communication skills (whether in an interview or an application) and an appropriate example.

Finally, always talk about the result. So if we come back to my work vs university example – a good way to finish that answer is ‘I achieved a good grade for that assignment, whilst submitting it on time. I also did 6 hours extra work that weekend and my manager was very pleased with the service I delivered’. You therefore demonstrate that your excellent strategic logical thinking lead to a positive outcome. How can an employer resist such a high calibre candidate?


Kristina Tamane is the Careers Adviser for the School of Life and Medical Sciences and the Joint Honours Programme. You’re welcome to follow her on Twitter or Pinterest for varied job posts and general advice and updates.

How to answer common interview question: ‘when have you worked well in a team?’

How to answer the interview question ‘do you have any questions for us?’


You are in a face to face interview with an employer for the job you really want. You feel that the interview has been going very well and you have answered all the questions to the best of your ability. You have remembered to back up all your answers with evidence and an evaluation.

It comes to the end of the interview and the employer tells you that you have answered all the questions. The employer then says: ‘do you have any questions for us?’

What do you say? Do you say you have no questions? Do you ask about the salary? Watch the video below as Careers, Employment and Enterprise Adviser, Suzanne Ball, explains the best way to deal with this common interview question.

How to deal with with difficult interview questions

Question: ‘How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the UK every year?’

Careers, Employment & Enterprise Adviser, Donald Lush, explains the best way to deal with those ‘curve ball’ questions at an interview.

For more information and other resources on interviews, please search for the keyword ‘Interviews’ under the resources section of CareerHub.

You can book an appointment to speak with an adviser about interviews by calling us on 01707 284791.

 The difference between a job interview and an exam.



As a university student you’ll be very aware that you have spent most of your life in education.  As you approach applying for placements or graduate jobs you’re faced with the unfamiliar world of job interviews. You’ll need to persuade some powerful people, who will sit in judgement on you, that you are the right person for the job and that they should offer you the opportunity.

It’s quite likely that the only previous similar experience you have had is taking exams. The two situations have a great deal in common. Preparation is all important, as is research and planning. You’ll need to work out what the employer wants, what their organisation and industry does and why you are a good fit for it
. Then you will need to communicate this clearly and confidently in a job interview (and possibly in other selection exercises too).


This is where the similarity breaks down. In an exam, you will need to persuade the examiners that you know your stuff and can present it correctly, in a way that gains you maximum marks. In an interview there is a more personal aspect you need to consider.

As a student or graduate applying for a job or placement, you aren’t really expected to know everything. What you must do is demonstrate an enthusiasm for learning and the role you’ve applied for. In an exam, this wouldn’t count but it impresses employers.

You also need to be quite outgoing and assertive. Employers are looking for people who will actively shape and lead their work, not just passively comply with instructions. The candidates who can demonstrate these personal qualities most successfully are the most likely to be offered the role.

For more information, attend one of our interview workshops in March – book via Career Hub or check our resources in the same place.


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