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Tips for First Job Interviews

by Minoas Vitalis
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I was around 7 years old when I received my first postcard from one of my aunts, who was working abroad at the time with the Greek diplomatic service. It had a beautiful picture of Copenhagen Harbour on the front, and I remember being fascinated by the idea that somebody I knew was actually living and working in a place far away from home. The stories she told me about the people she met throughout her career and the work she did inspire me to study and pursue a career in international relations.

Little did I know that, years later, I would be the one sending postcards from all over the world to my family. And while working in different countries has been an amazing experience, it has also come with its fair share of challenges – especially when it comes to job interviews.

My first formal interview was for a competitive traineeship at the Permanent Mission of my country to the United Nations HQ in New York City.  I remember feeling extremely nervous and completely out of my depth. Thankfully, I did get one of the positions – but not without making a few rookie mistakes along the way.

In general, an interview is pretty much like an audition – except instead of trying to land a role in a play or movie, you’re vying for an opportunity with countless others to jumpstart your career. But just like any good actor or actress knows, nailing an audition takes more than just talent. It takes preparation, practice and, most importantly, avoiding common mistakes. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. 

Here are the five top tips a graduate should follow to excel in their first interview:

Do your research

Researching a bit about the company or organisation you’re applying to is not only common courtesy, but it’s also crucial if you want to make a good impression in your interview.

Your research should go beyond just looking at the website (although that’s a good place to start). You should try to find out as much as possible about the history of the organisation you’re applying to, their values and mission, any recent news or challenges that may have arisen about the work they’re currently doing, etc. This will not only help in your interview, but it will also show your potential employer that you’re truly interested in the organisation and not just looking for any job.

In my case, working at the UN and deepening my knowledge of international social and cultural issues was something I always wanted to do.  I made sure to get informed about the more recent work of the organisation, the challenges it was facing at the time and how those related to Greek foreign policy. In addition, I also familiarised myself with the work of the Department of the Permanent Mission I wanted to work at so as to ensure that I could answer all possible questions.

My advice to you would be to have a mock interview with a friend or family member beforehand and start by having them ask you basic questions about the organisation you’re applying to. If you can’t answer them then, then chances are you need to find more information and practice again.

While in the end, I made some minor mistakes in answering the questions I was asked, my research definitely helped me make a good impression and stand out from the rest of the candidates.

Arrive early

This one should be obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people show up late for interviews.

There are a million and one excuses for being late – traffic, public transportation, getting lost, etc. But at the end of the day, being late to an interview is unprofessional and sends a signal to your potential employer that you’re not reliable.

When I had my interview for the traineeship, I made sure to give myself plenty of time to get there so as to avoid any stressful situations or last-minute problems. I was based in a totally new, for me, city and didn’t know my way around very well, so I allowed myself plenty of time to get lost and still make it to my interview on time. 

Ask questions

One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear when preparing for an interview is to have a few questions prepared to ask your potential employer at the end of the interview.

This is important for a few reasons. Firstly, it shows that you’re truly interested in the organisation and the position you’re applying for. Secondly, it’s a great opportunity to engage with your potential employer and get to know them better.

Some good questions you could ask are:

  • What would a typical day in this position look like?
  • What are the organisation’s plans for the future?
  • What is the team/department like?

When I was asked if I had any questions at the end of my interview, I made sure to ask them about the possibility of the job training and whether there would be an opportunity to network with trainees from other Missions and UN Departments.

Be yourself

This piece of advice may seem cliché, but it’s important nonetheless. When you’re in an interview, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to give the perfect answer or saying what you think the interviewer wants to hear. But at the end of the day, you want to be hired for who you are, not for some good act that you put on during the interview.

The best way to do this is to relax and be yourself. Remember, the interviewer is just another person, and they’re not there to trick you or trip you up. They want to get to know you and see if you’re a good fit for the organisation.

Ι remember during my interview, the interviewer asked me to describe a time when I faced a difficult situation. Instead of thinking of some grand story, I simply told him about a time when I had to cooperate with a difficult team member on a  project while at University. While this answer was not anything special, it ended up leading to a great discussion about working in a team and how to deal with difficult personalities.

Dress appropriately

First impressions are important, and you want to make sure that you’re making a good one. Depending on the organisation you’re interviewing with, there may be a dress code. If there is, make sure to adhere to it.

Even if there isn’t a specific dress code, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and dress formally. This doesn’t mean you have to break out your best suit or dress, but you should avoid anything too casual, such as jeans or t-shirts.

In my case, I knew that the interview was about a role in a diplomatic setting, so I made sure to dress formally and opted for a nice suit and tie.

Following these five tips should help you do well in your first interview and give you the best chance at landing the job you want. Just remember to relax, be yourself, and dress appropriately, and you’ll do great!

We hope you enjoyed these tips. Do you have any others? Let us know in the comments below!


Minoas graduated with a Merit upon studying the full-time MPA Public Administration – International Development degree (MPA-ID) at the University of York. He is currently working as a freelance EU affairs consultant in Belgium.


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