How to Ace an Interview: 5 Case Studies from Interviewers & Interviewees

Interviews can be stressful and intimidating. The more important the interview, the greater the pressure to perform. The basic truth of interviews is that they are subjective and unpredictable in that a lot rides on the interviewer and whether they have a predetermined idea of who it is they are looking to hire/admit to their institution. There are, however, some fundamental tips that any interviewee should acknowledge to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Here are our top five, with case study examples from a handful of our friends and colleagues:

Never underestimate the importance of eye contact! Acknowledging the interviewer is crucial. Not only does making and holding eye contact mean that the interviewer must pay attention to you (and show that you're paying attention to them), but it also means that you are more likely to be remembered in the hours, days or even weeks after your meeting - and during which time the all-important decision whether to accept/hire you is made.

case study #1:

"Although I see so many prospective tutors in any given week, there's quite a personal nature to interviews - sitting one-on-one with someone presenting themselves to work with you - means that any break of eye contact or lull in conversation makes quite a big impact on your perception of the interviewee." So says one of our Aspire Academics prospective tutor interviewers, Leila (29), who knows a thing or two about what it takes to impress at interview stage.

Continuing on from the point above: manners will take you miles. Shake hands, wait to be seated, thank them for their time - all these things add up to paint a picture, an impression of you as a person who will either become an ambassador for an institution or a colleague that people have to work with.


Tom (32), who works for a tech startup in Shoreditch, London, claims that even in some of the more relaxed environments of Silicon Roundabout, the rule of golden manners still stands:  "It may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people miss out on the easiest boxes to check at interview stage. I've had people rush out and not say bye, or rush in and not wait for me to get sorted. There's a particular ceremonialism to interviewing that you definitely want [the interviewee] to acknowledge and appreciate."

Try and make the conversation as two-way as possible. Interviewers don't want to feel like they're pulling teeth and by contributing fruitfully to the exchange, you will exhibit confidence and independence. It also gives you the opportunity to show off your personality beyond the prescribed script, make you stand out from other interviewees and allow you to add any other relevant points/references/thoughts/stories that they may not otherwise ask you about directly. So, make sure to elaborate when being asked a question - monosyllabic responses just won't do.


At her Cambridge interview to study undergraduate Philosophy, Fiona (26) was asked about the philosophers she had learnt about at school. "I mentioned that we had studied Plato amongst a few others, but when the interviewer asked whether we had read The Republic I simply said 'yes' and gave no further comment on it. There was a noticeable pause in which I think she expected me to develop the conversation regarding the text give some sort of insight into my views on the theories Plato wrote about in it - but I sort of froze... it definitely did not reflect well on my capacity for independent thinking, nor my ability to critically assess or recount ideas in a confident way that is so important in higher education, especially at Cambridge."

In order to answer some of the questions that will inevitably centre around you - your strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, achievements - make sure to have a firm grasp of what it is you're bringing to the table and what it is you represent. Reviewing these aspects of your identity allows you to answer questions without hesitation and present the most assured version of yourself.

case study #4:

Cameron (36), who works in public relations for a music production company, is tasked with interviewing prospective new employees for his department. He says: "I like to ask people questions about their past experiences: what have you done that you're most proud of? When have you felt most under pressure? The worst is when candidates have absolutely nothing to offer up. I appreciate that it's hard to think on the spot, so I would definitely advise thinking over your own personal attributes and experiences before coming to an interview."

Do your homework regarding the company/institution you're interviewing for. Know some key facts about what they do that stands out from everyone else. Ask yourself why it is you are applying there specifically - if your answer is simply that you were applying to every potential place then you must prepare an answer that delves deeper, one that can impress the interviewer.

case study #5:

When Stephanie (23) was applying for a jobs at architectural firms in London, she made sure to familiarise herself with the work of each studio she applied to. This paid off in every one of her interviews, no less the job she finally accepted. "The interviewers (and my current colleagues) were really impressed with my knowledge of their recent projects, especially when I was able to discuss ideas of where the company portfolio could expand based on their particular style and USP."