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Interview Questions and Tips for Young Apprentices

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths - Last Update: 10 Jun 2021

Contents

Why do first impressions matter?

Interview tips for entry-level roles

8 common interview questions for entry-level roles

Questions you should ask about the apprenticeships

10 tips to help you ace any apprenticeship interview

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Amanda Bathory-Griffiths

Are you preparing for an apprenticeship interview? Let's look at some practice questions and tactics to help you land that role.

Key points:

  • Employers want a confident candidate who can look them in the eye and enter the workplace with maturity
  • Practice your body language signals as well as your questions and answers
  • You're interviewing for the job and the apprenticeship, show prospective employers that you've carefully considered both - and if they don't ask you about the apprenticeship content, ask them what's involved

Why do first impressions matter?

First impressions are formed in your opening conversations and interactions with an interviewer and their team.

It's not when the interviewer locks eyes on you. It happens when they look at your CV, when you respond to their invitation to interview.

Lay careful groundwork to make a good first impression. So whether you're a young apprentice or a more experienced worker, you make a professional impact in your written communication:

  • Check your spelling
  • Calm down your punctuation and swap out exclamation marks for full stops
  • Ask someone you trust to read your emails and CV before you send it

When you meet in person, your interviewer will firm up their perception of who you are, how relevant you are to the role, and whether they like you enough to hire you.

To make a good first impression in-person, be the most confident, friendly and positive version of yourself:

  • Be enthusiastic. You're on time and you can't wait to get started.
  • Take pride in your appearance. Clean nails, ironed clothes and brushed hair. Avoid strong fragrances and hand cream!
  • Smile and look them in the eye. You're a nice, bright person to be around and the interviewer will imagine this is how you greet everyone.
  • Unfortunately, we still can't shake hands yet. You can acknowledge that and say "I would shake your hand if I could, it's great to meet you, and thank you for inviting me here." It's confident, friendly and most importantly, safe.
  • Listen. Your nerves and adrenaline will be in fight or flight, but don't let your brain panic. Be polite, listen and reply.

Now first impressions are made, it's time to get this interview started.

Interview tips for entry-level apprenticeship roles

A job interview for a Level 2 or Level 3 apprenticeship is likely to be an entry-level role.

It's the first few steps on the apprenticeship ladder, giving you the foundations in your chosen subject.

You need to show enthusiasm and curiosity for the area, whether that's engineering, childcare or another field.

Think about relevant experiences you've had to show you've got relevant ways of thinking, that will make you an asset to the workplace.

Start with your hobbies. A relevant hobby can reveal a lot about your potential professional qualities.

An engineering mind usually enjoys problem-solving and figuring something out independently. For example, origami might be a doddle for you, or you're completely obsessed with Lego or K'Nex builds - a passion that isn't fading with age.

Transferable skills show off your potential when you have no relevant “on-the-job” experience.

Search for your passions and share them at the interview. If you can link them to the industry, the qualification and workplace, you'll be on to a winner.

 

8 common interview questions for entry-level roles and apprenticeships

Your interviewer will likely ask you open-ended questions.

Open questions are broad and designed to catch a glimpse of your abilities and capabilities.

The challenge is cherry-picking specific information about your life that's relevant to the employer, the apprenticeship and role.

Here are eight common open-ended questions you could be asked, and how to prepare for and answer the question.

#1 Tell me about yourself

#2 What motivates you?

#3 Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses

#4 Why are you interested in an apprenticeship?

#5 Why do you want to work for us?

#6 Tell me about your proudest achievement

#7 Are you a team player?

#8 Where do you want to be in five years?

#1 Tell me about yourself

How to prepare:

  • Describe your situation: "I am a school leaver and I can't wait to get to work"
  • Focus on your qualities: "I am hardworking, interested and ambitious" and tell the interviewer about a time where you worked hard, were interested, or felt inspired to do more to back it up
  • Follow up with your skills: "I really enjoy basketball because I thrive in a team, I enjoy taking the lead. But, at school, I loved hands-on subjects, like chemistry and metalwork, because I enjoy problem solving and figuring things out."
  • Describe the duties you fulfilled at any work experience, part-time jobs, voluntary roles or internships: "I volunteer at my grandad's residential home at the weekend. I get to spend time with him, but I also fetch tea and coffee for other visitors, so they can focus on each other."

#2 What motivates you?

People are either extrinsically motivated, driven by money and achievements, or intrinsically motivated, meaning you’re passionate about what you do, and it's a reward in itself.

Apprentices are a blend of the two.

The apprenticeship certificate is a physical reward, which paves the way for promotion and pay rises. But your commitment to the extra hours of learning suggests you are open to learning and feel rewarded when you gather knowledge.

You need to offer a blended answer to evidence you're thinking about both types of motivation.

How to prepare:

  • Your employer wants to hear that you are motivated by a challenge, rather than nervous of it. Think of a time when you have risen to a challenge.
  • The interviewer wants to hear you have ambitions to achieve lots in the workplace and get your apprenticeship. You may not have relevant experience but tell them what excites you about the challenge of a work-based apprenticeship.
  • It's okay to say: 'I am driven by success because I enjoy feeling accomplished' and go on to describe your wins. You can experience those highs in work too and it's what an employer wants to see - teams all win together.

#3 Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses

When an employer asks you about a weakness, they're not purely asking what your barriers are.

They want to see that you recognise these qualities and have some idea about how to manage and overcome them.

A weakness might be:

Inexperience

The workplace will ask you to complete fresh tasks and challenges. How do you respond when you don't know how to do something? Are you defensive, sarcastic or withdrawn? The way to overcome your inexperience is to ask questions and learn from the experts around you.

Essential Skills gap

If you're worried about Maths, English, or IT, and you didn't achieve academic qualifications at school, like GCSEs, it might make your heart beat faster when the employer asks you about them.

Apprenticeships have Essential Skills Wales qualifications built into them and you'll have 1-2-1 support from a training advisor to help you pass them. It might be useful to drop that into your conversation: 'I'm looking forward to having another attempt in a different environment'.

Plus, your employer just wants to know that you're a clear communicator. Can you describe a situation objectively and relay it plainly to other people? If so, that's you owning the weakness.

Confidence

Confidence might be your weakness if you feel intimidated by the unknown and it makes you nervous. What will my colleagues be like? What if I can't do the work?

Take comfort in the knowledge that lots of graduates leave university with academic prowess on their CV, but suffer from shyness in person, because they haven't had workplace exposure. They will have just the same worries as you.

If you can walk into this interview and look the interviewee in the eye, that's confidence to be celebrated.

If an employer can see that you're outgoing and enthusiastic, that makes you stand out.

You can describe that feeling to an employer without reprimand, it's normal to have an inner critic. You can take the edge of those nerves by working with the right employer, who will show you how to do the job and develop your skills - boosting your confidence.

#4 Why are you interested in an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are hard work and can demand long hours.

The interviewer is fishing to see if you've done your research about what's to come.

How to prepare:

  • Describe the benefits of an apprenticeship for you. For example, "I want to get immediate on-the-job experience and be in long-term work and build a career."
  • 'Avoiding university debt' is a valid concern, but it won't be the only reason to do an apprenticeship. It's a more cost-effective option for you (and it's incentivised for the employer), but there's much more to it than money.
  • Describe why you're interested in the subject: "My dad is an engineer. and we've spent lots of weekends working on the car together"

#5 Why do you want to work for us?

How to prepare:

  • Research the company and write a list of what you like about it. For example, "my friends have worked here and got so much from the training programme," or "I really like all the charity work that you do because I'm passionate about volunteering"
  • Reference the company’s commitment to apprentices and if possible, name some of their case studies (usually companies shout about them online - check the social channels). For example, "I've heard lots of success stories about your apprentices, I read about David in the manufacturing team."

#6 Tell me about your proudest achievement

It doesn't have to be academic achievement.

Your achievement just needs to demonstrate a commitment to a cause, with a positive outcome, which benefited you and others. If it can be relevant to apprenticeship even better.

How to prepare:

  • Write a list of your accomplishments - sporting, volunteering, entrepreneurship, recognition
  • Apply the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, approach result
  • Describe the situation, which might outline an issue you had to overcome, for example: "My football team was struggling to perform. Our coach was suffering from long-form COVID and couldn't come to training. We were disorganised and needed help"
  • Describe your task in the situation: "I am normally just a midfielder, but I could see the team getting disheartened. After talking to everyone, they let me sit in the driver's seat and take on a leadership role"
  • Describe your approach to remedy the situation: "I emailed lots of local clubs on behalf of the team, to ask if they could step in to cover our coach. I also asked if they would be interested in taking part in an inter-team charity day to help raise money for our coach and the NHS"
  • Finally, describe the result: "I managed to organise a rotation of mini-coaching sessions with the local teams, which helped us to up our game. We won once, which doesn't sound like much, but team morale was so much better. But that came secondary to the £2,000 we managed to raise for my coach and the NHS."

Your small, good deeds make a really big difference, and an employer wants to see your initiative.

#7 Are you a team player?

The most successful workplaces are built on teamwork. Above all, people are in those teams are good communicators. They can tell the people around them what support they need to be successful.

How to prepare:

  • Make a list of the times you've worked in a team. That might be a school play, a sports team, a Duke of Edinburgh Award, or at a charity event
  • Explain what your team needed to achieve, for example, reaching a geographical location with only a map and a compass
  • Describe what your duties were in the task and how you communicated with your team
  • Describe why you think you worked well together. For example, "We made a plan before we started, gave everyone specific duties and we supported one another throughout the task"

#8 Where do you want to be in five years?

This question reveals your professional ambitions and your vision of your place at this company.

Keep it professional. "I want to own a campervan and a golden retriever, and I would like to be able to surf" won't go down as well as you might think.

Talk about what you want to achieve:

  • Name the specific skills you want to learn: "I want to learn to repair an Airbus A330"
  • Focus on the qualifications: "I want to achieve my apprenticeship in engineering"
  • Talk about your professional development "I would like to advance onto the Level 4 and 5 apprenticeship in engineering"
  • Say you want to give back: "I would like to become a coach, or mentor, and help new apprentices achieve their qualifications too."
  • Aim high: "I would like to have a reliable presence in a company and be recognised for my abilities and accomplishments."

Questions you must ask about the apprenticeship

As you will hear time and time again throughout your career, you are interviewing the employer as much as they are interviewing you.

An apprenticeship takes, in some cases, years to complete so you need to know you have the right support.

Question 1: How much of my working hours will be devoted to studying?

The split between work and study varies for every workplace.

Your employer isn't bound to release you from work to study. So, if they expect you to complete all your assignments in your own time, it's best if you know that from the outset.

At the start of your apprenticeship, you should sign an apprenticeship agreement that outlines all the details, but it shows interest and willingness to ask at your interview too.

Question 2: Does my manager have experience of apprenticeships?

An apprentice manager has an important role in your working life. They'll set up connections around the business, so you learn from the right people.

If you have a manager that understands the extra workload, they're best placed to support and champion you.

Question 3: How will you support me through the Essential Skills Wales qualifications?

Every apprenticeship is made up of vocational qualifications (Like a Level 2 CCPLD) and Essential Skills Wales qualifications, which evidence your abilities in English, Maths and IT.

Your employer can help you by giving you a quiet place to revise and book in time for you to take practice papers, just so you're prepared for the assessments.

Some employers might go the extra mile to help you, so it's worth asking the question if you're worried about English or Maths.

Question 4: Who is your apprenticeships training provider?

An apprenticeship training provider is a company like TSW Training, that helps you to achieve your qualifications. They sort out the logistics, but also allocate you a training advisor, who mentors you through the course.

it's worth finding a bit out about them - how to get in touch, follow their social channels and researching some of their learner case studies to get inspired.

Question 5: How often does the training advisor meet with your learners?

TSW's Training Advisors are very hands-on.

We're are in almost constant communication with apprenticeship managers and business leaders. We like to make sure the apprentices are achieving all they need to, and if they need any extra support.

It's useful for you to know how autonomous you need to be and how much support you're going to get from your TA.

10 tips to help you ace any apprenticeship interview

To recap, here are 10 quick-fire tips to help you nail that interview: 

  1. As part of your good first impression, turn up on time and be punctual
  2. Reflect the company values in the first few seconds by following the dress code (and don't be afraid to email ahead and ask what the dress code is)
  3. Make a confident first impression. Make eye contact and smile, show them your maturity and social dexterity
  4. Listen carefully to the question and answer it clearly. Be calm, breathe and don’t rush your answers. Thinking time shows you're considered and asking them to repeat or explain the question shows you are thinking critically.
  5. Ask your family and friends to quiz you, or you can interview them to get inspiration and ideas
  6. Turn your phone off and leave the smartwatch at home (or, switch both to 'work mode') so you can stay focused
  7. Discover what you like in the apprenticeship plus the hours, assignments and assessments involved
  8. Research the company and if you can, the interviewee
  9. Prepare some relevant questions for the end of the interview about both the job and the apprenticeship
  10. Thank them for their time and follow up with thank you email when you get home