The graduation caps and gowns have been returned to the hire shops, the memories of the carefree times at university are behind you.

After forking out thousands of pounds on a third level education, it’s time to get real and finally join the world of work.

But if you’ve only ever applied for a Saturday job, how do you go about getting your foot on the first rung of the career ladder?

We have asked Claire Bain from Next Steps and Cathy Moran from Cathy Moran Recruitment to draw upon their decades of experience and answer the burning questions to help you get the job you want.

Q: What do I say when I’m asked whether I have any questions at the end of the interview?

A: Claire says: “My advice on this is unless you have a burning genuine question, the best thing to do is say, ‘thank you for your time’, and express your enthusiasm for the organisation and the role.

“Tell the interviewer you believe you have the right knowledge, skills and experience for the role, and you’re keen to develop further and that you see the organisation has a lot to offer.”

Cathy says: “Always ask a question, even if they have covered the question you want to ask. Never say, ‘no you have answered everything or covered what I was going to ask’.

“You could ask what the next stage is or how long will it be before I hear back. You can also ask when they need someone to start the role?

“If someone is leaving or has left and they urgently need someone and you are available to start immediately, this can make a difference. Make sure to mention this.

“You can also ask questions, like how many work in the team and who would you report to. This will give you an idea of structure and team environment.

“Make sure you have checked out their website and social media platform too. Also know which social media platforms they use and check if they are up to date.”

Q: Is it a good idea at this stage to ask whether the interviewer has any reservations about hiring you as an opportunity to address these during the interview?

A: Claire says: “No, just ask if they have any further questions for you and if there is anything they would like clarified further.”

Q: Is it ever okay to ask about salary during an interview and how do you respond if asked about salary expectations?

A: Claire says: “I would not advise asking for salary at this stage. Do some research in advance to benchmark your salary expectations, what they typically offer etc to be ready if they do ask what your expectations are. Glassdoor is a good website to check out.”

Cathy says: “Absolutely, there is nothing wrong with asking about salary. After all, if the company doesn’t advertise it, they could be wasting everyone’s time.

“The best way to approach it is ask for the salary band for the job and if the company says it is negotiable, you could tell them the minimum and your ideal salary.

“Money talks and even though people don’t like to mention it, it does need to be asked, although it is important to remember you can price yourself out of a job if you aren’t realistic about your experience.

“If a salary is given as £20k to £25k, dependent on experience, that doesn’t automatically mean you will get the £25k.

“Candidates, especially graduates, need to understand if they have no relevant experience and a degree with no placement, they need to start at the bottom rung of the ladder. A degree is no longer a ticket to demanding a certain salary.”

Q: What are the three things you should never say or do in an interview?

A: Claire says: “Never admit to an illegal activity, never criticise another employer and never show any doubt whatsoever that you aren’t sure you want the job – even if you aren’t sure.”

Cathy says: “Never have a cigarette just before you walk in for an interview. The smell of smoke is very off-putting. Equally, don’t wear strong perfume or aftershave.

“Never wear jeans or t shirt or casual clothes. Companies still want people to look presentable at interview, so always make sure to wear shirt and tie. For ladies make sure you are presentable wearing either a dress or smart trousers and blouse.

“Remember you are going for an interview for a job, not a night out. It doesn’t have to be trendy. I have had companies comment on dress attire from young people to men wearing trousers to their ankles and jogging bottoms, to girls being very casually dressed. Companies still notice and that can be the difference in getting a job or not.”

Q: How important are first impressions in a job interview?

A: Claire says: “Very – it is so important to go in with a good mindset – be confident and have the self-belief you are the best person for the job. You can, however, recover from a poor initial impression if you have done your prep. Stay focused. Just pause, breathe and reset.”

Q: What three things can you say or do to help you stand out from other candidates?

A: Claire says: “Be authentic, take plenty of time to prepare – be very familiar with the role and clear on why you are the best fit, and give specific details about what you have actually done, using action verbs and own them.”

Cathy says: “First of all, you should smile as you walk into the room and make direct eye contact with all the interviewers – first impressions matter.

“Always expand on your answers and don’t make the interviewer drag information out of you. Don’t answer briefly with yes or no. If the interviewer has to keep asking you questions to explain, then that is a problem.

“Always go in with a positive can-do attitude. Some companies will employ you for attitude alone if you come across as keen and passionate about the job.”

Q: Is there anything I can say if I feel that an interview hasn’t gone well?

A: Claire says: “Yes, you can explain you were nervous and take the opportunity to recap on some of the answers if given the opportunity. Just be careful as you may have felt the interview went badly but that may not have been their impression – I have had many clients experience this.”

Cathy says: “If you feel you have answered a question incorrectly and want to add to it you could mention this at the end, providing it’s a private company that hasn’t set competency questions.

“Public sector and larger organisations use set competency-based questions so it would be hard to add to this, but there is no harm in mentioning it.”

Q: How should you respond if you are ever asked about weaknesses or areas for improvement?

A: Cathy says: “Always prepare an answer for this question. Choose a weakness that will not prevent you from succeeding in the role.

“You could mention you like getting everything done and write a to-do list at the start of the day. Sometimes you would beat yourself up if you didn’t get it all done. However, you have realised that sometimes this isn’t always possible and through time, have learnt to prioritise at the start of the day the important tasks.

“Thoroughly review the job posting before the interview so you don’t identify something as a deficiency that’s essential to the job. Re-read the job description so you know what attributes and abilities are critical to the performance of the job. Those hard or soft skills shouldn’t be on your weakness list.

“You could mention public speaking or doing presentations and explain since you started university or in previous jobs you had to do this and this has helped your confidence. Also, now you find you prepare beforehand and practice and this has helped you overcome this.

“Make sure that public speaking and presentations are not essential part of the job. You could also say that you have very high standards and sometimes put too much pressure on yourself. Then you can mention that you have learnt to recognise when you’re starting to do this and you’re usually able to keep yourself in check, be aware and prioritise.”

Q: I am a recent graduate. How can I provide examples of experience to demonstrate I am able to do the job?

A: Cathy says: “A placement is the holy grail and the ticket to getting a job as a graduate or not, so before thinking of studying for a degree make sure there’s a placement offered.

“You need to sell yourself and mention team projects that you may have worked on at university. This demonstrates teamwork. Also, if you were a leader or team manager, mention this as this demonstrates leadership skills.

“Read the job spec and focus on what is essential and refer to that in your experience. If you don’t have relevant work experience then dig deep and think of sports you were involved with, such as football which demonstrates teamwork.

“Think of courses you may have undertaken yourself, such as night classes or online course to further your studies or understanding. This could be anything from Advances Microsoft or accounting software like SAGE for accounts jobs.

“Think about voluntary jobs or any charity work that you volunteered for – you need to make yourself stand out and appear interesting.”