It’s amazing how your brain starts working, storing, growing, retrieving, forging millions of connections a minute, from the moment you’re born until you… step into an interview!
We all know the terror of attending an interview, but what can we do to make sure we maximise the opportunity?
Before the day there is plenty we can do. Read the job description well a few times over to be sure you have absorbed what the employer is really looking for. Visit the website to try to get an understanding of the structure of the organisation, where does this role fit in? Browse the history of the organisation, where was it established, when and by whom? Browse the ‘About’ page, what is the work culture like, what values is the organisation driven by, or striving towards. Go to LinkedIn and have a look at the profile of those interviewing you/growing their team. Do you have any common passions? Get a feel for what their preferences might be, are they detail orientated, or high level? Visit the social media accounts of the company, what is current for them? How is the company positioning itself to the public?
Jot down a few questions specific to the organisation and around things that aren’t obvious from the website on a pad of paper to bring with you on the day (along with a pen, and an extra print out of your CV, in case you want to refer to it for exact dates). You will normally be asked if you have questions and it’s important to have some prepared – it will show that you have done some thinking in advance and are genuinely interested in the particular organisation. Your questions might include: How far are they in the process? How many candidates are they seeing? What are the next steps? When will you hear back?
Not only will the above research help you in the interview, it will help you to identify for yourself whether the role would be a good fit. Hint: Don’t talk yourself out of wanting the job, do your best to do well at the interview, you are only in a position to make a final decision once you’ve secured an offer.
Ask a family member, or friend who might be going for similar roles, to practice asking you questions in an interview setting. Actually practice walking into a room. Where do you put your bag? Where do you sit? Do you ask if you can sit down? Do you accept the offer of a drink? These little things can be so awkward when you’re nervous.
You can be fairly confident questions in your interview will include some version of “tell me about yourself?” or “talk me through your previous experience”. Have answers for these mapped out already in your head, this will start you off well and help you to relax and feel more confident. Plan to answer a question about your weaknesses as well. You don’t come across as self-aware if you cannot answer a question on this. Practise a good firm hand shake and good eye contact – many people really struggle with these, but they can be really important in making a good first impression. When you have practised, practise some more, and then some more!
Try on, choose, wash and iron your outfit a few days before the interview. You want to look neat and professional on the day, suited to the work environment you’re applying for.
Make sure you scan the front page of a newspaper or two, or watch the news in advance of the interview. It’s good to have a grasp of major stories in current affairs, just in case people make small talk about something in the news at your interview – it won’t look good if you are completely unaware and unable to add anything to the conversation.
For two nights before the interview try your best to go to bed early. Do your best to have a clear mind and good sleep, but don’t beat yourself up if you struggle with nerves the night before. If the interview is an early one, arrange with a friend or family member to call you in the morning – to make sure you don’t miss your alarm. This extra layer of protection will prevent light or broken sleep due to worries about oversleeping.
Plan to arrive for an interview at least an hour to an hour and a half before. Especially if you are travelling far. It sounds completely overboard, but you never know what might happen to you on the way: traffic, train cancellations, arriving and realising they have two offices and you’re at the wrong one – anything can happen, Murphy’s Law is a beast when you’re hurrying to something important! If possible, you could also test your route there a few days beforehand, at the time you’ll be travelling. Knowledge is power in this case. You do yourself a huge disservice when you arrive late or flustered – you’re already not thinking straight and on the back foot, before you even start.
Go straight to the office. Once you’re sure it’s the right place, you can find a quiet place nearby to calm yourself. Plan then to arrive and sign in at least 15 minutes before you’re due to start. Be polite and professional to everyone you meet and interact with – the interview started when you walked in the door! Keep your eyes and ears peeled. I learnt information vital to securing my first role because I watched other candidates going in and coming out of their interviews.
When you go in for your interview, accept that you’ve done everything you can to prepare. Try to relax, be aware of your breathing, and be yourself. If they don’t like you for who you are, it’s probably best for you and them in the long run that you don’t get the role.
Something you might not realise is that interviewers get nervous too!
Set your posture in the beginning of the interview, try to be comfortable and natural and remove any temptation to fidget: with a pen, your hand, your glass – maybe place one hand in the other, so as not to create any distraction with nervous movement.
When answering questions, take your time, after the question has been asked, to think. Ask for clarity if you missed anything in the question. This is particularly important with technical questions. Get to your point quickly. Many times I have launched into a long, round-about answer, only to be interrupted before I actually make my point! Make sure to focus on the benefits to the company of employing you. It is easy to fall into the trap of explaining how much it would mean to you, rather than what you bring to the role, especially if you are enthusiastic about it. Try hard not to be longwinded. Respond to the body language and non-verbal cues of the interviewers! If there are more than one, make sure you give each a fair share of your eye contact.
When asked a behavioural-based interview question, it might help you to use a structured manner of responding called the STAR method – to discuss the specification ‘Situation’, ‘Task’, ‘Action’ and ‘Result’.
Once you leave, connect with your interviewers on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to follow up.
If you are not successful, ask for feedback. This is hugely important for your learning process, so push for it, in detail. Write it down and go away and think about it. Above all, don’t give up. Each interview is an important learning opportunity, make the most of it.