A job interview is the one thing standing between you and the career of your dreams, or at the very least a paid role that allows you to manage your bills and keep a roof over your head. The stakes are often high which means the pressure to succeed can lead to unsettling nerves and easily avoidable mistakes.
It goes without saying that researching the company is vital, so I spoke to Claire Jenkins, interview coach extraordinaire, for some other useful tips to help you nail your interview and land the job you’ve always wanted. Read some of her expert advice below.
Planning and preparation
“People forget that they’ve probably got all the clues they need by way of the job advert, the job description and the person specification. There should be no surprises in terms of what questions you get asked. All the clues and key words should be there, so it should be relatively easy to predict what the questions might be.
“The other thing that people forget to do is ask questions beforehand. What you need to do is flush all the uncertainty out of the day and out of the experience. Once you’re invited to an interview you can go back and confirm the date, time, venue and the name of the person interviewing you. You can also ask how long you should expect it to last, if there’s anything you can do to prepare and whether or not there will be any tests. This way you won’t be surprised on the day and there’s some easy preparation you can do beforehand.”
Shake your nerves
“There are a few quick fixes in terms of handling nerves. Take your notes with you and take a pen and paper. Quite often you’ll be asked a very long question or you’ll be in the middle of one answer and then you’ll remember something that you wanted to say before. If you’ve got a pen and paper you can scribble a quick note to yourself. But it’s important that you don’t put your notes between you and your audience so you’re not creating a barrier. Even if you don’t refer to them they can be a great comfort blanket.
“The other thing to do is take your questions written down. What tends to happen is you get to the end of an interview and you’re so relieved that all the questions are over that when they ask, ‘Have you got any questions for us?’, you’re just thinking ‘I wanna get out of this room now!’. But you really do need to ask questions because you have to show that you’ve done the research. Put them in priority order because for whatever reason you might get rushed out, so be sure to ask the really important ones first.
“And quite often they’ll give you a glass of water. Now you may not actually need the water but taking a sip every now and then can give you a few seconds of thinking time.”
First interviews vs second interviews
“Generally first interviews will be about the technical side of things, for example have you got the knowledge, skills and experience that the post dictates? If they invite you back for a second interview, they really like you and you’re almost there.
“Second interviews tend to be more about whether or not you fit the culture. Do you look like them? Do you sound like them? Are you going to fit in with the team? They’ve already tested you in the first one and you’ve been weeded out which wouldn’t be the case if they didn’t think you could do the job.
“Take confidence that you’ve gotten to the second round but don’t get trapped into thinking that it’s any less formal than the first.”
Use your best body language
“Body language does play a big part – there’s even research which suggests you’ve lost or won the interview within the first few seconds, which may or may not be true. So bear in mind that how you enter a room can be important if it’s a face-to-face interview.
“Make sure you’re not crossing your arms or legs because that is seen as defensive and closing, and make sure you’re not turning your body away. Be more open with your gestures, sit forward and look interested. Sometimes people fiddle with pens or with their hair and that can be distracting. And if you’re not used to shaking hands, get used to it!”
Look the part
“You need to look and sound like your audience because they’ll be able to picture you in the job much more easily. Think carefully about the clothes they might typically wear in the office. If you can, find out from friends or have a look at the company website to get a feel for what the general look is. And if you’re not sure always take it up a few notches. It’s better to look a bit smarter and feel a little overdressed then spend the whole interview worrying that you haven’t picked the right outfit.
“Also you need to wear something visually distinctive. If I interview eight people, male or female, and they’re all in grey suits and white blouses I’m going to have a harder time remembering who is who. But if someone is wearing a bright pink tie or a distinctive piece of jewellery, it’s easier. You want it to be distinctive not distracting.”
You’re a STAR
“The biggest mistake that people make is forgetting to tell the result of a story. If you were to google search interview tips you’d see something called the STAR technique which talks about situation, task, action and result. So it’s basically telling the beginning, middle and end of a story.
“At an interview people will often tell you what they needed to do and what they did, but they won’t tell you the happy ending. Some people find it more useful to talk about a CAR – challenge, action and result. Just don’t forget the result bit, it’s the most important part!”
Keep your eyes on the prize
“Everything you say needs to be a possible tick in a box in terms of scoring. So if you say something that’s not job-related about some bizarre hobby or an aspiration to travel when it’s not part of the job then you’re going to distract your audience.
“I coached a guy about six months back for an office job. When I asked him where the job fitted in his career plan he said he wanted to join the army longer term. He lost it at that point because now I’m thinking that he doesn’t really want this job and he’s just doing it to get in the army.
“A lot of of people now have a plan B, but they’re not sure whether it will take off or not. For example they’re starting their own business or selling something in their spare time. If you mention that you’re part self-employed or you’ve got your own business then that might distract your audience. Make sure that everything you say is related to the job in question.”
One final note
“You need to demonstrate your enthusiasm and flatter your audience a bit in terms of having done your research and demonstrating how excited you are about the sector, the organisation and the job.”
Happy job hunting and good luck!
Claire Jenkins is an interview coach who offers interview and CV support services. Visit her website 121interviewcoaching.co.uk. LLY