29 July 2008, 00:55
Oh, job interviews. One of the most nerve-wracking experiences ever, especially if you’re going for a job you actually really want! While you probably won’t get every job you interview for, there are definitely some things you can do to help increase your chances. Here are my tips for impressing the pantaloons off anyone in an interview.
Be on time
This is the most important thing. Really.
When I used to go to job interviews, sometimes if I realised I was going to be late, I wouldn’t bother showing up at all. Naughty, perhaps, but honestly, most of the time, being late is almost impossible to recover from. If I was late for a job interview — theoretically the time where you are trying to be most impressive — what were the interviewers going to assume about my actual work?! It sends a pretty loud & clear negative message. I figured it was better to stay home & get some sleep instead!
Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes there are very real & unavoidable reasons why you’re delayed. If this is the case, make sure you let your interviewer know as soon as possible, & let them know that you’re open to rescheduling if that is more convenient for them.
If you’re someone who is chronically late, step it up, toots! Being late makes other people feel like you don’t respect them or their time, & time is precious to everyone. (Read this for more information.) If being late is something you always struggle with, start writing your appointments down for half an hour before the actual time!
Because work is where people spend the majority of their time, most employers are pretty conscious of the kind of people they want in their workplace. As a general rule, people want to hire other people with whom they get along. While weird, awkward, socially stunted people do get jobs, they will often be passed over for someone with comparable skills but a lot more charm. It just makes everyone’s life easier.
What this means is that you should make every effort to show how lovely you can be. If this statement confuses you, let me break it down for you. Smile! Laugh! Be positive! & above all, make conversation! It doesn’t have to be the world’s most scintillating discussion, but even throwing in a little anecdote about your morning or what you did on the weekend will make your interviewer feel like they’re actually talking to a real, relatable person & not some terrified robot or freaky automaton.
When it comes to an interview, usually you won’t get to that stage unless you have the skills you require for the role. So look at an interview as your opportunity to prove how super & cool you are, how awesome you’d be to work with, & how much fun you’d bring to the team.
(For more tips, see How To Be Charming!)
Have questions to ask
...Other than “How much are you going to pay me?”, which should typically be left until later in the piece!
Why should you do this? Because it shows that you’re keen enough to take an active interest. It illustrates to the interviewer that you’ve thought about the job — you’re not just there because they were the only place to call you back.
Coming up with a few questions doesn’t have to be a big mission. I would often think about the role on my way there (while I was on the bus or in a taxi) & jot down a few thoughts about it. So you might like to ask them how long the role has been around — whether it has evolved & will continue to, or if it’s fairly static. You could ask about the level of autonomy you’d be gifted. You could ask who was in the role previously, why they left & where they went. You can enquire about the culture of the team or company, how social they are, what they’re like. & if you really want to score points, you could ask the interviewer how they got to where they are today. (Everyone loves to talk about themselves.)
You don’t need to get all Spanish Inquisition on it — just a few well thought out questions will do the trick & make you stand out from the other applicants.
I know I say this all the time, but enthusiasm cannot be overestimated!
Everyone loves an enthusiastic person! Except for really grumpy people, but who wants to impress them anyway?!
This means you should demonstrably show your excitement about the role. (If you’re not excited about it, perhaps it would be better for you to find something that actually turns your crank, rather than bouncing from similar role to similar role, expecting things to change… We’re all guilty of this one at some point.)
You don’t need to skip into the interview room, but definitely smile, appear alert, lean in towards the interviewer when they’re talking, mirror their body language, say, “I’m so excited about this role!”, & let them know you’re looking forward to hearing back from them. Honestly, even just saying you’re psyched to be there will make them smile. Everyone wants to hire someone who really wants it! There’s nothing worse than a gaggle of lack-lustre, bored-looking applicants. Make an effort to stand out!
You’ve probably heard this before, because I mentioned it in my How To Make Your CV Impressive article, but I once got an awesome job as a book buyer — for which I was wildly underqualified — because I was so enthusiastic. Never fear! Enthusiasm will get you there!
Do your research
If you know a little bit about the company you want to work for, you’ll be doing better than most of the people you’re up against. Google them before you go to the interview & read up on some vital stats or their latest news. You don’t necessarily need to demonstrate your knowledge in the interview, but if you have the opportunity, you should. If you don’t really get the chance, or it would be out of place to start reeling off facts, at least you’ll feel more secure in the interview!
This isn’t always going to apply, because often you won’t know much about the role you’re applying for until you actually get into the interview. But if you already have the low-down on what your job might entail, going into the meeting with a bunch of ideas is always a positive thing.
When I say ideas, I mean things you could do to improve their situation, which might range from implementing a new system to changing the way you deal with incoming phone-calls. While your ideas may never be implemented, just having them in your mind & expressing them to your interviewer speaks volumes. It will show that you take initiative, that you’re a good problem-solver, & that you’re invested in the role.
The one caveat I would add is that sometimes people are threatened by a bold thinker, so if you’re going to talk ideas, make sure you do it in a way that doesn’t imply that you’re going to bulldoze their entire department!
Pick up the interviewer’s slack
Let’s face it, your interviewer isn’t always going to be mind-blowing. In fact, often the task of interviewing just falls to the person who is available, not necessarily the person who is best qualified to do it, or even happiest doing it.
If your interviewer — let’s just say it — sucks, then it’s your job to pick up their slack. If you look at it objectively, they have nothing to lose or gain from the interview, really. They’re just doing their thing, & if they don’t like you, they won’t hire you, & then they’ll go back to their cubicle & play with their stack of Post It notes & then go out for their lunch break. But you? Well, if they don’t hire you, you have to send out more applications, go to more interviews, & keep looking for a job. You have much more riding on the situation. So it’s really in your best interests to do whatever you can to make sure you’re the person who gets the role.
Picking up the interviewer’s slack might include giving longer answers than you think they’re expecting, volunteering information that is relevant but hasn’t been asked for, being ultra-charming or asking them questions in the hopes that they will bounce them back to you. Really it’s just about taking the initiative, & taking control of the interview (in a non-threatening way).
Most people go along to interviews, answer the questions, nod their head, smile nervously, shake hands & bolt. While they will eventually get hired by someone, it’s not what anyone is really looking for.
Make yourself sound like you would be an asset to their company, rather than just someone who is going to sit around & suck up a salary! How you do this will depend on your personality & the role you’re going for, but basically it’s important to make yourself sound like you’re worth hiring. If you have amazing skills, talk them up! If you’re the queen or king of conflict-resolution, say so! Don’t hide yourself away. You might be the world’s most wicked spreadsheet whiz, but if you don’t mention it, no one will know! An interview is not the time to be shy. In a situation like this, it’s much better to be cocky than forgettable.
Let your interviewer know that you are thankful that they’re taking the time to meet you. This doesn’t mean kissing their feet or grovelling or putting yourself in a subserviant position (“Oooooh interviewer, thank you for picking meeeee, I’m not worthy!”), it just means showing your appreciation in a real way.
One of the best ways to do this is to look in their eyes while you shake their hand & say, sincerely, “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me”, but you can show your appreciation in other ways too. You could say thank you a billion times, but if you slump in your chair & stare out the window & chew gum, no one’s really going to be very convinced. Make sure your body language echoes your sentiments.
Do practice interviews
If interviews really freak you out, it can be helpful to have a couple of practice runs with someone you know. Have a friend ask you some typical interview questions (here’s a list!), & then take your time while you think about them & answer them. Honestly, you can do this on your own, you don’t need a buddy to help you, but it can be good to have someone else there to bounce ideas off.
Know your career objectives
You don’t have to know what you want to be doing in the next thirty years to make a good impression in an interview. The fact of the matter is that most people don’t know what they want to do with their lives until they’re about 35… & lots of people never really know.
You don’t need to know that in 10 years time you’d like to be CEO of Taco Bell — in many jobs, it’s really only important that you have some idea of what you’d like to learn. Don’t worry about slapping a title on it. So if your interviewer asks you, “What are your career objectives?”, it’s perfectly okay to just say the kind of skills you’d like to obtain.
Even if all you can think is that you’d like to work in human resources, or editing, or production, just say that. A vague direction is better than nothing at all; it gives them an idea of where you’d like to head (& creates a picture of what you might do within their company), & if they employ you, it will help them point you in a direction that is interesting to you.
Well, those are the things that have helped me get through job interviews over the years. (Believe me, I’ve had plenty!) Tell us your secret hints!