Before I began to write, I spent 12 years working in corporate recruitment as a Talent Acquisition Specialist and interviewed upwards of 20 candidates a week. That’s a lot of interviews. Almost 10,000 to be precise.
Every time I thought I’d seen it all – from the girl whose gums were bleeding as she chatted to me, oblivious, about supply chain (really), to the young suit who fainted on to the glass interviewing table and gave himself a nosebleed – along came another doozie to remind me that interviewing is an art.
Thankfully, unlike a nasty case of chronic gingivitis or low blood pressure, it is one that can be taught and perfected with relative ease. So if you want to make a lasting impression (for the right reasons), you might want to cast your eye over these so often forgotten basics:
1. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.
And don’t forget that cuts both ways on the smart/casual spectrum. If you work in a bank but want a job as a Fashion Merchandiser, you might be wise to change out of the staid and super formal pin stripes and into something that hints you’re on the nail with current and anticipated trends.
Notice I said a ‘hint’ though. Don’t go bananas. You are not Jean-Paul Gaultier. Or Carrie Bradshaw. Not yet anyway.
Likewise, if you’re on the shop floor and want to join a bank, don’t turn up in a leopard-print jump suit and silver heels, even if they cost the earth and were a gift from Jean-Paul himself. Reflect the environment and kind of work that you aspire to.
2. Sort out that hand-shake!
I’ve encountered every type of handshake going over the years, from the off-putting weak and clammy, to the over-wrought arm swinging and bone-breaking variety.
Men and women should practice at home, with both sexes looking for a single strong shake, hand vertical, firm and confident, coupled with good eye contact, a polite ‘Thank you for meeting with me’ and a brief engaging smile.
3. Do ask questions but make them thoughtful and perceptive about the role.
On pain of death, don’t make your questions about money, holidays, working hours or how quickly you can expect to be promoted. Remember that at all stages, closing questions included, the goal of the interview is to promote your compatibility and value proposition for the role.
That’s the role – not the package, not the lifestyle benefits, not your time off from the role or how quickly you can ‘stepping stone’ your way out of it. If this seems a little one-sided, remember, it’s job offers you’re gunning for.
If they ultimately don’t come through with the salary/leave/training you want at the offer stage, you’ll be in a better place to leverage an improved package if you have one or two other employment options on the table too.
If negotiations make you uncomfortable, engage an experienced recruitment agent to manage your search from the start and they can take over any negotiations on your behalf.
4. Don’t skim-read the job description!
You’d be amazed how many people are asked to explain what their understanding is of the role they are interviewing for and who answer poorly. Read the job description. Then read it again. And again. You get the idea.
Go armed with point by point evidence of how your skills and experience either match or could be adapted to the requirement. Make your interview ‘example-led’ this way, ticking off their needs systematically, and they’ll be hard pushed to ignore you.
Too many candidates have a very passive approach to interviewing, expecting to simply turn up and answer questions about the role they’re currently doing, instead of having to explain how it could add value in the context of the one they’re applying for.
5. Never, ever bad mouth your current or past employers.
In an interview situation, it says far more about you than it ever will about them. Namely that you have a chip on your shoulder, are indiscrete and have poor interpersonal skills or judgement regarding your own career.
Now, that’s not to say your current or ex-boss wasn’t genuinely an ass, just that your interview isn’t the place to debate it. Save it for your mates and the pub.
Focus instead on the career ‘pull’ factors that have drawn you to interview externally, rather than telling a horror story about the ‘push’ factors that your ‘career’ will come across as being at the mercy of.
All the other stuff – punctuality, positivity, carrying extra copies of your CV, researching the company on the web and following up the interview with a brief, courteous email – go without saying.
Now go get ’em!