I’ve interviewed a lot of people in the past few weeks, five separate people in one day alone. In the brief time of about an hour that you spend with a candidate you get to see every agonising part of the human condition. The drama, the tension, the fear, the worry, the anxiety, ohhh but ohhh, why do we do it to ourselves? Take it easy when you go for an interview.
I’ve been the interviewee for many jobs, and interviewed others far more often. So often in fact I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of good interviews and interviews gone horribly awry. If you’re chasing a job, getting to the interview stage means you’ve probably managed to show a prospective employer that you’re in the right sort of area in terms of ability and potential, but you need to convince the employer that the person that they’ve read about on the CV is the person standing in front of them. This is your big chance! Don’t blow it by following any of these ridiculous myths…
“Selling yourself” – By which I mean bluffing, lying, exaggerating, or being afraid to disappoint your interviewer by not being entirely forthcoming if they ask you something you feel is beyond you. Aside from the fact that if they then press down this avenue (likely) you’ll be immediately found out (definitely), if you actually get the job and have to explain that you were lying in the interview you’ll swiftly find yourself looking for more interviews.
Having an Olympic level crushing handshake – This one has been around forever and comes up a lot, even on government websites advising people how to interview well. Monster.com has a full page dedicated to how to shake hands. Why this daft idea persists was something of a mystery until I saw Donald Trump trying out his “alpha male” handshake on various world leaders and politicians. A handshake is about connecting with someone, not contesting physical power or demonstrating that you work out regularly. A handshake is not the human equivalent of two dogs taking turns to pee on the same lamp post. Of all the ways to impress the officer of a company you want to work for, crushing every bone in their hand with your incredible strength probably isn’t in the top ten.
Dressing like you’re on a wedding cake – Wearing ones most immaculate bespoke suit, exquisitely woven by the finest tailors in the world, is not strictly necessary for most roles. You obviously shouldn’t attend in your “out on bail” T-Shirt and shorts. But dressing in something you feel comfortable in is a better idea than going to an interview having borrowed someone else’s funeral clothes. This is especially pertinent for Skype or video interviews. There is no real need to dress up in these instances beyond not appearing in your underwear. Know your sector. While suits for corporate and legal roles are pretty much necessary for interviews, smart casual gets you in in most other areas. I currently work in the tech sector, and attended my last interview in a purple Wonder Woman T-Shirt and black jeans (I got the role).
Maintaining eye contact – Staring into people’s eyes is something that only happens in dates in those godawful movies that try to portray a perfect romance. It’s never something that people do naturally unless they’ve eaten too many strange mushrooms in the woods. You obviously look at someone as they speak to you. But you need not necessarily speak back with your unblinking orbs of power gazing into their very soul.
Constantly smiling – A smile is one of those things your face does when you’re subconsciously trying to communicate warmth or happiness or affection or empathy to someone. As a greeting a good smile always is a good idea. Maintaining a rigor mortisesque rigid lunatic grin throughout your interview process will cause any genuine smiles you make to be missed, as well as possibly making people feel uncomfortable, particularly if you’re also maintaining constant eye contact. So unless you’re auditioning for the role of “Joker” in a Batman movie I would advise you to let your face relax a bit.
Arrive early– It’s always a good idea to be on time if possible. It’s an even better idea to not show up an hour early and spend your pre-interview time sitting in a quiet room that you’ve been hurriedly stashed in, your armpits quietly moistening as you mentally rehearse everything you’re going to say over and over, while people wander past, staring in, wondering who you are and if you’re there to fix the photocopiers. Even worse, you could end up sat with people who are also interviewing for the same job, sharing uncomfortable silences punctuated by an even more uncomfortable “Good Luck!”.
Never ask about pay – This is terrible advice. An employer is looking for someone capable of doing the job. If you know you’re competent, you know you can do the job, you also should know how valuable you are to an employer. They’re asking about your credentials and capabilities, you’re well within the boundaries of professional etiquette to ask what they’re going to offer in return for utilizing them. In fact it demonstrates your own professionalism and confidence in being able to do the job.
Always ask a question at the end – If you’ve had a good interview it should have felt more like a discussion as opposed to an interrogation. To the best employees, interviews are as much about deciding whether they want a role as much as they are about getting the role, so you should have spent time already asking about what the role is, what the company is about, and why they need you there. If you’ve basically just answered their questions then, in the last few moments, thought of something to ask which is completely tangential to the role itself in an attempt to show interest, then you’ve likely not had a great interview anyway.
Interviewing for a job can be a stressful, demanding, and emotionally exhausting, but it needn’t be. Most people approach an interview as almost as an actor ready to give a performance, so it is small wonder they’re often overcome with stage-fright and need the above script to feel they can get through it. But the best way to avoid having a poor experience is to instead approach it as an interesting conversation about who you are as a professional and who they are as a company. This is not only a better way to engage with the interviewer, but is also a better way for you to know if it’s the role you really want.