Over the last 18 years, my experiences as a Recruitment Consultant, Recruitment Manager and Head of Internal Recruitment have given me the opportunity to interview and hire some really great people. I’ve also experienced my fair share of poor interviews, from the unprofessional to the unprepared and uninterested – I’ve seen it all! The good news is that much of interview success requires no technical skills or knowledge, just a bit of effort and common sense. Here are my top tips on giving your best performance at interview.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Do your homework on the company and the interviewer/s
Company websites are good for this but everyone else will be looking here too, so if you know someone who works there already, speak to them, research recent projects, news articles, etc. – go the extra mile.
Check out your interviewer/s profile on LinkedIn – this shows initiative and might give you some ‘in common’ information including people you both know. Remember to request to connect with them too, putting a face to the name will build familiarity before you've even met them. On the subject of LinkedIn, make sure your work experience and dates tally with those on your CV. Gaps or different dates and information could raise a concern with your client around honesty, attention to detail, etc.
Questions, Questions, Questions
Pre-empt and prepare for questions or concerns the client might have about you. Where are my skills/knowledge gaps and how am I going to overcome these? How will I deal with my ‘reason for leaving’ my last job and why I left without another job to go to? Etc.
Prepare some questions for your interviewer/s. Doing your company research will help with this and remember to WRITE your questions down. I’ve lost count on how many interviewees, over the years, have said “yes, I did have some questions, but I’ve forgotten them now” – rookie error.
Even if the interviewer has managed to answer all of your questions, during the interview, they will be impressed that you came prepared.
Finally, think about what other questions, that you didn’t have pre-prepared, you’d now like to ask. This shows you listen well and can think on your feet.
Dress to impress
These days, even in a professional office, the dress code can vary from formal (suit and tie) to business casual and even jeans and trainers ‘casual’. However, don’t make the assumption that this is the expected attire for the interview.
Personally, I would always go smarter and dress to impress. I’ve had plenty of candidates turn up for interview ‘suited and booted’ but looking like they’ve just rolled out of bed. So make sure your clothes are clean and pressed, your hair is tidy, your shoes are polished. Take a last look in the mirror on the way out and say to yourself, “would I hire me?”
AT THE INTERVIEW
Don’t arrive late
This is probably one of the most common and frustrating interview ‘no no’s’ as it’s so easy to get right. Of course there are always going to be exceptional circumstances, but generally, if you allow plenty of time, plan your route, know what the parking arrangements are (if applicable), etc. you will make it on time, ideally a little early. Getting to the interview 5-10 minutes early shows you are keen and on it and will allow you to catch your breath, settle your nerves, pop to the toilet/freshen up, take in your surroundings, and just mentally get prepared.
But don’t be too early
There is such a thing as being too early though, if you are any earlier than 10 minutes, go and get a coffee or wait outside.
First impressions count so make it a good one
Arriving early/on time and looking smart and professional is a great start. Follow this up with a great smile, firm handshake and confident introduction/ice breaker “Hi Rachel, I’m Joe Smith, thank you for seeing me today. Have you had a good day so far?”
Control your nerves
Great preparation beforehand goes a long way to feeling confident and in control and able to deal with the unexpected. Always ask for a glass of water, it’s a good ice breaker, will help you slow down your speech and also nerves can give you a dry mouth and an unwanted frog in your throat so again – be prepared!
Take a few copies of your CV with you
Again it shows initiative and is a chance to give a more recent version if asked for. Always print more copies than needed and casually leave one on the desk in front of you, it might be a useful reference point for you during the interview. You’d be amazed how much you can forget when you are under pressure in an interview.
You can also read my article "Make your CV stand out from the crowd" if you would like any further help with creating the best CV you can.
Work the room, don’t just look at / talk to the person you think is the decision maker.
There will be a good reason for everyone else being there so scan the room when talking, acknowledge and make good eye contact with everyone at some point. Even the HR Assistant who is there to take notes is a potential influencer in the hiring process.
Show great listening skills
It’s an essential skill in every job and the interview is a great opportunity to show how good you are at it. Listen to understand, not to respond and try not to interrupt the person talking. Ask if it’s OK to take a few important notes as you simply won’t remember everything discussed in the interview. Listening well will always generate some good questions for you to ask too.
Talk positively, in the future tense where possible and really sell yourself
There are a few candidates I will, unfortunately, remember for the wrong reason – they talked negatively about their previous jobs and employers and often blamed them for their lack of performance/success. They talked a lot about what they had done before, but not enough about how they could add value in the future with their next employer.
We have a saying in recruitment, ‘sell not tell’ and the interview is your chance to sell your skills, achievements, value-added, etc. so be as positive and forward-thinking as you can.
Close the interview on a positive
Thank everyone for their time, ask for any initial feedback and if you really want the job, tell them that you would be very interested in an opportunity to join them.
Ask them what is the next step, will there be another interview, when will they be making a decision by, how many other people are they interviewing for this role and over what timeframe?
This is also a great time to tell the client about other interviews you have and the timeframes you are ideally working to. This shows you are active and ready to move and that you are also in demand.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Last impressions also count
Whilst the interview may officially be over, remember that you are still potentially under review until you leave the clients premises and are fully out of view. Lighting a cigarette the minute you step foot outside the client's office might not be the best move, who knows who is watching from the window above.
Follow up with an email
Again, thank everyone for their time and follow up on any other information they have asked for (for example; references, examples of work, etc.). This is also a chance to volunteer any further important information you forgot to bring up in the interview.
Ask for interview feedback - the good and the bad
Whether successful or not, always ask for feedback. You might have to call and chase the client for this but it’s important you know how you can improve next time?
And finally, remember the old saying that ‘practice makes perfect’ so even if you are not offered the job, every interview is a good experience so take away what you can and improve your chances for next time.