All entries for Tuesday 16 October 2012

October 16, 2012

Avoiding interview pitfalls

interview nervesIf you've been invited to attend a face to face interview, you're clearly doing something right. Selection for graduate schemes (and internships) is multi-stage, so you've already survived the initial screening, psychometric tests and telephone interview. There's now clear blue water between you and the hundreds of applicants who fall at the first hurdle. At this stage you can afford to feel confident, but not complacent. There's still some distance between interview and job offer and many potential tripwires lay ahead. You're probably familiar with the more common interview 'don'ts' - arriving late, answering your phone - but there are more subtle (and less conscious) ways you can scupper the outcome. Try and avoid them.

Think about your body language, I mean really think.

Now you may be thinking this is pretty obvious. And it many ways it is. Most people are conversant with the basics: firm handshake, good eye contact, warm smile. But there are far more subtle ways that you can betray your indifference, nerves or desperation...

  • Posture – sit too close and you risk crowding the interviewer, too distant and you may appear cold and detached. It sounds cliched but sit upright: try to imagine a string tied from the top of your head to the ceiling. This is a great tip that works well for presentations and interviews.
  • Hand gestures – I have to declare an interest here. I am an inveterate 'hand talker' and when animated, excited or nervous my hands assume a life of their own! Small hand gestures can help emphasise your point, but too much and it becomes a distraction. It's an interview not an audition.
  • Arms – try to keep them loose and 'open'. If you fold your arms, it can make you appear closed and unfriendly. You need to establish and sustain a rapport with the interviewer, not frighten them off. Think about the image you want to project.
  • Fidgeting – you may find interview nerves or excitement exacerbate your natural tendency to fidget. Twiddling a pen, fiddling with your hair, tapping your knee - all send a clear sign to the interviewer that you're losing the battle with nerves. It's normal to feel anxious during an interview, but when nerves manifest in overt physical gestures it may cast doubt on your ability to 'check yourself' and work under pressure.

'Do you have any questions?' Is it ok to say 'no'?

This crops up time and again in mock interviews and is a real source of anxiety and confusion. There's no definitive answer; one school of thought suggests that it's better to say 'no' than risk repeating yourself or asking an irrelevant question. I think there's some merit in this but I worry about the impression it leaves the employer. You may have aced the interview but risk ending on a flat note. Is this a wise strategy when the competition is so fierce? So, how should you respond to this tricky question:

  • Keep it generic – this is the safe option but may show a lack of imagination. Typical questions include: "What is a typical day like?", "What words would you use to describe the working culture?"
  • Make it personal – relate the question to your role/progression within the company. Typical questions include: "How would my performance be measured and what are the mechanisms for feedback?", "How much guidance is available to help employees develop and realise their career goals?"
  • Use your research – this is a way to really stand out from the crowd. By thoroughly researching the organisation or company (check our commercial awareness post for useful tips), you're much more likely to come across news and info that you can weave into an intelligent and thoughtful question. Typical question: "I have read x about the marketing strategy of this company. How might this influence the release of future products?"
  • Keep it brief – I would advise 2 or 3 questions at most. You don't want to monopolise the interviewer or appear arrogant.

Know when to stop (talking)

If your interview is scheduled to last 30 minutes and you're still talking after an hour, this isn't a good sign. You need to provide full, comprehensive answers but know when to stop. Respond to the non-verbal cues from the interviewer (or panel) and if in doubt, pause for a moment and ask if they want/need any further detail. Talking a mile a minute is both irritating and counter productive: the salient detail will simply get lost in the waffle. There are a few simple rules you can follow to help you find the balance:

  • Take deep breaths and pause don't leap in. Collect your thoughts, formulate your response and then answer the question.
  • Make it relevant – illustrate and substantiate your answers with one or two good examples. Don't provide a verbatim account of your work/life history.
  • 'Read' the interviewer – is s/he looking bored or engaged. If you catch the interviewer nodding off or checking their watch, you've probably said enough.

Interviewing is a skill just like any other. Practice makes perfect! If you've got an interview coming up why not book a mock interview with us and get those mistakes out the way before the real thing.

October 2012

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