By Melanie Allan
Interviews can be nerve-racking, particularly if you're not used to them. The anticipation is often worse than the actual event because not only are you walking into an unknown situation, but also you know you'll be judged on your performance. The following tips, based on current interview ‘etiquette' and common sense, apply to any interview situation and will help you to create the best impression that you can.
Preparation is the key to confidence. Read the article ‘Preparing for an interview' on this website about preparation that can be done before the event. Find out about the organisation and the responsibilities of the job.
Then you need to minimise stress on the day. Make sure that you:
- know where to go and how you will get there
- know how long it will take to get there - and leave more than enough time
- decide what to wear and make sure it's washed, cleaned, polished and ready to put on.
Always dress smartly. Even if you know or suspect that the dress code in the company is ‘smart casual', you can't go wrong with a business suit. It's perfectly appropriate, even if your interviewers are lounging about in shorts and sandals. It reflects the formality of the situation and shows respect. Failing that, be sure to wear a smart jacket (and tie, if you're a man).
Shake hands when you're introduced. It's a formal situation (even if you've been asked to ‘come in for an informal chat'!) requiring formal behaviour. You're not only being interviewed on your qualifications and work experience. Interviewers also want to find out what kind of person you are and whether you'll fit in. Take your cue from them. If they start with general chat about the weather or your journey, chat along. If they don't, sit down, smile, and wait for them to start. Don't babble!
Obvious, yes, but in the heat of the moment it's all too easy to miss what is being asked of you. Focus on the question without getting your answer ready at the same time. Take your time and try not to anticipate what is coming. If you don't understand or don't take the question in, it's fine to ask ‘can you repeat that, please' or ‘would you clarify that, please?'. Interviewers will make allowances for nerves - they're used to it!
This is where a ‘prop' can be useful. If you're offered coffee or water, accept it whether you're thirsty or not. Take a sip before you answer a question, to give yourself time to collect your thoughts. Invaluable!
Answer every question honestly and openly. Be confident and positive about your strengths, but don't ‘big yourself up' and lose sight of reality! If you can't answer the question (after having listened carefully, asked for clarification, and taken a sip of water), say so. Remember, interviewers are not trying to catch you out; they want to find out about you. They will be more impressed with honesty and willingness to learn than with bluff and bravado.
If you've ever felt like a rabbit in headlights and ‘blanked out' under pressure, you'll probably worry that it will happen again. It's very common! It helps to have a prepared sentence to hand: something like ‘can we come back to that later?' Not only will it give you time to stop panicking, but having a response to hand will make it less likely to happen.
If you make negative remarks about a previous boss or organisation, you will come across as a troublemaker, or at best, disloyal. Here again, it will help if you can come up with a diplomatic way of making your point, in advance, without blaming or finding fault. For example, ‘My line manager and I did not always agree about...'. Alternatively, turn it around and make your statement positive about the prospective employer. Just make sure you've done your research on the company! For example, ‘I wanted to be part of a larger organisation with career prospects', or ‘I feel I'd be more creative/comfortable in a less conventional environment'. This way, you're making your reasons for leaving clear without making accusations.
If you've prepared properly and done your research, you will have questions to ask the interviewers if you're invited to do so. Ask about management style, reporting lines, your responsibilities, products or projects. It's not appropriate to ask about terms and conditions of employment (holidays, for example) nor about salary. It looks as if you're only interested in the money and yourself, not the work. Ask about those when you're offered the job.
By the time you've got to the waiting room, or when you are sitting in your car outside the building before the interview, you can do no more preparation. Give yourself a few moments just to be still and collect yourself. Stop rehearsing in your head and concentrate on your breathing. Sit or stand comfortably and steadily, with both feet flat on the ground. Put your hand on your stomach, below your ribs. Breathe in slowly, then breathe out, emptying your lungs. Feel your diaphragm moving under your hand. That way, you fill and empty your lungs properly rather than only the top part, which accentuates feelings of nervousness and may result in hyperventilation.
Now you're ready!