Having just been on an interview panel, this article will offer a few words of advice on getting the subtle messages right at interview.
Obviously it goes without saying that you need to be well prepared for the formal ‘why would you be good for this job’- type questions. But sometimes it’s the subtle signals that leave the greatest impression. Bear in mind that your interviewers may be seeing five or more others on the same day: you want to stand out for all the right reasons!
For an academic job, formal dress for an interview is essential. However, you need to wear clothes that you are comfortable in. Buying a new suit for the event sounds like a great idea, but you can feel as though you’re wearing someone else’s clothes! It’s more important to be relaxed and confident than it is to be overly polished.
2. Posture, body language
This is really important: if you look uncomfortable and hesitant, this will fill your interviewers with worry. However much the panel try to ignore these cues, they will influence the way that they judge you. If you are going for a teaching job, paying attention to your posture and body language is especially important because you need to present yourself as confident in front of a class of students. Even if what you say is correct, when your body language betrays hesitation and nerves, the panel will take away this message.
3. Be yourself
Interviewers above all want to know that you are the sort of person that they can get on with on a day to day basis, so just be yourself. Use humour and wit in the same way as you would normally. Sometimes, nerves can make a candidate appear overly serious or even unenthusiastic. Enthusiasm, and presenting an attractive personality counts for a lot.
4. Eye contact
Nerves can affect our willingness to make eye contact. When you answer a question, start by directing your answer to the person who posed it, but then change your gaze and look at other panel members in turn. Do not allow your gaze to flit about and do not avoid eye contact altogether as this gives a subtle impression of untrustworthiness.
5. Thoughtful pausing and asking for clarification
Some people think that when they hesitate when answering a question, this gives the impression that they are unsure of themselves and their material. The opposite is true. Think of how a normal conversation works; there are natural pauses while you think of a response. Do the same in interviews: this will show that you are thoughtful, and giving considered answers and not simply repeating memorised passages without a moment’s hesitation.
6. How to finish
Last impressions count as much as first impressions. You want the panel to turn to each other when you leave the room and say ‘that was a good interview’. Usually the last question that a panel will ask you is whether you have any questions for them. Make sure you have a couple of good ones (you need more than one in case they have already obviously answered your first question during another part of the day). Once this question has been answered, you will leave the room. Make sure that before you leave you thank the panel for offering you the opportunity and make eye contact and smile at each of them. Gathering your notes hastily and fleeing, or sighing because you are relieved that it’s over, both give the wrong impression.