Presenting Yourself to a Prospective Employer

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"You can't judge a book by its cover." That may be true to a point, but I have to confess that when I'm in a library or bookshop surrounded by a myriad of volumes it is the nicely presented ones that grab my attention first.

This is a factor that jobseekers need to bear in mind, especially those who have progressed up the career ladder and may have become a touch complacent about their prospects for further advancement. You may consider that you have perfect credentials for the particular job you are applying for, but there will undoubtedly be other candidates who consider themselves equally worthy.

Because of this, the way you present yourself is crucial. It all begins with the initial application. Sending in a badly completed application form and an out-of-date CV is unlikely to make a good impression. The former needs to be neat and error-free and the latter must emphasise the qualities which equip you for the job. A crisp, punchy covering letter which draws attention to useful skills you can bring to the job in question will be the icing on the cake.

The interview stage

If you start off well, your efforts may be sufficient to land you an interview. But this is no time to feel smug. Getting to the interview stage is only the first step, and a poorly thought out remark or an unsatisfactory answer during the interview session could well bring your chances to an end. Advance preparation is essential if you are to avoid committing faux pas.

For a start, make sure you know as much as possible about the job you are applying for, as well as the company or organisation you are applying to.  As so much information is available on the internet ignorance is no excuse.

Also consider the type of questions you are likely to be asked and the type of responses you might give.

  • Why do you want to leave your present employment?
  • Why do you want to join us?
  • What is your long-term ambition?
  • What special qualities could you bring to the job?

You could ask a trusted friend to fire questions like these at you and assess how well you respond. Make sure you get some practice in handling tricky questions as well as the more straightforward ones.

You want the day of the interview to go as smoothly as possible. Make sure you know exactly where it is going to be held. Also ensure that you arrive there in good time. Believe it or not, a high proportion of job candidates arrive late for their interviews. A car breakdown or a late running train is no excuse in the eyes of the busy selectors.

Look the part

How you look is important. An interview is not an occasion to dress in your glad rags and look scruffy. Nor do you need to dress up to the nines. One recruitment consultant I know recalls a client who turned up "looking like a fairy godmother". Sober and conventional should be the order of the day. After all, you are meant to be drawing attention to your qualities as an employee rather than your dress sense. Some variation is possible for jobs in the media or outdoors, but it is normally advisable to look conventional, not outrageous.

Once a candidate is in the interview room it is a case of every man for himself. The interview may be a fairly informal affair, but you should avoid becoming overly-familiar or sloppy. On the other hand, it may be carefully structured and conducted by a panel of selectors. Do not be put off by the situation in which you find yourself, but try to maintain your confidence.

Do's and Don'ts

There are a number of DO's and DON'Ts that must be adhered to when presenting yourself to an employer.


  • Be polite at all times.
  • Look the interviewer in the eye.
  • Keep calm.
  • Be positive about the job.
  • Behave naturally.
  • Listen carefully to each question you are asked and every explanation you are given.


  • Argue.
  • Interrupt.
  • Lie or make exaggerated claims.
  • Run down your current or previous employer.
  • Make jokes (unless you are applying to become a comedian).
  • Get on your hobby horse.
  • If you find that you are saying too much, check yourself. You don't want to bore the pants off people.

Towards the end of the interview you may be given the opportunity to ask questions. Remember that you are still under the spotlight, so you should not just remain silent. It is always a good idea to come to the interview with one or two queries up your sleeve. However, you should avoid anything controversial and most certainly refrain from asking about pay or benefits as that might suggest that it is the money that interests you rather than the job itself.

At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer or interviewers for inviting you along. You could also follow this up with a letter of thanks. Just as first impressions count, so do final impressions.

If you have acquitted yourself well, you may land a new job. If you aren't successful, regard the process as a useful exercise which will equip you to give a much better account of yourself in the next round.

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