THE INTERVIEW ITSELF
The fact that you have been invited to interview is a sign that the selectors are already impressed with what you have to say. The next step is to show them that you are as good as your application has suggested.
First impressions are important. An interview may last for 30 minutes or more but studies have shown that someone forms judgements about you within four minutes of meeting you and that these judgements affect their subsequent impressions. Research shows that first impressions are made up of the following:
• 55% visual impact, ie dress, facial expressions and body language;
• 38% tone of voice;
• 7% from what you actually say.
All is not lost if you are very nervous at the outset but try to create the best first impression you can – a warm smile and firm handshake will help.
Body or non-verbal language might be defined as ‘what we say without saying anything’. Much of the impact you create at interview is based on your visual and non-verbal presentation. Non-verbal presentation is composed of:
• how you look – see ‘Practical preparation’ above;
• how you walk, sit, act – sit reasonably upright – slouching or leaning too far back in your chair can give the impression that you are too casual about the whole thing. If you tend to flap your hands around a lot when you speak, try to hold them together. However, don’t cross your arms as it can make you appear defensive. Moderate hand movements are perfectly acceptable and can enliven the conversation;
• eye contact – good eye contact is essential and is an excellent way of conveying your interest in the job. Looking downwards or at anything other than the interviewer can make you appear disinterested and insincere. Maintaining good eye contact can also help you gauge the interviewer’s reaction to what you are saying (to see whether you should be expanding on your answers). With panel interviews, the best advice is to look at and answer the person asking the questions, with a glance from time to time at the other interviewers;
• the style, tone and delivery of your voice – try not to talk too fast and keep your tone moderate. This can be difficult when you are nervous but take a deep breath before you start to answer a question and work on keeping your answers concise. Rehearse your answers beforehand and monitor your speed and tone. Don’t use slang and watch out for too many ‘ers’ and ‘ums’. Practising beforehand, especially in front of someone else, can help you identify any bad habits;
• how confident you appear to be – try to relax. An interview is also about deciding if you will fit into the organisation so try to smile and establish a rapport with your interviewer.
With thorough preparation, you are in a good position to respond effectively to questions and display knowledge of yourself, the job and the organisation to which you are applying. Remember that some interviewers may be inexperienced and untrained; not only does this mean that they may be nervous too but also that they may not be best placed to get the best out of you. You need to make sure you are providing all the information they require.
The following points may help:
• Be prepared to talk – avoid yes/no answers and expand as often as possible. Don’t, however, over-communicate; it can be tempting to talk too much. Don’t talk yourself out of a job trying to fill silences left by the interviewer! Take your cue from the interviewer and, if you are not sure that they have heard enough, ask if they would like you to continue.
• Ask for clarification if you need it – this not only helps you to answer the question asked but also demonstrates confidence and control.
• If you need a moment’s thinking time, take a sip of water, if available – this will provide you with an opportunity to think.
• Use examples from several different experiences, rather than concentrating on just one aspect of your life.
• Be positive – don’t use the word ‘but’. Many people play down good experiences, saying things like: ‘yes, I have worked as part of a team but that was only in a bar at weekends’. A more positive summary would be: ‘I worked in a busy bar at weekends with three other staff and we needed to work well as a team in order to keep the queues down and keep our motivation up’.
• Be yourself – if you adopt a new persona for the interview, the result is likely to be insincere and transparent. Even if you are offered the job, you may find later that it’s not right for the ‘real’ you.
• Remember that honesty is the best policy. If it is discovered at a later stage that you have been dishonest, you could be dismissed. Admitting to a period of poor motivation during your A-levels shows more integrity than blaming someone else for your grades. Don’t feel that you should cover up incidents like this, rather present them as positive learning experiences.
You may feel that there are certain questions that have the potential to flummox you. These may include questions that appear to be an invitation to shoot yourself in the foot and those asking you to think about yourself in a different way, such as:
• what is your biggest weakness;
• what would you say has been your greatest failure;
• how would your friends describe you;
• if you were an animal/biscuit, what would you be?
One of the reasons that questions like these are asked at all is to see how you react. Relax, be honest, keep in mind the points that you want to make about yourself and turn the matter around so that you can emphasise the positive whilst minimising weaker areas. In answer to the first question, you might say that you tend to be a perfectionist, which can cause time management problems but that you have realised this and now ensure you allocate your time effectively to meet deadlines.
The same strategy can also be used with questions asking you to think about yourself in a different way. It is unlikely that your friends would highlight all of the strengths that you would like to lay claim to but the question focuses very much on your relationships with other people. Your answer could cover your loyalty, your understanding or your readiness to help. The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to say things like ‘my friends think I’m loyal…’ without sounding presumptuous and you may find it easier to preface these glowing attributes with, ‘I think that my friends would say…’ or ‘I hope that my friends would say…’.
‘Just be yourself. Don’t be scared of making mistakes. They want to hear your thought processes and are looking for potential rather than perfection.’ (PhD student, Newcastle University)
Don’t let the interviewer get personal. Recruiters are subject to legal action if they discriminate on the grounds of gender, race, religion or disability. You should politely decline to answer personal questions where personal subjects have no relevance to the job.
This is the chance to ask those questions you prepared earlier. If the opportunity is not offered, assert yourself politely and say you have a number of things you would like to raise and ask if this is the appropriate time to do so. If it feels right to you, thank the interviewer and reiterate your enthusiasm for the job for which you have applied. Always end the interview on a positive note. What next? If it has not been made clear when they expect to let you know the outcome, ask!