Interview techniques

You might think an interview is all about what you say, but how you say it is just as important too. You need to nail that outfit, body language and the all-important questions at the end if you want to make a strong impression. How do you do it? Just read on my friend.


Making a great first impression

You don’t have to make an entrance like Michael Jackson or Beyoncé to make a good first impression, but it does help to carry yourself a certain way. See, while your interviewer will try and do their best to ensure they assess everyone without bias, they’re human – just like you – and the wrong first impression will put them off.

You don’t have to make an entrance like Michael Jackson or Beyoncé to make a good first impression, but it does help to carry yourself a certain way.

The ideal interview candidate will look professional, trustworthy and confident. It can be difficult trying to give all that off in the first ten seconds of meeting someone, but there are a few subtle things you can do to put your interviewer at ease.

    • They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and while in most cases a potential employer is not going to be able to see into your soul, you’re gonna want to engage them with regular eye contact.

      Your gaze should be open and confident – avoid fixed stares and avoid trying to psych your interviewer out. They’re not your enemy! They just want to conduct a successful interview and a liberal amount of eye contact at the start will help assure them that this will happen.

    • This is much easier said than done when entering a room to be interviewed. More likely than not you’ll have a face like thunder from having to get up early and commute, or you’ll have an expression which suggests that you’re in fear for your life. Whatever your feelings, channel that energy into flashing a smile to your interviewer when you arrive.

      Again, this will put them at ease for the interview ahead and they’ll be more receptive to you. Be sure to dial down the smiles later on when it’s all business, though; it shows you understand the gravitas of the situation and you’re taking the interview seriously.

    • A lot is made of the pre-interview handshake. It doesn’t seem like much, but the initial handshake will give your interviewer their first window into how you’re feeling about the whole process. A limp, sweaty or overly tight handshake will portray you as nervous or possibly nonchalant.

      A bone-crushing grip suggests that you want to intimidate or outmuscle the interviewer, as opposed to working together. Go firm with the grip but not too firm – a happy medium. It gives off an air of confidence and proactiveness that will serve you well during the interview.


Dressing for success

While we’re on the subject of first impressions, we should probably broach fashion a little bit. Interview fashion is pretty much the first and only hurdle, you don’t have to be particularly à la mode.

  • Try to look as conventional and tidy as possible. The safest bet is a business-like dark suit, perhaps in navy or charcoal grey, with a light-coloured shirt. You want the interviewer to remember you, not your clothes, accessories or scent. This is not the time to experiment with bold patterns, clashing colours, hats or dramatic jewellery. Hair should be tidy and any tattoos or piercings should be hidden.
  • Different industries have slightly different dress codes, but even so, you need to err on the side of formality. You may want to be creative, but employers’ own likes and dislikes could be used against you. Even in creative industries such as the media or publishing, where day-to-day office dress may be more casual than in finance or law, interview candidates are still expected to dress smartly.
    • It’s best to avoid goatees, stubble, long hair and full-on beards; the clean-shaven, short-haired look is the safest bet. Accessorise your suit with a belt and dark, plain or simply patterned tie, and leave your novelty socks in the drawer.

    • Keep it low-key and smart, with a trouser suit or blouse/skirt combo. Keep jewellery and accessories to a minimum – if in doubt, leave it out. And don’t forget the jacket too, especially if it’s winter. A smart trench coat or anything plain black usually works well.

    • Hair should be under control and off your face. If it’s long or unruly you might want to tie it back or put it up. Don’t fiddle with it during the interview. Shoes should be appropriate for the office.


Body language

You say it best when you say nothing at all, which is why making sure you demonstrate good body language is so important.

Mastering your body language could not only help you come across better, but help you understand the thoughts of your interviewer, too.

It’s one thing to say how determined and enthusiastic you are. It’s another to prove it, and keep proving it with subtle actions and changes in stance during your interview. Mastering this subtle, yet vital part of job interview psychology could not only help you come across better, but help you understand the thoughts of your interviewer, too.

    • Crossed arms suggest a closed and defensive position, so practice sitting so that your hands are comfortably rested one on top of the other, or one on the arm of the chair and the other one in your lap. Steer clear of interlocking your fingers as you might never peel them apart again if nerves kick in.

    • Hand gestures play an important role in communication, helping you emphasise or reinforce key points and words. Using right hand movements while you talk signifies that you are giving out information, while left hand gestures indicate your readiness to receive information.

      Open palms show openness and honesty. Again, try to keep your actions smooth, measured and natural. Don’t overdo or force hand gestures or you risk distracting your interviewer or worse, smacking them in the face by accident.

    • Look for positive or negative movements. Nodding, leaning forward, and tilting the head to one side are all positive indicators: your interviewer is interested and attentive. Arms crossed, tapping on the table, fiddling with nails or staring into the middle-distance could mean that things aren’t going so well.

    • It’s difficult to completely stop habits you have formed over a lifetime, but having a plan for how you can casually switch out of these movements when you recognise them happening means they won’t be a showstopper in interviews.

      Likewise, practise adopting your open posture and using smooth hand gestures in your daily life, for example, when you’re talking in seminars, responding in discussion groups and sitting in lectures.


Asking questions

Every interview is a two-way exchange. It’s seeing whether you’re a good fit for the company, sure, but it’s also about seeing whether the company is a good fit for you. Asking questions during your interview (not just at the end) is a great way to ascertain whether the company is a place you can see yourself working for down the line. It also shows the interviewer that you’re invested in the job and you can spot when and where you might need more information in a given situation.

Memorise the questions before you go in, as opposed to reading them off a piece of paper, as this can make you look somewhat unprepared.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version of what questions to ask in an interview:

“What’s the company’s culture like, and does it change?” This will give you an insight into if a company is the right fit for you straight from the horse’s mouth. Understanding what it’s really like to work for a company from someone who’s living it is really important for when it comes to making that final decision.

“Are there any training or learning opportunities?” A company that invests in their employees’ personal learning and development is a company with vision. You want to be working for a place that knows a continually improving and empowered workforce will be a workforce primed for world domination.

“If you were to create the perfect job candidate for this role, how would I compare?” This is a pretty sneaky question, because it allows you to quickly assess whether your skills suit the position you’re applying for.

“What’s the staff turnover rate like?” You probably can’t expect a company to tell you everything about employee happiness. Therefore, a black and white answer like the turnover rate should be enough to give you an idea of whether people are truly happy working for the company.

“How will my team be structured, and what is the hierarchy?” Even better if you can request to meet the team you’ll potentially be working with! It’s always good to know who you may be managing, and who will be managing you. Also, this is a great way to understand how you may progress in your role in the years to come.

“How do you (manager/team/company) define success?” This is a great question to ask. Why? Because it clearly highlights what you will need to do in order to impress and succeed at the job.

“What convinced you to join this company?” This question will encourage your interviewers to open up a little. It definitely won’t hurt to build a good rapport, after all.

“What do you think would be my biggest challenge in this role?” Generally, people hire other employees to solve problems. If you can position yourself to be viewed as the person who will do just that, you’ll be more likely to get the position and excel.

“Do you have any more questions for me?” This is your moment to assuage any doubts your interviewers may have about your application. It’ll also show you’re proactive, and will take the initiative to improve in ways that’ll make you a more attractive candidate.

If you are looking to demonstrate that proactivity, then asking any of these questions should do the trick. If the interviewers answer your prepared questions over the course of the interview, you should still ask them, but rephrase in a way that encourages them to elaborate on their previous answers.

Curiosity is a good thing, but beware – there are a few questions you should avoid asking in interviews if you don’t want to kill your chances…

Don’t ask questions you should already know the answers to, for example, information clearly stated on the employer’s website or in recruitment information that you have been sent, or that has already been covered during the interview. If you do, it will look as if you haven’t done your research or weren’t listening carefully.

Don’t ask questions that sound arrogant. ‘What is your company able to offer me?’ will give the impression that you would be difficult to work with.

Don’t ask about your salary, holiday entitlement or whether you can defer entry to the graduate scheme and go off travelling for a year. Save these questions for when you receive your job offer.

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