Excellent interview technique
Allow me to start by introducing myself. My name is Chris, I am 23 and I will be starting at University in October of this year, 2013. I hold three A levels and a diploma, and will be studying towards a bachelor of science in an engineering and management related degree.
In the past two years I have been fortunate enough to gain some very exciting work and interview experience with a number of high and medium profile companies and organisations.
While writing this article about good interview technique I realised how important my own work experience has been thus I have decided to write another article specifically about the benefits of work experience.
If you haven’t got the time to read it, just hear this – gaining excellent work experience is one of the most highly regarded pursuits I could recommend to you and the long term benefits to you are limitless.
In this article on good interview technique I will share with you a number of things that I do to prepare myself both physically and mentally.
Please note, I am not an expert nor am I a successful business person. I do have a 100% track record of securing jobs following interviews however and firmly believe that if one sentence in this article makes a difference to one person it will have been worth sharing it.
The article is quite long and very detailed. Don’t let it worry you – all these things will come naturally after a few experiences. Getting interview experience when you are 15-18 will set you in very good stead for the future so don’t shy away from an opportunity.
This is not a conclusive guide and nor is it going to apply for everyone or to every job! This is based on my experiences with the companies I have been interviewed by (which you can see in the work experience list once written.) It is designed to get you thinking and to be beneficial for those with little experience. If you have any questions about anything then I would be happy to answer those in the comments below.
Setting the scene
Here’s the situation: You’ve applied for a job you have seen on an internet jobs site, responded to an advert in a paper or magazine or contacted a business directly from seeing a vacancy on their own website
If you have been offered an interview, congratulations. It’s likely for the larger organisations you have already been recognised above that of hundreds of other potential applicants.
From this moment on, hold in your mind that you have been successful – regardless of what happens next. If you can be selected like this once, you can do it again! Well done – I genuinely believe you are successful and think you should feel proud of yourself in this current jobs climate.
But – you haven’t got the job yet! Instead you probably have a few nerves and anxious thoughts. (I could write a book on anxiety so I know what you’re feeling!)
So what do you do now?
Before the interview:
Lets say you have a week before the interview appointment and lets also presume you haven’t had a formal interview either before, or in a while.
Shopping (if you haven’t already got everything required):
Start by going shopping with a stylish friend or girlfriend/ boyfriend – someone who can objectively comment on your dress sense.
Before you buy anything you need to know what image it is you want to give off and much more importantly, what the required dress code is. The general rule of thumb is ‘if in doubt, dress up, not down.’
But really you shouldn’t be guessing this! Take a good look through any correspondence you have had from the company – usually they will dictate the dress code to you e.g. smart casual, formal or more specifically – suit and tie for men or a similar style for women (I’m not going to pretend I know the appropriate dress for women as I don’t. If you can help me improve this please comment below.)
Benefit yourself by asking a simple question
If the company hasn’t made it clear what to wear, you should contact them. Send an email to the recruitment team who are most likely the people dealing with your interview, or ring them. Many people think it will appear dumb to ask such a question but asking the question can actually work in your favour, if you want it to! How?
Well – so far the company have seen your CV and nothing else. Your CV is the most polished document you will ever produce so it might not be 100% representational of you. What they haven’t seen or heard is your telephone manner or your ‘off the cuff’ written communication skills! This is a perfect chance to show them that you are not just a name on a piece of paper – you are real, have a voice and/ or can write well constructed professional looking emails.
Research the company
This is such a fundamentally important part of pre-interview preparation and yet is so often overlooked, to your own detriment.
Your mission is to familiarise yourself with everything you possibly can about the company itself. I appreciate this is easier for some companies than others. Fore example, at British Airways it would have been impossible to have learnt everything in their 40 years history to present in an interview! It was hard enough learning the information for a small security company with only four years in business! But it can be done. I achieved it in 10 minutes for British Airways and got away with it. I recommend taking slightly longer!
Below I have colour coded the details you should famliarise yourself with before or during interview!
- What sector are they in?
- Are they public or private?
- When were they founded?
- Have they always been known by the same name?
- Any memorable events in their history (e.g. mergers with other companies!)
- Do they operate in more than one location/ worldwide?
- Are they are a franchise?
- How big is their workforce?
- How long have they occupied the premises they do?
- Do they have well known business partners (e.g. British Airways were a partner to the Olympic Games plus they own other airlines such as Iberia!)
- Do you understand the structure of their business?
- What is your exact job description?
- Where will you be working and what hours?
- What job does the person do who is interviewing you?
- Has the company been in the news in the past week?
- Has the company announced any future developments?
- What is the name of the person interviewing you?
Red: Probably going to acquire these on the day but they are very important
Blue: Not things you are likely to be asked about, but things that will be beneficial to know to educate your answers!
Green: Details you should be able to name if asked.
If it is a small company their website might be the only place you can really get information from. Below is a pie chart illustrating how I perceive the information available to you for a typical, moderate sized company.
The red section is the amount you could realistically be expected to know before interview and where the average candidate will stop their research.
The blue section represents the pool of information that the interviewers will draw on during their interview of you. Impress them hugely by referring to aspects of the company normally hidden in this blue zone. You can find this information by digging a little deeper onto other websites or clicking through links on their own website.
Don’t show off – be smooth! The best way of getting this blue zone stuff into your responses is by doing this:
Within your answer to a question, refer to something the interviewer has previously said (which touches on the blue zone information), but expand on it to demonstrate you actually know what it is they are referring to.
For example, with my security company interview I knew who their suppliers were so when they mentioned them in conversation I was able to ask “I read that your suppliers are developing this new touch screen information panel. Are you planning on integrating this into your products in the near future?”
Ten minutes preparation on my behalf equals three very impressed interviewers! It’s not difficult!
Of the total information I learnt about that security company I estimate I recited about 3% in the interview and made reference to a further 5%. I also estimate that was my strongest attribute.
The way you dress matters
Clothing specifics – The psychology behind body image is fascinating and far too complex to go into here. At its core it is a case of knowing ‘what you want to be noticed and forgotten’, ‘what you want to be noticed and remembered’ and ‘what you want to remain unseen.’
- Shoes – Obviously no trainers! Whatever you decide on must be clean and shiny! While shoes will be one of the last things an interviewer notices about you it doesn’t mean they are not important. Make sure they are comfortable for you and that they don’t squeak or stick to smooth floors!
- Socks – Must be worn and must be inconspicuous. If your socks are seen and remembered you have done something wrong. It may feel odd but wearing your socks higher than normal is recommended, especially with suit trousers.
- Trousers – Presuming you are wearing suit trousers you want the length to be perfect for you. The two places that indicate they aren’t perfect is your crotch (the hang) and the way they sit on your shoes. Your stylish friend will be able to advise correctly for you. You also want to ensure the general size is correct e.g. how loose they are around your legs and thighs. Too big and it gives off the image that you aren’t ‘grown up’ enough. Too tight and you begin to verge into the territory of having your trousers ‘noticed and remembered!’
- Belts – Personally I don’t think they matter overly each way. Your style guru friend will help you here but these are my thoughts on belts.
- If you need one, you must wear one.
- Make sure you have it through every single loop in the top of your trousers and that it isn’t overly tight (as this will cause the material to bunch!)
- If you don’t need one you can still wear one. I find it can help to balance your image and make your overall appearance more pleasing to the eye. It will especially help if your shoes are not 100% perfect or if your trousers do not fit perfectly as it will draw the eye into your middle.
- The colour of the band must match your trousers.
- The buckle should be small to moderately sized and can be made of chrome (if you like that.)
- If wearing it to balance your appearance you want your buckle to be noticed and forgotten, as opposed to unseen! Bear in mind it will draw intention to your shirt line and thus your shirt must be tucked in!
- In terms of balancing your appearance can I delicately suggest something. If you are slim, belts can work to balance your appearance very well as it provides a break line. If however you have a stomach, you will not want to bring their attention to this part of you! Just my two cents!
- Shirts – ask your style guru friend for help. You want your shirt to compliment your tie, but your tie should be the focus, not the shirt. I recommend long sleeves, always! Make sure your collar is a good fit but doesn’t impinge on your ability to swallow! Always do the top button up!
- Tie – Must be in keeping with your shirt and overall appearance. Your tie should be noticed and not remembered. It is one of the few things that is ok to be noticed! It should be an appropriate length to match your torso height. It should not be low enough to hit your waistline but must be long enough to disappear into the overlap of your suit jacket (if wearing one!) The knot should be tight up into the neck.
- Jacket/ Jumper – Go with the advice of your style guru friend on this one.
- Beard – Always shave. Always. Personally I always have a beard or at least groomed stubble. But for the interview you must get rid! You’ll know how your face reacts to shaving – I recommend a wet shave the evening before with a fresh razor blade to give your face time to calm down for the following day.
- Jewelry – Unless it’s discreet or will look worse to get rid of it, I would remove it.
- Hair – Get it looking the way you want. Personally, a hair cut a few days before is my preferred method. It also works wonders for your confidence.
- Smell – Less really is more. If you suffer from body odour after sweating may I, as a bloke to a bloke, suggest you buy a roll-on super dry deodorant. It doesn’t matter what you use but if it helps, this is what I use – Sure Extreme. It has never failed me. In terms of aftershaves you want the equivalent of ‘seen (smelt) but not remembered’ at the absolute maximum.
- Breath – Before you leave home, brush your teeth and use mouthwash. Don’t eat anything strong (or spicy) between then and your interview. Fruits such as bananas will do you fine for pre-interview pick me ups! Personally I chew gum until I arrive but get rid before I am seen. Garlic the day before is a big no-no!
Along with your clothing comes posture. The way you sit, stand and walk can say a huge amount about you.
- If standing, keep your legs straight, feet flat and still, shoulders back and head high. Your priority is to be relaxed though so don’t strain yourself to achieve a particular posture. Don’t lean on walls, doors, chairs or tables.
- If sitting, the movement of you knees and feet begin to grow in importance and can shout about your nerves on your behalf. Ensure they are still and straight. If your knees are hidden under the table then your hands will become the focus. Keep them in your lap wherever possible.
- When walking don’t swagger and keep your hands out of your pockets. Always walk alongside your interviewer if possible, never in front of unless they wave you forward.
At the interview:
Your general demeanour: Friendly, confident, respectful, and professional – at all times
As you progress though an interview it is common for the mood to become more relaxed. You can begin to veer towards the friendly as opposed to the professional which you will start off as. But be wary of what you say – the interviewers want to know you can bond with them and the team and that you can hold conversation outside of work related topics. They don’t want to hear a joke, an out of place opinion or a piece of unrelated news about your life or something in the media.
Sustain a consistent and subtle confidence
Confidence can be of huge importance to someone in an interview but getting the balance right is difficult. Too little and you will come across as shy, nervous or lacking in self belief. Too much and you will probably just be offensive in your attitude and might be deemed pompous, cocky, big headed or more! A correct balance will look like this:
- Good posture
- Confident walk
- Firm handshake
- Lots of eye contact
- Attentive to questions
- Quick to smile where appropriate
- Responsive to questions
- Able to talk about yourself objectively, including weaknesses
- A wide vocabulary
- Consistent tone and volume of speech
- Good pronunciation of words
Show respect to your seniors
You should be showing respect anyway so this really doesn’t deserve a paragraph about. However, respectful behaviour includes holding the door, asking where they would like you to sit, not interrupting them, responding to their exact questions etc.
Come across as professional first, friendly second
Own that suit. Make it seem like you wear it every day. Have a pen in your inside pocket along with your business card (even if it’s only a contact card!) Have a tissue and a piece of paper folded away somewhere. Have your mobile in your jacket and not in your trouser pockets – make sure it’s on silent and will not vibrate! I also suggest your debit/ credit card, £5 in note form and your chewing gum. Why the paper? It’s great for sticking chewing gum into subtly if you forget to remove it.
That completes your professional image. On the friendly front, allow yourself to laugh as you become accustomed to the communication style of your interviewers and show genuine interest in them as people, not just as potential future employers.
A few more things:
Arrive in good time
If you play to the theory that ‘three minutes early is two minutes late’ then you won’t go wrong here. If you are walking to your interview, make sure you leave in good time and will have a few minutes to right your appearance before you enter the building.
If you are taking public transport bear in mind that it is usually temperamental at best. If you can afford to, be an hour early to your destination rather than risk being five minutes late. Find somewhere warm and get yourself a drink.
If you are driving, find out in advance where you intend to park and if it will cost you. If it isn’t the businesses’ own car park, have a back up plan in case your first car park is full.
Have food in your stomach
When you’re nervous, the feelings you get are often the result of adrenaline being produced. As adrenaline is produced and broken down you are expending energy. This can cause a premature onset of hunger feelings, which associated with nerves, is not a nice feeling.
I find the perfect food for this moment is a banana. I wrote an entire article on my own site about the benefits of bananas, which you can see here if you’re interested. In this case, they will provide the fast and slow release energy you require and will settle the stomach, as it will give it something to do! The other benefit is that you can carry them in your pocket with little risk of ruining your clothing and once eaten the skin can be thrown in the bin (or if no bin present it of course will biodegrade in a matter of days so a bush could suffice!)
It’s not just the interviewers who can have an opinion about you
The receptionist for example. Just because they are not in your interview room does not mean they cannot impact on the final decision.
Same goes for the cleaner in the toilets, the parking attendant outside or the person bringing you drinks. Everyone inside or within proximity of that building could be a senior figure or at the very least, an important figure in the interview process! Just remember – Friendly, confident, respectful, and professional – at all times and you can’t go too far wrong!
Know your future commitments
If you don’t know your intended start dates then be prepared for an immediate start or a start within six weeks (most commonly somewhere between these two!) But 99% of the time you will know your start dates. So know what’s coming up in your diary!
The second reason is because you may be invited back to a second interview at a later date. You should be able to confidently answer the question about your availability if asked. For one job I had three interviews where each one required a 240 mile round trip to attend. Knowing my availability either side was crucial!
If you make a mistake, smile, correct yourself and move on
We all make mistakes. When nervous, we often make more mistakes. The interviewers are not likely to judge you on the mistake you make, but on how well you maintain composure having made it.
If appropriate, smile, breath and correct yourself politely. If done well it can demonstrate a flair of honesty and transparency about yourself.
If you didn’t hear or understand the question, just tell them
You might be asked a difficult question which could leave you confused. If you are unsure of what answer they are looking for politely say, “Sorry, could you rephrase the question?” or if you misheard say, “Sorry, could you repeat the question?” No harm done.
Try and befriend the other candidates
This may sound somewhat counter-cultural. They are, in a sense, your competition. But, take the high road, befriend them and in doing so, benefit yourself. Let me explain how.
In one interview process I turned up at the same time as four other people. I got to know them quickly, realised we all had the same interview times and discovered what I could about their previous experience. Of the four, I was the least experienced, lived the furthest away and was by far the youngest. What have I learnt? I know that the company will probably favour their experience over mine and potentially the fact they are locals whereas I had travelled in from afar. These were things I knew I would need to be prepared to explain myself for in the interview!
We then preceeded to be interviewed individually and I was last. Partly due to my established acquaintance with these candidates they were more than happy to tell me about the interview structure – the sorts of questions I would be asked and the tests I could expect. I entered feeling much more prepared and relaxed.
And lo and behold, the interviewers asked me directly about my living arrangements, my lack of suitable industry specific experience and how my age (19 at the time) might impact on my ability to work in a team of mainly forty something’s! I was ready.
Always have a drink
Just water. Even if you don’t drink it you have it available in case the nerves get to you and you need a five second break to hide behind a glass. Or you might require it to clear your throat.
It also demonstrates your comfortableness with the building and staff.
Where to sit
Most of the time you won’t have a choice where to sit as you will be directed to a chair. However, if you have a choice try to sit somewhere whereby you are not square-on to the interviewer but off at an angle ever so slightly.
It’s less confrontational and while you turn either your chair or body slightly to face the interviewer it demonstrates respect and that you are putting in effort to listen to them.
Personally, I like to be able to see the door too wherever possible.
I have shared quite a number of different interview preparation concepts above but know I cannot cover every single eventuality.
Personally, I prefer to think ahead and make myself as prepared as I can be – right down to that pen in my pocket. It helps calm my nerves and sets me up properly in my mind.
If you suffer from pre-interview nerves and would like to read about my experience with that, please comment below. If you have any questions, think I have something terribly wrong or have overlooked something major, please also comment below! I will do my best to answer your question or amend my article!
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