(Article written for Envoy Magazine, Sep 2014)
Job interviews: something we have all been through, but how many of us actually feel really confident when we walk into that room and are faced by a potential employer, who literally holds the key to our future in their hands? Or are you the type who is so utterly intimidated by the whole process that they feel physically sick?
If so, you’re definitely not alone. But it’s essential to get it right – a recent survey has shown that 33% of employers make up their minds whether to hire someone during the first 90 seconds of an interview. Here are some of my top tips for overcoming your fear and giving yourself the best possible chance.
Make sure you allow plenty of time on the day. I have always turned up at least half an hour early for every interview and then gone for a coffee. Turning up late will not only look very bad to the employer, but it will also put you on the back foot right from the start, which could totally destroy your confidence and your chances.
It may seem very obvious, but don’t forget to SMILE, and build rapport with your prospective boss. A smile can go a very long way to instil confidence in the interviewer, as well as having a significant psychological impact on you too. People who smile are instantly seen as friendly, approachable and trustworthy, and therefore someone that you’d like to employ.
Don’t rush your answers. If faced with a particularly difficult question, I always advise people to follow this simple trick. Accept any offer of a drink at the start of the interview. That way, when that difficult question comes along, you can pause, lean forward, have a sip, sit back, breathe, and answer. This will buy you about 10 seconds to formulate an answer in your head. Believe me when I say this has saved the day for me on numerous occasions!
And then there’s the question of what to wear. First impressions really do count. 55% of employers say that the way a candidate dresses, presents themselves and walks through the door is often a deciding factor in whether to hire someone. Tailor your outfit to the job in question, but it’s usually a good idea to dress smarter than you would need to on a daily basis. Many people find that wearing a suit gives them more confidence, a little like putting on a uniform. As long as you look neat and professional, an employer will see that you take yourself seriously and mean business. That said, 70% of employers surveyed said they do not like anything too trendy or overtly fashionable, so play it safe.
Some of the biggest mistakes made at interview stage are not asking enough questions about the job (they will think you’re not interested), lack of humour of any kind (you come across as boring), not having done your research for the job (lack of motivation), and failing to set yourself apart from other candidates (missing that “unique selling point”).
At CV Essentials, in addition to our ex-forces clients, we work extensively with military spouses, who often face their own unique challenges when looking for a job. I am frequently asked how to deal with an interviewer who simply doesn’t get why an applicant has changed jobs 4 times in 8 years, and doesn’t seem able to show any kind of longevity in a role. Can anyone relate to that?
I always advise people to turn this into a total positive at the interview stage. Place your emphasis on the fact that you have diligently supported your partner as they have moved around the UK or abroad, serving their country. Be proud of the fact that, rather than putting your career entirely on hold, you have actively sought meaningful employment with each posting, and given each role 100% in the short time you have been there, skilfully balancing work with a challenging home life. Make it clear that your childcare arrangements are sorted and reliable. Don’t shy away from this one or try to make excuses for yourself. An employer should respect you for it.
And if they don’t, you’re probably better off going elsewhere.