Nerves are normal, when it comes to interviews. The best plan is to leverage this energy for your benefit, by taking positive steps to improve your chances - before, during and after the interview itself.
Don't forget that it's not just about the hour you spend in the recruiter’s office. The employer will be observing your reactions and interactions from the moment that the interview offer is made, right through to the follow up you make after the day.
The thought can be quite daunting - but don't panic. Check out these ten things to do during your interview - along with this article packed with insider tips - and you're sure to ace your meeting.
#1. Be Practically Prepared
This is probably the most crucial tip of all. Preparing for the questions you will be asked is important - but if you are not properly prepared in a practical sense, then you risk getting your interview off to a very poor start.
Your preparations start the moment you're offered an interview. Find out the format of the meeting, and the names of the people you're meeting. If you can, take some time to learn about the roles they hold in the organisation, to give some insight into what matters for them.
Then look at practical considerations. Where is the meeting, and how will you get there? For some people, visiting the location in advance brings a sense of confidence - although with the benefit of technology (Google maps and Streetview, in particular), this isn't strictly necessary.
Whatever you do, don't sit up all night before the interview - either worrying or practising. Get some rest instead! Plan to arrive early on the day, and make sure you dress appropriately. You're all set now to make a knockout first impression.
#2. Make a Great First Impression
You're up! Ensure you get noticed for the right reasons with a positive greeting and a firm handshake.
Make sure you're clear on the names of the people you are meeting, and the appropriate form of address. If you're in a panel interview, for example, and need to refer back to something an interviewer said earlier, it can be excruciatingly embarrassing if you forget their name at the very minute you need it!
It can help to have some small talk planned for the awkward ‘shoulder’ periods, walking from reception to the meeting room, for example. The interviewer will also be looking for ways to start to build rapport, so taking the initiative and mentioning a relevant news item or something interesting you have observed about the company (or segment, or role), can make a great impact. For example, you might say, “I saw the company results were out last week - the city seemed to like them, what was the internal reaction?”
#3. Make Eye Contact
Once you're actually in the swing of the interview, you will quickly build rapport if you make and maintain appropriate eye contact. This conveys both honesty and confidence, and makes your answers far more believable.
On the other hand, appearing to avoid eye contact comes off as shifty - not a trait that appeals to many employers!
This can be a tricky feat if you are being interviewed by several people. Make eye contact with the interviewer who is asking the question, but then as you answer, try to connect with the other interviewers, too. They all have a stake in the decision, and will all be measuring your answer.
#4. Watch Your Body Language
Amplify the impact by watching your body language, too. Of course, you should avoid bad habits like fidgeting, and slouching. But try not to over do it either. Sitting ramrod straight on the edge of your seat makes you look like a bag of nerves!
Instead, try to subtly mirror the body language of your interviewer. Lean forward to show you're attentive, and don't be afraid to become a bit animated when you answer a question that interests you. Your body language should be authentic - you're not looking for an Oscar here - but try to convey a sense of enthusiasm and excitement for the position.
#5. Offer Examples
Much of the meaning we derive from conversation, stems from tone and body language used rather than the words themselves. But naturally, what you say is important as well as how you say it, when it comes to an interview.
The most important point here is that you can not simply state that you have a certain skill or ability. You must illustrate this fact with relevant and pithy examples.
Ideally, you can answer questions using an example and sharing a measurable metric to show the impact of what you did. For example, if you're asked how you work in a team, you might say, “Last year, during my internship, I delivered a sales project with my small group of five, which saw profits grow 25% over the period. I would love to tell you a bit about that experience,” before elaborating. How much better is that, compared to simply saying, “I work well in a team”?
If you're not sure where to start, try using the STAR technique to plan interview answers. This structure encourages you to think about your actions and impact, through competence based (example) questions. And of course, a perfect way to get this experience in the bag is to complete an internship during your studies!
#6. Ask for Clarification
There's no such thing as a stupid question, right? It might not feel that way during an interview, though.
Some of the questions you might be asked are bound to sound a little bit odd - even if many companies are now moving away from asking obscure things like, ‘how many basketballs could you fit into this room?’
Of course, some questions are simply worded in a way that makes them difficult to grasp. If you're asked a question you don't understand, you must say so, and ask for clarification.
You can do this in a professional way, saying, “I think what you're asking is X - did I get that right?”, rather than flatly stating that you don't understand the point being made. If you plough on answering the question you think you were asked, you might find yourself down a rabbit hole if you misunderstood in the first place. Far better to get it clear at the start.
#7. Keep it Positive
Some interview questions can lead towards a negative answer. For example, you might be asked about a time you disagreed with someone at work, or a time when things did not turn out how you wanted them to. Although these might seem like open invites for a moan, steer clear!
Even when you're describing disappointments, disagreements and failures at work, you must add a positive spin in some form. Often you can do this by describing what you learned from the experience, either at the time or upon reflection later. A project going awry, for example, might have helped your team bond all the stronger, and allowed you to deliver better results than ever later. Or maybe you went about a conversation in the wrong way, and it didn't shape up how you wanted it to. How did you recover, and what would you do differently next time?
These answers show your ability to learn and adapt - essential in any role.
#8. Be Concise
Your interview is likely to last just an hour or so - and you want to make every minute count. That can be hard if you find yourself giving an answer that runs on (and on, and on), past the point of adding any further value.
Try to be concise in your answers, giving the relevant details and context, but with a really focused message. Taking some time in advance to predict the questions you are likely to be asked can help with this. You can then sketch out model answers, based on what you think the interviewer is really looking to learn from the question at hand.
Find out what interviewers want from the most common interview questions, here, and get practicing.
#9. Ask Questions
The last question in almost every interview, will be, “do you have any questions for me?”. You should always have one or two pertinent questions planned, and make a note of any ideas that come up during your meeting that might also form relevant questions to use.
Don't ask about trivia at this stage. It's not important whether you get a company laptop, or if your pre booked holiday would be honored. These issues can be picked up as part of a salary negotiation later.
Instead, ask the interviewer about their experiences with the business. Ask about the company culture, or the career paths of your interviewers, to get an insight into what life is really like there. The information you get is useful, and the hiring managers will be impressed that you're thinking about your future with their business.
#10. Check the Next Steps, and Follow up
Finally, don't breathe that sigh of relief too soon. Before you leave the interview room, you should check the next steps so you know what to expect. This should give an idea of the time lines and when you will hear more.
It's a good idea to follow up with the interviewer after the meeting, to say thanks for their time and reiterate your interest in the role. This can be a simple email, although some people prefer to write a handwritten letter for impact.
And you're done. If you managed to stick with these pointers, your interview has probably flown past in a happy blur, and you're already feeling the warm glow of your rapport and relationship with the interviewers. Take a short time to review the meeting, noting anything you might do differently next time, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.