Are you reading this in a reception while waiting to interview? If so, I’m afraid you’re too late.
The key to interview success hinges on one thing: preparation. You cannot wing an interview – fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You may have that friend that turned up 10 minutes late, rocking a hangover and a creased shirt, who managed to charm their way into the job but don’t risk it. Think of the army adage – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.
Let us walk you through all the steps, no matter how small, that will make an impact and help you seal the deal!
1) Do your research
It might sound obvious, but you’d be amazed by the number of people that we interview who’ve only skimmed the headlines on Google. We get it, you’re applying for a thousand and one jobs and it’s hard to keep track – but it’s important. You’re at risk of irritating the interviewer if you spend a third of your time slot explaining the basics of the company and role. Knowing the company inside and out also gives you the opportunity to assess if it’s an organisation that you want to be part of. Do your values align? Otherwise, you’re wasting your time as well as others’.
Check out your interviewers on LinkedIn. Understand their background and experience. Maybe they’ve just joined the company or been there for a while - it’s an opportunity to ask them what drew them to the company and what’s keeping them there. Don’t be embarrassed that they can see you doing so, it shows that you're interested.
Get the cliff notes. What’s the history of the company? Their investors, competitors, share price? What’s the culture like? Have they won any awards recently? Look at their socials, what’s their marketing strategy like? Who’s their consumer?
Keep a spreadsheet. If you’re applying for a lot of jobs, this can be a lifesaver. Don’t trip up in the interview and get one company or interviewer confused with another!
2) Practice, practice, practice!
Make the most of every minute you have before the interview to practice. The more you read your answers out loud, the more confident you’ll come across in the interview. If you’ve recently graduated (congratulations!), you should have some free time to work on your interview answers. If you’re working a part-time job, take some time off if you can afford to or swap shifts to make the most of the days before the interview. Grab your mum, best friend, landlord, professor – anyone that’s willing to practice interviewing you.
Read the job description. What underlining skills are the employer asking for? If you’re unclear about the role, research what the terms mean and compare other job descriptions.
If you don’t have much relevant work experience, don't stress. Think about how the courses you’ve taken or the societies and sports you’ve been part of have developed your skills. If your degree focused on independent study, but the job requires collaboration and team leadership skills, talk about how helped organise an event or socials at university or how you were part of the hockey team.
Use the STAR technique to form your answers. Illustrate a past event or Situation that demonstrates your track record. What your Target or Task? Describe the specific Actions you took. Close with the Results of your effort. Interviewers LOVE this!
3) Plan your route
In this day and age, there’s no real excuse for lateness (unless you’re travelling by Southern Rail, then you have our fullest sympathy). We have every timetable imaginable in our pocket and a smart assistant telling us how to get from A to B as efficiently as possible.
Whether you’re using Google Maps or Citymapper, always check for travel updates in advance to see if there are any expected engineering works, strikes or adverse weather conditions that might affect your journey.
Do a trial run if possible. Travel planners aren’t always a hundred percent accurate. This will give you a chance to see if there are any unexpected road closures or weird one-way routes that will add extra time to your journey.
Give yourself more time than you think. Particularly if you’re travelling into and around a major city. Give yourself a plan B, C and D in case your planned route falls apart on the day.
If you’re using public transport, check how you can pay. In London, for example, you can’t pay for the bus with cash – you have to use a contactless card of prepaid Oyster. Make sure to cover every aspect of your journey.
4) Dress to impress
Try not to overthink the ‘psychology’ of what you wear to interview. As long as you look clean, neat and professional, you’ll be fine. As a rule, it’s better to be overdressed than under. However, if you turn up in a tailored suit and find everyone else is wearing jeans and hoodies, you might look a little odd. Appropriate dress indicates that you understand a company’s culture.
To get a feel of what ‘appropriate’ means to each situation, you can check out the company’s website and Instagram (if they have it) to see what their current employees are wearing. If in doubt, there’s no harm in asking your recruiter or the interviewer in advance what the dress code is.
Mind your hair and any body modifications. While tattoos and facial piercings are becoming much more accepted in the workplace, if you’re unsure of the lay of the land, it’s best to make them a bit more discreet. Swap out any nose rings for small studs and cover up any sleeve tattoos. Make sure your hair looks brushed and neat – get a hair cut if you need to!
Wear something you feel comfortable and good in. You can flash a bit of personality if you want, with a subtle print on a blouse or socks. But remember, unless your applying to a fashion house, they’re more concerned about your CV and experience than your editorial choices.
Layout what you want to wear a few days before the interview. This gives you a chance to make sure everything is perfect or if you need to iron your favourite shirt or take it to the dry cleaners.
Don’t smoke before the interview, I promise no amount of chewing gum or aftershave will cover up the smell (speaking of which, make sure you spit out your gum!). Don’t wear any overpowering cologne or perfume.
Check a mirror just before you go in. A rogue piece of spinach between your teeth or some smudged eyeliner can ruin that polished look you’ve worked on all morning!
5) Bossing the interview
This is your chance to make a fantastic first impression. As you advance in your career, you’ll start to differentiate yourself from other candidates based on your experience and expertise. At entry-level, whatever way you cut it, you’ll likely be pitted against candidates with very similar resumes. The interview is your chance to stand out and prove why you deserve to beat the competition out.
As the saying goes, early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable. Try and get there at least 15 minutes early so that you can collect yourself and take a bathroom break if you need to. This is the time to take another look at your CV and notes on the company and interviewer.
Be kind to the receptionist. They are the gatekeeper between you and the company, and I promise that they will share their opinion if you were less than pleasant. Don’t let carelessness or stress leave a negative mark on your reputation and undermine your stellar interview performance.
Check your body language and eye contact. Sit up straight, smile, maintain eye contact and try not to cross your arms – lean into the conversation and engage! Ask questions. Be passionate and curious.
Take a breath before you respond. What’s being asked of you? This will help you keep your answers clear and concise. Don’t rush to answer and start rambling. Use a rhetorical question to give yourself to give yourself a second to process, for example, “That’s an interesting question, what’s been my greatest challenge? Well...”
Don’t speak negatively about anyone you’ve worked with in the past, be it a fellow student or a colleague. No matter how terrible they were, this is not the time to air your grievances. Employers want to hire positive people who bring solutions not problems!
Good manners go a long way. At the end of the interview, ask for your interviewer’s business card or contact details so that you can send a note to thank them for their time. This is also a chance to reiterate why you would be a good fit for the role and the company and leave on a strong note.
Whatever the outcome, every interview makes fantastic practice for the next one; so smile and make the most of every one of them! At the end of the day, they're just a conversation to see if you're a good fit based on your aptitude and attitude – an interviewer wants to know if you can do the job and if will you do the job. Just give yourself the best chance to perform on the day by planning and preparing.
Phaidon International is the parent company of five leading specialist recruitment agencies. For more than 15 years, we have helped clients solve their number one challenge: talent. Out continual investment in best-in-class technologies and consultant training enables us to recruit with speed, precision and accuracy. Today, we provide permanent, contract and multi-hire recruitment from our hubs all over the world. Contact us today to learn more about the company and the opportunities we offer.