Sunday, 17 March 2013

How to not mess up a job interview

Last week I had a little rant about the obvious mistakes people make when applying for jobs. But sending in your application is just the first step, and there's obviously another huge hurdle to get over before landing the position. Yep, it's time for me to let rip again - this time about interviews. There are times when you know, before the interview itself even gets started, that it's not meant to be, and it seems crazy to have put all that effort into getting your application noticed only to mess it up at the second stage of the process.


Nothing is more disrespectful than being late to your interview. Often yours is one of many and if your appointment's delayed it means the rest of the day's schedule is thrown off. It's also just not polite to keep people waiting. Realistically, of course, things happen. I was late to the interview for my current job because of a road accident delaying traffic. If this happens, a phone call to explain and apologise is all it takes. Then when you arrive, apologise again. Being late because you didn't know where you were going isn't an option; make sure you check before you leave home and if you've got a smartphone have the location loaded into your map app just in case.

On the other hand, try not to turn up really early. Our office doesn't have a reception area where people can sit, so often they end up standing around awkwardly while we try to figure out where to put them. If you've allowed lots of time to get there and end up half an hour early, find a coffee shop or just take a walk round the block. Five minutes before your interview time is ideal; it shows you're enthusiastic but doesn't inconvenience anyone.


It doesn't matter what kind of job you're going for, or even if you've been advised that the dress code for the office is casual. You should still make an effort with your appearance. It shows professionalism and respect for the people you're meeting. Yes, you may find that you're the smartest person in the room - but what's wrong with that? The golden rule: jeans are not appropriate interview attire! As this article explains, we all judge other people on their appearance, so why would we assume they're not judging us?


These people could be your future colleagues, so you don't want to start off by making a bad impression. You may be here for an interview with the boss, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be polite to the receptionist, or greet anyone you see around the office with a smile. You never know, they may even be a part of the interview process who'll later be asked for their opinion. Better safe than sorry!

So you've made it through the door, on time, smiling and looking smart - now what?


Interviews are nerve-wracking, so this is difficult, but the more relaxed you can be the more your personality will come across and the better an impression you'll make. A good interviewer will do their best to put you at ease, but it works both ways - if you're fidgeting, shaking like a leaf and avoiding eye contact, it makes everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable too, and that's not going to make them like you.

However, remember it's a job interview so don't go too far the other way. Sit up straight, don't talk over people and definitely don't address your interviewer as 'dude'.


Hopefully before you applied for the job, you looked up the company and knew a little about them, but before your interview is the time to do some serious research. You can pretty much guarantee that at some point, you'll be asked 'What do you know about us?' and just telling the interviewer what business they're in isn't enough; they know that already. Look up the company website and read it thoroughly, but also do a general Google search. If you can bring up a couple of less obvious facts that you've found this way, it shows you've made an effort and not just checked out the homepage of their website.


Interviewers don't want to listen to themselves talk. They want to hear from you, so avoid monosyllabic answers and expand on subjects to show you have plenty to say for yourself. This in turn will spark more conversations, whereas 'yes' and 'no' answers often lead to awkward silence while the interviewer looks for their next question.

But remember you probably only have a limited time, and they'll have a list of questions to get through, so don't ramble on. Answer the question and try not to go off-topic too much. Confidence is important, but keep it relevant. Thanks to Abby for this video, which takes a light-hearted look at whether confidence alone will get you hired.


At some point you'll be asked if you have any questions, so come prepared. The interview is just as much for you to figure out if the company and position are right for you, so make sure you've got all the information you need to make a decision if the job's offered to you. It'll also show that you're interested and not just keen to get out the door.


When the interview's over, thank them for their time, and make a point of thanking the receptionist on your way out too. Also a quick follow-up email when you get home will get you big bonus points; reiterate your enthusiasm for the company and the job and one final thank you always goes down well. Try to include the names of the people who interviewed you, it shows you paid attention.

I've just read through what I've written and realised a lot of the points are 'Do this ... but not too much', or 'Don't do this ... but don't do this either'. The fact is that interviews are often about finding a balance and it's not easy. An important part of it is reading the body language and personality of the people you're talking to and adapting accordingly, and that's something you can't prepare for. But get all the other bits right and you'll be well on your way to success. Good luck!


  1. The first person we were interviewing once turned up really early. That wasn't great - it made me feel under pressure - but we have a meeting room and stuck them in there. I decided to give them a service description to read whilst they waited. To be fair, I then handed them out to the rest of the candidates too. I was amazed that, despite being spoon fed the information, one of the candidates in particular had no clue who our client group was or what kind of work we did. My advice to her, when I phoned to tell her that she didn't get the job, was to do her research, exactly as you have suggested.

    Our interviews tend to include a number of 'give an example of' questions. The idea is to give candidates who don't necessarily have experience in the sector or with our particular client group to demonstrate that they have transferable skills. So my advice, particularly if you're going to be interviewed by me (!), is to think back over your past experience and have a few examples in mind that you can draw on as evidence of particular skills. Unfortunately I forgot my own advice once, turned up for an interview I thought I had prepared for, was thrown by the opening comments from the interviewer and couldn't remember a thing!

    1. Yes that's a really good point, thanks Caz. It's really important to be prepared for those questions - in theory they should be the easiest ones to answer because you know better than anyone what you've done in the past, but I know that's not always the case and it's hard to think of examples under pressure!

  2. I think a lot of it is about 'chemistry' - whether or not you and the company/job/team are a good fit. Obviously you need to have the skills and qualifications the job asks for, but if you've got to the interview, you probably do. It might sound silly, but I tend to pick people I like! People who are enthusiastic about the company/job, who ask questions, seem like they want to be there and click with the interviewers are generally a good bet. Don't underestimate the importance of just getting on well with the interviewers, as well as sussing out if it's the kind of team you would fit into well. Nothing's worse than getting the job and realising you don't even want it, and nothing's worse for interviewers than someone who doesn't seem to care about the job, and who doesn't seem like someone you'd want to bump into in the kitchen at work every day!

    1. That's true - you never know for sure till you get there if you'll get along with the interviewers. A lot of the time I think companies forget the interview is just as much for the the candidate to suss them out as it is for them to find someone good to employ! That's another reason why it's always good to ask lots of questions, so that you also have all the info you need to make a decision, and there's nothing wrong with saying no to a job offer if you don't feel it's right for you.