As you'd expect, we give a lot of interview advice to job seekers! But we also get a lot of feedback from those doing the interviewing, and the interviewees themselves, about what went well and not so well in their interviews.
So we thought over the next few weeks we'd share some advice about mistakes commonly made by interviewees, and how to avoid them - as well as examples of good interview practice.
We'll kick off with those mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Being over-familiar with the interviewer
We live in increasingly informal times, but being over-familiar with your interviewer is a no-no. If your interviewer is walking you from reception to a meeting room, it's a good idea to take the opportunity to break the ice with a positive comment about the offices or a harmless observation about the weather – but from there on in, keep it professional.
2. Lack of care in articulating why they want to leave their current role
No matter how professional they are, your interviewer is a human being, which means they will have an "unconscious bias": they will bring a little of their own assumptions and even prejudices to a situation. For this reason, be careful about how you articulate your reasons for wanting to move on, and how you describe difficult professional experiences of the past. Why? Because if you badmouth a past employer, some interviewers may assume you have a bad attitude, even if you were treated appallingly by that employer. It's not your interviewer's "fault", just as it's not yours for harbouring ill-feeling. But you can manage how you articulate this message.
Many of us have had experiences that didn't work out as we'd hoped. It is how we deal with them and what we learn from them that's going to impress an interviewer. So take the positives from your more difficult experiences, and describe them accordingly.
Here at 1-1, we like our candidates to be very open with us about their experiences, but may coach them, when required, on how to articulate an experience to a client interviewer. There are many hundreds of different reasons why someone might choose to leave a job, but these can all be interpreted differently because of that unconscious bias.
Remember - it's easy for someone to make negative assumptions about you if you're speaking negatively. Don't give them the chance.
3. Not fully understanding the role
An obvious one, this, but you'd be surprised how many people don't read a job spec closely, think about what experience they have that's relevant to the role in preparation for competency-based questions, and indeed whether the role is truly right for them. (Competency-based questions are usually phrased like this: "Tell me about a time when you had to...", and test your ability to apply your skills and experience to a number of scenarios).
Having a strong understanding of the job spec gives you further advantages. For example, you may notice the new role includes one or two areas that may be testing for you, or where you have less experience. Articulated in the right way, you can present this as an appealing opportunity to grow.
The devil is in the detail: knowing the role well means you can think about how to apply your skills and experience to it, and in turn, prepare well for an interview.
4. Talking too fast and going off-piste!
People who talk too fast or fail to keep to the point (a common error that is easy to make) often do so because they didn't prepare for the interview. If you've already thought about how your experience fits in with the role and practised out loud giving a brief summary of your career, you're more likely to stick to the point and less likely to sound as though you're panicking.
5. Not having done any research about the company
It's a great idea to have a reasonably informed opinion or a little knowledge of any brand or company you interview for. If the brand is one that allows you to gain some customer experience (by, say, mystery shopping) even better, because customer experience is very important to all brands now.
So dive in: do a mystery shop. Call the number on the company website and ask a question. Ask your friends what they think about the organisation. That way, you can go into an interview having done some research, and with a reasonably informed opinion.
6. Not having any questions of their own
There comes a point in every interview where you get opportunity to ask questions of your own. It's a very good idea to have some prepared. Some examples are:
- Why has the role become available?
- What do you most enjoy about working here?
- What is the expected progression path for this role?
- What do your employees most often say they like about the culture here?
- In your opinion, what does "good" look like in this role?
- What are the current and future challenges facing this organisation that I could help with if I got the role?
- How does the business define success?
- What professional training or education do you offer?
But what if all your questions have been answered in the course of your interview? You can still remind your interviewer that you had questions, but that they've been answered!
This is where good communication comes into play. Rather just saying "No, I don't have any questions," you should demonstrate that you had some prepared: "No, I had some questions about internal culture but you answered that when you told me about X" is much better than "No, I don't have anything".
7. Lack of basic preparation about journey/dress code/interviewer(s)
If there's something you feel you need to know before your interview and haven't already been told about – ask.
That includes the dress code. The best dress code for interviews is one that reflects the dress code of the business. Dress appropriately – this still usually means dressing smartly. The exception might be that you discover the company adopts a dress-down policy, at all times, and that this extends to interviewees.
On the whole, for most roles, it's relatively straightforward for men, for whom a suit and tie will generally cover most eventualities – but rightly or wrongly, it can be trickier for women. I always suggest that a jacket is a good fail-safe for women in interviews. Regardless, the key here really is to simply find out about the dress code beforehand.
For more senior roles, it can also be a good idea to learn more about your interviewer (or panel). That goes as far finding out who will be interviewing you and what they do, and seeing if they're on the company website, where you might be able to learn more about them without being too intrusive.
Finally: directions. It's easy for someone who knows the route well and drives it day in, day out, to say "Oh it's really easy to get here". Sure, the route may be easy, but the office could be in the middle of an industrial estate and the last 400 yards could be a maze, or the traffic could be terrible during peak travel hours.
Make sure you plan your journey, taking into account the traffic, weather and so on. I have known quite a few interviewees to do a practice run a few days before their interview. It's worth it.
If you've got any questions about interviews, you know where to find us!
Next time: examples of good interview practice – the things we see interviewees do before, during or after interviews that are a great idea.