Whether you’re looking to apply for your first job or you’re applying for an executive position later in your career, completing job interviews can be a daunting prospect. And there are very good reasons for this.
Firstly, doing a job interview evokes for most people the kind of anxiety they feel when giving a presentation. The pressure of being in the spotlight and having to articulate our thoughts clearly to make a good impression can be hard to bear.
Also, job interviews in the business world are generally nerve-racking because the job applicant is usually pitching themselves as a person capable of working at a higher level than they ever have before—a level with more responsibility, bigger clients, higher volumes of revenue, etc., etc...
Lastly, job interviews can be hard because, for us personally, there is just so much riding on them. They’re a gateway to a higher salary, career development, and more exciting work opportunities. We know that if we mess up we can really let ourselves down. This is my big shot, what if I don’t get it right?
But if we let all of these sources of stress crowd in on us, we can lose sight of the situation itself. After all, if you’ve been invited to a job interview, your potential employer has already seen something in you that they’re interested in.
With that in mind, we should keep our job interview preparation pragmatic and grounded, focusing on ‘controlling the controllables’. Everything else will follow.
Here are the job interview tips you need to put yourself in the best position to let your future employer see what they already had a suspicion about—that you’re the right person for the job!
Perhaps the most important aspect of any job interview is the demeanour that you bring to it. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have or how brilliant you are, failing to convey a courteous, respectful, and positive attitude can sink your ship before it gets out of the harbour.
It’s not just that bringing poor manners and a bad attitude to an interview can get your interviewers offside, but also that your interviewers may come to believe, very rightly, that you would not fit well within the organisation.
These days, companies are very serious about promoting strong cultures of respect and inclusivity. But workplace etiquette isn’t just about being nice to one another. Organisations know that they are most productive when their teams are open and respectful because these are the qualities that make it possible to work collaboratively and to share ideas and information more effectively.
At another level, employers know that their businesses produce better work when they prioritise their employees’ wellbeing, and they’re not going to let that be spoiled by someone who seems like they might detract from a positive culture.
So, here are some job interview etiquette rules to follow:
In the old days, business organisations were quite happy to go searching for job candidates that would end up being small cogs in their large corporate machine. These days, though, companies are coming to value more and more the importance of sharing ideas at pretty well every level of a business.
This is why, in a job interview, you need to be pitching yourself as the kind of team member who is going to be unafraid to stick up their hand and share their ideas.
In practice, conveying successful business ideas in a job interview can be a bit tricky, however. You don’t want to come off as someone who thinks the way things are being done is wrong, or that you are a deadset hero who has come to save the day. After all, your interviewers are likely to be the ones who have been doing the work that you say you can do better.
So, a nice trick to show how you could bring fresh ideas to the business is by pointing out how you have done it in the past, at another job (or, if you are applying for your first proper job, at university or some other relevant setting).
It is almost a certainty that your interviewer will ask you directly to speak about your relevant past experience. But even if they don’t, you should be lacing it into your responses to their questions.
More so than your technical qualifications, the reputation of your previous company, the reputation of the clients you worked for, or what your previous job titles have been, proof of hands-on experience is the best demonstration that you’re going to be able to get the job done at your future place of work.
You may also think that, because you lived through it, you don’t need to prepare what you’re going to say about your past experiences. But in reality, you should spend time combing through your work history (or education and extra-curricular history if you are just entering the workforce) in order to prioritise which ones are going to be most useful to cite in this particular interview.
And remember, it’s not about the experience you think sounds best—it’s about what experience is most valuable to your future employer.
Many people think that, because an interview is a flowing conversation, you can’t prepare fixed answers.
This isn’t true.
Of course, you don’t want to go into an interview with memorised paragraphs in your head. This can come off as being entirely unnatural, particularly if your answers don’t quite match the question being asked.
But you can certainly prepare some stock answers that you are capable of moulding to fit the question. This is very important because, often in an interview situation, it’s very possible that we forget essential information (like a particular project we’ve worked on) or we struggle to articulate ourselves in a clear and confident way.
To prepare these answers, you should first begin by working out what the key bits of information are that you want to convey for this particular job. After that, work out the best way of framing and phrasing that information, testing out how it sounds to your ear.
You should then practice delivering your answers to a family member, friend, or even the mirror. Family members or friends are best because they can twist questions in different ways and throw you some curve balls so that you are forced to alter the answers you’ve prepared.
With good practice, you should end up with good memory recall of the information you really want your employer to know, some different and articulate ways of phrasing that information, and confidence in being able to respond strongly to whatever questions come your way.
Sometimes when we submit a job application, weeks and months can pass before we are called for an interview. Usually, during this period we’ve also gone and applied for a bunch of other positions at the same time.
For those positions, we have likely written different cover letters, personal statements, answers to set questions, etc... We may have even altered our CV to highlight information that is more relevant to the particular jobs we’ve applied for.
When it comes time for the interview, we can often have forgotten what we wrote.
The interviewer, on the other hand, knows what we wrote exactly. They have probably also picked out certain elements of our documents to drill down on.
This may not seem like a big problem, given it should be pretty easy to recall our past experiences and qualifications. But it’s what we’ve said about those experiences and qualifications that can be important.
For example, we might have replied to a question in a candidate questionnaire that working on a certain client project was invaluable in improving our team leadership skills, and an interviewer might be very interested in hearing you explain how and why that was so.
It will be a real bummer if you haven’t worked out some answers beforehand. Otherwise, you’re likely to spin out the same tired spiel that everyone else offers about leadership.
Not only do you want to refamiliarise yourself with your documents, but you also want to get to know the documentation that your potential employer has provided.
First off, you should be very familiar with the job description that has been offered, including your tasks and necessary core capabilities. This is foremost so that you can highlight the relevant skills and experience that you have, tailoring what you say to the job specifics. But showing that you are familiar with the position also demonstrates that you actually want this job and that you are enthusiastic about the kind of work it entails.
Beyond these details, you should also be familiar with the candidate profile that the organisation has provided if they have. This profile will include character traits such as assertiveness, the ability to work in a team environment, or leadership.
In particular, larger organisations are likely to have quite structured and uniform information surrounding candidate profiles, and HR departments will know them back to front.
You don’t necessarily want to just be throwing the terms out there, but you should have them in your mind when responding to general questions, highlighting experience that demonstrates them.
It’s a classic interviewing technique for a potential employer: getting to the end of their list of questions before flipping the script, asking the interviewee if they have any questions to ask.
Many people make the mistake of taking this as a mere pleasantry, not feeling any great need to ask a question.
But you must.
Asking a question of your potential employer in a job interview tells them that you are someone who is genuinely interested in the work of an organisation and that you yourself are trying to get more information to help you in deciding whether you want the job. It also shows that you’re switched on—not someone that will fly under the radar every day.
Make sure you think up a few good questions before the interview, just in case you get an answer to one or more of them in the course of the interview. Also, make your questions relevant to the workings of the business itself (its leadership structure, client portfolio, or processes, for example).
And don’t ask questions you should already know the answer to (i.e. from information on the company’s website).
Here’s a cheeky bonus job interview tip.
You can train all you want but there’s no preparation like gameday itself. Unfortunately, when it comes to doing a job interview, you only get one shot at your dream gig. And no matter how many times you go through your interview preparation with a friend or family member, that preparation just isn’t the same as a live interview scenario.
This is why it can be a good idea to interview for jobs that you’re not particularly keen on.
The beauty of applying for these jobs and (hopefully) getting an interview for them is that they give you the unique opportunity to test your interviewing skills ‘for real’. But also, since you’re interviewing for a job that you could really take or leave, you’re likely to feel less pressure than you would on the day of an interview for the career opportunity of a lifetime. This gives you more freedom to express yourself and see how it works.
One final added bonus is that the interview process may end up changing your mind about that job you didn’t think you wanted!
Before you finally land an employment contract or work agreement, there’s a very good chance that you are going to have to get knocked back from quite a few positions, both at the application and interview stages.
This process may very well take quite a few months. You’re going to have your heart set on some positions and feel like you’re absolutely qualified for others. But you need to be mentally prepared for these to fall through.
There’s no reason to beat yourself up. It’s often impossible to tell what the reason was, and it may have been something totally beyond your control.
So, keep honing your interview skills and try and try again!