Playing The Game: How To Make Your Interview Work for You
The thought of attending a job interview can be enough to send many running for the hills. It’s understandable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are five top tips to help you breeze through – and even enjoy the experience!
Don’t talk yourself out of it
We’re all human beings, and there are times when the easiest path is by far the most attractive. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re lacking in the experience this particular job needs anyway, or that you could hold out for something more relevant, or really you should be better paid than this, or maybe that guy you know who works for so-and-so could talk to his boss and…
For one, it’s very hard to evaluate a role from the job description alone. And for the purposes of learning how to smash an interview, it’s a good idea to go along even if you’re not incredibly enthusiastic about the position. As a general rule, interviews can be quite formulaic, so the more practice you get, the better.
As anyone will tell you, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand your prospective employer(s). Do they have a ‘mission’? How long has the company been around? What new projects are they working on?
There’s a lot more to interview prep than a cursory glance at the company website.
Firsy, get intimate with your job description and personal specification. Make sure you have a well developed argument for each listed requirement marked ‘essential’, and for those marked ‘desirable’ if possible. So if the specification says you should be able to work well in a team, think long and hard about a time when you proved your ability to do so. Don’t just jot down ‘group presentation in seminar’ and move on, use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to develop your answer thoroughly:
Situation: Where were you working at the time of this example? When did it happen?
Task: What did you need to do in this situation?
Action: What action did you take to complete this task?
Result: What was the outcome? How were you responsible for it?
If you have time, make sure you have answers prepared to some of the more generic interview questions which may or may not be explicitly relevant to the role you’re applying for.
It’s easier said than done, but even the worst actors can assume a quietly confident demeanour for an hour. Make sure you’re wearing something clean, smart and comfortable, and if you’ve got long hair get it out of your face so you’re not distracted by these aspects of your appearance.
Think body language. Make sure you shake hands with your interviewer when you meet them. Don’t clasp their hand in a death grip, but remember that a weak handshake is never good news. Eye contact is crucial (though try not to bore into the back of your interviewer’s skull.) Do you bite your nails or play with your hair when nervous? Make an effort not to do so in your interview. Finally, assume a posture which conveys confidence and energy. Don’t vault a desk or go in for a high five, but do make sure your shoulders are back and that you are using open hand gestures.
Even if you’ve diligently prepared an answer to every possible question, if you shuffle into your interview and make conversation with your shoelaces then it’s not going to go too well.
Tailor your responses
It’s likely that you’ll be asked questions that might invite a negative answer. You know the ones we mean: ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’, ‘Why are you seeking a new position?’ or ‘Why are you looking for part time rather than full time work?’.
An interviewer does not want to hear answers such as, ‘My biggest weakness is that I never stop at one drink’, or ‘I’m seeking a new position because I get bored quickly.’
There is no consensus on how to deal with this question. Some would advise choosing something which, whilst it might be a character trait, is not likely to be your biggest downfall, such as ‘perfectionism’ or ‘attention to detail’. Others would advise taking this chance to show your prospective employer that you know yourself by answering honestly. Either way, be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot. Be selective, and keep your answers relevant and positive.
Sometimes, the interviews that go the best are the ones which you a) imagine you’ll never succeed in or b) aren’t pinning all your hopes and dreams on. There’s a reason for this. If you approach an interview firmly believing that your world will fall down around your ears if you don’t get this job, you’re not going to come across as confident, calm and in control, either to your interviewer or yourself. There are many ways to achieve this:
- Make sure you’re fully prepared, so you’re not panicking about being caught out (see point 2.)
- Be kind to yourself. If you weren’t a good candidate, you wouldn’t be here at all. You stand a good chance of getting this position. BUT…
- …Realise that your life won’t fall to pieces if you don’t, there will ALWAYS be other opportunities, perhaps even better ones.
- Remember that your interviewers are humans too, not monstrous interviewing machines desperate to trip you up. They were also on the tube this morning, they too are looking forward to lunch, and it’s unlikely that they are relishing the idea of conducting an interview today.
For advice on how to combat more specific symptoms of pre-interview nerves, check out this article on the Guardian’s Career Blog.
To summarise, nobody anticipates an interview like they would a weekend get-away in the Bahamas. But you don’t have to let it get on top of you. Commit to it, do your homework, look confident, tailor your responses and relax – you will be fine!
Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.