Frank advice from an employer on how to impress in an interview
We spoke to James Kaye, Co-Founder and Director of B2B PR and Marketing agency Big Ideas Machine about how to impress in an interview.
I’m going to let you into a little secret. After screening CV’s and interviewing a LOT of candidates over the last 20 years most of them are unremarkable at best. That’s not the secret bit though. The secret bit is that the majority of them could have been remarkable with just a little more effort.
If you’re going for a job, then bear this in mind. We (your potential employers) owe you nothing….zip. It’s up to you to earn your place in my company, and if you really, honestly want the job then I’ll know how much you really do from the interview.
How? Read on, and I’ll show you what most employers are looking for so that you can secure an interview, impress an interviewer and ultimately demonstrate that you are indeed – remarkable.
Cover off the CV basics
This is where you’re going to likely fall at the first hurdle. To me, a crap CV is unforgivable.
There’s such an enormous abundance of free CV-writing resources out there on the internet that if you send me a sub-par CV, then it’s a huge indicator of laziness on your part. It’s a red flag. What do I consider sub-par? There are a few things.
First off is the length. If you’re over two pages, then I’m not even bothering. It’s a golden rule of CV writing that you need to keep to two pages. Fail this one, and you’ll almost immediately go into the discard pile.
Next up are typos and errors. Really? Truly? You’re not even going to spell check your CV before you send it to me? If you cannot even be bothered to sign up to a free Grammarly account, then there is little or no hope.
Next up is the complete inability of candidates to differentiate between their job responsibilities and achievements. A bullet point checklist of your roles and responsibilities at a job (no matter how menial) is not the same as a list of your accomplishments. Once again, anyone reading a resource on how to write a CV knows that there are lots of positive power words like ‘achieved’, ‘lead’ and ‘awarded’ that help their CV shine.
Last up, but not a deal-breaker is the new trend of including loads of superfluous skills such as ‘Can use PowerPoint’ and the old classic ‘Full clean driving license.’ The driving license bit is great if you’re applying to be a delivery driver, but perhaps less-so when I want you to sit behind a desk and write a press release for a client.
First impressions count
Most people in social situations make their minds up in a matter of seconds. This is especially true in a job interview. Here’s the secret to securing a good first impression at interview
Smile when you meet someone and greet them clearly, If you can master it then the eyebrow flash when greeting someone can work a treat! That said, don’t attempt this under any circumstances unless you’re adept or you’ll look like you’re having a strange episode.
Master a firm (but not hand-crushing) handshake. Nobody likes a wet fish.
Look smart, may sound obvious but you’ll be surprised by the number of slobs that turn up for an interview with dirty shoes
Top Tip: Once you’ve sat down, get a decent notebook and a pen out of your bag. I hate it when people turn up and just put nothing on the desk. It may just be me, but if you get a nice notebook and pen out and take notes then it looks like you’re attentive, It shows me that you’re likely noting things down for the bit at the end where you get to ask me questions (more about that later). Seriously, little things like this are small cues to me that you look professional and that you’re attentive and willing. Little things like this help set you apart.
Master the 7 P’s – army style
I think I first saw this expression in the military bestseller Bravo Two Zero. The 7 P’s stand for Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many candidates fail in spectacular fashion at this point. If you’re going to come to an interview with me, then I expect you to have looked over my website.
When I say the site, I don’t just mean the front page but most pages, within reason. I’m going to expect you to Google my company and see if it has been featured in the news. I’m going to assume you to know a LOT about my company and to answer questions about it confidently. If you’re not adequately showing me that you know about my company, then it’s an unmistakable signal you don’t want to work for me.
If you’re going to prepare for any job interview, then you’ll also need to anticipate what kind of questions you may be asked. You never really know what you’re going to get when you turn up to interview. Will the interviewer be friendly and chatty or cold and ask hard questions with little feedback? I like to be chatty, but woe betides you if you quickly show me that you’ve not done your homework. I’ll soon tire and start asking hard pressure questions just because I can, and you’ve pissed me off and wasted my time. Sorry but it’s true. I once terminated an interview halfway through as I knew it was just not a good fit and a colossal waste of my time. Please- don’t waste my valuable time.
Top Tips: If you want to give yourself a MASSIVE advantage over most other candidates immediately then all you need to do is read ‘Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions’ by Martin John Yate. It’s hands-down the most helpful book you are ever likely to read about job interviews. Trust me; you’ll be thanking me for it.
Show me you really, genuinely want to work for my company
Ability is excellent, but enthusiasm is EVERYTHING. I mean it. I think it may have been Richard Branson who once said that the primary quality he was looking for in any candidate, above all others, was an evident passion that they wanted to work for him and his company.
If you’re going for an interview, then you’re committing yourself for 8 hours a day, five days a week for several years to work for that company so you should care about the company.
If you’ve not researched my company as I’ve said above, then you don’t care, and I’ll know you’re just coming along to tick a box. If you are not visibly enthused or excited, then you don’t care. If you’ve not gone above and beyond to show me something, anything to demonstrate that you want to work for my company then I’ll know it. Be prepared to show me that you genuinely want to work for me.
Top Tips: Try to drop a couple of facts about the company into the conversation that you could have only gleaned by looking at some recent news or from an obscure section of the website. It can be a deal, an announcement, a new product or an interesting case study. It shows you’ve bothered looking. Perhaps you’ve analysed the competitors? Also, work out clearly why my company appeals to you more than any other and be ready to articulate it.
Finally, print off some interesting pages from the company website and put them in a plastic wallet. Then lay the wallet on the table for the interviewer to see, or even take some sheets out and fan them out a bit on the table. It may sound unorthodox, but I used to do it when I went for interviews, and it worked a treat. It shows the interviewer that you’ve not only researched them but have also bothered to print interesting pages off and bring with you. Seriously it’s a good one.
Conduct yourself well at interview
I recently interviewed someone who was really laid back and visibly chewed gum throughout an interview. This ‘too cool for school’, laid-back approach didn’t secure the candidate a second interview. Sit up straight, lean forwards, maintain eye contact, look alert and be generally engaging. Be conscious of your body language.
I want dynamism. I want va va voom and someone with a bit of spark. Maybe, if you’re feeling masterful, you can employ a few positive body language basics such as talking with open palms. Just look interested, alert and engaged – not slumped in the seat and half brain dead like some of the people I have seen.
Be careful with blogs and social media
Yep, it’s true, us employers will do a social and digital audit where we can. We’ll look at your social media pages – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin. The whole shebang. Wherever you have a digital footprint, we’ll try and look to see what you’re about.
Please also be careful about telling us you have a ‘blog’. As a PR and marketing agency, we are especially interested in a candidate’s writing ability and so nothing is more annoying than a crushingly dull, poorly written blog. If you highlight something on your CV, then we will very likely go and take a look. If its pants then be prepared to defend it.
Don’t waffle or talk yourself into a corner and please – think
Be succinct and to the point. Don’t waffle and meander down irrelevant avenues of conversation in an interview. Once you have answered the question, then stop, stay silent and wait for the next question. Don’t fill in awkward silences with piffle or feel you have to carry on.
Carefully considering your answers also helps. This is usually aided by the 7 P’s that I’ve mentioned above you can cover off all possible eventualities. Things like casual racism, for example, don’t bode well.
There was the time I interviewed a candidate who told me that the biggest challenge she has faced at her UK university was the language barrier between herself and some Chinese students that she had been paired with on a project. When I asked her what the most significant lesson was that she took away from the experience, the candidate paused, considered her reply for a moment and then just said: “Don’t ever work with the Chinese”.
Please please for the love of all that is good and true have some intelligent questions at the end
Oh, deary me. This is a classic point where you can fall at the final hurdle. Seriously. You can be smashing it out of the ballpark and mentally high-fiving yourself to this point.
Then I ask you if you have any questions and it also goes horribly wrong. I’m going to let you into another secret here. A job interview is not a one-way door. Although I want you to impress me, this does not mean you only impress me by answering my questions. You impress me by having some well thought out, intelligent and incisive questions at the end.
I hate it when someone says that they don’t have any questions or they have one or two weak ones. If you’re going to spend a considerable amount of your waking hours with my company and me, then I want to feel like you’re a person who cares about where they end up and that you’re master of your destiny. I cannot stress this enough. A tiny amount of research can unearth some outstanding, intelligent questions in under two minutes. Do it.
Top Tips: Remember the notebook I mentioned earlier? Have a page of questions written out in there that I can see. I often look across at a candidate’s notebook to see what they have written. Even better, print the questions on a sheet at home, produce the sheet at the end and start filling in the answers. Make a point of the interviewer seeing you produce this sheet. It all fits into this demonstration of preparation or showing ‘willing’. It’s a tiny touch, but it signals to the interviewer that you’ve thought about this more than most other candidates.
So there you have it. There’s no magic bullet to doing well at an interview or securing your dream job. It’s a lot of small things that make up the whole. The sum of its parts, so to speak. If you follow some or even better, all of the tips that I’ve put here, then you’ve already gone a huge way towards elevating yourself above vast swathes of people out there who seem determined to languish in mediocrity. So go out there, prepare hard, prepare well, show me that you really want to work for me and I think that you’ll be amazed where it can lead.