I love being interviewed for jobs. Being in a room with a couple of people where I get to quickly build rapport and do a whole lot of trumpet blowing is great fun, and while I haven’t given a bad interview in many years I remember what it’s like to strike out.
Giving a bad interview makes every self-doubt you have real, and it brings to life every fear you have about how crappy you are at what you do. Bad interviews suck. Big time.
Interviews can be blown in the first 30 seconds if you make a bad first impression. Enter the room and throw up on the interviewers shoes, tell them they remind you of a fat Simon Cowell, or take your shoes off and put your feet up on the desk are clearly not going to win you any brownie points, but there are other more subtle mistakes you need to avoid if you want to make a confident and congruent first impression:
- Don’t forget to smile. An obvious one, but a key one. Entering the room looking nervous, anxious or worrisome will send the message that you’re a nervous person. It’s okay to be nervous in an interview, but that doesn’t stop you from being warm and friendly. Remember to smile, just not too much so you look like a nutter.
- Look them in the eye. Eye contact is about building rapport and connecting with people. Without it there’s no connection, so be sure to look your interviewers in the eye as the interview progresses. Don’t stare fixedly at your interviewer like a wired Will Ferrell, this isn’t a Saturday Night Live skit.
- Don’t shake hands like a trout. There’s nothing worse than greeting someone with a handshake only to feel like they’re pressing a tepid trout into your hand, and I’m still amazed at how many wet-fish handshakes I get when I meet people. Smile, make eye contact and give a firm 2 second handshake with a simple ‘Good to meet you’.
- Know what to wear. I’ve got jobs from interviews where I’ve worn tshirt and jeans, because that’s what was appropriate to the environment I was interviewing for. That’s the point – you need to be dressed appropriately to the environment in which you hope to be working. Go for an interview in banking dressed in tshirt and jeans and you won’t stand a chance, wear the same to an ad agency and you’ll fit right in.
- Don’t forget their names. Please, please, please remember the names of the people interviewing you. It allows you to put them into conversation where appropriate, and I’m not talking every sentence (that’ll make you sound like Hannibal Lecter). It allows you to refer back to a previous comment (e.g. “As Mandy said earlier…”), to buy yourself time with a tricky question (e.g. “That’s a good question Randy…”) or to use it as a sign-off at the end of the interview (e.g. “Thanks for your time Brandy”). The interviewers name doesn’t have to rhyme with ‘Andy’.
- Don’t let your body language scream ‘Danger’. If your shoulders are hunched, you’re slouched in your seat, you’re wringing your hands or continually scratching your head you’ll be sending the wrong message. Having a relaxed but confident body language communicates a relaxed and confident individual. Don’t be rigid – you’re free to move in your seat and use your hands to demonstrate key points, just watch you’re not waving your arms around like you’re swiping away fruit flies. A balance between sitting back in your chair and sitting forwards is good – you can give emphasis to points and show you’re listening by sitting forwards, and communicate a sense of ease by sitting back.
- Leave your shit outside. Interviews can be scary and often you don’t know what to expect. Don’t bring that uncertainty and doubt into the room with you and certainly don’t bring in any personal problems that might be bothering you, put that all to one side before the interview starts. Picture the interview room as a safe place with people who want you to get the job, and remember that the interviewers want to see the best of you, not the worst. They’re on your side.
- Don’t jump into the first chair you see. Don’t enter the room and grab the first chair you see – it’s not a competition. Move into the room and let the interviewer find their place first. If you’re in a meeting room don’t sit next to them on the same side of the table, and don’t automatically sit directly opposite them. Try to sit diagonally from them if possible – it gives provides a good space between you but doesn’t act like a wall.
- Pace yourself. Rapport building is about building a connection and a rhythm between you and another person, a rhythm that allows both of you to communicate openly. Many of the things I’ve already mentioned help build that rapport, but pace is one of the most important. If you go racing off at 100 miles an hour, telling them everything about you when they’ve only asked you if you found the building with out any problems, then you’ve screwed the pace up and they’ll be wanting to get you out of the room as quickly as possible. Let them set the pace and follow it.