This article was originally published in the May edition of PsychNews, the Brunel Psychology Society newsletter. You read this article in its original form, or a number of other interesting on Issuu.com
Know What You Are Applying For
By the day of your interview most of your work should be done. Spend time to research the company you are applying to, familiarise yourself with their history, principles, services, and key staff. The interviewer may well ask you a question like “what do you know about our organisation?” and if you’ve done your research it’s a free ticket to making yourself look great. Some books quote a statistic of 80% of interviewees not doing any research before their interview, so this puts you ahead of a majority of your competition. Avoid mentioning any bad press however.
If your interviewer has published any articles it can do you no harm to have a read of them then mention them at this point too, but avoid criticising them!
Also spend time researching the role you are applying for, both in general terms of the role title and if possible in specific terms of the position you are being interviewed for. For example if it is a research assistant role find out as much as you can about the research you will be helping with.
Prepare Your Answers
Most interviewers use pretty predictable questions, and you can turn this to your great advantage by planning your answers well in advance. For each of the questions I have listed in the side box, write down exactly how you would answer it in the interview, then think hard about your answer. What is the interviewer actually looking for when they ask this question? Have you addressed what they are looking for? Have you painted yourself in the best way? If necessary rewrite your answer until you’ve got it right. But remember: you don’t want to appear rehearsed or scripted in the interview itself!
Not only does careful preparation of answers to the common questions make the difference between a good interviewee and a great one, but it will also greatly improve your confidence in the interview which will come across clearly to your interviewer.
Look the Part
When you go for your interview first impressions count (Barrick et al. 2010). It is said some interviewers make their decision within thirty seconds of meeting candidates, so you really need to present yourself in the best possible way, and a big part of this is your physical presentation.
Ensure you are well dressed and well groomed. Wear smart clothes that fit (try them on the day before the interview to check for damage, missing buttons, droopy collars etc.), and don’t forget to trim fingernails etc. Ladies use a sensible minimum of makeup, guys remove or trim facial hair, and everyone should remove any facial piercings. Go easy on perfume and cologne, stand up straight, and greet your interviewer with a confident smile and don’t forget the importance of a firm handshake (Stewart et al. 2008). With all of this you should come across as a confident professional who takes their work seriously.
During the interview maintain comfortable eye contact (but don’t stare!), and sit in a confident “open posture”. That is, keep your hands in front of you unclasped and open, and avoid crossing your arms or legs. Lean forward slightly to show interest, keep that smile, and nod appreciatively at appropriate moments. Some research indicates that visualization can improve your success and perceived confidence (Knudstrup et al. 2003).
Lying on your CV or in your interview is a seriously bad idea. Beyond just being dishonest, you never know when an interviewer might catch you out, and if that happens you can kiss that job goodbye! A colleague I once worked with wrote on her CV that she had “advanced Excel skills”, a trait critical for the position she applied for. However when she was given her first piece of work it became obvious that she had no idea how to use Excel at all, and she was swiftly sacked. Even lying about your interests and hobbies is risky, you never know if your interviewer shares that hobby and may start asking you questions about it!
Having a couple of relevant questions to ask the interviewer shows enthusiasm, interest, and is yet another chance for you to sell yourself. However avoid asking pointless questions for the sake of it, or turning your interview into their interrogation by throwing lots of questions out. In the second sidebar I have listed a number of potential questions you could ask; I would suggest asking a maximum of three or four questions at most.
Remember though that not all questions need to be left until you are invited to ask them, and some questions are hugely beneficial if you ask them at the start of the interview but useless if you ask them at the end. For example:
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about yourself?
CANDIDATE: I’ll be glad to. But first, may I ask a question?
INTERVIEWER: Of course.
CANDIDATE: My question is this: By what criteria will you select the
person for this job?
The interview is over, time to go home and wait, right? Wrong. Preferably the same day of the interview it can be beneficial to send your interviewer a letter or email thanking them for the time they took to interview you and for telling you more about their organisation and the role. Conclude by briefly re-iterating your key skills that make you suited to the job (use bullet points if you wish). This also gives you a chance to drop in anything you may have missed in your interview, and makes you stand out in the interviewer’s mind which can greatly help your chances when it comes to their decision time! If you are unsure of how this should look, see if you can find a copy of Beshara (2008), and on page 83 there is an example letter.
We all experience failed applications at some time or other, and it can be hard not to take it personally or get disheartened. Remember that you are not being rejected as a person, your unsuccessful application is not a sign of your individual worth. Remember also that this is only one application and there are lots of other jobs out there, and your experiences applying for this position will have taught you more about interview technique and applications.
The most important thing to do now, both for your immediate peace of mind and longer term benefit, is to request feedback from the interviewer. Write a letter or email graciously expressing your disappointment at not being selected for the role at this time, and asking if they could give you some feedback to help you improve your future applications. This opportunity to improve your skills is invaluable and Tony Beshara (2008) puts this wonderfully: “‘No’ is the second best answer you can get.” If you are really keen on the position it is worth adding that you hope they will bear you in mind if this position reopens for any reason or if a similar position becomes available. This way you are down but not out, and you are building your network of contacts, which can be crucial later in your career.
Barrick, M.R., Swider, B.W. & Stewart, G.L., 2010. Initial evaluations in the interview: relationships with subsequent interviewer evaluations and employment offers. The Journal of applied psychology, 95(6), pp.1163-72.
Beshara, T., 2008. Acing the Interview: How to Ask and Answer the Questions That Will Get You The Job, New York: AMACOM.
Fry, R., 2009. 101 Smart Questions to Ask On Your Interview 3rd ed., Course Technology.
Innes, J., 2009. The Interview Book, Pearson Education Ltd.
Kador, J., 2010. 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill Professional.
Knudstrup, M., Segrest, S.L. & Hurley, A.E., 2003. The use of mental imagery in the simulated employment interview situation. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18(6), pp.573-591.
Stewart, G.L. et al., 2008. Exploring the handshake in employment interviews. The Journal of applied psychology, 93(5), pp.1139-46.