No matter who you are, interviews are a terrifying prospect.
Getting one is great: it means you made it through the initial application stage and have something the company wants. But now it’s time to meet them face-to-face and ensure you impress them.
GradTouch spoke to hiring managers at a number of companies to find out how you can make the most of an interview opportunity. Here’s what not to do, as told by them.
1. Saying you know how to do something when you don’t.
Kate Birtwistle, Senior Client Manager at Capture, a marketing agency with offices in London and Manchester, told GradTouch that honesty is something she likes to see in interviews, “I’d rather they say the truth than what they think I want to hear.” Kate uses Excel as an example - something everyone says they're good at. “If it turns out [you] don’t know, then that’s not good,” she says.
If you’re dishonest, you risk being caught out by the interviewer when they ask follow-up questions and you can’t answer them. And if you do land the job based, in part, on a lie, and come up short when you’re expected to have skills you don’t, you could end up making yourself look very bad early on in your new role.
So, if something comes up that is outside of your skillset, tell the truth (“I’m not as proficient as I’d like to be at Excel, but I’m eager to learn because…”); use it as an opportunity to talk about how you’re excited to improve your skills, grow and contribute to the company.
2. Not doing your research.
This should go without saying, but you should never walk into an interview without a clear understanding of what the company does, how it operates and what the role you’re interviewing for is. Google them, check out their social media presence and try to understand their place in their industry with regards to competitors. Showing up unprepared gives the impression you don’t really care that much about the job.
Most importantly, an interview is an opportunity to see how well you align with the company’s ethics and ideals, and vice versa. Lexie Newnham, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at MVF, a digital marketing agency based in London, says an appreciation of the organisation’s values is key to success at interview: “The core values at MVF underpin everything we do here. We build questions around them”.
3. Coming across too rehearsed in your answers.
On the other hand, you don’t want to just regurgitate the content of your CV, cover letter and the company’s website to the interviewer. They’ve seen all that already and are looking to speak to you as a person, not hear a list of rehearsed responses to questions you anticipated coming up.
Approach interview preparation like writing a list of cue cards for a presentation: know all the facts and things you could bring up in bullet points, but save fleshing them out into sentences for the interview itself. Your answers should be formed in the moment, dynamically and with personality.
4. Giving one word responses (but don’t talk too much).
As with thoroughly preparing, but not over-rehearsing, this one is about balance. One word answers come across poorly because they’re uninspiring and can even seem rude.
Remember, the interviewer isn’t there to catch you out – and by failing to elaborate when asked about your strengths, motivations or knowledge of the company, you’re selling yourself short and throwing away opportunities to impress.
The caveat to this is: don’t talk for the sake of talking. Ultimately, you want to make the most of the time you have at the interview, so don’t mumble one-word answers and don’t ramble on unnecessarily. Everything you say should be purposeful.
5. Underestimating the importance of informal chat.
If you’re fresh out of uni and inexperienced, the interviewer’s focus is on finding out who you are as a person, not just discussing your skills.
Crucially, an interview isn’t just about ascertaining how well you would do in the job, it’s about working out whether you fit into the culture of the company – would you get on with the people you have to work directly with?
Be prepared to talk about your hobbies, things that are important to you, even your favourite film – and to do so in a way that demonstrates the strong communication skills and passion you could bring to the office. Speaking about preliminary phone interviews, Louise Norris, Resourcing Project Leader at KFC, says, “The people who impress are the ones who just want to have a chat with you, ask you questions and treat the recruiter like a human being and not someone to be scared of or revered.”
6. Finally, don’t forget that interviews are a two-way process.
This is perhaps the most pivotal mistake you can make – forgetting you’re there for an interview, not an interrogation. As Louise at KFC says, you needn’t be afraid of the person interviewing you; it’s as much an opportunity for you find out if the job and company is right for you as it is for them to work out if you’re well-suited to the role. So, make sure you ask questions at the end and show you’re keen to leave with a full understanding of the role and its demands.
Everyone has bad days and slip ups now and then, so don’t worry if you have a few interviews that don’t go to plan. Learn from your experiences, practise what works for you, and the more you avoid these pitfalls, the shorter your job search will hopefully be. Good luck!