You have passed the first hurdle in your search for a new job and you have been invited to an interview.

There is a lot to think about and a quick search online will tell you that preparation is key. So is your appearance. And the way you shake hands. Eye contact, time-keeping, your hair, your smile, how pointy your shoes are, your entire personality.

The list of potential stumbling blocks is almost endless, so let’s take a step back.

There are 3 elements to every interview, and you need to pay attention to each to be successful.

1. Preparation

Sit down with a coffee and a notepad and do your research. 47% of employers complain that the most common mistake interviewees make is arriving with little or no knowledge about the company.

Find out about the company that you are interviewing with. When you are doing your research, think about what makes this employer appealing to you. Reeling off sound bites from their website about how big they are or where they held their last AGM only tells your interviewer that you have read the website and you can remember things. Instead of just memorising facts, as you are working through a potential employer’s website, ask yourself some questions. “Why would I want to work for this company?” or “How does this company or the industry sector meet my career aspirations or personal goals?” The more answers you have that relate to your own aspirations and aims, the better.

Go through this process when looking through the job description too. Why does THIS job appeal to you? How does THIS job meet your career aspirations? Focus too on the key requirements and responsibilities of the role and try to marry each to specific experience that you have had in the past.

When asked a question about a particular skill that is essential to the fulfilment of this job, you should have ready answers and relevant examples to offer of how you have put that skill to good use in the past. Better still, if you have gone through this process, when you are asked if you have any questions, you can ask questions about specific details from the website or from the job description that are of interest to you or that will further allow you to demonstrate how suitable you are for the role.

2. Presentation

First impressions still count. 33% of bosses claim that they know within the first 90 seconds of an interview if they will not hire someone.

Getting it right in the first 90 seconds isn’t going to get you a job offer. Getting it wrong in the first ninety seconds could well result in a rejection, although in most cases, your performance over the next 40 minutes will ultimately be taken into account. You don’t want to fight against that first impression. Rather, you want it to act as a platform upon which you can present your suitability, so let’s make sure we are getting it right.

The way you present yourself, ie, the way you dress AND act is a notable factor in how you come across at the initial meeting. Two-thirds of hiring managers say that how someone is dressed can be a deciding factor for them. Fully three-quarters of interviewers state that they are put off by trendy or fashionable attire. Try to dress conservatively. A small splash of colour won’t hurt, but garish, bright colours have been identified as a turn off, so limit your use of colour to ties or accessories and avoid anything busy or “whacky”.

Formal business wear remains the norm for interviews, but in certain circumstances, this can be inappropriate. If your research into the company suggests that formal business clothing would be distinctly out of place, seek some advice. Your recruitment consultant will be able to give you a steer on this. Call and discuss it with them. If they don’t have a definitive answer, they will always make the inquiry for you.

How you walk through the office door is important too. Your interview starts as soon as you are visible to people in the building, so assume that you are being assessed from the moment you enter. In fact, if you are parking in their car park, assume that you are on display. Park carefully and considerately. Enter the reception area calmly and confidently. Be polite when you introduce yourself and explain who you have come to see. There is a very good chance that your interviewer will be asking whoever greets you what their first impressions were. So, even before you arrive, get rid of the gum, straighten your hair, switch your phone to silent, take a couple of deep breaths and steady your nerves.

When your interviewer comes to meet you, you want to be sure that you are feeling as calm and collected as possible. So aim to arrive in plenty of time. Ten to fifteen minutes should give you enough time to collect your thoughts and slow your heart rate a little so that at the initial meeting, your voice will be calm, your hand shake will be firm and you will be able to get your words out without croaking or coughing or sounding out of breath. DON’T BE LATE!

3. The interview

You have been collected from reception by your interviewer. The receptionist is thoroughly charmed by your calm, confident manner. You look the part and all the research you have done means that the next 40 minutes or so will be plain sailing, right?

If only this were the case. The next 40 minutes, though, is when you have to make it all come together. Presentation and preparation have to combine seamlessly into an impeccable, engaging performance and you are being judged as much on how you get your answers across as you are on the answers themselves. Your behaviour in the interview room is crucial to making a good impression.

67% of interviewees fail to make enough eye contact with the interviewer. Looking around the room, instead of at your interviewer can make you seem nervous, insincere, distant or disinterested. Make sure you are addressing your answers to the person who asked the question, but if there are other people in the room, make sure you are including them in your answer with an occasional glance in their direction too.

Fidgeting is also seen as a sign of nerves or an indication of a deeper unease that can often be interpreted as insincerity or untrustworthiness. Resting your head in your hands, or playing with your hair or with jewellery is also interpreted negatively by a large proportion of interviewers. Rather than worrying about what not to do, though, as the list seems to go on and on, focus on what you should be doing to combat any of these habits that you might have.

Adopt a comfortable, upright seating position and, if you can, lace your fingers together and rest your wrists on the table in front of you. This position makes you appear engaged and alert. Better still, it actually helps you feel more alert. Having your hands laced together will help you control them if you are tempted to fidget with them, or if you tend to use your hands a lot when you talk. You will notice when you pull your hands apart and this will act as a cue to you to keep them under control and lace them back together again.

One of the biggest mistakes candidates make when interviewing is failing to smile. When people interact with each other, they tend to mirror behaviour and mood. If you don’t smile, you will find your interviewer less inclined to smile. If you do smile your interviewer is more likely to smile. And smiling makes you appear more human and more approachable. Your interviewer will be more inclined to like you and if they are smiling too, they will feel more positive.

If you are the kind of individual who suffers with nerves, some of the advice above might seem daunting. Sitting upright, leaning forward and looking someone straight in the eye is easy enough for some of us, but for others, it can be difficult. The only solution is to practice. Go out for a coffee with your friends, or nip out after work for a quick drink with them. Pay attention to how you are addressing them, though. Make a conscious effort to make eye contact. Work at sitting up a little straighter. Think about keeping your hands under control in front of you. You can even practice your smile in this context. You will only need to do this two or three times before it starts to feel more natural. The more you do it, the less daft you will feel about it and by the time you come to sitting in an interview, it will be second nature to you.

Finishing the interview

It is important that you maintain your composure right through to the end of the interview. Interviews can be made or ruined in the final few minutes. This is your last opportunity to leave everyone with a positive impression of you.

Most interviews will conclude with the interviewer asking you if you have any questions. There is a growing list of questions being published online that are offered up as good go to options, but you are unlikely to find anything that the interviewer has not heard before. As good as the questions may be, if you come across as asking stock questions that you found on the Internet, you are not ongoing to impress anyone.

So, what do you ask?

Remember all that preparation work you did researching the company and marrying up your experience to the job description. It would be difficult for any interview to cover everything that you have looked into. If there is anything in the job description that has not been discussed, ask a question about it. Be prepared to talk a little about it once you have listened to the answer though.

For example, perhaps you are interviewing for a Web Developer role. The job description specifies that you must have excellent HTML and JavaScript skills. You must also have experience with PHP and should be familiar with Drupal. All of this has been covered during the interview, but there has been no discussion about Bootstrap, which is one of the desirable skills mentioned in the job description. “I notice you mention Bootstrap in the job description and I wondered how much you are using it at the moment”. Great question! “We have just adopted it here, but we are using it more and more and all of our new projects will include an element of Bootstrap”. Nice, concise answer, but this is your opportunity to underline your suitability. “I have just completed my first project using Bootstrap. It took me an hour or two to get my head around it, but once I got to grips with it, I loved it and I would be very keen to continue working with it”. This has only been a very brief interchange, but you have told your interviewer that you have experience with a technology they have just adopted, that it only took you a short time to come to terms with it and that you are really excited about working with that technology more. It may lead to further discussion about the technology. Even if it doesn’t, it adds a couple of additional ticks to your tally.

If you can’t find questions to ask about the job description, there should still be questions you can ask about the company. After all, you made a note of some reasons why you were keen to work for this company. What attracts you to the business? Ask questions about this, but don’t be afraid of telling your interviewers why this appeals to you when you get the chance. You are reinforcing in their minds why you want to work there and that makes you more appealing as a candidate.

You will want to know what is going to happen after your interview comes to an end. There is no harm in asking, but personalise the question. Don’t be afraid to draw favourable comparisons with other recent interviews you may have had, but always be specific. If you say you are keen to know when you might have an outcome because this role is more appealing than the role you interviewed for yesterday, be prepared for them to ask you why. Or pre-empt their question by telling them why. Is it the atmosphere within the office? Maybe it’s the exciting new projects that the company is preparing to initiate? Perhaps it’s the growth plans, or the opportunity to develop new skills? Whatever it is, make sure it is specific to THEM so that you continue to reinforce why it is THIS job that you are especially keen on.

Once all the questions are done and the interview is drawing to a close, you have to negotiate the handshake again. Thank the interviewers for their time and for considering your application. Make sure you have picked up everything you came in with. Someone is certain, then, to escort you to the reception area or to the exit. Remember to thank them too, return your visitor badge or security pass and sign out if you need to. Then leave the premises calmly and confidently. Just as you were being assessed on arrival, be aware that you may be being watched as you leave.

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