If you are anything like me, the word interview can evoke the same levels of fear one experiences when asked the icebreaker question of “can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?”
I will confess that I have, on occasion, secretly hoped I would be rejected from a job, just so I didn’t have to go through the nauseatingly awkward process of selling myself to an employer, whilst simultaneously battling with a crippling case of interview nerves. But, whether we like it or not, interviews appear to be here to stay. With this in mind, I hope I can now use my first-hand experiences to provide some honest and useful guidance to anyone who might be feeling anxious about their next interview.
Everything I have learnt about interviews (so far)…
Try not to second guess
Making the mistake of second-guessing the format of an interview is something I am all too experienced in. It usually begins with a statement along the lines of, “I’m fairly sure it will be quite an informal interview, they look like a relatively relaxed kind of company”. Only recently, I arrived at what I thought would be a more ‘tame’ interview; an 8 hours a week, (yes, eight-hour jobs apparently do exist), advocate role. When I entered the interview room, feeling uncharacteristically relaxed, I came face to face with every person’s worst nightmare. A panel of five, disconcertingly angry-looking interviewers, with a seemingly never-ending sheet of questions in front of them. Intimidating much?
With this in mind, the best advice I can give anyone is to over prepare. No matter what expectations you might have of a company and their work environment or values. In short: never presume something will be of the informal nature unless it is explicitly stated beforehand.
Practice, practice, practice
Let’s face it, no one loves interviews. But, like anything, the best way to get better at something is to do it more often. Think of it like exposure therapy. If, like many of us, you suffer from interview anxiety, then try and throw yourself into as many interview situations as you can; even if certain jobs are not exactly what you are looking for. With every interview, you will learn new things that you can then take into your next one. For example, in my first few interviews, I found myself getting caught out by the standard interview question of: ‘what are your 3 main strengths?’. I had wrongly assumed that, nowadays, antiquated interview questions such as these were no longer being asked.
But, from my experience, a surprising amount of companies still conform to the conventional interview format. So the importance of having stock answers ready for these types of questions cannot be underestimated. Of course, the very fact that someone else is in control of the questions makes interviews an inherently anxiety inducing activity; but by having these stock answers ready, you can feel more prepared, and in turn, more empowered.
Dress code? Air on the side of formal
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to interview attire. But wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes can put you one step back before you’ve even had the chance to open your mouth. From my experience, I would advise anyone to air on the side of formal; especially if it is a corporate job. With that said, it is best to use your intuition. So if you are applying for a particularly creative job, it might be advisable to avoid turning up looking like you are about to attend a meeting with Lord Sugar in The Boardroom.
A final word
The sheer pain of blanking out during an interview never fully goes away. But it’s important to keep in mind that interviews, just like exams, are a completely unnatural environment to find ourselves in. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that interviews were designed to bring the best out in us. If you get speaking to just about anyone, then you will find that we all have countless stories of interviews that didn’t go perfectly; so don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t quite go as planned.
Bear in mind that in this day and age, we are living in an incredibly competitive job market. It’s common ground to attend countless interviews before you get a job offer. I won’t deny that at times, I still find this difficult to come to terms with. But it’s important to keep talking to friends who have come out the other side and continue to tell yourself that your time will come. More often than not, I have found that people often recount receiving the job offer when they were fatigued with the interview process. Having a lot of practice behind you might be the key to success after all!
As well as which, interviewers are often a lot more understanding than you might think. In fact, those five intimidating interviewers I mentioned earlier, well, they actually ended up being some of the most supportive and friendly interviewers I have shared a room with. Of course, that’s not to say that they’ll all be like this. But if they are particularly hostile and uncommunicative, then it might be worth asking yourself whether you’d want to work for someone like that anyway. Remember, interviews are just as much about working out whether you can see yourself working for that company, as they are about the interviewer assessing you.
Finally, although it may not come naturally to all of us, it’s important to try and have confidence in yourself. Remember to hold your head high. The company would not have called you back if they didn’t think you have potential! If you’ve got interview practice behind you, and you’ve prepared properly, then you should have just as much a chance as anyone.