Has it been a while since you’ve had an interview? Do you hate being put on the spot to talk about yourself for an hour to strangers? Are you worried about embarrassing yourself by not being able to answer a question? Or worse, starting to answer a question and having no idea where you’re going with it?
Having gone for a job that was seemingly made for you, you still have that hurdle of the dreaded interview, and to most of us, it can be really unnerving. I’m not here to say they’re fun and easy – they’re neither. But what I can do is share some advice and tips that have made me feel much more confident in interviews. I’ve gone from profuse sweating, waffling and blushing (my first ‘proper grown up’ interview) to holding it together and saying everything I wanted to, clearly and confidently (my recent interview in July – I got the job!).
As with most successes, preparation is paramount. The more you can prepare before your interview, the more reassurance you can provide yourself. Here are the key things to remember when preparing:
- It’s perfectly acceptable to bring notes with you and I urge you to do so. As part of your preparation, make sure your notes are easy to read; the simpler they are, the more helpful they will be to nudge you in the right direction and remind you of key points. Keep them in a tidy state – unfolded, kept in a smart folder and visibly organised.
- Learn about the company you’ll be working for and link them with your answers and existing role. Trivia you’ve picked up about their breakfast Mondays or sports and social club can be easily slipped into conversation (demonstrating you’ve took the time to learn about the company). But if you really want to make an impact, learn about recent changes they have gone through or upcoming goals they want to achieve, and incorporate these in with some of your answers. For example, if the company has a goal of adopting a more inclusive and diverse recruitment process, mention that you have done something similar in your existing and/or previous roles; or if they are proud of their environmental or charitable efforts, talk about the results from when you organised something similar in your team/organisation. Just make sure you’ve actually done what you say you’ve done!
- List the pieces of work you’re most proud of and have had the biggest team or organisational impact, and make a STAR bullet point list for each. The acronym is a bit of a cliché but it works by helping you structure your answers:
- Situation – explain the situation or problem; a single point or sentence is fine so long as it’s clear why it’s a problem or a change was needed
- Task – what was needed to be done (preferably what you decided what was needed to be done), including some other options that you decided not to take
- Action – how did you go about getting this done, including the problems you ran into
- Result – what was the result of this? Shout out about all the good, positive stuff that resulted from this, but if hiccups occurred, don’t shy away from this; instead, explain why these happened, what you did to rectify it, and what you would do differently next time. Obviously, be selective about what went wrong, but explaining this demonstrates that you accept that sometimes things don’t turn out as planned but that you have the aptitude to rectify issues.
- List your questions. At the end of the interview, you’ll be asked if you have any questions. This is a chance to interview the interviewer. This isn’t all about whether or not you’re right for the job, but it’s also about you figuring out if you the job is right for you. If you have any concerns about the role, or some aspects of the role aren’t clear, use this time to ask sensible questions. “Do you offer flexible working?” or “Does this role come with line management responsibilities?” are sensible questions; “How many days can I be off sick before I get into trouble?” not so sensible. The questions I like to ask focus around the role (“What challenges will I be expected to see in this role?”) and the people I’ll be working with (“What’s the team like?”). I also, always, always, ALWAYS ask this question in EVERY interview. Worthwhile clickbait!
- Know where the interview is being held and get there ridiculously early. Don’t leave it to the day of the interview to find out how to get there. Unless you’re familiar with the area, search the location on an online map and see exactly how to get there from the car park, train station, or bus stop. Don’t stress yourself out by winging it. Getting to places ridiculously early may be a personal preference, but you don’t know what will happen on the day of your interview. Traffic jams, train cancellations, bad weather. All these things can scupper your timings and knock your confidence, so get there early, know where you’re going, and if necessary find a café close by to wait.
- Dress confidently. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel confident, whether that’s getting a haircut, manicure, hot towel shave or a new suit. This isn’t about looks – this is about making yourself feel confident and comfortable so that it’s one less thing to worry about on the day.
- Remind yourself this isn’t about bragging. If you’re uncomfortable talking about yourself for an hour and the thought of talking about your achievements makes you cringe, try to remember you’re not there to impress the interviewers. Sure, your interviewers can be impressed by what you have done and what you can do for the company, but by reframing this in your head that you are there to explain the results of your work rather than how fantastic you are, you begin to detach yourself slightly from the concept of bragging. While I’m not encouraging you to detach from your accomplishments entirely – indeed you should be proud of them – I’m encouraging you to reframe these temporarily for the sake of gaining more confidence before an interview.
Once you’re prepared, now comes the actual interview! There are a couple of things to be aware of during the interview that will help calm your nerves:
- To shake or not to shake? An awkward start to an interview is the handshake dance. “Are they going to shake? Their hands aren’t out, should I not? Oh no wait, here it comes, quick, wipe the sweat off your palms and shake.” See how much aggro you’re creating yourself for such a small thing? Take the uncertainty out of it and make the decision to offer the handshake. Don’t wait for their sign; go for it. Be the assertive one and put out your hand to everyone. Do this at the beginning and end of the interview.
- Remember that this is just like a meeting or a chat. I find this approach helps me a lot. The more formality I give something, the more nervous I get, and the more I think I need to give a flawless performance. By considering this as a meeting, where there are no wrong or right answers, I can relax just a little bit to understand that all I need to do is answer their questions, demonstrate my experience, and leave it up to them to make the decision. You might be really gunning for the job, but by adding a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself, you’re at risk of raising your nerves – it’s far better to have not got the job because you weren’t the right fit (which is a reflection on the role, not you) rather than your nerves stopping you from giving a good interview.
- Pausing is perfectly acceptable. When you’re asked a question, don’t feel that you have to answer straight away. It’s far better to pause, think about the answer you want to give (looking at your notes) and then begin to answer, rather than answer straight away without knowing where you’re going with it. If you need to pause to think, try not to say “ummm” or “hmmmm”, just look away or to your notes and visibly look pensive. That sounds awkward, but just practice it right now as if you’ve been asked a question. Don’t you come across as more collected, professional and composed, as opposed to saying “ummm” or looking panicked that you need to answer quick? If you need to break the silence, say something along the lines of “Ooh [in genuine intrigue], I have a couple of examples, I just need to think which one is most relevant” and take a sip of water to buy time. Aim for pauses for no longer than 5 or 6 seconds – any longer and it becomes awkward for the interviewers.
- Don’t be afraid to mess up. As above, you’re not aiming for a flawless performance so you’re allowed to stumble over your words or lose your train of thought. If this happens, hold your hands up and admit it. Make a light joke out of it and say you’ll start again! The interviewers will know you’re going to be nervous so it’s expected. If you do make a mistake, the only thing that will make it worse is by trying to cover it up or blag your way out of it. If the interviewers know you’ve made a mistake and then watch you flounder in an attempt to recover, it makes for awkward viewing. Ease the tension by admitting it, joke about it, and just move on.
Finally, remember the interviewer is selfish. Their reputation is at stake by hiring the perfect candidate for the role and organisation, so while they may be as impressed with your accomplishments as you are, this alone won’t get you the role. They want to know how your unique set of skills and experience that you alone possess will impact the organisation and whether or not they can see your accomplishments carry over into this new role. As you should have done with your CV (check out this article I wrote about writing a CV with impact), this is all about highlighting what you can do in the context of the specific role you’ve applied for and the tasks you’ll be asked to do. See it as a sales pitch – a salesperson lists the qualities of a product; a good salesperson explains how these qualities will benefit a specific consumer. Explain to the interviewer how your qualities will benefit them.
It’s OK to feel nervous about an interview – most exciting ventures begin with nerves anyway! But controlling your nerves means that you can keep calm and collected in the interview, giving you the assurance that you gave it your best shot.
Good luck with your interview!
Have you picked up any other tips along the way to feel more confident in interviews? I’d love to hear them on Twitter and LinkedIn (links at the bottom of the webpage)!