In contrast to the usual beauty fodder I serve up, today I have a post for you on a completely different topic, but it’s one which I think I know a lot about. Most of us see the new year as a fresh new start, and for some that means starting a search for a new job. I’ve had various interviews for office jobs in my time, but more often I’m now on the other side of the table doing the grilling, so in collaboration with City Calling who find jobs in construction, I'm offering up my top tips for your next interview!
Perfect your CV
Your CV is your own personal advertisement and cheerleader, it’s what makes the difference between getting selected for an interview and not hearing back. Make sure you highlight all of your best experience and skills in a concise and punchy way. Keep it brief and to the point but make sure you’re not selling yourself short - if you don’t mention an important skill or piece of experience you have, you might not get the chance go into more detail in an interview.
Don’t lie on your CV – you might want to focus on the best aspects of your career and skills and detract from weaker areas, but making up grades, extending how long you worked somewhere or covering up something you think an employer won’t like are all things which could end up causing you to lose the job you worked so hard to get. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and I really do believe that honesty is the best policy here. For example, I know of a girl who bumped up her grades on her CV to make herself look better on paper and lost her job when she was found out. She didn’t lose the job because she didn’t have the right grades – she’d have been offered the job if she’d put her real grades on her CV as they weren’t a specific requirement for the role – she lost it because she’d been dishonest.
Make sure that you know your CV inside out and can answer any questions about it that an interviewer might pose. I’ve been in interviews before where I’ve questioned something on a CV and the candidate has asked me if they can look at my copy to remind them of what they wrote… You know what that tells me? That they didn’t write their CV! It’s okay to get help with your CV, and certainly having someone proofread and check it for you is really important, but it’s your CV and should be the story of your work life, so make sure you know it back to front.
Lastly, don’t rush your CV and leave careless mistakes for potential employers to find. Run the spell check, read and re-read, get someone else to check it all makes sense and make sure it’s all nicely aligned with consistent sizing, fonts, colours etc. Your CV is usually all an employer has to look at in order to judge what your written communication, presentation and attention to detail skills are like – mistakes in your CV can be viewed as if you don’t really care about your career or how you present yourself.
Dress to impress
If you’re going for an interview in a corporate environment, dress the part. You can usually find out a bit about the dress code of the workplace you’re going to for your interview through your recruitment agency, or if you’ve applied directly and don’t have any clues, just dress smartly. You can never be dressed too smartly for an interview in an office environment – even if you’re over-dressed compared to what the employees usually wear, it shows you made a real effort and care about making the right first impression.
If you’re unsure about what’s appropriate to wear, always play it safe. An interview is not the time to try out that blue lipstick, six inch studded killer heels or see-through cropped top. You want to look professional, and to stand out because you're a great candidate, so don't let appearance let you down.
If you look and feel uncomfortable in your clothes it’ll come across in your interview, so the easiest thing to do is keep it simple and smart. Usually the interview is the smartest I’ll ever see an employee dressed, so if they’re looking really scruffy, overly casual or dare I even suggest slutty, I would worry about what they’d turn up for work in!
Be (the best version of) yourself
I’m not suggesting that you should try to be anyone else or put on any false persona, but making an effort to come across well in an interview could make such a difference to your chances of getting the job. The employer is not just buying into the skills and experience you have on your CV, they’re assessing you as a person and deciding how you’ll fit into their team and whether they can work with you. Ideally you want to show that you’re calm, confident and keen through everything you say and do in the interview, including your body language, so no slumping in the chair!
If you can, try to relax and not be too nervous as that can often prevent you from being yourself and coming across in the way you’d like. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview so that you don’t arrive flustered and stressed, but if you’re really early, go for a little walk or get a coffee. Turning up more than 10 – 15 minutes early for an interview can give the impression you have trouble arriving on time just as much as being late!
It's best to avoid negative topics about your past career even if you feel you were in the right - don't slate your last boss, don't make too many jokes and don't swear!
Do your homework
It’s quite likely the interviewer will ask you what you know about the company, so make sure you’ve done your research. Make sure you know what the company does, find out a bit about the industry and their competitors. Having a look around their website and seeing what you can find out about what type of employer they are and their corporate values can all help you to tailor your questions and answers so that you'll come across as if you already fit in.
As an interviewer, little puts me off more than interviewing a candidate who doesn’t seem all that interested in the job. It can be difficult if you’ve been for lots of interviews and have been looking for a job for a long time, but you want to get across to the employer why you want to work for them as well as why they should hire you. Think about what attracted you to the job advert, why you think the company would be a good place to work and other reasons that you think it would work well for you, such as the hours fitting in well with your other commitments, or having a straightforward or short commute. The interviewer will be considering all of these things to not only assess whether you’re suitable for the role, but also whether they think you’ll stay long-term, so giving reassurance on these types of factors should get the points stacking up in your favour.
Prepare and practise
It’s obvious when someone’s unprepared for an interview, especially when they can't answer basic questions about the job they've applied for! Make sure you've fully read and understood the job description and can explain clearly why you're suitable for the role.
There are standard questions that most interviewers will always ask, such as why you left your last job, so make sure you’re expecting these questions and have your answers ready. The difference in quality between an answer you’ve had time to consider and perfect and one you rush off the cuff when feeling under pressure can be huge, and you know which one’s going to be the best answer.
If you’ve not had much experience of being interviewed, or haven’t been to an interview for a long time, get someone to practise with you. This will get you into the habit of talking confidently about yourself and you’ll be able to test out how you come across and get some feedback. If you don’t have anyone to practise with or feel too silly doing that, at least go over some questions and answers by yourself and spend time thinking over your work history, skills and achievements so that it’s all fresh in your mind and ready to flow at the interview.
Be prepared for trick questions too – not all interviewers will be this mean, but some will pose a question where the obvious answer would be a negative one. These types of questions are designed to get you to reveal a weak area you wouldn’t otherwise have talked about. I once asked someone to tell me about their key strengths and once they’d finished reeling them all off, I asked about their weaknesses – they were caught off guard and told me they might be late for work from time to time! I was also once asked in an interview why the employer shouldn’t give me the job – a very tricky question to navigate, but it’s all possible if you prepare.
Consider ahead of time some weaknesses which can also be seen as a positive, for example, being a perfectionist can be seen as both a strength and a weakness. Finding it hard to say no to people is viewed as a weakness, but depending on the type of role it could also show that you’ll be an employee who will do their bit, follow the rules and not cause trouble. Saying that you often take on too much (if it’s true) is also a weakness that can show you in a very good light as someone who’s conscientious and hard working.
Often an interviewer will ask you if you have any questions for them - it's always good to have some questions prepared so that you don't clam up when put on the spot. Not having anything to ask can make it seem like you're not very interested or haven't been paying attention. If you really have nothing to ask and everything you wanted to know has been explained, it's best to say so in a complimentary way - thank the interviewer for explaining everything so clearly and tell them they already covered all of the answers you were looking for.
So lastly, how to answer that fiendish ‘Why shouldn’t I give you this job?’ if you ever find an interviewer cruel enough to ask you! I was asked this years ago in what was one of the first ‘proper’ interviews I’d ever had. I said something along the lines of – if you don’t want someone who’s going to come up with new ideas, work hard and consistently strive to do their best, then don’t give me the job. (I got the job.)
Here’s a list of questions I’ve asked and been asked to get you started – at least a few of these will come up at your next interview for an office job, I promise!
Why did you leave your last job?
What are you looking for in a job and why?
Tell me about yourself...
What motivates you at work? (don’t ever just say money!)
Tell me about a time you had to do something you didn’t agree with and what happened?
Have you ever had any difficulties working with others in a team?
What’s your greatest achievement?
What is it about this job which made you want to apply?
Why should we give you this job?
Why shouldn’t we give you this job?
What are your key strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
What would your last boss say about you?
Where do you see yourself in two / five / ten years’ time?