Finally sitting down for your first interview can be stressful with an array of conflicting emotions, pressures, and concerns. You want to make a good impression on a personal level, but you also recognise the importance of reassuring your potential employer that you have the necessary skills, attributes and qualifications for the job.
Fortunately, in some respects you have already done a lot of the work by completing your application effectively enough to have been invited for an interview in the first place.
Essentially, therefore, one of the main purposes of your interview is to assure the interviewer that the information you have given them in your CV and application form is truthful.
Assuming that they are convinced of this, your interviewer’s next priority will be to get a more detailed idea of your character, your skills, and whether you have the potential to fit into their business or organisation in a more general and long term sense.
The good news is that there are a number of tried and tested techniques which will help you ensure that their assessment of you will be as favourable as possible.
Be punctual but don’t arrive too early
Clearly, arriving late for an interview would be extremely unwise for anyone with a serious intention of being hired for the job in question. As the candidate, it is your responsibility to plan effectively enough to ensure that this does not happen. Think carefully about how you are going to travel to your interview, and how long your journey is likely to take.
However, while it is essential to arrive for your interview in good time, it is also necessary to avoid arriving too early. Ideally, you should arrive around five minutes before your interview is due to start, the absolute maximum being around ten minutes. This is because the interviewer will most likely have a schedule in their mind of how their day is going to run and if you arrive outside of this, it will disrupt that and most likely annoy them.
Dress smartly – regardless of company dress code
You might feel a little out of place if your interview is at an office with a casual dress code and you’re wearing a business suit or a formal work outfit, but it is far better to be overdressed than to look scruffy. Quite simply, try to look your best, and pay attention to details such as freshening your breath and ensuring that your finger nails are clean and tidy.
Focus on what makes you unique
You will not be the only person being interviewed for the job, so your interviewer is going to be looking for attributes which set you apart from the rest. Given this, anything that could make you stand out such as a specific skill or an unusual achievement could go a long way towards distinguishing you from the competition.
As a note of caution, avoid placing too much emphasis on the content of your university degree. While educational qualifications are important, the content of your course was not your responsibility, so it has little relevance to your own skillset or abilities. Additionally, other applicants are likely to have completed a similar course, so going into detail about your own studies is unlikely to set you apart.
Prepare answers in advance
While it is impossible to predict exactly how your potential employer will approach the interview process, there are a number of key questions which are highly likely to come up.
Some common interview questions include:
- Why are you leaving your current role?
- What was your greatest achievement in your previous role?
- How did you handle difficulties in your previous role?
- Why do you want to join the company?
- What could you bring to the role advertised?
- What makes you stand out from other candidates for the role?
Give some thought to all of these, and any other issues with a particular relevance to the job you have applied for. Also, be careful to resist the temptation to be critical about a previous employer, as this will inevitably reflect badly on you.
Show an interest in the company, and ask questions
Showing an interest in the job by asking thoughtful, relevant questions about the role and the company more generally is always advisable. Asking questions can also be a good opportunity to indirectly highlight your knowledge about the industry, for example by asking about a specific software package which only someone with knowledge of the industry would know about. More specifically, asking a question along the lines of “Do you have any doubts about how suitable I would be for the role?” shows confidence, and could enable you to address any issues head on.
On a practical note, some quick tips which are always worth bearing in mind when preparing for a first interview are as follows:
- Bring a printed copy of your CV which your interviewer can refer to at their convenience
- Begin the interview in a confident, energetic, and enthusiastic manner – statistics show that employers decide whether or not to employ an applicant within five minutes of meeting them, so a strong first impression is vital
- Be aware of body language by maintaining eye-contact, giving a firm handshake, not slouching, and speaking clearly
- Send a brief thank you note after attending the interview – this will show courtesy, and could remind the interviewer of the favourable impression you made at the interview
In summary, the key points to remember in order to ensure that you make a good impression at your first interview are to prepare in advance, arrive at the right time, and give the appearance of being a serious candidate for the role.
Additionally, takes steps to show that you are genuinely interested in the job, have a good depth of knowledge about the industry, and have the potential to develop into the role and within the company.