They’re potentially nerve-wracking, stressful and generally not a lot of fun. But a job interview could mean you’re one step away from that dream job or at least a little bit closer to fulfilling your career ambitions. To mark National Careers Week, Lynne Johnson, Student Services Manager (Careers) at the OU, talks about things NOT to do in an interview…
Creating a good first impression is really important and a handshake, lack of eye contact or a slumping in a chair after calling them the wrong name won’t help you here. It takes just 30 seconds to create an impression so start on the right foot. “Make good eye contact with all the panel members, not just the one leading the interview – but try not to stare. Body language is important so keep it open, don’t slump, and remember to smile,” says Lynne. “By the time you’ve sat down they’ll probably already have an opinion of you and if you give a bad first impression you’ll have to spend the rest of the interview proving them wrong. Start with a positive impression and you won’t have an uphill battle.”
2) Don’t tell the panel about your favourite childhood scooter or that you have a dog called Marley
Open questions like ‘tell me about yourself’ can catch people out – this isn’t an opportunity to tell your life history but to put across the key points you want the interview panel to remember about you. Use these questions to highlight your skills and experience in a more personal way. Lynne says: “This is something you can easily prepare beforehand, so tell them something about yourself but in a way that’s relevant to the organisation and role you’re applying for. Don’t tell them about your favourite childhood scooter or that you have a dog called Marley. Keep it relevant.”
It’s good interview prep to arm yourself with three key points to get across – an easy number for you to remember during the interview and easy for the panel to remember too. “Think of your best selling points and get them across in these open questions. Communicate your experience in… your particular strength in… and the excellent results you achieved in… to demonstrate why you’re ideal for the role.”
This is all part of making a good impression. You don’t always have to wear a suit, says Lynne: “It depends on the organisation and I’d recommend more formal than less formal, and on the conservative side. This isn’t a time to whip out the bright red jacket with the large collar. Loud clothing, low cut tops, excessive jewellery all distract the interviewer from what you’re saying and you want to make an impression with your words rather than your clothes,” she says.
Ideally you want to walk into an interview looking like you already work there. If unsure, you can call the organisation beforehand to check dress code or park up outside the office building at home time to see employees leaving. You’ll want to look like one of them when you have your interview.
4) Never ask when you’ll get a pay rise
In fact, don’t ask about salary full stop in an interview. It’s not a good idea to jump straight in and ask about holidays, pensions and pay rises at the end of your interview and it doesn’t leave much room for negotiation if you’re successful. Lynne says: “Wait until they offer you the job, then ask about salary and as you’ll be in a better position to negotiate a good package. If you need to know approximate salary, call and ask before you apply to save the hassle of a wasted application.”
Do ask questions though – you’re there to find out about them too and this is particularly useful if you’re in a position to choose between two job offers. Ask about opportunities for training and mentoring, what you’ll be doing in your first week, and who you’ll be working with.
Interviews can be nerve-wracking and it’s easy to let jitters get in the way. But you don’t want to come across as scared or dull and boring, so selling your personality is key. “A sense of humour is allowed in an interview and it’s fine to say no to a glass of water because you’re so nervous you might drop it,” says Lynne. “The panel will already have a good idea of your skills, experience and qualifications before you attend an interview. At this point they’re checking you out as a person to see if they like you and think they can work with you. So sell your personality, be visibly interested, enthusiastic and excited about the job you’re applying for.”
6) Avoid blathering on. And on. And on. And on. And on…
Sometimes interview questions can be complicated and it’s easy to lose your thread or keep talking. Just focus on the question you’ve been asked, and be confident enough to take notes during the interview so you can write the question down and answer in two parts if it’s complex. Don’t be afraid to ask the panel member to repeat the question or ask for a minute to think; this is perfectly acceptable. “If you’ve come to a natural conclusion and the panel members aren’t saying anything, don’t waffle on wildly,” says Lynne, “just ask them if they want clarification on anything or would like you to expand or give an example. Don’t be tempted to keep filling that silence.”
7) Don’t overcomplicate a matter that doesn’t need to be complicated by thinking about very complicated things
When asked to give examples of your work, remember the interview panel is looking for your action – what you did, how you handled it – and not the level of project you were working on at the time. So, when asked to explain a difficult decision you had to make, they want to know how you handled the scenario, not what the actual scenario was. “People panic and think ‘have I got a good enough example?’ but the scenario isn’t the key thing, it’s the actions and choices you made. You just need the confidence to communicate what you did. People make decisions all the time in their work and if you’re really good at it, it might not seem that difficult. Forget the word ‘difficult’ and focus on decisions you probably make all the time,” says Lynne.
- Thinking of a new career? Find out why an Open University qualification says 'employ me'
- You can follow the OU's Careers and Employability team on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn
- OpenLearn has this useful toolkit for anyone wanting to get back into science, technology, engineering or mathematics
- Want to succeed in the workplace? Try this free course