Interviews: Don't Forget Your Clean Handkerchief

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OK jobseekers. I won't torment you with the latest HR-speak regarding interviews. You're all grown-ups, bright and articulate, and will have done your homework, researched the company, prepared your answers to the standard questions of the day...

...but there are a few little extras that Jane-in-Nanny-mode might be able to help you with. Some of it is self-evident, some of it isn't - but it's all designed to give you every advantage when facing interviewers.

Recruiters tell me that some of the best candidates don't get the job because of the unspoken messages they send. Interviews at best are likely to be subjective (we all want to hire someone we like/who is like us). It's often what you don't say and what your person and demeanor trumpets about you that can make the difference between a job offer and staying in the also-ran category.

Be Clean:

I spend a lot of my time scrubbing down grubby children. Human hygiene is thus dear to my heart. I have been known - on occasion - to soak my dirt-magnet son in mild detergent (does wonders for the toenail area).

Most grown-ups know the importance of being spruce and tidy, but there's the odd one out there in need of a nudge: Shower. Wash your hair. If necessary, buy a keg of Head 'n Shoulders to make sure your suit doesn't look like the first snowfall on Manhattan. Clean and cared-for nails (alright, we'll forgive you if you bite - Wall Street's a stressful place, after all).

Shine your shoes. Tatty footwear is a dead giveaway for slovenliness - not a trait you want to flag to a future employer.

Smart attire is the rule at interview. If your suit's rumpled and your shirt's un-ironed or iffy round the collar, you're unlikely to impress as much as the dapper individual coming next.

Be Straight:

Don't slouch, standing or sitting. Think Marines. Slumped posture indicates defeat and dejection. If you're male, don't sprawl in your chair either - it gives the impression that you don't give a damn. If you're female, cross your legs at the ankles. (crossed at the knee pulls up your skirt - it's your brain you want them to be interested in, not the curviness of your calves).

Shoulders straight (not back - you don't want to look like you've swallowed a poker). If you imagine you have a badge on your sternum saying "I'm The One" you'll get it about right.

Breathe Easy:

A few deep breaths before the interview should help slow your pulse rate and stop your vocal cords tightening up (squeaky is not good). Under pressure your mouth can dry up and smell like the insole of a fisherman's duck boot.

Chewing gum is not the answer - you don't want to look like a ruminant. If you have stubborn halitosis, try breath freshening spray, or one of those 'gumless' gums. You don't want to be talking out of the corner of your mouth to minimise the ghastly blast.

Avoid curry, coffee, garlic - all the usual suspects - before an interview. Alcohol ain't good, either, for obvious reasons. Fizzy water can make you hiccup and/or burp - plain is best if you're thirsty.

Be Direct:

Eye contact. Modesty and casting your eyes down can make you look shifty and uncertain. Eyeball the guys. Throughout the interview. Speak directly to your interviewer(s) and make eye contact at every question.

If your baby blues are the mirror of the soul you want them to be working for you, not against you. If you blink a lot when under pressure, make a conscious effort to hold your interviewer's gaze for a few seconds before you succumb. Don't stare. Or glare.

Be Dry:

Sweaty palms through nervousness? Try a surreptitious wipe on the trouser or skirt before you proffer your hand. Aim for a firm grip: flaccid, 'dead fish' handshakes are an instant turn-off. Don't bone-crush; this is not an arm-wrestling tournament.

Engage mega antiperspirants if you go into meltdown mode under pressure. If you're likely to get very pink and sweaty, visit a bathroom before your meeting and splash yourself off with cold water. If you're a terminal case (and there isn't a handy ablution spot) take some facial wipes and swipe yourself before you hit the reception area.

Be Keen:

I've interviewed a number of people over the years. It still comes as a surprise to me just how many of them are in a rush to describe what they can't do and who don't transmit their desire for the job. Don't be one of them!

Outline your skills and abilities. Demonstrate why you would be a valued member of the team. Let it be known that you would adore the chance to show them what you can do. If you want the job, say so. (Don't sound desperate, though).

Be Grateful:

Thank your interviewer(s) and shake hands on departure. Follow up the same day. Remind them why you believe you're the best person for the job. Send an email or a letter (better than voicemail). Thank them for their time, and the opportunity they gave you to come and talk. If there were any questions you couldn't answer during the interview, take this opportunity and answer them now. Tell them you want the job. You'd be surprised how few do this, simply waiting for the interviewer to get back to them.

It makes sense to keep the memory of your interview performance uppermost in their minds. Don't harass your interviewer or HR for an immediate response following your initial email or letter - wait a week and make a phone call. If they haven't responded by then, it's reasonable to assume you'll have to look elsewhere. Regard the exercise as good practice in honing your interview technique.

Give yourself every chance of making a good impression. I read somewhere that the first ninety seconds of an interview decides whether or not you succeed, or get dumped into the 'Not today, thanks', bin. Let that minute and a half advertise your good points. Good luck.

And don't forget the clean handkerchief...

Jane welcomes feedback and guarantees complete confidentiality to anyone who wishes to discuss employment issues with her: jcarruthers@efinancialcareers.com.

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