I’d be lying if I said interviews were enjoyable. Well, half lying. Depends on the interviewer, of course. Sometimes you click with someone the minute you meet, perhaps as you walk up the stairs to their office or as you sit down in the windowless room. Other times, your attempts of breaking the ice fall so flat that you wonder why you’re even there at all.
We’ve all been there.
I once had an interview where the employer disagreed with everything I said. Everything. Needless to say, she didn’t call back. And I’m delighted she didn’t.
No two interviews are the same. Some are informal chats about you and what you like to do, others are panel style, more formal events, where you’re being grilled on your knowledge of KPIs, UPTs, company information and the sorts. They differ where you live and what you apply for.
Retail jobs seem to be more interested in you as a person, office jobs tend to be interested in what knowledge and skills you could bring. I found American interviews a lot more situation-based, ie, “what would you do in X”, “what would you do if Y”. Irish employers like to know what you know about their service or product. But it’s not just limited to that.
I’ve had several interviews over the course of my career history and I really think knowing what the interviewer wants goes a long way. I don’t mean changing yourself to be a carbon copy of the reps you see for the company but more, what kind of person you are and if you suit what they are looking for.
The primary role of the interviewer is to make sure the candidate is comfortable enough so that they can best show off their skills. Making things awkward doesn’t help the interviewee demonstrate their skills and the employer may be losing out on a potential candidate. So, in case you anticipate a bad (or good) interview, I’ve tried to collect some fundamental basics that should help you through those 40 minutes or so.
This isn’t the fool-proof, definitive guide but simply what works for me:
Research the company and the role
This is probably the most important thing to do. You’d be surprised at how many people walk into an interview having no knowledge of what they’re getting into. Worse still, they have the totally wrong information about the product. Your aim before you walk through those doors is to know the product well. Know it in a way a customer would. Research the product, where it is made, where else it is sold, what kind of people buy it (gender, age demographic, etc), what is their best seller. When I say ‘product’, I also mean brand or service. At the end of the day, all companies are selling something, whether it be physical such as electronics (like Apple), a reputation like reliable reporting (ie, newspaper), or a service like waitressing.
Pick out your favourite product. For example, I had an interview with a clothing concession who asked me for my favourite line the company ever did.
Research the role you are preparing for, even if it is sales assistant, and research the kind of questions you could possibly be asked. I find glassdoor.ie great for this. It’s full of reviews by other people who have been interviewed by different companies and often includes previous questions asked, what the process was like, and how long it took, etc.
If you can, locate where your interview will be. If it’s in a shop or restaurant, visit it. Interact with the sales assistants/hosts etc if you can, get a feel of what the job is like, what kind of personality they have, what’s involved, etc. It’ll go a long way for preparation.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
First impressions matter here. You need to dress for the job you want. Of course, don’t rock up in jeans and a t-shirt (unless that’s the company’s policy, and even then, it’s a push) but try to take a high-class variant on what the dress code is. In other words, dress one level above the code. In other words, dress to succeed. Polish your shoes, make sure your clothes fit. Don’t wear high heels if they wreck you or make you slightly clumsy. You’ll be sitting down for most of the time and the interviewer can’t see your legs.
At the very least, arrive on time. Personally, I like arriving that little bit earlier so that whoever hiring can see your commitment to punctuality and your interest in the position. (I sometimes find saying, “I know I’m a bit early but I was looking forward to it” helps. Often hiring managers are delighted to see you early so that they can finish up early).
If you’re asked a question you don’t know the immediate answer to, don’t babble. Jumping in with a half-formed answer is worse than giving a few moments for a well thought-out one. It shows that you are organised, think things through, and give weighted importance. If you feel as though things aren’t going well, you may not be totally correct. I had a phone interview that I was convinced I completely botched, laughing about it to my friends at how embarrassing I was, and three days later, I was offered a store interview from that same company. Pretend as though it’s going swimmingly and just keep pushing through.
Eye contact means you mean business. It shows that you are comfortable with facing people head on, you are determined, and in a way, dominant (no jokes pls). You’re not afraid to take control. Candidates with wandering eyes give off the impression that they are too nervous to interact with you, and this is not appealing, especially if this candidate wants to work with you for the foreseeable future. What they see is what the customer will see so if you don’t give off a good vibe, you probably won’t be asked back. If in doubt, look at the bridge of their nose. It’s bang in the centre of their eyes, and gives you a firm focus to hold on to.
Talk and Body Language
Don’t just chatter your way through it. Speak clearly and concisely and slow down. Again, this helps you come across as refined, confident, and a no-nonsense kind of person. Enunciate your words, even if they are simple ones, you don’t need lavish words to get a job. Keep an open appearance when seated or standing. Don’t fold your arms, keep your arms a width apart. This will make you look approachable which is particularly important in the retail industry.
A fantastic way to demonstrate that you mean business is the simple question “do you have any questions for me?”. Instead of shrugging for an answer, here are a few that show that you’re more than interested in the wage (and possible discounts).
What’s the best thing about working here?
What is a typical day like?
Is there any room for progression in the company?
What are your daily sales goals?
Is there anything on my CV/resume that you’d like me to clarify?
What kind of person is your ideal candidate?
When can I start? (Cheeky, I know but shows the interviewer that you’re still interested in the position and that you’re eager. It also helps you find out when roughly they will let you know the outcome).
The ‘Thank You’
Email them a thank you note. I know it sounds very corny and… American… but it works. A simple ‘thank you for considering me, I look forward to hearing from you’ and one or two lines about what you talked about in your interview, goes a very long way. An employer is more likely to remember you if you acknowledge what you discussed with them and continue to express an interest.
There is no point worrying about what you said, should have said, or didn’t say. You might have perfected the answer in your head and botched it at the time but the interviewer doesn’t know that. If you can say that you came across as yourself, then it’s a successful interview. If you don’t get a call back, think of it as practice. Each interview gives you a chance to hone in your one-to-one skills, so they are never wasted.
I’ve had a few interviews where I was positive they went badly only to have a phone call a few days later offering me the job. You may think you’re crap but you’re probably the best candidate they had all day.