Confessions of an Interviewer – The all time biggest interview mistakes.

As a Recruiter of almost 15 years, I thought I’d share some of the all time biggest interview mistakes I’ve seen.  The fact is that people do tend to get nervous during an interview situation.  Why?  Because they are out of their comfort zone, doing something out of the norm, maybe something they haven’t done for years.  Even if they have prepared for the interview, there are still things they can say or do on the day, which may go against them.  I’ve encountered some real experiences in my time, so here are just a few to share with you:

1. BO – Yes Body Odour!  Would you believe that an interview candidate would turn up for their interview without being washed properly?  Would you believe they would turn up in clothes that they have worn for a week, or even longer?  I’ve interviewed many candidates with this problem.  The one that sticks in my mind the most was when I was sitting in the office one day, and my nose glands started to twitch.  I looked up and could not see anything out of the ordinary, so carried on working.  The smell got stronger & stronger, until I ventured down to the reception area, to see a candidate waiting for interview in a scruffy old t-shirt & jeans.  Clearly he had brought the eye watering odour in with him.  I asked him to accompany me to an interview room, (bad idea).  I spoke to him very politely and tactfully about the issue, to which he replied, “It’s the drains outside – not me” He was not even aware that it was he, that had stunk the whole office out for the rest of the day!  I gave him a chance to go home and address the problem, to which he did.  He never came back.  So listen up: If you’re going for an interview, shower properly, and put on fresh, clean clothes!

2. Smoker’s Breath – Another horrible thing for an interviewer to endure.  The smell of a smoker’s breath to a non-smoker is indescribable.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to sit and interview a candidate, who had one last fag, before they come in for their all important interview.  They haven’t even tried to hide it, or compensate by having a chewing gum.  So here is a tip for all you smokers.  DON’T have a cigarette just before your interview.  Your breath stinks! 

3. Bad Attitude – Ok so you’re there to make a good impression – right?  Of course you are.  So don’t sit there with an attitude problem.  Don’t give one word answers, or the impression you couldn’t care a less if you get the job or not.  Believe it or not I’ve seen this time and time again.  You’re there to sell yourself, to create that all important great first impression, (after you’ve given a fantastic CV, and smile when you greeted your interviewer).  See my earlier blog on ‘How to create a great first impression’.  So be polite, courteous, happy – look interested, and don’t try and be a smart alec.  Believe me if you do, you won’t get a call back.

4. Over confidence – Now then, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of confidence, in fact even a lot of confidence.  It’s paramount that you are confident.  Confidence is everything in life, especially in interview situations.  However, be careful!  There is a very fine line between confidence and cockiness.  Employers won’t warm to over-confident, or cocky characters.  The show-off, the boaster, the know it all.  You need to be able to show that you have that confidence, without coming across as a bighead.  So reel it in a little, by all means highlight your past successes, but in a humble way, and without ego.  I’ve interviewed candidates who claim to be fantastic sales people, but when asked to define the word ‘sales’, they couldn’t give an answer.  So just take care to get the confidence balance right.

5. Silly answers – I have to tell you about my all time favourite silly answer, I was doing a telephone interview, with a candidate who was applying for a telesales position.  I asked him what would be the ‘3 words’ that would describe him most.  And what did he say?  I bet you’re thinking “Ambitious – confident – enthusiastic” Or “motivated, energetic & positive”  Unfortunately not, his response was a response I never thought I’d hear in my lifetime.  He came out with the unforgettable words “I AM MINT”.  I still laugh about it even to this day.  Think before you speak, rehearse your answers, be ready, and prepared with an intelligent answer every time.

6. Dress sense – A certain situation springs to mind in relation to dress sense.  I telephone interviewed a candidate and she sounded very confident, outgoing, polite.  She had a great attitude, and I had high hopes for her so invited her in to see me for a face to face interview.  I was expecting this smart, dynamic, well presented young lady to walk through the door.  My expectations were slightly incorrect when she turned up in a shell suit, trainers, and fingernails bit down to the wood, so much so that they were actually bleeding.  Biting your fingernails is a definite no-no.  So if you’ve got an interview coming up, get your mitt’s on for a week.  And obviously don’t come in a shell suit or trainers.  Smart business attire at all times if you want to create a good impression!

7. Alcohol – Whatever you do, don’t have a pint before your interview.  Yes people do it believe it or not.  And definitely don’t have a skin full the night before.  It is a known fact that alcohol affects your concentration.  You will not be able to focus properly on the day, therefore reducing your chances of getting the job.  Make sure you have an alcohol free night, and a good night’s sleep. 

8. The Chatterbox – It’s good to talk – Yes?  Yes it is, but only when your interviewer prompts you to do so.  I interviewed a very nice lady once, I introduced myself, and before I could say another thing, she jumped in with “I’ll just give you a little bit background information about myself”.  Twenty minutes later I had to very politely stop her, as she was three quarters of the way through her CV, and I hadn’t written even written her name down on the interview card.  Don’t fly off on a tangent.  Your interviewer wants to control the interview.  Speak only when asked and keep your answers 3 to 4 concise sentences.  Then STOP, and wait until your next opportunity to give a great answer.

9. Lying – If you lie on your CV, you will get caught out at some point.  If you lie in your interview the same will happen.  Honesty really is the best policy.  Keep your CV, and interview answers factual at all times.  One of my candidates went for final interview with a future employer, and was interviewed by 2 people separately.  Unfortunately he gave two very different sets of answers to each interviewer, therefore placing doubt in their minds.  Guess what – He was rejected.  Tell the truth at all times!

10. Don’t Swear – Ok so it’s the job of the interviewer to make you feel at ease, to make you feel relaxed and comfortable at the start of the interview.  But not so comfortable that you think it’s ok to swear.  One of the most common errors during an interview is when a candidate swears!  I interviewed one guy who was working on a temporary basis on a building site.  He had come from an executive property background, but because he was working on a building site, he said the ‘F’ word 4 times during the interview!!  It’s never going to be OK to swear, so just don’t do it.  Even if you think it’s a soft swear word, do yourself a favour and steer clear.  Replace it with a nice word and give yourself every chance of landing that all important, dream job.

11. Don’t slate previous employer’s – Another all time classic that candidates fail on.  Whatever you do, do not say anything negative about your last employer, manager, or work colleagues.  It will automatically go against you.  I interviewed a gentleman who worked in a sports shoe shop.  For 45 minutes he did nothing but name call & disrespect his current manager.  He was so negative about everything to do with his current employment, there was no way he was going to find a new job with that attitude.  Always say something polite and respectful about your current, or previous employment.  Employers don’t want to hear you being negative.

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Top Ten Interview Tips

Hello folks, and welcome to this weeks blog.  Over a 15 year period I’ve interviewed in excess of 3000 candidates from a wealth of different sectors, from junior to senior level, factory worker to Sales Director.  IT analyst to Head Chef, all different kinds of individuals with different styles and attitudes.

For this week’s blog I’d like to give you some top tips on creating a great first impression with your interviewer and setting yourself up as one of the top candidates in the running to land that all important job.  It’s a very difficult market at the moment.  You’ve got senior managers with 20 years experience struggling to get back to work after being made redundant.  Really experienced people who are not able to get back on the work ladder, but not quite sure why, or don’t know what they are doing wrong with their job applications.  There are also record numbers of people in the UK unemployed with not as many jobs available as there once was.

If you look at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle which once had over 2000 jobs a week available, I saw a copy last week and there was only 360 jobs in that edition.  So candidates you are going to have to get smart and make you and your application stand out from the crowd.

Here are some tips to get you started, (there will be more to follow weekly in future blogs):

1. Following on from last week’s blog, Is your CV up to scratch?  If it’s not, then it will go in the ‘No’ pile before you know it and you will receive a ‘Thanks but no thanks’ letter.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a professional looking CV.  As I said above, some people don’t know why they are being rejected all the time.  A poor CV is the first reason you will not be offered an interview, (see my earlier blog on how to write a professional CV).  Make sure that you know your CV back to front, there is nothing more embarrassing than being asked a question about your own CV, and being stuck for an answer.  You must know every inch of your CV and be prepared for any question relating to it.

2. Research the company – Prior to your interview do as much research as you can.  Google the company, make notes on their product, service, location, structure, anything you can find.  Go over it again and again so that when you attend the interview, you know all about the company, and you are able to present back to your interviewer, exactly what you know.  Your interviewer will be more than impressed if you have done your homework and you know all about the company.  When I interview a candidate via the telephone, I ask them to prepare exactly what they know about the company and the role they are applying for, prior to the actual face to face interview.  If they turn up on the day and don’t know a thing, I know they have not made the effort to do the research.  On the other hand, If a candidate arrives and he/she has done the research and is able to tell me all about the company and the role, I know they are serious about their application and it is a tick in the box, creating a positive feeling towards the candidate’s application.

3. OK so great news, you’ve been offered an interview! What next?  Dress to Impress!  Have you ever watched Dragon’s Den when someone turns up in a pair of jeans and Peter Jones tears strips off them?  It’s the same for an interview, any interview!  If you are signing up with a recruitment company, they will interview you as professionally as anyone else, (they have to due to legislation and for their own credibility in the industry).  So wear a suit!  Make sure you look and feel great.  I’ve had really good sounding candidates on the telephone, turn up in shell suits, jeans or trainers, and create a poor first impression because they haven’t made an effort to look well presented. 

4 Breathing– Just before you meet your interviewer, it is important that you try and settle your nerves.  Breathing correctly will help you do this.  Take a deep breath, and breathe out slowly through your diaphragm, for as long as you can.  Repeat this as you wait until you feel yourself calm down.  This will also regulate the pitch and tone of your voice.  Nervousness can make your breathing erratic and make the sound of your voice high pitched, so ensure you breathe correctly so that when you start talking, your voice is at the perfect pitch and tone.

5. Meeting your interviewer – The first time you meet your interviewer it is vital that you create a great first impression.  And how do you do this? SMILE!  Dale Carnegie wrote a whole chapter on this in ‘How to win friends and influence people’.  If you smile, they will smile back and bingo, you’re off on the right foot!  The handshake is also very important.  You must give a firm handshake with palms touching, not so hard that you crush your interviewers hand, but not too soft that you give an impression of weakness.  Be careful of a ‘half handshake’ where you only manage to grab the fingers of the other persons hand, again this may mean low self- confidence,  and can be a sign of weakness.  Also try and carry a handkerchief in your pocket so that if your palms are sweaty when you meet your interviewer, you can put your hand in your pocket and dry your palm, just before you shake hands.

6. Eye Contact – As you meet your interviewer ensure you make and maintain eye contact.  If you don’t, again this could be a sign that you are not confident about the interview.  Continue to make eye contact throughout the interview at the appropriate times.  You cannot stare at your interviewer for every second of the interview, but you must use an appropriate amount of eye contact, at the right times.  Focus on the eye/nose section, (also known as the rapport building zone).  I interviewed a gentlemen once who was turned to the side, with his eyes facing the wall for most of the interview.  He barely made any eye contact with me at all.  When I asked him about this at the end of the interview, he wasn’t even aware that he was doing it!

7. Self Confidence– I’ve seen so many candidates, with great experience in the role that they’re applying for, deliver a poor interview on the day, because of low self confidence.  Confidence really is the key to your success!  If you are confident, your interviewer will see this,  and they will have confidence in you also.  They don’t want to hear about why you couldn’t do this or that, your fears or worries.  They want to hear that you CAN! You must maintain a positive approach to your interview and take this job application seriously.  You must tell yourself that you are the best candidate for the role, but above all, you must BELIEVE it!  Take it from me it is a joy to interview a candidate who is self confident.  If you think about it, during your interview you are only talking about yourself.  Who knows you better than you?  That’s right, nobody!  So believe in yourself and portray a confident image.

8. Positive Thinking– During the build up to your interview, make sure you are having positive thoughts.  Remember positive thoughts = positive feelings = positive outcomes.  Negative thoughts = exactly the same, negative outcomes!!  Each morning when you wake up, tell yourself you are the best person for that job.  Say it in your head over and over again.  Then when you go to bed, tell yourself again.  Say it 5 times in your head before you go to sleep, “I am the best candidate for that job, I am confident and will deliver a great interview”  You are planting positive thoughts of confidence and self belief into your sub-conscious.  Just before you meet your interviewer do exactly the same thing.  Whatever you do, don’t allow ANY negative thoughts into your mind.  If a negative thought creeps in, just give it a nudge out with a stronger positive thought.

9 Being a good listener– Yes that’s right, Listening!  You’re probably thinking but I’m here to talk about me, I should be the one doing all the talking, WRONG!  You’re interviewer is the person controlling the interview.  They will have a structure to follow in order to extract as much information about you as they can.  They will give you the opportunity to speak when they say, so use those opportunities wisely.  When asked a question, answer in around 4 or 5 concise sentences.  Don’t go on for 10 or 11 sentences.  Just stick to the facts, again highlighting the positives, then stop.  As an interviewer there is nothing worse than not being able to get a word in edge ways!  Sometimes the interviewer wants to talk so never ever interrupt.  If the interviewer is talking, let them talk, and you listen.  Really listen, don’t just hear, you must digest what is actually being said so that if they fire a question at you, you are ready to give an intelligent, positive answer. 

10. Ask intelligent questions– Prior to the interview, prepare around 4-5 intelligent questions.  Ask some during the interview, but always have at least 3 for the end of the interview.  By intelligent questions I don’t mean “What time is my break?” or “How many days holiday do I get a year?  I mean questions about the role, the company, the training, the infrastructure etc etc.  You need to be genuinely interested in how you are going to fit into the culture of the company.  It needs to be right for you, aswell as for the company.

When your interview is complete, give a firm handshake again and maintain eye contact.  Thank your interviewer for their time, and tell them you look forward to seeing them again soon.  Leave with your head held high knowing you have done everything you could, to land that job!

11.  Ok just like last week here’s a bonus tip.  Body Language – Maintain an open posture.  If you’re sitting with your arms folded or your shoulders dipped, you’re showing signs of discomfort.  Shoulders and back straight, arms by your sides or resting on your knees, square on,  and facing your interviewer.  If they see you having open body language, they should adopt a similar posture and feel comfortable around you, creating a positive start to the interview.

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