If you browse the internet it wont be hard to find dozens of generic tips on how to behave in an interview. But as with all social interactions, trends in interviewing are changing. Managers are tired of hearing the pre-prepared scripts on why you would be the perfect candidate for the position. They want to see the real you and understand your genuine motivations for changing job. In today’s competitive environment, already many people have the academics and work experience, but that won’t set you apart from the crowd. The best advice is to just be yourself.
The most crucial tip to performing well in an interview is to be a nice person and first impressions count. When you walk into the building, smile at the receptionist and be friendly and courteous to staff as you are directed to the interview room. The golden rule is to always arrive 8 minute early and make sure you are not sweaty or smelling of coffee or cigarettes. Wait patiently until the interviewer arrives and smile, smile, smile!
It is perfectly acceptable to ask for something to drink for during the interview. A friend of mine always would ask for a cup of coffee during an interview, only to tell the manager that the coffee tasted like shit. This was his strategy to demonstrate he had confidence and the ability to speak with seniors on any subject. I would not recommend this tactic as you might come across as being arrogant or unappreciative of the office staff. Rather, use your beverage to help breakup any awkward silences or to regulate your speech to ensure you pause, if you have a tendency to talk too much.
The next important tip is to stay calm. Don’t let nerves get to you but try to answer all the interview questions as honestly as you can to demonstrate you are genuine. If you are applying to jobs that are aligned to your motivations, you have nothing to hide. Managers will also be assessing whether you are a good cultural fit, so by being direct and perhaps sharing some personal stories, you will show that you have a personality and are a real human being. If the interviewer does not appreciate your honesty, then it probably means you were not the right fit for the organisation anyway.
Now what do you do if you are just desperate and you are willing to take any job, regardless of your longer term goals? Then being too honest might not be the right tact. In that case, your best strategy will be to give detailed answers. Managers like to ask competency-based questions to see if you have good judgment, can problem solve or have the necessary attributes to succeed. If you give generic answers, it will result in a series of follow up questions. Whilst it is good to have a dialogue going, you don’t want to make the manager work too hard to extract the necessary information. Provide examples that set the scene, describe the situation, outline the actions you took and summarise the outcome. The more detail you give, the more expert you will sound. Just don’t stray off topic or provide more context than is necessary, as nobody wants to hear an epic either.
My last advice is the follow up note. There is a lot of debate on whether you should follow up with the manager directly after an interview. In the US, it is quite common that candidates will send a personal card or hand written letter in the post. Whilst the personal touch is nice, this can be interpreted very differently in Europe or Asia and in fact, you could come across as creepy. The safest approach is to email the manager two days later thanking them for their time and conveying your interest in the role. But do not ask about next steps, at it could come across as desperate. And keep it simple, people are too busy to read your essay.
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