Top 5 Most Overlooked Conventions of the Interview

21 July by Miriam Heale


Searching for a new role can be a challenging experience, even in the candidate led, technical and engineering markets where the skills gap is significant. Whilst vacancies in these professions don’t attract hundreds of applicants, getting to the interview stage can take time due to the specific requirements of the role.

When you’re shortlisted for interview, preparation is everything; however this goes beyond the obvious re-reading of the job spec.  Here are our top five most overlooked (and unspoken) conventions of the interview:

1. First Impressions Count

This may seem glaringly obvious, but it’s so important to get that first moment right. This starts at home with the right outfit. Always dress formally, even if you’re told not to, as a show of respect to the company and the person interviewing you.

Men should be in a suit and tie. Experts suggest that an overly funky tie or shirt pattern can count against the interviewer as it can be misconstrued as attention seeking or arrogance. Keep things classic and avoid bright or lurid colours.

Women get a slightly more flexibility. Etiquette suggests either plain trousers or a knee length skirt, ideally as part of a suit. Tops should be plain with a complimenting colour in the form of a scarf or other accessory. Overtly dressy outfits, short skirts, low cut tops or overly high heels are all considered in appropriate for an interview, even if the attire around the office suggests otherwise.

Jewellery for men and women should be kept to a minimum and be tasteful.

Meet your interviewer with a firm handshake, a smile and look them in the eye. Rightly or wrongly, a lot can be interpreted by your handshake. Too weak and you could be considered too passive, disinterested or submissive. Too strong and you’re making a physical challenge or you’re arrogant. Your handshake should be firm enough to feel tight but comfortable, not tight enough that joints pop. If you see the interviewer wince, you should probably turnaround and leave.

2. Follow Their Lead

In any other social situation it would be perfectly acceptable for you to take your jacket off or cross your legs during the course of a conversation, but doing so in an interview before your interviewer does so, is a faux pas. It’s interpreted as presumptive and a show of over familiarity.

The safest approach is to mimic your interviewer’s body language. If they relax in their seat and cross their legs, you are free to do so. If they are not wearing a suit jacket or take their jacket off, take that as a sign that it is okay for you to do so too. Although if it’s unbearably hot and you’re feeling suffocated, then the appropriate thing to do is ask if you can take your jacket off. The answer will almost always be yes, but the show of deference will be appreciated.

Finally, read the room. Whilst your interviewer may appear incredibly relaxed, only relax your own posture if you feel the interview is going exceptionally well. Even then it still may be safer to retain an attentive posture.

3. Be Prepared

Allow yourself some time a few nights before the interview to thoroughly prepare yourself. Read up on the company history, the role, the person interviewing, where possible and any high profile clients they may have.

Review your CV so you can, if asked, recite your employment history. It’s unlikely but it does happen and is as much a test of honesty as memory.

Moreover, try to identify questions you may be asked. If there is a gap in your employment history, prepare an appropriate explanation. If you have achieved sales targets or a high percentage growth in productivity you will be asked how you achieved it.

Being caught off guard by these questions will not fill your potential employer with confidence. An interview can be as much about reassuring an employer as impressing them.

4. Stay Authentic

In the words of the late C.S. Lewis: ‘Don’t run from who you are.’ It’s so important in interviews to be the real you. Nerves aside, letting your personality show through will serve you far better in the long run.

This is the age old argument of whether or not companies should be hiring for skills or personality. In our opinion, being uniquely you is as important to the role as your years of experience.

Modifying your behaviour or personality (beyond curtailing any compulsion to swear) will only damage your chances of long term happiness with that company. Unless you’re an accomplished con-artist, an MI6 agent or a professional actor, you will get found out either during the interview process or once you’ve started and you clash with the culture or team.

Needless to say, lying in anyway about your education or employment history is as pointless as it is foolish.

5. Ask Questions

There are two parts to this: The first is that you should always have some questions prepared for the end of the interview. Good questions to consider are:

  • Where do you see the team/my place in the team in 5 years?
  • What are the medium to long term plans for the business?
  • What are the opportunities to develop and learn like?

The list goes on. But it’s also important to understand how the position became available, if it hasn’t been explained to you as this can provide insight into company culture.

The second part is: do not be afraid to ask questions during the course of the interview. Any good employer or manager will be pleased with signs of interest, a desire to understand or an enthusiasm for learning; they are all very positive traits. If you feel something needs expanding or you would simply like more information, just ask.

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