The dos and don’ts of an interview

22 September 2020

Attending a job interview can be a stressful and unnerving experience. But the more you know about the process, the less chance you’ll make costly errors.

There are simple points everyone knows, such as remembering to answer the questions truthfully—but what other details should you keep in mind?

We explain everything in our guide to the dos and don’ts of job interviews.

What you should do

There are many things you can do right in an interview, from dressing appropriately to knowing what to say next.

Here are some of our tips to help you land that dream job you deserve:

  • Do your research: Get an understanding of the business’ company culture, history, services/products, and what you can bring to their team. It’s important to have a solid understanding of who you’ll be working for—each business is different.
  • Arrive early: 15 to 20 minutes early shows you’re eager, can keep time, and are respectful to the business’ schedule.
  • Apologise if you’re late: If you’re late due to circumstances out of your control, explain this to them, apologise, and then move onto the full interview. There’s no point lingering on something you can’t control.
  • Dress for the occasion: Smart but casual is usually a good approach, but if it’s a top end law firm (as an example) turn up in shirt, suit, and tie. Doing research will help determine the dress code you need.
  • Have positive body language: Sit up straight and have a good posture, without crossing your legs. Be self-assured, but not cocky—sitting there cowering in terror is also going to look bad.
  • Speak clearly: Try not to mumble your words, so speak slowly and clearly to make your answers to questions clear.
  • Prep your questions: It’s important to ask questions at the end of the interview to show your interest in the business.
  • Show enthusiasm: This is a very positive personality trait—show the interviewers it’s more than just another role. Explain why you love your line of work and what you bring to the industry.
  • Know your rights: It’s rare, but some interviewers can ask illegal questions relating to race, age, or gender. You can indicate you don’t find it relevant to the interview if this is the case.
  • Send a thank you email: But if everything goes well, drop the business an email after your interview thanking them for their time. Even if you don’t get the role, you want to stay in their good books. Future opportunities may become available.

You can find other tips on how to prepare for a job interview on job sites such as Glassdoor.

What you shouldn’t do

With the above clearly in mind, you should also make sure you’re not doing the wrong things in interviews.

Some of these are obvious—others are easier to miss:

  • Leaving your phone on: It’s rude if your mobile goes off mid-interview—especially if there’s a loud and obnoxious ring tone. It doesn’t look at all good. Either put your phone in airplane mode or turn it off entirely. Importantly, remember to turn it off. Forgetting and then, mid-interview, having to embarrassedly turn it off could cost you the role.
  • Don’t use fillers: Try to avoid answering questions with a protracted, “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrr…” It’s better to think about your response first and then begin speaking.
  • Don’t show off: Being arrogant doesn’t reflect well on you, no matter how great you think your accomplishments are. Most people will find it insufferable and that will count against you.
  • Avoid lies: A lot of candidates will tell little white lies to gain an advantage, but blatantly exaggerating about your skill set (for example) isn’t a good idea.
  • Don’t be defensive: You’ll be asked some tough professional questions, so be open and honest in your responses. Don’t take them personally, the interviewers want to see how you handle the pressure.
  • Don’t talk too quickly: Even if you’re nervous, remember not to speak at a quick rate of knots. Your thoughts and words can become garbled, which means your answers won’t make much sense.
  • Avoid generic responses: If it’s tempting to reel off the rote responses to common questions, avoid this. Canned answers aren’t overly inspiring and suggest you don’t have much of a creative spark.
  • Badmouthing your former employer isn’t wise: If you’re leaving a role, explain clearly and constructively why. “I hate the boss!” or “The wage is rubbish” won’t get you very far.
  • Leave money talks until later: Ideally you’ll have a vague idea of the wage before you begin—such as a range mentioned on the job spec. But spending too long discussing that will set a bad impression. You should make it clear you want to work for the business for reasons other than financial gain.

Ultimately, interviews are there to test if you’re fit for the job. And some businesses will try subtle tactics to judge your character.

A famous example is from Walt Bettinger CEO Charles Swab. In 2016 he revealed he takes job candidates to breakfast—and he asks the restaurant to get their order wrong.

"I do that because I want to see how the person responds … That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated, or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It's just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head."

So, be wary of potentially unusual interview techniques. You should be mentally alert to avoid making any errors that could cost you the job.

But, of course, most of us have an embarrassing interview story.

If you fail, then learn from your experiences and apply yourself again in other roles.