3 golden interview rules: be prepared, be professional, and most importantly, be yourself

The call you’ve been waiting for has come. A hiring manager wants to interview you. With your dream job a step closer, how you approach this opportunity will make all the difference.

As a recruitment agent, I’ve supported 1000s of candidates in the lead up to interview. In my experience, even brilliant candidates can fail at the final hurdle, if they don’t follow three golden rules.

  1. Be prepared
  2. Be professional
  3. Be yourself

Golden rule #1: Be prepared

  • A little knowledge goes a long way. 

Hiring managers will expect you to know about their company. This will almost certainly come up, so do your research. What does the organisation do? Who established it and when? What are the key products or services?

Shrewd applicants might also slip a topical reference into conversation – a new offering, office, or something in the news relevant to the company’s clients or customers.

  • Consider your strengths and weaknesses.

Focus on how your experience and skills relate to the role in question. How you answer this question reveals a lot to the recruiter.

Are you bashful or a bragger? Self-critical or likely to let yourself off the hook? The answers you provide could quash concerns the interviewer identified from your CV … or raise new issues! Be honest, but tread carefully.

To prepare, outline some key examples and back them up with evidence, ideally in a work context.

  • Express what you want. 

What are you looking for? Where do you hope this opportunity might ultimately lead?

Employers need to match your aspirations with what they’re able to offer. Be realistic in where the role could take you and show commitment to progression. But, don’t be overly ambitious – the hiring manager may worry that you’ll rapidly outgrow the role.

  • Take note.

If you’re interviewing face-to-face, it’s perfectly acceptable to arrive equipped with a few bullet points to prompt your thoughts. It shows you’ve prepared.

In a virtual interview, it’s even easier to refer discretely to notes and handy post-it-prompts displayed out of camera shot.

Having these to hand will boost your confidence, jog your memory and ensure you cover all your points clearly.

  • Ask pertinent questions. 

Don’t just focus on how to respond. Remember the interview is also about evaluating if the role is right for you.

Prepare some insightful questions. Often interviewers encourage you to ask questions at any point in the process or will invite them at the end of the interview. Here are some ideas:

  • What does a typical day in this role look like?
  • Where does this role fit in the wider team and organisation?
  • What are the next stages of the hiring process?

You could finish with: ‘… is there any further information you need from me, to help you assess if I’m right for the role?’.

This opens up a final opportunity to turn the tide of an interview. But, be careful to pitch this well – if you’re too pushy, this question could have the opposite effect.

  • Test your tech.

It’s increasingly likely that a first stage interview will be conducted by video call or phone. In 2018, 62% of larger businesses were using video interviews and this is a rising trend.

Virtual recruitment involves either:

  • One-way, pre-recorded interviews to filter candidate suitability
  • Live video face-to-face interviews, via platforms like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts

If you’re preparing for a face-to-face video interview, run a test call to ensure:

  • Your internet is not going to let you down
  • Your camera and microphone are working
  • Familiarity with the interviewer’s chosen platform

Tech know-how is often high up on a recruiter’s wish list. Better to make mistakes and fiddle with settings now – rather than in the first five minutes of your interview.

Golden rule #2: Be professional

  • Check your social media.

Recruitment agents and employers alike will check your digital footprint. Make sure it’s impeccable.

If your social media presence includes profanities or dubious party pics, this will be taken into consideration. Ensure social media shows a ‘professional’ you, that your future boss would ‘like’.

  • Be on time.

Whether you’re interviewing in-person, virtually or by phone … do not be late. It looks bad and tells the interviewer you have more important things to do.

Be ready early. Arrive at your destination in good time or set up your laptop well before your interview slot. This will give you vital moments to compose your thoughts.

  • First impressions count.

For face-to-face interviews, either in-person or virtual, dress smartly. Not only does it give a good impression, research shows that it makes you feel more competent.

For virtual interviews remember your potential employer will see everything in shot. Set the scene carefully:

  • Find optimal lighting, ideally near a blank wall to minimise distraction
  • Tidy up … no-one wants to see your washing!
  • Turn off your TV, your phone and close any windows
  • Ensure pets, children, flatmates and any other disruptors are safely elsewhere

If you’re interviewing at your potential workplace, be friendly and polite to everyone you meet from the receptionist onwards – smile, say hello. More often than not, interviewers will ask them for their first impression of you.

  • Keep your CV to hand. 

Occasionally interviewers mislay CVs (or have the wrong one)! Print your CV and take it to an in-person interview. For virtual interviews, have an email ready to pop your CV across to the hiring manager – just in case.

This could save the interviewer stress and embarrassment, giving them a positive initial impression. Also keep a spare copy to refer to during the interview; if your mind goes blank, it will be a handy prompt.

It’s also good practice to prepare a copy of the job spec, marked up with your own notes.

  • Be pro-active.

In the 24 hours following your interview, send a personalised thank-you email to the hiring manager. Say how much you appreciated their time. It’s also a final opportunity to remind them why you’re the one for the job!

Share any talking points you forgot to mention or expand on a key question – but remember to be concise and to the point.

Golden rule #3: Be yourself

  • Try to relax (a little)!

Having done your homework on the company, the role in question and how your experience and skills fit … try to relax.

Easier said than done, but the interviewer needs to meet the real you. Let your personality shine through. Don’t over-rehearse, it’s important to show your natural reactions.

Recruitment is more personality driven than ever before. Often successful candidates are not the ones with the perfect performance … but they do display their character, a passion for the role and connect well with the interviewer.

Try to strike a balance between being professional and being yourself. This will enable an employer to make an informed judgement on whether you’re a good cultural fit for their team and wider company.

  • Don’t fake it.

Whether you’re interviewing on the phone, virtually or in-person, remember to be truthful and genuine.

It sounds obvious, but this is an easy trap to fall into. Common errors include pretending to know about the company and failing to answer a simple question on the topic. If in doubt, just admit you don’t know.

Honesty and humility are valuable personality traits, that actually make you highly employable!

  • Remember we’re all human.

Interviewers are just like everyone else. Sometimes they find the situation equally as intimidating. They also understand what it feels like to be in the ‘hot seat’.

Remember this and try to connect with your interviewer, by being:

  • Open: In-person, this starts with a warm smile, eye contact and open body language. In video interviews, eye contact is still important – so try to focus on the camera when talking.
  • Conversational: As well as preparing questions about the role, consider exploring what the interviewer particularly likes about the company, or their own role. The responses can be very insightful.
  • Engaged: Research shows we like people who are similar to us, so try to find small ways to engage with the hiring manager – perhaps through a shared interest, or similar past experience. Seek common ground.
  • Focus on your personality superpower.

You’ve already considered how your experience and skills fit the role. Great. But other candidates can probably match or even exceed these.

What can give you the edge? Your personality of course! Rival candidates can’t claim to have your personality – it’s a unique superpower!

Revisit the job description and consider the company culture and values. Think about broadening responses to weave in these key aspects of your personality.

Instead of just saying you’re ‘a team player’… expand on how your personality supports this, ideally with evidence: “My current boss says that I focus on solutions, I bring a positive attitude to the office and often go out of my way to help colleagues.”

By revealing a little more about the real you, you can help the hiring manager make an informed judgement on whether you’ll be happy in the role.

Stick to our three golden rules and you’ll be prepared to interview professionally, in a way represents the very best attributes of your personality. We wish you luck. You’ve got this.

Emma Ellis is co-founder of Ellis Mason recruitment agency. Working with small to medium sized businesses across Hertfordshire, Ellis Mason matches talented people with the best opportunities.
Currently seeking a new challenge? Find our latest jobs here: www.jobs.ellismason.com.
Looking to hire new talent? Contact us for a quick chat: 01462 510 148.

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