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On today’s show, your host David Phua runs through some of the dos and don’ts as you prepare for your interview, including the importance of how you present yourself, and why it’s just as important whether you’re doing this in person or via video.
Tune in again next week, for a new episode of The Employability Podcast, brought to you by Gradability.
Here’s the full transcript of this episode:
00:00 David: You’re listening to the Employability podcast where graduation meets employment. During this series we uncover the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of being more employable and ultimately getting hired.
Hard truths. No bullshit, no filters, just the information you really need to kickstart your career. Presented by Gradability.
Today we’re going to run through some of the critical dos and don’ts in terms of how you present in an interview. To be clear, what we’re talking about here is how you look and how you dress primarily. Not so much how you speak, though I’ll also touch on that as we go along. By the end of this episode you should know how the way you present can make or break an opportunity.
And you should also know about some of the unseen dangers that people are looking for and also how you make sure you’re ready to make a good impression for your interview.
01:00 I’m going to cover both face-to-face interviews as well as an online interview. Most processes start with the job posting, following which if you meet the requirements, you get shortlisted for a phone screen and then one, sometimes two interviews that happen face-to-face or through video calls.
Sometimes there are tests that you have to take, either psychometric or technical, and these will typically happen between the first and second interviews. Testing happens at this stage primarily so that any issues or red flags that come up can be probed a little bit further in the second interview.
And if you get through all of that successfully, you get the job offer. So when does the first impression start for you? At each stage of the journey, you need to make a positive first impression. Application-wise, it needs to be neat, no typos, addresses the selection criteria and isn’t too convoluted.
Now, the phone screen can also make or break your opportunities. And typically the phone screen isn’t done by the hiring manager, but by an executive assistant or an HR person that they’re looking for specific traits, including, very importantly, that you know what company you’re calling from.
02:08 What I would strongly recommend is that if you’re applying for multiple roles, keep a list of what these roles are, including the company name, the type of industry, and a brief summary of what they do, what the role is, etc. And to keep this on you at all times so that you can quickly refer to it.
Now, in this day and age, when everyone’s got a smartphone, it’s very easy to keep these on your phone, under the Notes app or whatever app else you might use, but it’s not good enough to just go, “Sorry, I don’t know who this is, I’ve been applying for lots of jobs.”
That doesn’t work. If you do get in a situation where you do get a phone call and somebody says that they’d like to inquire about your eligibility for the role and you don’t remember who they are, one thing that you can do is just ask for a couple of minutes for you to be able to call them back.
02:53 Then you can very quickly refer to your notes, call them back and say, look, sorry, I was in the middle of something. Love to have further conversation about what you were talking about.
Now, if you’ve made it through to that point, then you’re getting into face-to-face territory and this is either in person or online, and this is where the fun really starts. It’s very important to remember that once you make it to an interview, it means that whoever has screened you has determined that you generally, and I stress this, generally have the skills and fit they’re looking for.
This is admittedly based on a piece of paper and a five minute phone chat. So, it’s very, very surface level. So when you get to the interview itself, to a certain extent, depending on how thorough the screening process is, there is an accepted level of awareness and understanding of where your skill level is.
Now, while the interviewer or interviewers will have some technical questions, they are also looking at you as a person, weighing you up against themselves, their teams, their business culture, to see if you will fit in. Now, how you look, how you act, how you speak, how you sit. How you respond to tricky challenges, all of these things factor in.
04:02 Personally, when I’m interviewing, while I ask questions of a technical nature, I’m actively looking at the body language of the person. I’m also listening for changes in tone of voice to see if they’re panicked or stressed. And I’m listening for mumbling or waffling, which tends to be tell me that the person is making up a story.
An experienced interviewer, whether they call you out on it or not at the time, is definitely looking at these things too. So, how you appear is really important. Let’s talk about appearance.
It takes just 7 seconds to make an impression on someone. While only 7% of that first impression is based on what you actually say, 55% of the first impression is based on the visual. So your dress, body language, etc. And 38% of that first impression is formed from your tone of voice.
Now, in an online world, this includes things like where you’re sitting, how stable your setup is and what you’ve got in the background, etc. So while you might think it’s cool to have a background with Darth Vader and some Stormtroopers, you have to ask yourself what sort of impression that leaves with the interviewer.
05:06 And on the topic of backgrounds, sometimes people will have a background that looks pretty innocuous, like a nice house with a garden. In some cases they have what looks like an office sitting behind them. But because they don’t have a green screen, the image is constantly flickering and or part of you comes in and out of shot as you move.
Now, this is a big no-no. It’s very distracting for the interviewer. So even though people understand that what you’re trying to do is block your background, it is a distraction that you don’t need. I interviewed someone recently who was lounging very casually on a couch in a T-shirt with their laptop on their lap and a can of soft drink in one hand.
Now, not only did I find that very unprofessional, it was also very off putting that whenever they moved, the whole screen would shake. In another interview, the interviewee kept trying to prop her phone up because that’s what she was using for the interview. But it would slide down and I’d get a few of the ceiling.
05:56 Now, this happened about five times during the interview, and what this shows is that as a candidate, you are not prepared for the interview and you haven’t taken the time to appropriately set up your equipment.
So think about it. If you are getting an interview, it means you’ve beaten out about 95% of all applicants. Don’t then mess the opportunity up on what effectively amounts to a technicality. Dress appropriately, set up your equipment so you look professional.
Also be prepared for things to go wrong. Now, I’ve been in an interview where the candidate thought that the camera had frozen and they got flustered thinking the line was cut and proceeded to swear at the phone and the internet connection before they then started yelling at their partner. I’ll let you work out whether or not they got the job for yourself.
Something that always surprises me is when people don’t turn up to the right address for a face-to-face interview. I’ve had people call me and say, “I’m at your building, but I can’t get in.”
And when we ask where they are, they say, Flinders Street, when our office is on Flinder’s Lane. I’ve heard of people turning up to the right street address, but in the wrong suburb. No matter how straightforward it is, plan your journey and plan to be there early.
07:03 If you aim to get to a 02:00 p.m. Interview at 01:58 p.m., you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re not sure how to get there or about parking access or any of those things, get clarification early.
Don’t be panic-hauling ten minutes before the interview because it shows again that you haven’t planned things clearly. If you’re doing an interview online, the same principles apply. Just because you’re closer to it doesn’t mean you won’t be late.
In fact, quite the opposite. You’re actually more likely to be late because complacency sets in. So, if you’re going on a Zoom or a Skype call from home, that’s about as close to it as you can get. Have a serious thought about where you’re going to do the interview.
If you live in a share-house, don’t do it in the living room where your housemates are walking around and having a chat. Try to find a room where you can shut the door and be relatively quiet. I think most people this day and age understand that there will be some incidental noise. But try to minimize this.
If there’s construction nearby or some noise that’s unavoidable, be sure to address it. Don’t just ignore it and pretend it’s not there. You want to also practice answering questions.
08:05 Get your mouth used to speaking. And this might sound silly, but the more you practice questions, the easier you’ll find talking them through when it comes time to actually interview, more often than not, you’ll also uncover bits that would get you stuck so you can then rethink about how you approach a similar question.
This helps to make sure that you don’t stumble and bumble your way through the interview itself. And this is really important. Now, remember that most questions are going to be behavioural. Tell me about a time when you’ve done X.
Tell me about a time when you’ve had to overcome Y. Typically, it would be something like, “A key part of this role is working collaboratively with other team members – tell me about a time when you’ve had to work on a team and solve a problem, were there any challenges or conflicts and how did you deal with them?”
A lot of people think that the interview starts when you meet the interviewer. Personally, I believe it starts when you pick out what you’re wearing and making sure that it’s neat and presentable and appropriate.
08:57 Now, what does this mean? Do some research. What sort of company is this? Do I need a tie? Do I need a suit? What shoes do I wear? Most companies these days don’t expect people to wear a tie to an interview, but some do.
If you’re wearing a tie, does it match your suit? Is it done up properly, and is your top button done? Don’t wear a tie and have your top button undone. It just looks sloppy. Is your shirt ironed? And do my shoes match my belt?
Are they polished? Are they covered in dirt? May not sound like a big deal to you, but it matters a lot to employers. What’s your hair look like? Is it tidy? And one of the most off-putting things in an interview is when a person keeps flicking their hair or someone turns up looking like they haven’t washed their hair in a week and they have to keep scratching their head.
Gentlemen, if you’re wearing a dark suit and dark shoes, then unless your name is Michael Jackson and you’re moon walking across the interview, don’t wear white or light socks.
09:50 Ladies, what does your outfit say about you? Are you smart and professional? Or are you going out to a party after? The same applies for a video interview. You may be in your bedroom, but you still need to appear professional for the interview.
As I’ve highlighted before, you may choose to not wear any pants. That’s your choice. But make sure that the parts of you that are on screen look professional. Face-to-face, breath mints. Do you have them? Why is this important? Interviews almost always take place in private meeting rooms, and I’ve been in interviews where the candidates breath was so bad I literally have to cut the interview short because it was making me feel sick.
Now, that’s not being rude, that’s a reality. By that same token, deodorant. You may not find your body order offensive, but chances are the interviewer will. So whatever your personal preference is, fact is you should be using deodorant before you go into an interview.
Sunglasses. It might be a really sunny day when you go to your interview and you might have to put a pair on, but you can almost guarantee that the room is going to be indoors and it’s not going to be sunny.
So don’t leave them on your head, don’t put them on the front of your shirt. Try and put them away completely. You’re not going to get a job because you’ve done all of these things right. Let’s be clear.
Just because you put your sunglasses away won’t get you a job. But you can definitely lose a job by doing these things wrong. So you don’t want to get all the way through the interview and lose it because of something as trivial as that.
11:07 Bear in mind, when you get to that interview, the interviewers are meeting four or five people that are of similar standards. So they’re looking for the little things that separate you from the others as well.
You should be in the zone, as they say it, from the minute that you walk out your front door and it starts with something as simple as just making sure that you’re smiling. One other thing is really important and even though it sounds trivial, go to the toilet.
Bear in mind, typical interview goes for between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. You don’t want to find yourself in a tricky position partway through that. So you’ve done all of those things, you get to your interview location early and you’ve got 20 minutes to gather your thoughts.
So what do you do? You go and grab a coffee. Now, this is often a bit of a danger zone because you don’t know who you accidentally bump into while having your coffee. A few years back, I was down to the cafe grabbing a coffee.
A young person pushed in front of the queue and she was quite rude to the server on the basis that she was running late and she felt like she needed to get in front of everybody else. She didn’t care that there was a queue of people in front waiting to be served.
12:05 She needed her coffee. She was in a rush and she was going to get it. Turns out she was running running late for an interview. Turns out she’s running late for an interview with me. Now, that didn’t help.
Walls have eyes and ears. This sounds really strange, right? But when you think about it, very often when you go into an office for an interview, the rest of the staff, not just the person who’s interviewing, will come out and they’ll give you a bit of a once over to see what you’re like.
They will sometimes do this just to see if you’re a normal person. Two eyes, one mouth, et cetera. But often they’re also looking for your reaction. Will you smile at them? Are you slouched in a chair? Are you talking on your phone? Whether you think or not, you are being judged 100% of the time.
So what do you do? Do you sit up? Do you read? Do you smile? What do you not do? You don’t want to be chewing gum. You don’t want to be talking on your mobile or playing Candy Crush. You don’t want to be glancing up at people, but not acknowledging them and not smiling.
13:00 Remember, your appearance really matters. The presentation of yourself is really important. Let’s go back to that online world. As I said before, make sure that you test your equipment before the interview. This includes checking the mic outputs because you really want to make sure you don’t have to mess around with equipment during the interview.
So test it all in advance. If you have a 02:00 p.m. video call, log on a few minutes early and wait on the call. Don’t have your music blaring in the background. Be dressed as if you are in a face-to-face interview. And don’t be fooled by the fact that you’re not physically in front of that person.
You want to smile. You also want to make sure that you don’t have your phone in front of you or in your line of sight during the interview. So, I’m presuming here that you’re doing the interview on your laptop. Don’t have your phone to the side of you because it’s really obvious if you texting somebody on the side or if you keep looking at your phone.
It’s a distraction. The interviewer can see it. They can pick it up really easily. Don’t have your email or other websites open. Make sure that you’re focusing on the interviewer or the interviewers and you’re not getting distracted by other things.
14:01 Remember, because it’s limited to what the interviewer can see in terms of the screen, they’re looking at you the whole time. So, you want to treat it like it’s a face-to-face interview at all times. You want to be positive, you want to be be confident, and you want to be coming across as being happy. Energetic, I suppose is probably the better way of describing it.
You want your energy to be able to come across the screen and you don’t want to be looking as if you’re attending a funeral. Sit straight. Don’t slouch in your seat. Slouching by nature is a very relaxed position, and subconsciously, what you will find yourself doing is relaxing. Interviewers also will be looking at how you are sitting.
Tone is really important. Remember that you use the right tone, one that’s positive and professional. I once interviewed somebody who told us that he was very self-aware and very conscious of how he carried himself very discreet.
He said all of these things while shouting at the top of his lungs to the point that me and the other interviewer were retreating in our seats to sort of get away from him. Be careful that you’re not covering your mouth when you speak.
14:54 You also want to be careful that even though you’re away from the person on screen, you don’t want to be shaking your legs or leaning back in your chair like you’re watching a movie. You also don’t want to come across with one arm over the chair as if you’re trying to pick a fight.
Now, these principles also apply in person. Make sure that you’re sitting straight and sitting upright, looking professional. Now back to that interview. You’re in the room. You’ve smiled at a receptionist. He or she has led you to the room and offered you a glass of water. I recommend that you take it. Why? The interview, typically, as I said, goes for between 45 minutes to an hour and a half and you are going to be doing most of the talking.
So, you’re going to need some water. And if you’re doing this online, have your own glass of water handy as well. If you’re in the interview face-to-face, there’s a jug of water, pour your own. Make sure that when the interviewer does come in, that you’re pouring a glass of water for them as well.
It’s just common courtesy. And make sure that they have a glass of water as well. You want to stand up when the interviewers walk in. You don’t want to stay sitting down. And if you’re going to shake their hand, if it’s allowed, depending on what the conditions are, make sure you have a firm handshake and look them in the eye, tell them it’s nice to meet them, something like that.
15:59 Don’t put your hand out like it’s a dead leaf. Make sure that it’s a firm handshake and make eye contact. Again, sit straight and be proud. I’ve said this many times now. It’s really important. The way you present yourself is really important. Interviews can be quite terrifying and intimidating places and most of the time interviewers know this and they try to be nice.
But one thing that you can do is to remind yourself that you deserve to be there. The fact that they’re interviewing you means that they see potential in you. So don’t sit in your chair and cross your arms and look in your lap and mumble your words. You want to sit straight and be positive.
There’s a very fine line between positive and confident and overconfidence and arrogance. So, don’t cross that line. Make sure that you’re respectful, choose your language wisely. A lot of you are going to be interviewing for technical roles, but the person who is interviewing you, the hiring manager, potentially doesn’t have the technical skills. So, you want to be careful about the language you use.
You don’t want to be saying, “Oh, I have to dumb things down for my manager…” When that manager is the person in the room, it just doesn’t send a good message, it doesn’t set a good impression.
17:06 Confidence also means being able to say, look, I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand, or to clarify that, “No, I don’t think I’ve done that before, however, if I was in a situation like that, here’s what I would do.”
Be able to clarify what you think, be able to ask questions. Don’t be afraid of that. Now, sometimes the terminology that may be used may not be something that you’re familiar with. Again, don’t be afraid to clarify. “Sorry, I’m not familiar with the term X, can you please clarify that?”
Be careful of bullshitting. I think we all know what that means. But sometimes you get an interview and you get a scenario where you can’t answer the question with a response specific to that question.
So, I might ask you to give me a specific example of when you had to work with a difficult colleague who couldn’t cooperate and how did you overcome that? You may not have worked in a situation like that before, and while it might be tempting to lead with an inventive story, I strongly advise against it.
18:01 Some of you are going to be going into sales roles where you’re going to be asked about specific sales targets, revenue targets, etc. If you don’t have the answers, don’t make them up. It’s very, very clear to an interviewer if you’re making answers up on the spot, it’s really obvious, especially if the person in front of you is an experienced interviewer. So make sure that you’re not trying to make things up.
The best way to overcome that is to actually know what you’re talking about, know your facts, know your figures. And if you haven’t encountered a situation like it’s been described, make sure you are able to then provide context in terms of something that are transferable skills that you can actually talk to.
So it may not have been a situation specific to a work context, but it might have been something you’ve experienced at university, something you can carry over into the real world.
Now, once you get to the end of the interview, the interviewer typically will ask you if you have any questions for them. I encourage you to have questions for them. One question I would strongly suggest you don’t lead with is, “So, let’s talk about salary, or can we discuss salary?”
19:00 Great questions that you want to put forward are things about potentially the culture of the business. So, tell me about the culture of the team, tell me about the culture of the business. Why are you here? Why are you in this organization? What excites you about it? A good question to ask is how the role came about.
Is it a new role? Is it replacing somebody? And if it is replacing somebody, why did they leave? These help give you insights into the sort of business you’re going into. It gives you insights into the sort of role that you’re going into.
One great question is, “If you could give me one piece of advice in order to be successful in this role, what would it be?” Now, be sure that once the interview is completed, you stand up, shake the hand of the interviewer, smile. Thank them for taking the time to speak with you.
If it’s online, it’s the same concept. Make sure you thank them. Make sure you’re showing your gratitude for the fact that they’ve taken time out of the day to interview you for a role. So, there you have it. How you dress, how you present, and how you interact with people other than the interviewer can play a big part in whether or not you are successful in getting a role.
19:58 If you’re looking for help on how to kick-start your career, be sure to jump onto Gradability.com.au and download some of the great resources available to help boost your career. That’s it for now.
You have been listening to the Employability podcast presented by Gradability. If you would like more information about today’s topics, please check out the show notes or visit www.gradibility.com.au.
A reminder to subscribe on your favourite podcast app so you don’t miss an episode. I’m David Phua. Until next time, remember to control the controllables.