A job interview is one of those life events that regrettably never gets any less daunting, however many times you go through it. The good news is that there are no shortage of people out there willing to pass on their experience - and to offer up helpful tips and advice as you gear up to the big day.
Much of this stock advice is really common sense. That is to say: arrive on time; sit up straight; offer a firm handshake, and so on. While useful and certainly well intended, sticking with the status quo in terms of your interview technique won’t always do enough to distinguish you from the other candidates deploying exactly the same tactics.
With fine margins between success and failure, it may be time to start thinking slightly outside the box. Often it’s the little things you do before, during and after your job interview that can inch you over the line to a positive outcome.
So without further ado, here are ten of the most surprising interview tips we’ve uncovered:
Before the interview
1. Sign up for Google Alerts
As you’ll know by now, researching all there is to know about a potential employer in the days and weeks before an interview is a necessary but extremely labour-intensive process. It can be particularly draining if you’re interviewing for several positions at once and struggling to come up with interesting nuggets of information to wow your interviewers with.
You’ll be glad to hear there’s a simple way to do this that doesn’t involve hours spent scrolling through BBC news or the Financial Times website. Simply create an alert about the relevant companies on Google Alerts. It takes about ten seconds to set up, after which you’ll get a daily dose of relevant articles and news items delivered directly to your inbox.
A quick scan of these each evening will keep you up-to-date with the various employers on your radar. You’ll be first in line to hear about any new projects, expansions or mergers as well as the company’s financial health.
It will save you countless bleary-eyed hours stuck in front of the laptop, leaving you to get on with more important business.
Stay up-to-date on a company: use media and Google Alerts to keep informed.
2. Let someone else clean up your social media profile
There’s always that sense of dread after firing off a job application: what if the employer decides to look you up on Facebook or Twitter? What exactly will they find if they do?
You have every right to be concerned. Research suggests that 91% of employers do in fact peruse candidates’ social media accounts for any red flags that could influence their decision whether or not to hire them.
Cue frantic scramble through grainy photos of long-forgotten high school escapades and sixth form leavers’ trips to Magaluf. Save yourself the hassle (and an uncomfortable trot down memory lane) by downloading the Social Sweepster app.
This handy tool scrolls through your online profiles seeking out beer bottles, cigarettes and other undesirable images. You can also set it to look for inappropriate language in your posts.
You can then rest easy knowing that your interviewer’s first impression of you won’t be that of a beer-swilling miscreant.
3. Arrange your interview for Tuesday morning
If other people’s opinions are anything to go by, the timing of your interview can make a significant difference to the outcome.
According to a recent report on Glassdoor, your chances of success are highest on a Tuesday morning at 10:30 am. This is the sweet spot in the week when your interviewer is likely to be most focused and most inclined to make positive hiring decisions.
If Tuesday isn’t on the table, at the very least you should do your best to avoid Mondays, when people are still playing catch-up, or Fridays, when their focus has already switched to the weekend’s activities.
By the same logic, try to avoid interviewing first thing in the morning, before your interviewer has had their full caffeine fix, or directly before or after lunch when energy levels may be lagging. Also give the graveyard shift at the end of the day a wide berth.
4. Wear your ice-breaker
If done tactfully, clothing and accessories can be a great way to differentiate yourself from rival candidates. They can also make excellent conversation starters. We’re not talking outrageous fashion statements here – a formal job interview is not the platform to be trying out a radical new look or hairstyle.
You’re looking for interesting yet subtle additions to your basic interview attire. For example, a pin on your lapel that shows your heritage, an interesting piece of jewellery you picked up during your gap year, or perhaps a brightly coloured tie.
These tiny details can be a great way to break the ice and fill those potentially awkward gaps at the start or end of the interview. They’ll also help you to stand out from the procession of similarly clad candidates streaming through the interview room that day.
5. Bring your CV with you
It’s always a good idea to bring along multiple copies of your CV to the interview, along with training certificates, work portfolios and any other documents you feel could support your application.
The chances are your employer will already have spent time reviewing these; however, there’s no harm in reminding them of your credentials. If nothing else, arriving meticulously prepared to the interview makes you appear super professional. You’re clearly someone who thinks ahead and who makes sure they have all the angles covered.
To be this well organised before even starting the job bodes well for your future approach to meetings, presentations and other scenarios.
6. Don’t arrive too early
Arriving late to an interview is a definite no-no and a sure-fire way to put yourself out of the running. Yet turning up unnecessarily early can be almost as detrimental to your employment chances.
Arriving with lots of time to kill puts your interviewer in the uncomfortable position of having to find someone to look after you and find you somewhere to sit. Etiquette demands that someone fetch you tea or coffee. In a worst-case scenario, you may be forced to make awkward chit-chat until your allotted time slot comes around.
None of the above is likely to create a good first impression with a potential employer, so do yourself a favour and turn up ten minutes before your scheduled time and no earlier. If you arrive early, just take a walk around the block or grab a quick coffee.
Arriving early to an interview is good – but not too early.
During the Interview
7. Go easy on the eye contact
Well meaning interview sages will often instruct you to “make constant eye contact” with the people sitting opposite you. Eye contact, of course, is essential for building rapport, and meeting your interviewer's’ gaze shows that you’re confident, attentive and fully engaged in the conversation.
However, there’s a fine line between the right level of attention and making your interviewer feel uncomfortable or like an unwilling participant in a staring contest.
For a happy medium try using the “four corners technique”. This involves rotating your line of sight in a diamond pattern slowly around the individual’s eyes, starting your gaze at their lower forehead and then moving to the corner of one eye, their nose, the edge of the other eye, and finally back to their forehead.
It requires practice — any interviewer is likely to find a candidate whose eyes dart uncontrollably around the room quite distracting and a little unnerving. Find a willing friend to sit down with you as you perfect your technique.
8. Deal with the dreaded “what are your weaknesses?” question
There is a school of thought that involves trying to sell your interviewer a positive attribute masquerading as a weakness. Prime example: “My problem is that I’ve always been too much of a perfectionist”.
Employers are not only wise to this tactic, but also prone to looking down on anyone still foolhardy enough to attempt it.
The safest thing to do in this situation is to be honest and offer up an aspect of your skill set that you can genuinely see yourself improving on. At the same time, be careful not to go too far in the opposite direction by admitting to something that could undermine your interviewer’s faith in your ability to perform the role.
A happy medium could be something that’s not an essential requirement of your job – like being good with computers if you’re applying for a sales position. Whatever you pick, make sure to frame your answer to show that you’re addressing the weakness and making efforts to work past it. For example:
“I’ve never been particularly good at public speaking, but I realise it’s an area of my professional development that I need to work on. I’ve been looking at different strategies and recently went to a workshop held by my university’s careers centre.”
Read our complete guide to answering the question“what are your weaknesses?”
9. Keep your hands where they can see them
People have an instinctive need to see where others’ hands are. Indeed, the custom of handshaking is thought to have originated with the Ancient Greeks: two people meeting by chance wanted to make sure the other wasn’t carrying a weapon that could potentially do them harm.
Your interviewer probably doesn’t suspect that you’re harbouring a catapult under the table; nevertheless, you’ll seem more trustworthy if you keep your hands rested on the table. Ideally, keep your hands together and your fingers interlocked to stop you from distracting activity like touching your face or playing with your hair.
10. Use your questions to reinforce the positives
Most interviews usually end with an “any questions?’” moment. You’ll hopefully be able to put forward a few well chosen enquiries that will demonstrate your interest in the company and underline your enthusiasm for the role.
For maximum impact, try to link your question to something positive about your skill set or your experience and interests. For example, instead of simply asking whether the role involves overseas travel, you could say something like:
“I speak fluent Spanish and have had a lot of experience living and working abroad. I see you have a new South America office, and I was wondering whether the role is likely to offer the opportunity for overseas work. This is an area where I could really see myself thriving longer term.”
You can see how a well rounded statement like this gives an insight into your wider temperament and qualities.
And here’s a bonus eleventh tip:
After the Interview
11. Connect on LinkedIn (with permission)
With social media being welcomed increasingly into the professional domain, it’s sometimes appropriate to ask your interviewer to connect with you on LinkedIn in the days following the meeting.
While it shouldn’t replace the standard thank you email, this is a great way to jog a potential employer’s memory and to remind them that you exist. Even if you don’t end up getting the job, it could potentially lead to a fruitful professional relationship.
Warning: there are certain rules of engagement to abide by. Don’t invite them to connect without first having asked their permission during the interview. And don’t just connect without including a brief message; it’s best to lead with a question that follows on from the interview. Better yet, send them a link to an article on one of the topics you discussed during the meeting.
For more information on how to prepare for an interview, check out these answers to common interview questions: