For many people, the interview is the most nerve-racking part of the job application process. Even the most seasoned job hunter can suffer from a dry mouth, sweaty palms, and butterflies in the stomach. Most will find it difficult to sell their positive attributes without worrying about coming across as boastful. Stressing about questions they might not be prepared for, or worrying about not getting the opportunity to describe the extent of their experience. Even outside of the anxieties around what is said, it can feel like an out of body experience forgetting how to act like a human being, and scrutinising every tiny aspect of how they’re coming across. How do I greet my interviewer? Am I making enough eye contact? Am I making too much eye contact? What do I normally do with my hands?!
It’s no wonder the ‘interviews’ episode of The Apprentice is one of the most popular every year, and that we all take a certain schadenfreude type pleasure in watching the candidates suffer, while we’re safe at home.
With such an ingrained societal fear surrounding the job interview, it’s no wonder that people tend to be reluctant to put themselves through it unless they’re completely sure that the job is something they really want. But only going to interviews for jobs you’re 100% on could make you miss out on something great, and makes half the purpose of the interview redundant.
We always advise our candidates that interviews are a two-way channel of information. At an interview, you are certainly there to be assessed for your capability to perform the job on offer, but you musn't forget that you're also there to find out whether the job is right for you. Even the best recruiters can’t describe a job as well as an employer, or a company as well as the people who work there. The interview is the best possible opportunity to understand a role and get a sense of a workplace.
At Harvey John, our candidates will often hear us encourage them to go to an interview for a role, even if they’re not entirely sure that it’s right for them. This isn’t because we’re pushy recruiters trying to make a quick buck - in fact, we pride ourselves in listening to our candidates, understanding their needs, and being their trusted career advisors. It’s because we think we’ve found them a great new job, and by going along to an interview they can hopefully see why we think it’s right for them.
Often we work with candidates who have prejudices about certain types of jobs, certain employers, or certain locations. And so often, after going along to an interview for such a role, even just out of mild curiosity or so they could rule it out for good, they come away with an entirely different impression.
First and foremost, interviews give you an opportunity to meet the people you would be working with - an often overlooked but very important part of any job. A company’s external image can influence your perception of the people who work there, but an interview allows you to go behind the scenes and see what it’s really like. For example, a partner at a law firm with whom our legal team work closely with told us that, before his interview, he viewed his firm as too corporate for him. However, after attending the interview he fell in love with the people there, and has now been working there for over ten years.
Similarly, you can get a sense of the workplace, both in terms of culture and physical environment. Is there a formal or informal atmosphere; are people hyper-focused or relaxed and casual? Is the office impersonal and bland, or open plan with great facilities? London based professionals moving out of the City are often amazed when they interview at a regional company and see how similarly sophisticated they are. Again, the pre-existing perceptions you may have of a certain company could be entirely challenged when you go along to an interview.
It’s also important to take advantage of any opportunity to ask questions in the interview. Nothing is more disappointing for an interviewer than a candidate who has nothing to ask, and not doing so is passing up your number one chance to learn everything you want to know. Don’t ask about details like salary or holidays; we as recruiters can have those conversations for you. Ask thoughtful and insightful questions that give the interviewer the chance to sell the job and their company to you, and questions that will help you make a decision should you be given an offer.
You may be surprised by how many of your preconceptions and prejudices are challenged when you attend an interview. At Harvey John, we say it’s always worth making the time to go along and check out an employer. If they’re still not right, then no harm is done. But if an interview changes your mind, then you may just have found something unexpectedly great.
For more advice on interviews, check out our blog on the STAR interview technique, or give us a call at Harvey John.
David Waddell is Managing Director at Harvey John.
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