Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly depending on your view of the world), it’s often the basics that let most people down. Our list isn’t exhaustive so if you can suggest any additions we would be glad to include them. Whether your interview is highly technical or a chance to get to know you, adhere to these basic rules:
Before the Interview
Do your research
If there is a company website you can explore, great. Even better speak to someone at the company. Perhaps someone in media relations is willing to point you in the right direction to get the most up-to-date info on their business. As always, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Dress like a professional
Wear a simple, crisp suit and where possible avoid bright colours and lots of jewellery/accessories. We’re not saying you shouldn’t express your personality, but unless you are going for a job in fashion, looking professional is the most important aspect of your outfit.
Check your appearance in the mirror
Before you go into the interview room go to the toilet and make sure you look presentable. Another tip is to run your hands under the hot dryer for a minute to warm your hands. This will create a good impression when you shake your interviewer(s) hands for the first time.
Don’t eat strong foods before the interview
Skip the garlic bread. You don’t want to distract your interviewer with garlic breath when you are trying to make an important point.
Start with a firm, dry handshake
It’s SO important to give a confident handshake. Limp handshakes do nothing to inspire confidence in you. Bone-crushing handshakes are not that great either; they will make your interviewer feel threatened. Just try to get a happy medium. Practice beforehand with a friend if you are not sure how much pressure to apply.
And, please, make your first contact sincere. Look them in the eyes and smile. This shows you really want to be there. A handshake is not a formality; it’s an opportunity to sell yourself.
Sit only when asked
Don’t assume anything. Wait until you are asked. Let your interviewer be in control here. You have stepped into their environment.
Keep your hands on your lap and use them to gesture where you want to express yourself but don’t sit and fidget. No matter how nervous you are it’s very distracting to an interviewer to see a person fidgeting. It suggests you are nervous, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it can also display a lack of confidence when you speak.
It seems like an obvious point but it’s often overlooked. It’s good manners to be attentive in your appearance. A side note to this is to mirror your interviewer in their body language but we would suggest that you do this only when you feel ‘in the flow’. Mirroring body language can look strange especially if an interviewer notices you are doing it. We think its better to build a good rapport first, and to let natural mirroring occur.
Be nice to the receptionist/secretary
Gatekeepers such as Personal Secretaries and Receptionists are the first human contact with most companies. They are employed to filter information and enquiries, but they also hold a great deal of influence, particularly with more senior management. Be very nice to them, and be sincere with it. If you offend them with arrogance or dismiss their role in the process, rest assured the interviewer will know about it.
During the interview
Be prepared for the dreaded ‘Tell me about yourself’ question
- Start broadly – about positive personality traits
- Narrow down – link each positive personality trait to a task at work
- Make sure it all relates to the job you are going for
If you are interrupted and asked to give a more blow-by-blow account of your upbringing, then give this too, but again try to link it to something relevant about the job.
Do not ramble when answering this question. Make it 30 seconds long or less and if there is an indicator to continue then add another 30 seconds. It’s a poor question in our book, but is often asked when interviewers are looking to put you under pressure or to discover what you think are the most important aspects of your experience.
Use the S.T.A.R. technique to answer questions
This answering technique is often used in a competency-based interview. This type of interview has questions such as, ‘Can you give an example of a time when you performed to a high standard as a Compliance Monitoring Officer?’
Try to be specific. Start with:
Situation - ‘When I joined my previous/current company we had missed X number of suspicious transactions over Y period…’
Task - ‘I was asked by the Head of Monitoring to…’
Action - ‘I sought the help of X individual/department…’
Result - ‘As a result we increased our capturing of suspicious transactions by Z%’
This answer format works well because it covers off the main questions an interviewer might have in their mind when asking you a specific question. Also, if your mind goes blank it’s a very effective technique to use.
Engage with the interviewer
Try not to make the interview a simple one-way process. Ask questions that show you are listening. If the interviewer asks a question you don’t quite follow, engage their interest by asking them to elaborate.
Answer the questions
Listen carefully. Really listen to the question being asked. Take a moment to digest it and give your best answer without skirting around difficult issues. If the question is closed and has only a yes or no response then from the outset state yes or no. Once answered you can go on to explain the reason behind your answer. Interviewee’s can often get too nervous about explaining themselves and as a result, they divert down several possible answers only to return to the question with a puzzled interviewer sitting opposite. Put your stake in the ground and stand firm on your answers by making your case clearly in as few words as possible. It is this considered confidence that will convince an interviewer of your abilities. You can always elaborate if asked.
Make the answers relevant to the interviewer
When you answer each question the interviewer has criteria in their mind that they need answered. Often this is two-fold. How easily can you come into their business and begin to make a positive difference? And, how well will you fit in or enhance any existing team?
Bear these criteria in mind when giving your answers. If you discuss yourself too much, you are not doing a great job of selling yourself. Try to create a consultative interview where you are viewing questions and answers from both sides. People like it when you understand their point of view, it makes them much more likely to get along with you, even if your views differ.
Be positive about former employers and colleagues
Everyone will have both positive and negative things to say about previous colleagues, bosses and companies. It’s natural. However, unless pressed on the subject, avoid it. It doesn’t create a good impression of your character.
Importantly, be professional but try not to hide your true self
Be polite, be confident, answer well but do not hide your real personality. If you are particularly keen to get a compliance job make sure you know it is right for you. The very nature of compliance work attracts stable, intelligent individuals. A CV showing multiple positions in a short space of time suggests you either created a different persona at interview (later revealing that you are a bad fit culturally for the company), you made poor career choices or, indeed, the interviewer mis-sold the job in each case. If you have moved on from each previous job quickly then it would suggest that you are great at interview but quickly realise that you made a poor choice once employed. By displaying your true self (to a reasonable extent) the interviewer is better informed and you will be able to create a stronger rapport with them. Hopefully, this stronger rapport will lead to the right job. Bringing out your personality will work in your favour when learning about the job and in determining whether or not it is suitable for you. It also helps the interviewer to answer in their own mind whether or not you are the right fit for them.
We may have rambled around the original point here, so to summarise: show some of your personality at the interview in order to get a better picture of whether or not this is the right company for you. Your cultural/personality fit is very important for you and for them
At the end of the interview
Have some excellent questions to ask
Show the true extent of your research. Pose a question related to a recent piece of news about the company. It is a cardinal sin to have nothing prepared here. If you have no questions to ask, then your chances of being offered a 2nd interview or the job are very slim. No questions suggest a total lack of interest in the company and job.
Try to avoid questions that relate to how much you get from the job. This part of the interview is an opportunity to further demonstrate your knowledge of the company and to get to know the interviewer a little better. If the interviewer is going to be your boss then it would be a good idea to ask some questions that will give you an insight into them. Steer clear of anything offensive. We anecdotally heard of a compliance manager going to interview and asking two main questions at the end, ‘When do pay rises occur each year?’ and ‘How much do you get paid in your position?’ (referring to the Head of Compliance). Needless to say they didn’t get the job.
A good question to ask would be ‘What does this company value the most and how do you think my work for you will further these values?’
This is an open invitation for the interviewer to tell you what you have done well in the interview. Importantly the next section follows on well from this.
At the end of any questions you have there are two very important questions that will help you to reinforce your position as the best candidate for the job: ‘Based on what we have discussed today, is there anything that you feel I haven’t covered in enough depth?’ Some interviewers will say ‘no’ to this as they have all the information they want, but others will use this as an opportunity to quiz you on anything you haven’t answered properly for them.
Once you have covered over anything, make sure you ask: ‘What would be the next steps?’ This is a very assumptive question because it indicates that you are interested in the job and that you have a chance of getting it. You will be able to gauge from their answer how well you have done. If the answer is very short, such as ‘We’ll be in touch’, then we would suggest that it hasn’t gone your way. If the answer is more elaborate then perhaps you have a better chance of getting the job. The important point to remember is you are bringing the interview to a close and in doing this you are displaying an interest in moving things forward.
Send a thank you note (in the post!)
This is a tricky one because you don’t want to look desperate but equally, if done well, it displays a kindness and generosity that can differentiate you from other candidates. Don’t send an email, because it is often lost in the multitude of info that most hiring managers/interviewers receive. Make it short and keep it professional. In an age of technological overkill a short note dropped in the post says a lot about your desire for the job and further enhances the positive image you have created at interview.