How to ace that job interview.

Everyone wants to make a good impression during a job interview. If you're lucky enough to have a real job interview, rather than a three-minute telephone "interview" with an indifferent recruitment agent, then these tips are for you.

Wear a smart suit.

photo: Young man in a smart suit inside a big building.
It's probably best to finish dressing before you arrive.

This is rule number one in the realm of job interviews.

If you're applying for a managerial or directorship role, wear a suit. If the interview is for a client-facing position, wear a suit. If it's a back-office position, wear a suit. When applying for a technical position, wear a suit. Office window-cleaner, wear a suit. High-school janitor, wear a suit. Swimsuit model, wear a smart suit.

The whole interview process is, if the interviewer is honest, actually just an extended chance to develop a first impression based on how smart the candidate's suit is. The more expensive the suit, the more worthy the candidate is for the role, whatever the role might be. As an example, George W Bush has an impeccable collection of smart suits. That should tell you everything you need to know about the power of the suit.

What not to do: Walk to the interview through a rainstorm, without a coat, wearing tracksuit trousers, a fleece and athletic shoes, and then use the paper towels in the company restroom to dry your hair off. The interviewer will spend the whole time trying to work out if you're a one-man fashion subclass.

Expect the unexpected.

The days of the straight-forward one-to-one are gone. Expect at least two interviewers, but don't allow yourself to be surprised if there are three, four, or ten interviewers, and don't be shocked if half of them are not even physically in the room. Conference calls are a very popular way for lazy executives to talk to people they can't be bothered to meet in person.

Furthermore, these days almost a third of job interviews are actually just hoaxes set up by hidden-camera television shows. Another third are filmed by television cameras for "serious" reality TV shows or documentaries. Expect anything, and you'll be okay.

What not to do: Look confused and annoyed while you count the number of interviewers on both hands.

Be the right amount of extrovert.

photo: A woman dances in a bikini, hair tossed up in the air, her hands on her body.
This candidate may have just overstepped the mark.

Smile, chat warmly, nod in agreement to everything that doesn't involve the torturing and burning of fluffy mammals, and make enough eye contact but not too much eye contact.

Even if you normally frown, scowl and blank your way through the world, and your view of humanity includes opinions that comprise words and phrases like "filth", "scum" and "should be neutron-bombed back to The Planck Epoch", you have to put aside your raging disgust and smile like you need a kidney from these people.

At the same time, make sure you don't take extroversion too far. Sitting on the lap of one of the interviewers will be a minus point in their mind, as will your providing an unprompted dance routine. Be aware of the limits.

What not to do: 1) Assume that they weren't looking for a candidate with the phoney gusto of a television presenter. 2) The reverse pterodactyl.

Present yourself as honest.

photo: A close-up shot of the left half of someone's face, the eye nervously glancing to the side.
"What if they discover I only got an A in GCSE Music, when it says A* on my CV?"

It is very important that you come across as totally genuine.

Even though you will need to lie through your teeth to pass ninety-nine percent of job interviews, it's still very important that the interviewers don't realise that not a single person on Earth actually matches every point on the job specification.

To make sure that treacherous body language doesn't point the finger of guilt at you, rehearse your "truths" to an imaginary interviewer in a quiet place. Avoid doing this while on public transport. If you rehearse often enough, you will eventually appear to believe your lies. Just look at any salesman if you need an accomplished example of this "success method".

What not to do: Tell the truth, or develop a twitch if you get close to exaggerating any of your positive points.

Prepare an answer for every question.

graphic: Two UFOs hover over a strech of countryside, each shining a bright yellow light down onto the grass.
"There'd better not be a businessman down there this time. I'm really not in the mood."

I have a friend who, in a serious job interview, was asked: "You are in a field. A UFO suddenly lands near you. What would you say to those aliens?". You must have a strong answer to every question.

Even though a question like this will, in most people, create the desire to cause real injury to the interviewer, put down the staple-gun and take a deep breath. They probably just want to check that your role-play answer involves you wearing your smart suit, and that it shows your Earth-leadership potential and your just-extrovert-enough nature, and that your first-contact speech includes at least two plugs for the company you are applying to.

Also beware of questions that are designed to trick you into revealing the fact you don't want to work late every night, that you don't still think of business travel to foreign countries as exciting, or that you have broken copy-machines with the weight of your ass in previous roles.

What not to do: Reply to a question with "I don't know," or "You are fucking shitting me, right?"

Remember to justify previous exits.

The interviewer may like to find out why you left your last role. Make it clear that the role wasn't allowing you to fulfil your potential, and that you were eager to expand your portfolio of responsibilities.

Whatever the reason you actually left your previous roles, never tell the interviewer that your reason for leaving was that you wanted more money. Also avoid telling them of reasons for leaving that include broken copy-machines, lawsuits, or being legally prohibited from entering certain office buildings.

What not to do: Tell them you left your previous role because another month there would have led to your going postal.

Don't worry about skills.

photo: A young man in a smart suit worn loosely, giving the camera a cheeky smile and thumbs up.
"Can I do Oracle? Baby, I am Oracle."

Just because the role asks for a huge list of skills you've never heard of does not mean you cannot be chosen for the role. Assure the interviewer that you have the skills they need.

Occasionally an interviewer may ask you tricky-sounding questions about some of the skills you have adopted on your CV. Don't worry, though. The interviewer does not know anything about the skills either. In fact, the interviewer will probably pronounce the name of the skill or the technology incorrectly. ("You can do D&S using binned eight and nine, right?") They are only asking in a bid to increase the length of the interview so that they can spend a little more time checking your suit is really as smart as your harsh ironing suggests.

A quick search on Google for the skills you need to "have" will allow you to easily bluff your way through technical questions.

What not to do: Only talk about skills you actually have, and pray they value potential.

Describe a varied social life.

photo: Six skydivers are floating in a loose formation, each with his own lime-coloured parachute.
"Best of all, my new phone lets me check my share portfolio from up here."

The interviewer will want to hear about a full and varied list of social activities.

Even though you probably spend three nights a week with three friends at a food or drink establishment, and spend the other four nights watching soap operas on television, don't make this fact known. The interviewer will believe that only a socially hyperactive worker is a commercially productive worker.

An interviewer may use the word "hobbies" to enquire along this line, but don't be fooled. Whereas the word "hobbies" usually means lonely, specialist interests such as garden shed nuclear research, all they're really interested in is how many sociable outdoor pursuits you engage in. Essential activities to include in your answer are: five-a-side football; synchronised skydiving; flashmobbing; returning the One Ring to Mount Doom; and whitewater rafting with at least a half-dozen friends. The important thing is that your personal time is energetic and sociable. Note that while dogging fits this description, it is a bad idea to list it as a hobby.

What not to do: Mention online gaming, and then moan about how much you hate deathmatch servers that kick you for swearing, even though lethal violence is part of the game.

Know the company you intend to work for.

Even if you're applying to be a toilet cleaner, the interviewer will fully expect you to know the current share price of the company, the projected EBITDA for the next financial year, and the names of the chief executive's wife and mistress.

Again, a quick look on Google will turn up the company website, from where you can glean the knowledge you need.

What not to do: Mention in the interview that you've never seen the company website. Especially if the role is administrator of the company website.

Prepare for personality testing.

photo: A roughly-symmetrical mess of pink and green paint.
"Look at this image and tell me what business strategy first comes to mind."

As a way to make the interview process longer and more convoluted, interviewers love to have candidates complete psychometric questionnaires. These purport to inform the interviewer about a candidate's suitability for the role.

In truth, most tests have questions that offer one sensible option, two meaningless options, and one bad option. For example, on an application form for a London finance house, one question was "How would you deal with colleagues disagreeing with your proposals?", and the good answer was: "Listen to their concerns, and work with them to smooth over conflicts." The bad answer was: "Talk louder and faster until you get your way." No matter what your personality actually dictates, choose the answer that doesn't involve shouting, deception, unilateral action, or going postal. If in doubt, put yourself "in the role" to get a feeling for the "suitable" answer. Books on method acting will help you to get into the mind of the ideal candidate.

What not to do: Tailor your answers to match your personality.

Offer a list of referees.

photo: A woman stands in the street at a phone booth, holding the phone to her ear.
"Absolutely, yeah. We couldn't have run this department without him."

To get a feeling for your ability to work with others, the interviewers may require you to give them a list of former colleagues and bosses who can be contacted to discuss your attitude to work.

Be sure to phone some friends before the interview and fill them in on their cover stories. A long-time drinking friend could play the role of a former department manager, for instance. For such a role, choose a friend who is a skilled liar. Friends with a conscience will not help you to succeed in job interviews.

What not to do: Sigh when asked for a list of referees and say "I think they'd all probably use swearwords to describe me."

Be ready to ask questions.

No matter how thorough the interviewer has been in describing the role you would be filling, make sure to ask at least several questions before you leave. But wait until the interviewer says: "Okay, I think that's it. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish?"

Interviewers think that failing to ask questions is the sign of a candidate who simply doesn't have an interest. So feign a fascination with what you've learnt by asking questions that will cause the interviewer to repeat what has already been said. That way, they'll know you care.

What not to do: Say, "No, no questions. I'll probably think of one just as I get on the bus home."

Be enthusiastic about the role.

photo: A man in a blue shirt punches the air with both arms, his head thrown back.
"Filing, tea making, and I get to clean the toilets on a rota basis? Yes!"

Nodding in agreement, asking positive questions about a typical day in the role, and flaring your eyes occasionally are all indications that you can't wait to get started, so make sure you look excited.

If the role involves sharpening pencils five days a week, look excited. If the role is shift-based, and entails enough rota-shifting to induce jet-lag, look impatient to begin. If the job causes ninety-seven percent of employees to suffer nervous breakdowns, then pull a face like you can't believe you didn't apply years ago. Whatever the role, make it clear to the interviewer that you've finally found your calling.

What not to do: Hmm and tut when the interviewer describes responsibilities of the role, and say "no, I refuse to do that."

Pretend you don't care about the pay.

photo: A mature man sits in a convertible sports car in front of a nice house.
If you work real hard, some day all of this could be your chief executive's.

The company will, of course, hope to pay you as little as possible. For example, I have a friend who earns his employer several hundred pounds each hour he works. They pay him minimum wage. You need to be prepared to go along with this.

The role may require you to work in the most expensive part of the country, and expect you to work more hours each week than biologists in the fifties believed it possible for humans to remain awake each fortnight without dying, but if you want the role you have to accept that you're just one small part in a heap of small parts. The feeling of worthlessness is something you'll get used to, so sign that contract before asking about the money, and console yourself in the knowledge that you'll be contributing to the financial security of the chief executive, the board of directors and the company shareholders. They're bound to appreciate it.

What not to do: Think about whether or not you can actually live on that level of salary.


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