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Careers clinic: What NOT to do at an interview

Some of it’s obvious – but so much of it is vital advice.

That's right. Hands above the table.
That's right. Hands above the table.
Image: Tom Wang via Shutterstock

IT DOESN’T MATTER whether you’re seeking a part-time casual job or a full-time corporate ladder position, appearances are critical to performance at interviews.

Worse, recruitment decisions are often made within the first five minutes of eyeballing a candidate based on appearances and – dare I say it? – odours and personal habits alone.

To win at the interview game it helps enormously if you can build rapport with recruiters from the first moment of meeting. The more comfortable they feel about you, the better the interview will go. Moreover, if someone looks professional, confident and a good fit with the organisation, most recruiters will assume he or she can do the job on offer. Wild hair, chipped nail polish, shirt-tail hanging out, and suspicious smells etc., rarely build rapport – they repel. It’s that simple.

Or is it? Well, no, not quite.

Preparing for job interviews isn’t just about scrubbing up, throwing on conservative threads and taming one’s hair. It’s about turning recruiters on. Drawing them in. Doing everything in your power to make them want to hear and then like what you have to say.

Turn them off and nobody’s listening. Instead, they’re thinking variations of the same thing over and over again on a loop: “How fast can I get this person out of here?”

In an ideal world, of course, the substance of what you have to say would be far more important than how you look, act and speak. But it isn’t an ideal and never will be. Like it or lump it, research consistently shows you are more likely to land a job if:

  • You’re obviously freshly washed. If male, that you’re clean shaven or, if you have a beard, that it’s neatly trimmed, along with your hair, have clean fingernails and use deodorant. If female, your face is not plastered in make-up, hair is tidy, have clean, subtly manicured fingernails as opposed to 5-inch talons, are also using deodorant, not wearing clothes so risqué they scream “Look at me!” and, if generously endowed, your cleavage is covered and you’re using a robust bra. Regardless off a recruiter’s sex or gender orientation, bouncing boobs, saluting nipples, and over-exposed flesh are extremely distracting.
  • In the case of both males and females, you have on clean, smoothly ironed clothes, trousers with a sharp crease down the leg, and are wearing polished shoes, not open-toed sandals, flip-flops or Dita von Teese stilettos.
  • Your breath doesn’t hum of garlic, tobacco, alcohol, and / or onions. Nobody – but nobody – enjoys holding their breath in confined spaces. Heads will swivel, throats will gag, and the interview is over. Do as your mother told you to: brush your teeth. Equally critical is not wafting a mushroom cloud of aftershave or perfume so pungent it clears a path before you.

Other bullet-proof strategies for turning recruiters off include:

  • Avoiding eye contact. This is a big no-no. Just do it. Otherwise recruiters will suspect you of lying and you don’t need me to tell you what happens next. Nothing.
  • Eyes fixed and dilated are equally troublesome. Strangely recruiters are averse to the trapped, drilling sensation this triggers in heads. Focus on the chin or forehead to soften your gaze instead. Doing so will also aid those erring in the other direction.
  • Limp handshakes. Recruiters will understand if a hand betrays signs of nervousness but they will never, ever, forgive or forget the slithery, slimy sensation that comes from weakly pressed flesh-on-flesh.
  • Cracked knuckles. Yes, yes, a firm handshake is advisable but please don’t squeeze down and wait for the crack of joints. Equally, don’t yank a recruiter out of their air space and into yours. Doing so could be misconstrued.
  • Fiddling and fidgeting with anything. This is especially true of nose-picking, chewing nails, poking fingers in ears, and / or exploring one’s nether regions. Need I say more? Yes. Stop it. Stop it now. Each and every one is revolting, particularly if you find something and pause to examine it.
  • Slouching, yawning, playing with hair, checking watches and / or mobile phones. If you have something better to do, then go do it. Oh, and if your mobile phone rings, go home. And if you must yawn, cover your mouth. Your tonsils are your own business.

It’s also a compete turn-off to recruiters if you:

  • Speak so softly you can’t be heard or boom so loudly you can be heard three rooms away.
  • Give answers in a hesitant fashion or speak in monosyllables, to wit – ummm, aaaah, no, umm, yes, I dunno, might be – all of which guarantees being told to: “SPIT IT OUT” even if only in the recruiter’s mind.
  • Constantly interrupting and / or gabbling at warp speed. The time to shut up or slow down is when the recruiter’s eyes glaze over.
  • Downplay achievements or abilities, or criticise yourself continuously.
  • Equally damaging are making excuses, blaming others for past mistakes, and bitching about previous employers.
  • State sole objective for job change is money / package related / fancy the receptionist.
  • Even hinting at possessing any of the following traits will also guarantee bombing at interview:
  • Arrogance, conceit, aggressiveness and / or overbearing attitude. Who wants to work with a boor?
  • Lack of tact or courtesy and / or tardiness. Forgetting the recruiter’s name or arriving late is rude and there’s no excuse for either.
  • Having no clear, plausible reasons for leaving current position.

Elizabeth Hutcheson is a career consultant with www.SliNuaCareers.com, who offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services. They have offices in Dublin, Galway and Ballinrobe, Co Mayo. To get their free ebook offering Job Hunting and Interview Tips, email getthatjob@slinuacareers.com with ‘ebook’ in the subject line.

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About the author:

Elizabeth Hutcheson

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