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Insider secrets: 20 mistakes you need to stop making in your job interview

A photo of a man and a woman in a conference room.
Secrets to nailing your job interview. (Photo: Getty)

After nearly two decades in the recruitment industry, recruitment expert Kara Atkinson says “Why am I being knocked back?” is still the most common question she’s asked.

“The first 60 seconds of the interview are key,” she said. “That’s right – before you even walk into the room and sit down.

“Right or wrong, judgements are being formed quickly.”

Luckily, the first impression you create is in your hands. Atkinson has put together a 20-point checklist of things to do and to avoid – some that may be controversial – before walking into that interview:

  1. Don’t ask them how to get to the office. Use Google maps, your navigation device, or ask a friend. “Anything is better than letting them know you don’t know how to navigate the unfamiliar,” Atkinson said.

  2. Get a haircut. “And [make sure] your nasal hair is non-existent,” she adds.

  3. Obviously, don’t be late – but there is also such a thing as too early. “More than 10 mins early is as unattractive as being late.”

  4. Remove your sunglasses from your head and don’t have that cigarette in the hour leading up to the interview. “And remove anything from your mouth or face that wasn’t attached to your body when you came into the world,” Atkinson added.

  5. Be sure to wear deodorant, aftershave or perfume, but not so much that your interviewer can smell you before they see you.

  6. “You should be wearing a corporate suit and your interviewer should not be able to see your toes.”

  7. Your handshake should be firm and come with eye contact.

  8. If they offer water, tea or coffee, say yes – you’re attempting to build a relationship here, Atkinson pointed out. “You really should be saying yes to wasabi if it is offered.”

  9. As you walk into the interview room, take that change to make some small talk – and it can be anything, from the traffic, to the weather, something you saw in the reception room; “anything to build rapport quickly.”

  10. It might be easy to let the nerves get to you once the interview starts, but remember that the recruiter is also hoping that you’re their next employee.

  11. Atkinson says she’s lost count of the times she’s been told by employers they asked candidates for a five-minute overview and were still talking 25 minutes later. “Timing and silence are golden,” she advised.

  12. Always aim to give specific and concise examples to as many questions as possible. Avoid being vague or talking about what you’d do in a hypothetical situation: the recruiter wants to know what you’ve actually done.

  13. This one is simple. “Maintain eye contact.”

  14. If you forget about past job titles or dates, don’t pull out your resume, as this will erode your credibility, Atkinson said.

  15. Interested in work/life balance? Don’t talk about it. “These happen to be the most overused words in an interview over the past 3 years,” Atkinosn said. “Work/life balance is aspirational and is earned. If you ask about it in the first interview, it implies you don’t work hard.”

  16. Don’t ask about office hours, either. While it might be important to you, an interview is about delivering what the interviewer wants – and they want someone with a good work ethic, and in turn, you want to be someone that ticks that box. “Asking about office hours changes that tick to a cross.”

  17. If it’s a first interview, avoid the topic of salary expectations, unless the interviewer raises it first.

  18. Don’t answer questions with just a yes or a no. According to Atkinson, great candidates elaborate and give their personality where they can.

  19. Atkinson’s clients always note to her the candidate that takes notes – not mental notes, but real notes, with pen and paper. “And yet, surprisingly few people do it.”

  20. Try to smile as often as you can. “Work some humour and commonality into the conversation.”

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