Top Tips for job interviews (in person and virtual)

Nobody likes job interviews. It’s particularly difficult for those that are neurodivergent. It gets even more complicated when you add in virtual interviews which are commonplace now. Having done 135 interviews in 10 years (which shakes out to be over 1 a month), you pick up a few hints and tricks. So to play it forward, here’s some of my top tips for face to face or virtual:

Face to Face Interviews

  1. Know the job description inside out

Keeping a copy of every job description you apply for means that you’ll have a copy of the job description when you get called for an interview. This will tell you exactly what they’re looking for and you can base your answers around that instead of having generic answers you use in all interviews. 

  1. Know your CV inside out

Most interviews will be a competency based interview. This involves giving specific examples from your previous experience that demonstrate particular skills. To this you have to know absolutely everything on it. If you lie you will be found out, either at interview stage or when you start the job and they realise that you don’t have the skills and experience you said you had.

  1. Do a practise run of the directions and turn up on time

In the days before the interview, test how long it takes to get to the interview venue. Do this on a weekday if it is a 9-5 job. It will give you an indication of when you have to leave to get to the interview but give a half an hour extra on the day just in case.

  1. Do a practise run of the interview

Preferably do this with someone who works in HR or provides job coaching. You can see a link to the companies that provide job coaching here. But do a practise run of the interview, it will settle your nerves and if you take the feedback on board it will  help you become a better interviewee.

  1. Use the STAR method

This stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. I’ll give an example for me:

  • Situation – I was working for AsIAm
  • Task – We wanted to see employers attitudes towards employing people with autism
  • Action – I was able to leverage the connections I have the business community and created a spreadsheet of every organisation that would have potential candidates for a campaign such as this. I then sent out emails to these organisations and asked them to fill in the survey. 
  • Result – I more than doubled expectations and we will be able to use the information given, to guide our decision making in the future

It explains exactly what you did, promotes your abilities and what you have experience in.

  1. Dress appropriately

Some industries such as tech don’t care about this, others such as banking, education or pharma do.  Ties have now become optional in most places and women are now encouraged to wear either a long skirt or trousers. In most cases it’s better to go formal and get it wrong, than go informal and get it wrong. This could show that you’ve not done your research on the company. Generally, if in doubt ask the person who invited you to the interview.

  1. Guys – Shave and Iron the night before the interview.

Guys shave the night before the interview. If you shave the morning of the interview, you may get a nick or shave a pimple that won’t stop bleeding. This could affect what time you have and/or how you look for the interview. Similarly for everyone, iron the clothes you’re going to wear the night before the interview. I’ve had instances of power cuts, or the ironing board breaking that has added unnecessary stress to an already stressful pre-interview morning.

  1. Research the company.

If the company has put links in an email that they sent you, read all of the links. It will probably lead to a question in the interview and if you don’t answer it correctly, it will show that you haven’t done your research. Also looking into their products/services, learn about the diversity and inclusion programmes. The companies that run these programmes are usually run by the Talent Acquisition or HR teams that will be interviewing you. But also be aware that you are one of several candidates they have for the position, so find something interesting about the company others wouldn’t know.

  1. Have questions for them

This is asked in every, single, interview, ever. Have a question or questions ready about the company. Ask about the team, the education policy, the training that will be given, the volunteering opportunities the company has, or even better” I saw your Diversity and Inclusion or Employee Resource Group and I was wondering…”. Anything that will impress them so that when they’re reviewing the candidates they’ll say “they seemed really interested in us”, rather than saying “no, I don’t have any questions” and it will seem like you want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

  1. Send a follow up email

Very few interviewees actually do this. After the interview send a short follow up email just thanking the interviewers for taking the time to meet you. It will make you stand out as being courteous. It’s also a chance for you to include something that you meant to say in the interview but forgot, or to amend a question you were asked in the interview.

Virtual Interview

  1. Test your technology

Just like you would do a test run for an interview in person, test your technology so that you can be sure that it won’t affect your performance in the interview. Use the platform (Microsoft Team, Zoom, Google Meet) that the interviews suggest. Even if this means you have to set up a new account.

  1. Switch your phone off or on silent

You don’t want your phone going off in the middle of the interview, switch the phone to silent or preferably switch it off. It’s very easy to forget to do this, so I suggest listening to something before the interview to remind you to switch it off when the interview starts.

  1. Sit as close to the Wifi as possible

I learned this through experience. Often the Wifi is in the hall or living room. So if you’re sitting far away from the Wifi it’s going to result in a disrupted signal and you’ll lag on the interviewer’s end. If you can try and sit as close to the Wifi as possible, so that it gives you an uninterrupted signal with the interviewer.

  1. Ensure you have know distractions

We don’t want to be the guy from the BBC meme with his kids walking in, in the middle of the interview. If you can ensure that either you find somewhere that you can complete the interview without distractions, or try to remove the distractions for the duration of the interview (if you can, I understand that this could be difficult for some people). If you can’t do this, tell the interviewer at the start that it may happen.

  1. Ok to use different backgrounds

Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams have virtual backgrounds, if you don’t think your background is appropriate or you just don’t like the background you have, then it’s acceptable to choose a blurred background, a virtual background or a personalised virtual background with a photo you have selected as long as it’s appropriate.

  1. Turn Up on Time

If you log onto the virtual meeting early the event organiser will be notified. It’s the same as the in-person interview, too early will show you’re too eager, too late will look unprofessional. Try to turn up approximately 5 minutes before the meeting.

  1. Put your number in the chat

You can test all the technology and still something like a power cut may happen or the Wifi drops. An easy way around this is to ask the interviewer to put their number in the chat and to say that your number is on their CV and if anything happens with the internet connection we can switch to a phone interview. It’s a good work around in case something happens.

  1. Look at the camera not the screen

This is a common mistake. It’s easy for the interviewee to look at the two interviewers on the screen. But to the interviewers it looks like you’re not looking at them, you’re looking at something on the screen. It’s the same if you’re using a second screen such as a monitor. You need to look into the camera to make eye contact with the interviewers, so that they can see exactly what you’re saying. This is the same for interviewers if for example if you’re interviewing someone who you may not know is hearing impaired and uses lip reading.

  1. Have a cheat sheet

This is a big advantage of having a virtual interview. If you want to write down something to say on an A4 pad to include the interview you can. Put it standing up to the left of the camera ensuring that the pad doesn’t touch the keys. That way you can glance at it and not make it obvious to the interviewers that you have a cheat sheet.

  1. It’s OK to ask to repeat the question

If you do have technical difficulties it’s ok to ask to repeat the question if you don’t get it totally. It will save you answering the wrong question, it will also give you a few more seconds to think about the answer too.

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