Unless you’re incredibly lucky – or have seriously good contacts – the chances are you’ll hear the words, “I’m sorry, on this occasion you’ve been unsuccessful“. With competition for graduate jobs at unprecedented levels, you’ll have to brace yourself for the inevitable rejection. If you’ve had any encounter with a careers professional ever, you’ve probably been encouraged to ask for feedback from the interviewer. This can be a useful (if occasionally sobering) experience but all too often the feedback tends to be bland and unhelpful. There are probably two main reasons why…
1. There really isn’t anything constructive the interviewer can say
Maybe you were an excellent candidate who did everything right. Along with the other excellent candidates who also did everything right. The recruiter has to make a decision and the final outcome is not necessarily reflective of a ‘bad’ performance. Trust your instincts: nine times out of ten you’ll know whether you interview was above or below par. I’ve certainly come out of interviews hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. And even when vanity has prevailed and I’ve taken refuge in the interview equivalent of “it’s not me, it’s you” I’ve known, deep down, that I simply wasn’t up to scratch. Sure enough *the* phone call/email followed shortly afterwards. Equally, there have been other occasions where I interviewed well (modesty aside for a moment) and couldn’t have done more. I was simply pipped to the post by a more experienced candidate or someone who was a better ‘fit’.
Rejection is hard to swallow when you’ve come so close, but you might just have to accept the situation for what it is. Sometimes, the employer can’t offer you more insightful feedback because there’s simply nothing to say. Frustrating, but take comfort in the fact that you’re getting closer to the prize.
2. There’s plenty the interviewer could say – they just prefer not to
They may simply take the path of least resistance and opt for a standard response – “overqualified/lacked experience/strong field” – because they don’t have the time or inclination to tell you what really went on in that interview room. I’ve had the luxury (if you can call it that) of attending more than my fair share of interviews over the years, and there’s no denying that one or two of these have edged dangerously close to ‘disaster’. Why? Because I was desperate for the job and my desperation permeated the whole interview. This was before the advent of the roadside graduate wearing a “gimme a job” sandwich board! In many ways, I’m relieved the subsequent feedback was fairly neutral and innocuous as a more honest appraisal would have been painful indeed. But, it took me longer to accept that I’d made some pretty glaring errors, and it was only with the passage of time and a more thoughtful approach that I came to see just how badly I’d interviewed.
Anyway, to avoid making a long story out of short anecdote, the point is this: sometimes people perform really badly in an interview. What makes the difference between success next time round, or recurrent failure, is understanding how and why you’ve blown it. And you can’t rely on the recruiter to always share the gory details. You may just have to fill in the blanks yourself – but what if you don’t even know the blanks insist? Read on…
How to throw the interview (and not even know it!)
There are any number of ways you can sabotage your own performance, so take some time to check out the following interview ‘no-nos’ . If you find yourself thinking, “hmmm, that could like me” then you’re halfway there. At least by (half) recognising the signs, there’s a better than evens chance you won’t make the same mistakes next time and can avoid slipping on one of these….
Distracting mannerisms – do you fiddle with your hair, fingers, glasses? Tap your feet or shake your leg? These may seem pretty trivial, but it’s worth putting yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. Even with stand-out candidates interviewing can feel horribly like Groundhog Day, so you’ll have to work hard to keep the interviewer’s interest. The smallest annoyance can be magnified tenfold. And before you know it you’re moving closer to the ‘reject’ pile.
Talking too much – yes, you should give full, complete answers but don’t bore the interviewer to death. There are some candidates who seem to believe that repetition is the key to success. Bear in mind a job interview is not Masterchef: the interviewer doesn’t want the answer delivered three ways. One will do.
Sounding desperate – there’s a fine line between keenness and desperation, so make sure you don’t cross it. An ‘eager to please’ candidate nodding away like the Churchill dog can be just as annoying as the bored, arrogant or indifferent one. Whatever you do, don’t tell an interviewer that you’ll “do anything” to get the job – this can be a real turn off. It suggests you neither value the job, nor yourself.
Stretching the truth – of course you need to sell yourself but don’t use contrived skills or experience to impress. The chances are you’ll get found out and if you’re sat in front of an interview Rottweiler, prepare for a bumpy ride! If faced with a tricky question that exposes gaps in knowledge or experience, take the hypothetical approach: “Well, as you can see from my application I don’t have direct experience of x or y, but what I would do/what I think is….”
Negativity – this can manifest in many different ways, all of them harmful to your interview prospects. If the interviewer asks how your journey was don’t give them chapter and verse about the state of the roads, the cost of parking and how difficult it was to find interview HQ. Similarly check your language: avoid words and phrases that make you sound passive or worse cast you in the role of victim. Employers are not interested in your pity party.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
The best way to prepare for an interview is to practise. This will give you an opportunity to iron out any glitches or work on annoying habits before the real thing. You’ve probably heard the phrase “match-ready”? Well, it’s the same for interviews – don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Book a mock interview: not only can you practise in a safe environment, but you’ll get constructive, personalised feedback from the Careers Consultant. Don’t leave it until the day of the interview to think about your technique. It might be too late!