How to make a great impression at your first interview

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Going to your first interview after a year of remote working can be a daunting prospect.

Firstly, dress codes may have changed, as many organisations have adopted less formal workwear. Secondly, many of us are out of the practice when networking, presenting to more senior members of staff, or the experience of being interviewed face-to-face or remotely.

Whatever your career stage, an interview is more likely to go well if you know the culture and expectations of the company, understand the dress code, have research your prospective role, and have prepared properly. This is the case whether you are being interviewed in person or over the internet.

Do your research

It is even more important to prepare in advance if this is the first interview you have ever done.

“Doing your homework is key: look at external sources and media coverage to determine what the organisation is proud of in its people, its news and its products,” says Elise Sallis, Head of Communication & Culture at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK.

“Be sure to ask lots of questions about the company’s culture, including questions that explore the mindset of the people in leadership as well as the people you’ll be working alongside.”

Don’t be shy about asking after the company’s approach to learning and development, as well as opportunities for work shadowing, mentoring and advancement.

“Putting forward a few Achilles Heel-driven questions is also a great approach – asking what culture-focused areas still need improvement within a company may help you determine the true nature of its culture,” she says.

How to handle video interviews

Chris Willsher, Senior Regional Director and Reed’s Accountancy expert, says that although you may not physically be in the same room as your interviewer, body language remains important. Sit up straight, look attentive and enthusiastic.

“Be aware of the limitations in sound quality and volume in this situation – you want your interviewer to hear you clearly,” he says. “Don’t cover your mouth, remain conscious of your hand-to-face gestures, and try and keep your hands at bay in a safe place. Use hand movements to emphasise a point if it feels natural but try not to overdo it.”

In terms of dress code, ultimately, a video interview is supposed to follow the same rules and format as a face-to-face interview, so it is a good idea to wear the same outfit you would wear if you were going to the workplace.

“Being professionally dressed will also put you in the right mindset and stop you from falling into an overly comfortable ‘I’m at home’ state,” he says.

“Since you’ll be sat down, and expectedly, only viewable from the waist up, it might be tempting to wear interview-appropriate clothes on top and some kind of pyjamas on the bottom. But, as comfy as it sounds, we don’t recommend you do this, just in case you have to get up.”

Another way to make a good impression, especially online, is to remember to make eye contact. Video calls make it a lot harder to follow as if you look directly at the interviewer on the screen, it might feel like you’re giving good eye contact, but all they’ll see is you looking down. Focus on looking directly at the camera instead, at least for the most part of the interview. With video interviews, you can look at your notes for help but try to do it subtly. Use them to help you answer any difficult questions or remember specific facts about the role or company.

Emphasise the positive skills you have learnt in lockdown

Being suitable for a job is as much about organisational fit as it is about skill set – so it is important to work that into your interview – regardless of whether you have gained such skills remotely or in the workplace.

“Remote jobs and learning are often no less collaborative than those who work in-house, so whether you’re working on the move, at a remote office, or from home, you’ll need to have a certain set of characteristics to be happy and productive in an environment that differs from the norm – not to mention fit within your wider team,” says Chris Willsher.

Choose the aspects of your ideal environment that are in line with the role (e.g. an independent workspace, good team communication), and avoid referencing anything they probably aren’t going to be able to give you (e.g. large amounts of face-to-face feedback) – and you’ll be on the right track.

“Also, try and work on your tech skills and communication skills,” he says. Acknowledge a variety of tools and their uses (specific to your potential role) – and also prove your ability to use them in a work-based sense, for example, talking about video meeting programs as being a core component in attending team meetings and sharing ideas.

Conduct thorough research of the company. Look on the company website, its LinkedIn page, and even reviews that may be online on websites like Glassdoor. You will get an impression of what it is like to work for the company and can base your questions around what you find.

“Although no two companies are the same, adding some structure to your research will really help you maintain focus – not to mention cut down on the time it takes you,” he says.

Explain what you have learnt from working at home

“Working from home has actually helped many people to learn and develop new skills which they may not have been able to in an office environment,” says Simon Bell, Founder of Those working from home are likely to be highly motivated and effective when managing their time.

“Finding the motivation to work when you’re so close to those home comforts shows a level of restraint many people won’t have and not only that, but it is likely those who work from home will be better with time and task-load management,” he says.

“Working from home isn’t easy; it requires you to create your own working environment and during such unprecedented times, adapting to working from home proves how adaptable you can be. Back up any skills you mention to a potential employer with real life evidence that you can demonstrate this skill. Just because you may have only ever worked from home does not mean you aren’t capable of doing an office-required job,” he adds.

 Top questions to ask at interview:

Is this post a new or existing one?”. This question is a great way to get an idea of what’s expected of you, and it can lead to a wider discussion, says Chris Willsher.

If it’s a new post, then ask why it’s been created or how your performance will be measured. If it’s an existing one, ask who you’ll be replacing (and if they’re big shoes to fill). This can also set the groundwork to further discuss your potential responsibilities and duties.

“What are the company’s plans for the future?”. This is a great way to show that you’re interested in the company – not just the industry as a whole. It will also allow the recruiter the chance to get overly excited whie talking about their plans (something some recruiters have been known to enjoy).

Key questions to answer when researching a company by Chris Willsher, Senior Regional Director and Reed’s Accountancy expert:

  • What do they do? Find out everything you can about their products and services, along with who their target audience is.
  • What are they looking for in an employee? Check their job advert, careers page, and social media profiles to find out what skills, attributes, and experience they value most.
  • What’s new within the organisation? From news stories to ‘about us’ pages, you’ll be able to gain a good idea of a company’s recent developments, successes, and failures.
  • What are the company values? Find out what they’re passionate about, and what their goals are as a company. If you can find a mission statement, that’s even better.
  • Are there good opportunities for progression? By finding out more about the company structure, and whether there are any senior vacancies coming up, you’ll be able to get a rough idea of whether progression is an option.
  • What are their employee benefits? Do they offer flexi-time hours? How much holiday will you get? What about pensions? This is often stated in a job description but may also be referenced on review sites and on a company’s career page.
  • Who are their professional contacts? Check their social media pages to find out how well-linked they are within their industry.
  • Who will you be interviewed by? Learning about their background, position, and common interests means fewer surprises if you’re invited to interview.
  • Who are their competitors? Make notes on how their competitors differ, and what makes the company you’re applying for stand out.

Further reading:

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