The job interview is still the preferred means for making the final decision when recruiting staff. Nathalie Towner looks at ways job candidates too often blow their chances.
A quarter of all job seekers fail at the interview stage because they are untidy, scruffy or don't know how to behave, according to a survey by online recruiter Fish4jobs.
This seems a shame at a time when good new jobs are not in great supply. So why harm your chances by starting off on the wrong foot.
"Your interview appearance refers directly to your character, performance and relational capabilities. Employers only have a short time to judge your suitability so appearance and grooming will be scrutinised intensely," says Ineke Bolt, lecturer in bioethics at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, whose research interests include appearance and professional success.
Job seekers spend hours honing their CVs but many fail to understand the importance of personal presentation. Nearly one in five (19%) human resources (HR) managers say they lose interest in untidy candidates, no matter how good their resume.
But it is not only looks that count: 31% of HR managers say applicants should spend more time preparing for difficult questions. Even the basic, like "Why are you the best person for the job?" often get answered badly.
Prepare for interview
Most candidates (52%) admit they spend less than two hours researching the company and preparing answers to standard questions.
"If you find yourself struggling with basic questions you are wasting the interviewers' time and a great opportunity to sell yourself. You should be able to explain why you want the job, and talk through your career to date," said Jonathan Turpin, chief executive officer at Fish4jobs.
By preparing responses to likely questions you will focus on the delivery of your answers. "If you are repeatedly getting turned down at job interviews when you are qualified for the job, check your interview presentation approach to ensure that you are projecting the right image," says Turpin.
Laid-back IT workers miss out on jobs by not doing their homework. Many IT professionals are missing out on the best jobs because they fail to show enough enthusiasm and knowledge of the target company during their interview.
According to IT recruitment specialists, a common stumbling block is a failure to demonstrate even a basic understanding of your potential new employer and the requirements of the position.
"It never fails to surprise me how many candidates have failed to conduct critical research into the organisation they are seeking to join," says Mike Beesley of IT job agency Sanderson Recruitment.
"Often compounding that mistake is their ignorance of the job itself, what it entails, and the kind of experience they need. But it is easy to find this out and demonstrates real interest in getting the job."
Even if you fail to impress the interviewer with your knowledge of the company, it is still worth trying to show some enthusiasm.
"A very simple example of showing enthusiasm is in your body language," says Beesley. "Leaning forward in your seat, looking interviewers in the eyes and really listening to what they say are three ways of communicating genuine interest."
Beesley offers the following reasons for doing your research:
- An employer is unlikely to take on someone who appears to have no interest in the company.
- It can help you decide whether you really want to work for the company.
- It enables you to tailor your CV and application to emphasise your suitability.
- If you are full of enthusiasm, it implies you will carry this through to the job.
The view from across the table
Fish4jobs asked 200 HR managers in the private and public sectors if they agreed with a series of statements about interview performance:
- 31% agree that most candidates spend lots of time on grooming but not enough time preparing answers to basic questions.
- 26% agree that candidates should prepare more for their interviews.
- 19% agree with the statement I immediately lose interest in an untidy candidate.
- 15% agree that candidates fail because their interview performance does not live up to their CV.
- 9% agree that candidate presentation standards are getting higher and interviews tougher.
Common style gaffes
Grooming mistakes, bad interview etiquette, inappropriate attire for a job interview and outrageous behaviour are some of the most common blunders made by interviewees. Interviewers will mark you down for:
- Being late.
- Dirty or unpolished shoes.
- Badly wrinkled shirt.
- Bad posture.
- Inappropriate clothes.
- Failure to speak up.
- Dirty fingernails.
- Body odour.
Some of the worst real-life interview gaffes include:
- The over-excited candidate who spat at his interviewer when answering a question.
- The woman who went to the toilet to check her appearance and walked into the interview room with toilet paper stuck to her shoes.
- The shy candidate who went to the pub for a bit of Dutch courage and failed to impress by turning up drunk for an interview.
- The man who got his pants stuck in a trouser zip, revealing his underwear throughout the interview.
This was first published in June 2003