Christine Little of the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services gives her top tips for shining at interviews.
You’ve trawled through the job ads, sweated over your CV and religiously filled in the application forms. Finally, you’re invited for that all-important interview. How do you make the right impression?

Why are first impressions so important?

You only have one chance to make a first impression. What you wear, how you introduce yourself and how you shake hands will tell a potential employer what kind of person – and therefore employee – you might be. Rightly or wrongly, the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services estimates that 30% of an employer’s opinion about a candidate is formed in the first 30 seconds.

So how should I dress?

Dress in dark or neutral colours. A traditional suit is a must for men, but leave that wild tie at home – you want them to remember you, not your clothes. Women should steer clear of wearing the skirt of one outfit with the jacket of another as it looks less professional.

Men and women should keep jewellery to a minimum. One or two rings and a watch are acceptable for men, whereas women can get away with a necklace or bracelet provided they are not too bulky or loud. Anyone who has had their ears pierced several times should wear only one set of earrings. Don’t forget that a specialist recruitment consultant will be able to advise on what is most suitable in your employment sector.

Once I’ve sorted out my clothes, is that my appearance taken care of?

No, clothes are only a part of it. You must pay attention to detail. Highly polished shoes and clean nails may not be noticed, but you can be sure that scuffed shoes and dirty nails will be. Your hair must be clean and look professional, so long hair is better kept off the face. Remember that the interviewer is looking for someone who can represent the company well, so they want an employee who looks the part.

Will nerves work against me?

It’s only natural to be nervous, but do not be tempted to have a quick cigarette or a half-pint of lager to calm your nerves before you go in. The interviewer will be able to smell it.

When you meet the person who will be interviewing you, smile and introduce yourself clearly. Make sure that your handshake is positive – not too limp, not too firm. If your palms are perspiring, discreetly press your right hand against the side of your jacket before your handshake. Do not ramble. Short appropriate answers that convey positive information will take you further.

If I’ve started well, how can I keep up the momentum?

Every interview situation is different, but there are a few basic rules that will help you keep an interview going your way. Do not monopolise the conversation, as you will learn more by letting your interviewer talk.

Also, do not harp on about problems or criticise previous employers. It is much more important to make sure the interviewer knows the benefits of employing you. Never smoke in an interview, and it is better to refuse offers of tea or coffee as it can get in the way.

Make first impressions count

  • Dress smartly but conservatively
  • Plan your route in advance and arrive a few minutes early
  • Carry any papers you might need in a suitable case or folder
  • Be polite to everyone you meet – you might end up working with them
  • Smile and be positive
  • Make eye contact, but do not stare
  • Listen to your recruitment consultant’s advice