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How to stand out in a job interview

Published 1 Feb 2021
1 min read

At some point in your life, you will have to be interviewed. If you look back through your life, there will be countless times where you can remember being interviewed. Whether that be pre-school interviews, school entry interviews, doctor-patient, or parent-teacher interviews. We haven’t even graduated school yet and we have already experienced many types of interviews. Slowly these interviews will get phased out and you’ll start being interviewed for higher education opportunities and career prospects. The point still stands; despite the massive amount of interviews, we still get nervous being interviewed. But why do we get nervous before a job interview?  

The psychology behind interview-induced nerves

Well, it’s simple. Our brains trick us and sense that job interviews are artificial. Your brain recognises that this situation isn’t natural and is manufactured, so your brain doesn’t act normal. You can’t blame your brain for getting nervous about the interview because you put on an act to seek approval by the interviewer and to hopefully get chosen—by almost random coincidence, it seems—for that coveted dream job. For an interview, you have to dress in a costume and play a character that’s eerily similar to you, but also not. It’s a theatrical experience and people experience stage fright! Firstly, It’s ok to feel this nervous. Secondly, this is the first step in realising that you can now better control how you perform during an interview. Here are some tips on how you canease your nerves, stand out in your job interview, and feel confident in your ability to impress the interviewer to secure that coveted dream job position.  

Create a strong first impression

Research suggests that it only takesone-tenth of a second for someone to start determining how trustworthy someone is.Not a lot of time, is it?Within seven seconds, people will have a solid impression of who you areand can ultimately make a decision whether you might be the right or wrong person for the job. Now, this isn’t meant to scare you into rushing into a conversation, eager to explain how amazing you are to an employer within seven seconds. No, this is to let you know thatfirst impressions matter. Firstly, you need to understand that a good start, psychologically, will already put you miles ahead of the competition. It’s called the halo effect. The halo effect is where a person associates positive traits like leadership and intellect, all because of one positive trait recognised within an instance. It’s a cognitive bias that subconsciously occurs, meaning it’s uncontrollable. Now, this is where you come in. By dressing in accordance with the company’s dress policy and arriving on time, the interviewer’s subconscious bias can kick in. They’ll remember you put on a good first impression and could positively impact your chances of getting the job. Plus, dressing well and smelling good is an easy step that almost anyone can follow. So,dress to impressand it can already significantly boost your chances of succeeding in the job interview.  

Be ready for small talk and ask questions

Now, a job interview will mostly focus on determining whether you’re the right person for the job. However, interviewers also use this time to determine your character and whetheryou’re a right fit for the cultureof the workplace. An interview is a lot like a date. Two sides coming together to determine if you’re both the right fit and whether you’d like to continue. Now, imagine on this date only one party was talking and asking questions—boring, right? That’s why the second tip you need to learn is when to make small talk and ask questions. Simply showing initiative anddiscussing the role furthershows the employer that you’re interested in the position and that you have a genuine curiosity about the position. Employers love this. Now, don’t go overboard with this. There is a time and place for questions related to the position, typically towards the end of an interview. It’s bestnot to go personal with your small talk; try to focus mostly on the job position, company, and culture.  

Answer the employer’s questions

You’re probably reading this and thinking, isn’t that what I’m already doing? Yes and no. Whilst your brain responds to questions asked to you by an employer, what you saymight not actually answer their question. They could ask something as simple as “what is your biggest weakness?” and you might think you’ve answered this, but actually you rambled on about how a previous employee was bad at their job and you suffered because of it. This is a big problem for employers as they are looking for direct and straightforward answers, and giving them long-winded and irrelevant answers signals to them you’reincapable of following tasks and appears to be a red flag. Employers will typically ask very similar questions, so once you understand the common types of questions asked, you can begin practicing how to answer these. Employers will still ask curveball questions that are more specific to the role, however, they will always askgeneralised questions which you can prepare for.  

Use the STAR method

This follows on from the previous tip of answering the employer’s questions. You might be thinking ‘Wow great! I know I need to answer the employer’s questions but how do I go about answering them?’ The STAR method is an excellent method toanswer behavioural questions. STAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation: Give details on how your situation occurred
  • Task: Describe the job you had to do
  • Action: Explain exactly what steps you implemented to achieve this
  • Result: Share what outcomes your action created

Using this acronym allows you to create a digestible but compelling narrative that an employer can use to determine how you can fit into the job. A structured response is more likely to impress employers than one completely given on the spot. The STAR method can be used for a number of responsesin any industry.  

Don’t throw a former or current employer under the bus

No one likes a Debbie Downer or a Negative Nancy. Starting off negatively can severely impact the success chance of your interview.Trashing your past employer reveals to your interviewer that you may talk negatively about them in the future, which is a big red flag. It shows that you may be incapable of handling constructive criticism or feedback and you seem unable to take ownership of mistakes. Now, this does not mean being honest about your past work situations. However, speaking in neutral or positive tones about what you were able to learn from that experience or why you didn’t fit is more likely to benefit you than bad-mouthing. As well,employers appreciate honesty if they ask you to criticise their own practices, but that doesn’t mean you should trash their operations. Constructive criticism and honesty will go a long way by showing that you’re a good potential hire and that it won’t come back to haunt them if they do hire you.  

Bring ideas to the table

Now, you might ask why would you bring ideas to an employer when there’s a chance they can just take your ideas and not hire you. It’s a risk you’ll just have to take because the rewards can be immense. Bringing ideas that you’d implement if you were given the role shows two things. One is that you’re confident and this can positively impact your chance of success (Hint: remember the halo effect). Secondly, it shows the employeryou’re in the mindsight from day one to help the businessand that you’re a forward thinker. Now, you don’t need to have a detailed plan prepared for each interview, butjust simple initiativescan go a long way by separating yourself from the competition and allowing you to ace that job interview.  

Thank the employer and follow up after the interview

Something simple that will nicely tie up your candidacy is thanking your potential employer. We mentioned earlier how a good impression starts you off on the right foot, but finishing strong is also critical. By sincerelythanking the employer for their time, it shows that you’re appreciative of their time and hard work they’ve put in interviewing you. Remember, interviews aren’t just the one time where you’ll need to impress the interviewer, as in most cases they will end up being your boss. Starting and ending on both a good note will significantly improve your chances of standing out and will allow the interviewer to make a decision about the success of your interview quicker. Also, sending athank you or follow up email is another good idea to show and express interest in the position. The point earlier mentioned how showing initiative reveals to the interviewer how committed you are to the position. The same goes for a thank you email. Make sure it’s still in a professional manner so as to not seem overconfident about successfully acquiring the job.  

The bottom line

The bottom line that you should take with you is that interview skills matter. No matter whether or not you get that dream job, at some point or another you’ll need to interview for another position or you might try to get that promotion. You now have steps in place so that you can ace that interview, no matter the occasion. Whilst these tips can help you stand out from the competition, ultimately your personality and fit to the role will be the ultimate decider. These tips are here to boost yourself to the interviewer, helping them by providing them more reasons as to why they should pick you over other candidates.

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