Our eyes met across the table …


Graham Thornton Interview guide, Recruitment

The Cedar interview guide

As recruiters we interview people every day. Consequently, it’s important that we remember that some of the people who come to us for assistance in finding their next step on the career ladder probably haven’t sat down opposite an interviewer for some time and/or don’t get to do this very often. With that in mind, this short guide will help those who are facing their first interview for some time and are approaching the coming meeting with a degree of trepidation. Many people find interviews an ordeal, but there is no doubt that with a bit of care and attention you can reduce the stress involved and substantially increase your chances of success. 


Get the basics right

It’s an old adage, but fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.  Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview, allowing for train/bus delays, etc.  Not turning up on time, even if being late was beyond your control, does not create a good impression. And although it seems obvious, many people still forget to switch off their mobile phone before going into the interview.


“The four knows”

  1. Know the company. There is no excuse for not doing your homework.  The internet and specifically LinkedIn, makes it easy to find out about your potential new employer and those who are going to interview you. You should also have a look at where you may find some useful, occasionally trenchant opinions on what it’s like to work there. 
  2. Know the interviewer. Don’t forget to Google the interviewer and see what you can find on social media. A quick look on Facebook and you may find you have a shared affinity for hillwalking, golf, cross-stitch or vintage cars. People warm to other people who share their interests.
  3. Know the role. Make sure you learn as much as possible about the role for which you are applying. The alternative is to fall at the first hurdle when the interviewer asks “what do you know about this role?”
  4. Know yourself. Think seriously about why you want this job and how your personality, professional skills and experience make you an ideal fit.


How to make the most of those first 30 seconds…

Interviewers make their minds up quickly, with studies showing that 5% make their decision in the first minute.  A further 30% decide in the first five minutes and 52% make up their minds between five and 15 minutes into the interview. First impressions count.  Make the most of those potentially awkward first 60 seconds by ensuring that your eye contact is constant; be warm, immediately engaging and professional. Smile (but not ingratiatingly). If you have an “icebreaker” (possibly a shared interest), this is the time to use it. If in doubt, talk about the weather. The subject we all love dearly!

What you wear also creates an immediate impression. It’s invariably better to err on the side of caution and dress slightly up rather than down. 

Similarly, your body language will be picked up upon, especially if it’s not good.  Are your shoulders back, is your posture straight, your handshake firm? It may sound obvious but don’t slouch. Be mindful of accidentally creating a defensive posture with your arms crossed: it creates a subconscious defensive mindset. Similarly, try to keep your hands away from your face when answering questions as this could suggest you are perhaps uncomfortable with or unsure of your answer.  At all times stay alert and look interested.


… the next ten minutes (and the tricky questions beyond)

Responding to questions

When answering questions, your current and previous role are probably going to contribute the most relevant experience to the role you are interviewing for so spend most of your allotted time talking through those. Drop achievements into your CV walk-through but keep them short and sweet: if the interviewer wants to find out more about a particular achievement then they will ask. At some stage, the

“biggest achievement” question will come up and this is your chance to stand out from the crowd. Make sure you include the business area involved, your role in the achievement, the timescale, the challenges overcome, and the results achieved, emphasising your contribution in the process. Most of my own work is with finance professionals and accordingly I advise candidates to remember that their species, by its very nature, is numbers driven and therefore responds well to anything related to tangible, measurable achievements. Make sure this comes across in your answers.


Some no-nos.

  • As well as your strengths, you may well be asked about your biggest weakness.  “I struggle with detail,” “I am a perfectionist,” or, as a colleague once heard, “I’m a success story looking for a place to happen,” would not go down well in front of Alan Sugar and they won’t go down well with far less intimidating interviewers either.  Bear in mind that this question is to check your levels of self-awareness and transparency. You should consider it an opportunity to tell the interviewer what you have done to combat any weaknesses rather than reveal all.
  • Don’t bore the interviewer with your historic achievements of 10 or more years ago: they are almost certainly not why you have been selected for an interview.
  • Don’t share with the interviewer that you got through to the final stage with five other interviews but none resulted in an offer.
  • Don’t appear desperate or needy.


You ask the questions

Towards the end of an interview you get a chance to ask your questions. Make sure you do, otherwise you may seem uninterested, but make the questions relevant (not “when do I start?”!).  One question I can recommend is, “if you could change one aspect about your company what would it be?” This ought to make the interviewer stop and think, “this candidate is on the ball.” You might also get an enlightening and insightful answer that helps make up your mind whether you actually want to work there.


Parting shots – the final five minutes

The final five minutes have been the down-fall of many an interviewee. It is critical you leave the interviewer with a good and lasting impression. 

Make your exit to small talk if you can.  This can help to cement the connection and means you won’t be remembered for leaving the room in an awkward silence. Where applicable, refer to the icebreaker you used at start of the meeting - or perhaps ask the interviewer about the coming weekend.

If you are unsure about anything, ask a professional recruiter (like Cedar for example) for advice.  We do this stuff every day and are always happy to give guidance and direction about specific jobs, companies and even those who are likely to be interviewing you.

Just remember this: If you have done your research, know your own achievements and repeatedly practised talking through your CV then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. So just go and enjoy the meeting.


Good luck!


Graham Thornton, Director - Finance, Cedar Recruitment