The job interview – tips, tricks and advice
One of the things I get asked a lot is for job interview tips. I'm not sure why this is; to my knowledge, I haven't talked about job interviews on any of my social media, and I haven't been for a job interview in over a year! That being said, I've only ever gone for two job interviews that I didn't get. The first was for maternity cover as deputy editor on Irish Tatler magazine, and that went to Jess O'Sullivan, the very smart and hilarious former editor of Kiss magazine, a woman infinitely more qualified than I was. The second was for the position of fashion editor at IMAGE magazine, which went to Marie Kelly, who I don't know personally but is most definitely doing a far better job than I would have done! Conclusion: I ain't mad at my losses.
I have, however, gone for many job interviews for jobs I did get: as deputy editor at Stellar magazine, which I did until February of this year (read why I quit my job here); as editor at DreamWedding.com, an online wedding magazine I edited for six months until I realised that weddings are really not my thing; and as editor of Creative Head Ireland, an industry hairdressing magazine I edited for a year, the last six months of which coincided with my role at Stellar and almost gave me an ulcer (doing two jobs at the one time = not ideal).
I've also had a whole host of non-journalism jobs: for six months, I worked as a clerical officer in the civil service, in the Department of Justice (it was after school and before college – I left because I decided I wanted a degree and, er, wasn't ready for a grown-up job); I was deputy head cashier in Zara on Henry St when it opened, and for six months afterwards, training in Zara on Regent St in London for three terribly exciting weeks as we waited for the store to be ready; I've worked in several other shops, too: Brown Thomas, BT2, Boots, Tattoo (now Soho Market) in the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, Urban Outfitters...
Suffice it to say I've done a few job interviews, and I know a bit about what makes a good 'un. That all being said, there's always the possibility of having a curve ball thrown at you when you're sitting in that chair, and you can't prepare for everything. But the bits you can prepare for...
Look the part
Think carefully about the role you're going for, and how you would be expected to dress. You essentially want your first impression to be: wow, she looks perfect for this job. When I went for my job at Urban Outfitters, I wore knee-high boxing boots, a mini skirt and a KISS T-shirt (it was the early noughties). Later, I snuck a look at my interview report and they'd written: "Very Urban, outfit-wise." For the civil service, I wore a pencil skirt, tights and a jumper (I didn't, at that point, own a suit – once I got the job, I owned several).
Jeans are pretty much always going to be a no-no, unless the interview is for a job in the Levi's store, and grooming is essential. I hate to say it, but if you have curly hair, you're probably better off straightening it – yep, this is discrimination, and hugely difficult for black women who, in the Western world, very rarely wear their hair natural. It's considered messy and (more racism alert!) "wild". Again, for my job at UO, I would've been fine leaving my hair wild and free – for everything else, I got a blow-dry.
Paint your nails – or, at the very least, file them short and clean them carefully – and don't overdo it on the make-up. You want to look capable and well put together, not like you're en route to a big night out. (Again: exceptions for those interviewing for roles on make-up counters!) Checklist:
- Personal grooming on point: nails, hair, teeth all clean and shiny.
- Hair and make-up should be sleek but not overdone.
- Iron your clothes (I know, I know – it's not my favourite thing to do either).
Practise your handshake
The second impression you'll make on your interviewers is now, when you shake their hands – and, in fact, I think having a good handshake is essential for life, not just job interviews. Find a really honest friend or family member, and get them to coach you until your grip is firm – but not painful. If there's one thing worse than a limp fish handshake, it's a bone-grinding one. Shaking hands is a science, and you essentially want your handshake to be forgettable – but in a good way.
Prepare, prepare, prepare!
This is such an essential part of the job interview process, and one that people kind of overlook, above and beyond the superficial (figuring out what to wear). You need to know what the company you're going into is about, and what concerns they have in the industry as a whole, and this applies to all jobs.
Say you're going for a job as sales assistant at a fashion brand. Figure out who their closest competition is, and what they're offering that this shop isn't. Go in a couple of times; check out what customers are interested in, and what they're ignoring. Is there some display that's hiding a particular range, for example? When customers walk in, are staff friendly? You can figure out a lot about the vibe of a shop from spending some time there, and then use that to frame your answers.
"What could you bring to this role?" is such a common one – and by taking a look at what their staff are doing, you can see what that company prioritises. Maybe it's being super-friendly. Perhaps it's team work. And, by doing your research, you can suggest fixes – but be careful not to criticise. "Your shop is badly laid out" is not an ideal way of telling them that you have a keen eye for detail and would love to help promote the lesser-known brands.
Similarly, when I interviewed at Stellar, I went armed with a load of information about the state of the magazine industry, and the direction it's headed in. I came with suggestions for content that would work from an editorial point of view (that is, be of interest to the reader) and also from an advertising point of view – magazines will often use content to approach potential advertisers. If, say, they have a 10-page haircare special, they'll use that to approach haircare brands who may want to take out ads that might break up that spread.
I know it's not easy when you're going for job interviews while also working full-time, but do try to spend a couple of hours doing the groundwork; it'll stand to you at crunch time.
I honestly think this is the most important aspect of job interview preparation: come up with a few questions you can ask at that end-of-the-interview moment when they say: "So, do you have any questions for us?"
There's nothing quite like ending the interview on the dullest note ever – "er, not really!" – to leave a totally uninspiring impression on your interviewers.
But a word of warning: this is not the time to ask the type of questions you should only ask if you get the job. Things like: "How many days' holidays do we get?" or "Is there parking?" should be reserved for when you get the job offer, and are negotiating details. (If there's no parking, for example, you might want to try negotiating for a slightly higher wage, to cover parking or public transport costs.) Asking those questions at interview stage makes you seem really presumptuous.
No: this is the time to ask smart questions about the role and company – remember, you're interviewing them, too, and trying to figure out whether the company would be a good fit for you. (I've turned down jobs after the interview portion because I felt like my interviewers were rude and condescending; I decided the company wouldn't be a fun one to work for.)
Two of my favourite interview questions are:
- What do you think the biggest challenge for someone coming into this role would be? This shows an interest in what the difficult aspects of the role might be, as well as an enthusiasm for the good parts. You'll also often get different answers from the different people on the interview panel, as they each assess what their priorities and concerns would be.
- Why do you like working for this company? This will give you a good idea of the culture of the workplace. Are there fun, social events on Fridays? Is it a tight-knit group of people who get on really well? Is it the perks that are top of the list, or is it more about support from HR and management?