Career Woman

Nail your job interview: insider secrets from a top recruiter


After 18 years in recruitment and placing more than 1000 people into their next role, the number one question I receive is why am I being knocked back?  There are some common pitfalls you can avoid when you prepare for a job interview, irrespective of which company you are applying to and what your professional background is.

The first 60 seconds of the interview are key.  That’s right – before you even walk into the room and sit down. Right or wrong, judgements are being formed quickly.  The great news is you can control the opinions that are being formed by following a few simple steps.

  • Don’t ring the employer for directions on how to get to their office. Google Maps, sat nav, phone a friend – anything is better than letting them know you don’t know how to navigate the unfamiliar.
  • Make sure your hair was cut recently and your nasal hair is non-existent.
  • Don’t be early to the interview. More than 10 mins early is as unattractive as being late.
  • Take your sunglasses off your head, don’t smoke a cigarette in the hour preceding the interview and remove anything from your mouth or face that wasn’t attached to your body when you came into the world.
  • Wear deodorant/aftershave/perfume, but not enough that your interviewer can smell it before they see you.
  • You should be wearing a corporate suit and your interviewer should not be able to see your toes.
  • Shake hands – firmly. And make some eye contact whilst you’re doing it.
  • Accept the water/tea/coffee when asked. You are attempting to build a relationship here – you really should be saying yes to wasabi if it is offered.
  • Push the small talk as you walk towards the interview room – traffic, weather, something in reception that you noticed whilst waiting, anything to build rapport quickly.
  • Once the interview commences, it is easy to be overcome with nerves.  Just remember that the interviewer may also be nervous or pressed for time, but ultimately, they are hopeful you are their next employee.
  • I have lost count of the number of times employers tell me they asked their candidate for a 5 minute overview to kick things off, and 25 minutes later the person is still talking.  Timing and silence are golden, as are the following.
  • Give specific and concise examples to each question.  Don’t be vague or tell me what you would do in a hypothetical situation – ie don’t start the sentence with ‘I would’.  I want to know what you (not your team) have actually done.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t pull your resume out so you can remember what you have written re job title or dates – this erodes your credibility.
  • Don’t use the words ‘work/life balance’ in a first interview.  These happen to be the most overused words in an interview over the past 3 years.  Work/life balance is aspirational and is earned.  If you ask about it in the first interview, it implies you don’t work hard.
  • Speaking of work ethic, don’t ask about office hours.  It may be important to you, but an interview is all about delivering what the client wants.  Work ethic is ranked highly on their list and you must ensure you have ticked that box.  Asking about office hours changes that tick to a cross.
  • Salary expectations should not be discussed in the first interview, unless the interviewer raises it.
  • Great candidates never answer questions with just a yes or no – they always elaborate and look to give as much of their personality as possible.
  • Take notes, not mental notes – notes with a pen and paper.  My clients always mention the candidate that does this in the interview debrief and yet, surprisingly few people do it.
  • Try to smile often, work some humour and commonality into the conversation.

Finally, if all else fails, revert to 3 great questions at the end.  Jobs can be won or lost on great interview questions.  When you are asked the inevitable question at the end – do you have any questions – don’t waste this opportunity by saying no, I think you have covered everything.  Questions around culture, long term vision and what success in the role looks like will dramatically increase your chances for a call back.

About Kara Atkinson

Kara Atkinson is an expert in recruitment with over 18 years in the industry. Kara created her own recruitment business 10 years ago, fuelled by the opportunity to help people continue to build and transform themselves through their career. Kara specialises in Sales & Marketing Executive Roles, recruiting across all industries and business sizes. To find out more visit

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