Opening up some job interview basics

Q: I haven’t ever done a job interview – until now, I have always got jobs by word-of-mouth referrals. However, as things get tighter in the jobs market, I am facing my first ever interview next week. I have followed your advice here about what I should say, but I would also like a quick run-through some of the basics – eye contact, handshake, etc. Any quick-reference guide you can give me? (TP, email)

A: I go through some below. But let me preface them by saying that you should not try to revolutionise yourself before an interview. For example, if you like to leave your hands down by your side, and are comfortable doing that, trying to introduce a whole new range of elaborate hand gestures during the interview might only have the effect of ‘throwing’ yourself at a time when you should be seeking to relax.

So, don’t aim for dramatic changes. For your upcoming interview, try to incorporate some of these elements I list here – over time, as you do more interviews, blend in more and more of them, but only at a pace that is comfortable for you.

  1. A firm handshake. As we’ve said here before, not a knuckle-crusher: don’t wait until you see the blood drain from the face of your opponent, sorry interviewer. A firm handshake implies self-confidence: a knuckle-crusher might just bring to mind disquieting images of a psychopath. Unless you are applying for a job as a psychopath, we suggest an appropriate firmness.
  2. Eye contact – yes and no. We believe you should try to convey the impression that you are maintaining eye contact. If you are comfortable maintaining eye contact, go for it: however, if you find it difficult to do so, we suggest a little trick. Look the interviewer on the chin. They will never know you are not looking in their eye. It allows you to uphold the impression of eye contact, without having to actually do it – and thus spares you the awkwardness many people feel about eye contact. Again, staring them out of it, forcing them to chicken out to a blink, is generally not recommended.
  3. Sitting posture: don’t slump. Sit up in the chair. Leave your posture open. However, don’t read too many articles on this topic before your first interview, because they will only confuse you – it is sufficient to sit up to show interest, but not so far that you look as if you are wrapped up in some painful physical contortion.
  4. Hand movements: if you are someone who speaks with their hands, by all means bring that into your interview performance. It’s natural for you. If you tend to be less demonstrative, it might be a good idea to practise hand gestures before you go to the interview – the reason is that hand gestures help to burn off the nervous energy you will inevitably feel in the interview. Become accustomed to some movement of your hands as you make a point. If you don’t burn off that nervous energy, it will manifest itself somewhere – perhaps in shaking of your hands or other parts of your body, quivering lips, or, as happens to me, an unannounced little shimmy or shake of the neck. So best to plan for burning off some of the energy, but, as we’ve said a few times here, go for incremental rather than sweeping changes.

Sli Nua Careers offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services at their offices in Galway, Dublin and Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. You can also obtain their free eBook providing Job Searching Tips by emailing with Job Searching eBook in the subject line. More: