The killer handshake and other interview disasters

Look 'em straight in the eye, grip the offered hand tightly and think, VERY LOUDLY: "Give me the job! Give me the job!" Could work. Or you could break the hand of your future employer. Get some interview tips here

You probably know what recruiters think.

“Engineers. Now let me see. Technical skills? Check. Problem solvers? Oh yes. Communication?” Snaps pencil, breaks off for a quick snigger.

Yes, that little matter of getting your point across. Snarls up your interview technique every time.

One HR officer who spoke to Student & Young Professional – so long as we guaranteed anonymity – said that the firm had an “um” count when it was interviewing engineers – the one remembered fondly at the top of the league had 98 in a 15 minute interview. (Although this does make you wonder whether they were listening to the answer at all, or too busy counting on their fingers under the desk.)

Time to prove the HR doubters wrong. So you can double check that you are the all-round package, able to offer employers technical AND people skills, we asked a number of employers, specialists, students and graduates for their advice on cracking interviews. We’ve even thrown in some common mistakes for good measure. Um, good luck out, um, there.

Make a difference (advanced stuff here)

1: (from Nigel Kibler, Training Manager, BAM Construct) 

Prepare to push yourself

First and foremost, go in there as prepared and ready as possible with your knowledge about the business and what you are there to be judged on. Try to take 10 deep breaths beforehand and relax and just go for it.

In the current market place there are a large number of candidates and few jobs and that will probably be the case for a while to come. You’ve really got to put yourself out a little bit and step outside of your comfort zone for a few hours and try and promote yourself – yes, it doesn’t come naturally to everybody but even if it feels a little bit cringeworthy you have to do it.

2: (from Mona Sarah Laajam, graduate civil and structural engineer) 

Know the classics, part 1

The interviews I’ve attended have been straightforward and most of the time they weren't very technical, and were a bit more personal. My advice would be to prepare for core questions such as “what are your goals and aspirations now and in the future”, “what are your hobbies”, “why did you study engineering”, “what makes you want to work for us” and “what makes our organisation different to other companies”. Help with these questions can be provided by your university’s career service.

3: (from Hazel Guise-Mien, civil engineer) 

Know the classics, part 2

Interviews and assessment centres are not solely about assessing your ability as an engineer. Companies are very aware that as a graduate you will still need to develop what you have learnt at university for practical use.

You may be assessed on some basic engineering principles but you will not be expected to know how to design the next Olympic Stadium! For structural engineering posts remember your shear forces, bending moments and perhaps a code or two. You are likely to be assessed on how you will complement a team in existence and if you are likely to develop into an engineer that fits within the company. Be prepared for questions relating to this. Most important is for you to be yourself and relax as much as possible.  

4: (from Elizabeth Clark, body language expert from Rapport Unlimited) 

What to do when the interview turns into a car crash

You’ve got to get the recruiters onside, and having sat through thousands of interviews there’s nothing worse than watching someone pretend something bad isn’t happening. Honesty is always the best policy in those situations. Not only that, but you also have a shared experience. Even just holding your hands up and saying, “Look this is actually a massive faux pas and that’s not what I wanted to be remembered for, I wanted to be remembered for x, y and z. However, if you can see your way clear to looking past that…”

Recruiters don’t mind people making small gaffes and being able to see it from their perspective because that’s still building a rapport. It’s actually a chance to shine because it’s a chance to show that when things go wrong you can still recover.

Related tip no 5: (from Hazel Guise-Mien) 

Don’t be scared to admit your ignorance

“It is always better to admit when you do not know something, but follow it up with an explanation of how you would find out about it. Don't try to bluff your way through it; this will put you on edge and probably give the opposite impression from the one you hoped for.”  

6: (from Nigel Kibler) 

Rehearse your answers

If you can, use a friend or a tutor to bounce some ideas off, maybe even do a couple of role plays before getting into an interview situation. 

Certainly, look at your CV well in advance and try and identify the areas where it demonstrates what sort of personality you have. It doesn’t have to be an academic achievement, it can be something you have achieved outside of academia, whether it be in a club situation or sporting or charity situation , anything like that, really, that demonstrates that you have got a little bit more to your personality. For instance, you can demonstrate leadership skills or organisational skills from a job working behind a bar or in a restaurant. You can pull out the positive elements of leadership and management skills from lots of different experiences and these are all important skills to demonstrate.

And where you could mess up – schoolboy errors

1: Timing

Turn up late to the interview? You’d better have a cast iron excuse. The assessors will report this to the firm looking for new recruits, and that firm will rightly think that if you can’t be bothered to get there on time then you’ll probably not make much of an employee. Plan your route and set off in plenty of time.  

2: First impressions

Yes, it would be nice to live in a world where we didn’t judge by appearances, but we do. So smart clothes, clean shoes and fresh copies of CVs and any paperwork you need (not the one you’ve scrawled on and chewed on the bus). Also remember to make eye contact and smile – especially when you are introduced to someone new.

3: Crushing handshakes

No one in the real world thinks that the stronger your handshake the more employable you are – just shake hands normally. Not too wimpy, either, though, as the feeble handshake is just as off-putting as the over-firm one. Also, if you know you get sweaty hands when you’re nervous then put a (clean) handkerchief in your pocket so that you can quickly dry your hand before a handshake.

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