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How to maximise the first five minutes of your interview

The first few moments of your interview can have a decisive impact on how well the rest of it goes. Here’s five top tips on how to start strong:

1. Remember the interview starts as soon as you leave the house

The interview starts long before you shake hands and sit down around the table. You never know who you might bump into as you get off your bus, or enter the company’s building – for all you know, your interviewer could be in the same coffee-bar queue as you. So make sure you project a friendly, confident, professional air from the moment you set off.

Make sure you arrive early. Give yourself time to have a comfort break and make sure you’re hydrated. Make conversation with the receptionist, switch off your phone and take in your surroundings – you might notice something that will make a useful small-talk topic later. Don’t try and cram in any last-minute facts – you want to come across as calm and organised, not flustered and under-prepared. 

2. Treat everyone you meet as your interviewer

Make sure that you’re polite and friendly to everyone you come across in the interview process. From greeting the receptionist, to the people you share a lift with, to walking through an open-plan office to reach your meeting-room… These are all touchpoints with your potential future employer, and co-workers will often share their impressions of visitors afterwards, so you want everyone who comes into contact with you to see you in as positive a light as possible. 

3. Create a strong first impression

First impressions count, and non-verbal cues matter even more than verbal ones. So in those first few minutes, it’s all about smiling confidently, shaking hands firmly, making eye contact and generally looking as if you’re glad to be there and you want the job. Lean in slightly, widen your eyebrows slightly, and wait to be invited to sit down. In everything you do, project an attitude of energy, enthusiasm and interest. 

Clothes-wise, try to match your dress style to that of the company you’re meeting. You should be able to get a good idea of the company’s typical dress code through its website and social media output, especially any content about its working culture, and your recruiter can advise you too. You want to project some personality and charisma, but you also want to come across as a good fit, so if in doubt always err on the formal side.

4. Be ready for the small talk

Getting the small talk right (or wrong) can have big consequences. It’s a way for people to build rapport and affinity, and start to generate that elusive, intangible quality of ‘chemistry’ that characterises all effective business relationships.

So as part of your interview preparation, it’s a good idea to think ahead to some likely topics that might come up, so as to help keep the conversation flowing smoothly. The key is to come up with topics where you have a shared interest, so that you’re able to both ask and answer credible questions.  

5. Be on message from the outset

Politicians coached in handling the media are always advised to have a maximum of three key messages to get across, which they should stick to and repeat throughout any interview.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to have two or three key points that you want to make about what you have to offer and what you’re looking for – for example, ‘I’m ready for the challenge of managing a team’, ‘I combine compliance experience with technical expertise’, ‘in my career, I’ve developed an extensive digital transformation skillset’.

These are the three key points that you want your interviewer to remember about you. So try and work them in naturally whenever you can, even in the first few minutes. It’s also important to have a ready answer for some of the most common questions that come up early on – such as ‘Tell me why you want this job’ and ‘What’s your understanding of what this job involves?’ 

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