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How to impress at interviews

You’ve won the chance to woo your new boss in person. Nursing Times reveals how to shelve your nerves and wow your interviewers

You’ve taken the call. You’ve got an interview in three days’ time and now you can’t stop your hands from shaking. It may only be a few questions but to you it feels like Sir Alan Sugar’s 13-week job interview on The Apprentice. Here’s our guide to being the best-prepared candidate for the job.

1. Look the part

You will be the face of the trust as a frontline carer, so how you look is important. Dress well, tie your hair back and look as you would at work so your potential employer can imagine you easily fitting into their ward or practice. You work with your hands so your body language will be so important in persuading a new boss to hire you. “Limp handshakes, lack of eye contact, slouching and failing to smile are all complaints that recruiters have about interviewees,” says Innes.

Caddick agrees. “We’ve had people turn up in jeans and a T shirt, with pink hair and piercings, and this really isn’t presenting themselves in the best light.”

2. Know who is interviewing you

Our top tip for standing out from the pack is to find out a bit about the person who is interviewing you before you go, so you can impress them. It will also help you ask more tailored questions at the end of the interview as you will understand their role and background.

3. Research the trust or company

Nothing impresses a potential employer more than a candidate who has done some research on them before the interview. Steve Caddick, nurse recruitment advisor for The Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, recommends that those invited for interview set up an informal visit to the unit they are applying for. “Nothing gets you more brownie points than that,” he says. It will show you are interested in the hospital, the ward or unit you are working in, and may well give you a chance to meet the people who will be interviewing you as well as your colleagues, should you be successful. It will also give you inspiration for questions at the end of the job interview – which are essential.

There is nothing worse than when you say ‘Do you have any questions?’ and they reply ‘No I think you covered everything.’  A good interviewee asks a lot of questions and wants to know about the trust, and what it’s like to work there. “Before you go into an interview make sure that you prepare as much as possible – get a real understanding about what the organisation does, what they are trying to achieve, what projects they have been working on recently and so on. During the interview demonstrate, where possible, the fact you have done this research,” says Ellis.

So make sure you have some intelligent questions about the company – that aren’t about pay or perks.

But Tina Lamb, senior partner at The Impact Factory, which provides advice on personal presentation skills in interview as well as in business, says it is important to be genuine at all times, and advises that you ask something you are genuinely interested in, such as what kind of person the interviewer is looking for or what the team are like that you will work with.

4. Prepare your answers

Think about potential questions, and consider how you would answer them, integrating examples of your own experience and accomplishments, says James Innes, managing director of The CV Clinic and author of The Interview Book. “But don’t sound like you are reciting answers.  Even if you have memorised them, make sure it comes across with enthusiasm and doesn’t sound rehearsed.”

Ms Lamb agrees. “Think of three things you can talk about with passion, knowledge or experience, and make sure that you get that across,” she says. “You may not, as a student, have a lot of experience, but if there is something you can talk with passion about, then make sure that gets on the agenda.”

5. Be confident

“Confident people inspire confidence in others,” says Innes. “ If you appear confident that you are able to do the job, the employer is likely to be more inclined to believe that you can. But don’t appear arrogant. Value your strengths realistically.” Showing your dedication and commitment to the career and its progression is crucial; employers want to see someone with passion, flair and drive – not someone that is half-hearted about an opportunity,” says Ellis. “During this competitive climate, candidates can’t be lax about finding work and making a good impression. It is also important to remember that the employer is not trying to catch you out when asking questions; they simply want to find out if you are the right person for the job.”

Mr Caddick agrees: “It’s hard for nurses to show confidence as they are naturally bent to helping others rather than promoting themselves, but they need to be friendly and confident and show that they have people skills,” he says.

6. Never complain about the boss

Having problems with the boss is the top reason people give (in surveys) for changing jobs, says Innes.  “But never say anything negative about either a current or a previous employer. It will most likely cost you the job regardless of whether your criticism is justified.”

7. Read the instructions

Most interviewers will send you a letter with instructions about what to bring on the day and where to go. It’s essential you read this thoroughly. “Nothing is more offputting than someone who turns up without their NMC registration, passport or some other document you’ve clearly told them to bring,” says Mr Caddick. “It just demonstrates a couldn’t care less attitude, and that isn’t appealing obviously for someone who will be taking care of you on the ward.”

8. Let the interviewer off the hook

The interviewer will be just as nervous as you feel, and probably more exhausted, says Ms Lamb. So try and make it easy for them. Prepare the three subjects you want to talk at length about and then make sure you only talk at length about them, and make answers on other subjects briefer. “One of the things I always get asked by interviewers in training is how they can get people to give more succinct answers and shut people up,” says Ms Lamb. “So it’s helpful if the interviewee is mindful of this, and then just tells them they can provide more detail if needed.”

8. Be genuine

Too many people try and be someone else in an interview, but an interviewer wants to see the genuine you, says Ms Lamb. If you’re a quiet nurse, be that; if you’re a passionate nurse, be that too. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create the sort of first impression you want to. “I do an exercise in my training courses to encourage people to rehearse forming impressions – in the bar, supermarket or at work. Be professional, friendly, and carry that into the room  so don’t go in moaning about being late, or apologetic about something else. Carry it through that this is the impression you are going to make.

You may still feel like you are being grilled, but try and come across as genuinely interested in the interviewer and in engaging them. Don’t make the pace feel like the interviewer is doing all the work – get them interested in you and make sure that you take an interest in them.

10. Think about your last impression

First impressions can be changed, says Ms Lamb. But you must focus on your last impression – so ensure that you leave an impression of confidence and friendliness. Also, she advises that you call them or email them and thank the interviewer the same day or next day and then just leave it. “It’s like dating, you can’t call more than once the next day. You have to just wait and leave it.”

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