Interview advice the coaches don’t give you.

There’s no end of advice about how to answer interview questions, check bus timetables and make sure you arrive 5, 10 or 15 minutes before the interview starts (depending on your advisors carefully researched and analysed assessment of such things),  or smile and make sure your body language is not giving you away as some kind of psychopath.  So, here are two or three gems you don’t get told.

First, having arrived at the place, introduce yourself to the receptionist and ask for directions to the toilet.  There’s a good chance you will need to go, but even if you don’t you should check yourself in the mirror.  After that long sweaty journey using public transport it’s likely that your tie is not straight or your carefully positioned hair has gone lop-sided and you probably need to freshen up with a cool rinse.  I once met a chap who sat through the entire interview looking like an Adam and the Ants tribute act, with a dirty black mark across his left cheek that he had probably picked up from a tube train.

Another reason for going to the toilet, particularly relevant if this is the location you will be working at, is to check them out for cleanliness.  Toilets say a lot about an organisation and the regard it has for its employees and customers.

Don't forget to check out the loos.

Do you really want to work for a company that has grubby loos?  After all you’re going to have to spend a fair amount of your life using them.

Next, and back to reception.  Having arrived the requisite 5, 10 or 15 minutes before the appointment time you now have something like 2,7 or 12 minutes to kill, plus the 20 minutes that you hadn’t expected to wait beyond the appointment time while the person / people you are meeting gets his / her / their act together.  It would be very tempting to do as you are told by the receptionist and take a seat.


Reception area seating is a booby trap for interview candidates.  Think about it.  What are reception seats like?  Exactly.  They are low, deep, luxurious, comfortable sofas.  Sit in one of those and it could take you several hours to extract yourself from it.  All the while your host is standing over you, hand extended for a welcoming shake, looking like a lemon because you, while attempting to look at ease, are wrestling with a large Chesterfield.

For some it’s even worse.  These are the people who fall into the second elephant trap by picking up and pretending to read the Financial Times because they thing they will look good.

Nobody reads the Financial TImes.  They are left in corporate headquarters to make the company look good, not you.  Instead what happens is that a CCTV system runs a camera from reception back into the canteen where a bunch of wags run a book on which idiot will pick up the FT and pretend to read it next.

So now let’s add this into our little scenario.  There you are, swallowed up by the sofa so all that can be seen of you are your knees down and fingers, the rest of you is hidden behind the FT.  Someone comes to meet you and calls your name hopefully.  You’ve already made them feel uncomfortable.

“That’s me,” you answer enthusiastically while simultaneously trying to fold up the newspaper and lift yourself out of your leather cocoon.  You’re collecting newsprint along the way and by the time you’ve finally stood up the FT looks like a paper napkin at the end of a three course meal.

“hello,” you pant, “pleased to meet you.”

Here’s a better plan.

Stand up in the reception area no matter how long you are waiting.  If you have a case or bag, place it on a seat so that it is easily positioned for you to pick it up with your LEFT hand, leaving your right hand free for the handshake.  Rather than reading the newspaper use the time to learn about the organisation.  Flick through their brochures or leaflets – much easier to put down at a moment’s notice – or just take in the atmosphere of the place.  How do passing employees interact with each other?  Do people walk around with a spring in their step or as if they have just heard that their favourite pet hamster has died?

If you are feeling bold and they are not too busy, engage the receptionist in gentle conversation to find out what he or she likes about working there.  Whatever you do, don’t be snooty with receptionists.  They are very often asked about how you treated them, or will tell others if you were rude or dismissive.

Oh, and one last thing, when you leave the loo, check you have done your flies up.


We’ll be looking at this and other tricky interview questions in my Interview Preparation Masterclass in London on January 11th. Click here for further details.

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