I don't know about you, but I find job interviews properly awkward. There's all that fake politeness and idle chit chat and, however hard I try or thoroughly I seem to prepare, something always seems to go slightly (read catastrophically) wrong. Last one I went to, I wore a bought-for-the-occasion 'office friendly' Kate Middleton-esque smart dress which was so tight it literally crushed my lungs and I spent the whole interview trying not to faint. Another time, I was showing my interviewer a portfolio of my work and I physically COULD NOT seem to get a piece of paper out of one of those plastic folder things. After fumbling with the bloody thing for what felt like an hour, and by now in a blind panic, I ripped open the folder and sent my interviewer's coffee flying all over her desk, wall and face. Shockingly, I didn't get that job.
But by far the most stressful part of the interviewing process for me is the part at the end when they ask if I've got any questions. I know it's coming, but it never fails to leaves me a sort of sweaty, stuttering mess. Because what I want to ask is how much money I'm going to be on, how much holiday I'm going to get and all those other important can-I-actually-cope-with-being-grown-up-and-having-a-job type questions. But I know that asking that will probably make my chances of getting the job go from 'unlikely' to 'unfathomable'. So what are you supposed to ask?
I'm not the only one who's feeling a bit clueless about this stuff - apparently a quarter of soon-to-be graduates feel properly underprepared for the working world. The same number of recent graduates haven't even made it to a single interview yet - and those who have still aren't sure what's the best way to prep. Today's adult-in-a-postition-to-help Tanya de Grunwald says it's all about staying calm and doing your homework: 'Being invited for interview is a good sign – but don’t get cocky, it’s not in the bag yet,' the founder of careers website Graduate Fog tells The Debrief. 'All you know is that they like the content of your CV and they may have invited you in because they think you’re strong in one area, but weak in another, and they want to see if the weak area is workable or not. Job hunting is like online dating. No matter how good someone looks on paper, either side can be pleasantly – or unpleasantly – surprised by what happens when you meet in person.'
Basically, if you want to ever get past the interview stage, you have to fix up and make sure you come armed with a question that's going to impress them. 'They want an engaged, prepared candidate who'll give rounded, fleshed out answers to prove that a) you understand fully what the job is and b) you can do it,' says Tanya, who's also author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession.
Asking about the dress code sounds prissy – like you’re already worrying about your wardrobe
That means no questions about holidays. 'It just sounds like you can’t wait to get out of there, and you haven’t even started yet! Employers are looking for long-term commitment because recruiting and training new staff is expensive, so they want to make sure you won’t take their investment and then bugger off to Australia for a year. They really hate it when that happens,' she says. 'It's the same with lunch breaks - asking about it just looks immature. In most workplaces, your contract will say you get an hour for lunch – but in reality few people will take that. Suck it up. Sorry.'
Anything else I should be avoiding at all costs? 'Annoyingly, asking about money isn't a great idea either. Of course, it’s totally reasonable for candidates to want to know about the salary, but asking about money too early can be a big turn-off as it gives the impression that’s all you care about – and they want to find someone who really wants the job,' says Tanya. 'Also, asking about the dress code sounds prissy – like you’re already worrying about your wardrobe – or like you’re struggling to adjust to the idea that you might not be allowed to wear trainers to the office. It's not a strong look.'
So basically, I need to repress my natural instincts to fret over the small stuff and blurt out those questions in an interview. Got it. But that's what not to do - what should I be doing? 'The best questions always relate to something you’ve discussed during the interview,' says Tanya. 'Pick up on something you thought was interesting but that they glossed over. If you can’t think of anything like that, ask about that nuts and bolts of what your day to day working life will be like. How many people are there in your team? Who will you report to? Asking about training or long-term professional development is a good look too, something like 'What do people in this role tend to go on to do next?' Also, if it feels appropriate and you can handle the cheese factor, ask them what they like best about working at the organisation. Interviewers spend most of their time asking other people questions, to they love the occasional chance to talk about themselves. This is also a good chance to deepen your personal connection with them – although of course you should always be careful not to go too deep. Always keep things professional.'
So asking the interviewer what they're up to on the weekend is off limits then isn't it? Right. Good. Definitely haven't done that before...
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiecullinane
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.