We all know when we’ve performed well in an interview…well, at least we like to think we do.

The obvious indicators – answering questions to the best of our ability, showing off about our knowledge of the company culture, making the odd joke etc – all help to build up a positive picture in our minds about how things went. “I TOTALLY SMASHED IT”, you’ll probably recount to your mates over a Friday night cocktail later on, after adhering to what you think is perfect interview etiquette. You may feel, deep within your soul, that you did indeed smash it. But then again, how do you ever, really know?

To properly help you out, we’ve collected some professional advice and asked a few interviewers exactly what they look out for when assessing candidates, and FYI, it’s a lot more than a good answer. We’ve also asked a load of young people how they handle strange interview questions (what animal would you be, anyone?).

This is how to stand out in your next interview.

Start strong

Research from the University of Ottowa showed that a good, firm handshake can go a very long way. The study was conducted with 98 students at a business school participating in mock job interviews and found that women are looked more favourably upon after initiating a strong handshake, and that for both men and women, a handshake was found to be more important than dress or physical appearance when it comes to solidifying the interviewer’s first impressions of that person. Who knew?

Dig deep with your research

It’s wise to turn up to an interview having researched the role in depth. But do a little research on yourself, too. Have some answers prepared that show how good a leader you are, how you’ve overcome personal and professional challenges and what makes you perfect for the company.

Tracey Herald is Head of Partnerships & Social Impact at O2 and has conducted a fair few interviews in her time and told us that it’s the candidates who arrive well-prepared to interviews that are the ones she wants to hire. “If they research the role and the company, that’s impressive” she said.  “It shows me they’re serious about the opportunity and are curious and keen to learn. But I also really welcome candidates talking about challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve tackled them – this tells me a lot about their resilience and tenacity when things don’t go their way.”

Brush up on your body language tips

Of course great answers and loads of friendly chat before and after the interview help, but so does being conscious of your body language.  Make sure you’re maintaining good eye contact (but not in a wide-eyed, freaky way, obviously), greet everyone in the same way, and walk into the room as if you *actually* want to be there. “That’s all part of the impression a candidate makes- good body language and eye contact helps massively” says Kerry North, the Senior Partnerships Manager at O2. And Tracey agrees. “I do think good eye contact is helpful – especially if you’re being interviewed by more than one person or a panel” she added.

Don’t get thrown by weird questions

Below, we asked a load of young people the weirdest interview questions they’ve ever received in the video.

But luckily Tracey tells us that she doesn’t tend to throw difficult questions at candidates as she doesn’t think it’s fair at O2. “I’m not a big believer in tricky questions – as I think interviews are about giving candidates a fair opportunity to share their knowledge, skills and experience” she said. “Instead I enjoy asking candidates to talk about work achievements that they’re proud of. I think this says a lot about a person’s values and what motivates them personally to do a job.” Phew.

Don’t worry about being different

When preparing for an interview, it’s tempting to try and mould your personality into what you think the employer wants to see. But as Kerry says, it’s your differences that can make you really stand-out, and a diverse, well-rounded workforce is what many employers are looking for these days, including her team.

“Yes we look at the bits surrounding the interview, the chit-chat and the little conversations”, she said. “And that gives you a sense as to whether they’re going to fit into the team and feel part of it. But at O2 we’re quite good at trying to recruit differences – I look for people who aren’t the same as me because we need complementary approaches and different skill-sets. Basing things too much on that like-ability factor can be dangerous as we may end up with a team of clones – and we don’t want that!”

Channel those nerves

Feeling on edge before a big interview is fairly normal, but it’s how you make use of that nervous energy that can make all the difference. Most interviewers will empathise (they’re only human, too!), as Tracey reminds us. “I get quite nervous before job interviews, so I hope that this means I have more empathy with candidates who may feel anxious” she said. “I think as an interviewer, you have a responsibility to get the best out of a candidate – and help alleviate any nerves.” That’s reassuring, then!

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