Perfect candidate

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
Ditch the dead fish handshake and dress to impress if you really want that job. Jane Mather tells you how to sell yourself
Ditch the dead fish handshake and dress to impress if you really want that job. Jane Mather tells you how to sell yourself

Take a good long look at yourself. What does the way you dress say about you? What impression are you trying to make, or do you need to make?

Everyone knows that you need to do your homework before going to an interview: reading up on the advertised role and finding out as much as possible about your potential employer. But what's going to make you really stand out as an exceptional candidate is the way you look, act and carry yourself - your own personal branding.

Personal branding is all about deciding what impression you'd like to make, or need to make, on a day-to-day basis, and then strengthening your existing "soft skills" to achieve this.

It's essential that you send out the right messages about yourself at interview. People buy people. You might have the best record and experience, but if you show conflicting signals in an interview then the panel will start to question your real ability.

A face-to-face interview is an opportunity to tell people about yourself in many ways, not just verbally. Small changes to your appearance, such as wearing your most flattering colours and clothes, can greatly enhance your personal image.

Here are five tips on how to create that positive impression when going for an interview:

1. Consider what impression you want to make - enthusiastic, charismatic, knowledgeable, sincere - and ensure your body language reflects this. For example, an enthusiastic and energetic person is likely to smile when they enter the interview room, hold their head up and make eye contact. Casually entering the interview room with shoulders slumped says that you don't care and are unprepared.

2. Beware of all nervous habits. These will distract the interviewer, who will be unable to pay 100 per cent attention to what you have to say.

3. Ensure your overall look is authoritative. One way to achieve this is through wearing a dark suit and a high contrast shirt; the more contrast there is between the colour of your suit and your shirt the greater the positive visual impact you are likely to make.

4. Use colourful jewellery or a tie to draw attention to the face. The area from your neck to the top of your head is known as your "influencing triangle", and this is where you want the attention of the interviewer to be.

5. Ensure your handshake is firm without being too firm; no one likes a "dead fish" handshake, but equally the bones in the hand should be left intact. When shaking hands your arm should be at a 90 degree angle.

Jane Mather is a senior manager in the business restructuring department at BDO Stoy Hayward LLP, an accountants firm. She is also a fully-qualified image consultant.


- Anticipate questions and think about your answers.

- Practise projecting yourself into the role. This will help you answer with confidence and give the interviewer a better sense of how you will operate.

- Research the job to limit any unpleasant surprises. For example, what are the key priorities for the role?

- Dress to impress: smart and professional.

- Make a good first impression. Do simple things, such as keeping eye contact.

- Answer the question. In particular, the one you've been asked and not the one that you want to answer. Give specific examples, ideally with measurable outcomes.

- Be positive and enthusiastic. You should look and respond as though you want the job. A less experienced candidate can be successful in an interview over more experienced candidates by demonstrating an enthusiasm for the role.

You have come this far, so you have the potential to do the job.

- Establish a connection. The individuals interviewing you are more than likely to be the people you end up working with. You may not be thinking about this, but they will. Your future colleagues will want to feel that they'll get on with you.

- Consider your audience. Think about who you are being interviewed by. If you're going to stand out, do so for the right reasons.

- Be honest. Do not present yourself as something you are not. Reputation is everything. If you want the job but don't think that you have enough of the right qualities, then sell them the relevance of what you do have, your transferable skills and the propensity to get up to speed quickly in all other areas.

- As a candidate there are never any negatives. There are only areas for development. Accentuate the positives.

- Ask questions. You may be interested in opportunities to develop further in the role, work with others or even offer a suggestion that will improve a department. Thank the panel before you leave and wish them well.

Michael Watson is recruitment director of TES Prime, a specialist search and selection recruitment consultancy dedicated to filling school leadership positions.

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