Britain is a nation of nervy, inexperienced interviewees despite marked recent improvements in job vacancies, according to the latest research by specialist recruiter Randstad.

Almost a third of people (32%) regard themselves as formerly experienced interviewees who are now out of practice, after years of stasis. It’s not just younger job-hunters that are out of practice either, with workers older than 45 the most likely to consider themselves ‘rusty’ (36% of respondents) compared to under a quarter (23%) of 18-24 year olds.

Interviews themselves are becoming harder across a range of sectors too, with 41% regarding them as tougher now than they were eight years ago before the recession.

Mark Bull, CEO of Randstad UK, said: “It’s not just younger candidates who may not have much experience of job interviews, many more experienced workers have stayed in the same role for a while with little opportunity to brush up on their technique. This inertia has been caused by a number of factors including a lack of new opportunities and job security worries during the downturn, through to simply not having the time to seek new challenges as the market gathered pace. If job seekers are returning to the market now they may need to do more to get themselves back in the zone.”

Common mistakes

The intense scrutiny of an interview situation can cause candidates to make a range of mistakes and two-fifths of employees admitted their mind had gone blank in a previous audition. Despite the potential rewards on offer, more than a fifth of those surveyed conceded their preparation had been inadequate. Other no-nos included unappreciated humour, offending the interviewer and displaying arrogance. Almost one in ten (9%) said they had been late for an interview. 

Mark Bull said: “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail and that is never truer than in the interview scenario. It is staggering that when presented with a potentially life-changing interview, more than a fifth of people haven’t done the necessary homework on the role and organisation they are applying for. Many people admitted they were prone to moments when their minds went blank in interviews, but doing the necessary preparation means such moments are less likely to happen. It’s not enough to just assume your experience and previous knowledge will get you through as even senior employees can be subject to such lapses, so it really is vital to undertake the proper preparations.”

Room for improvement

When asked what would make them feel more comfortable in interviews, 29% cited more practice, 28% opted for more guidance on technical and competency questions, while 16% sought practical interview advice such as what to wear on the day. But by far and away the most popular choice was a greater understanding of the organisation interviewing them (44%). This is where recruiters can really add value to the job search process as they can give interviewees a far greater steer on the institution interrogating them than they can ascertain from their own research.

Mark Bull said: “Now that the majority of companies have websites and have embraced social media, it is far easier for interview candidates to conduct pre-interview research than it might have been for their peers previously. But despite this convenience, there is only a certain amount of intelligence you can glean from desktop investigation. Applying for a job through a specialist recruiter puts you ahead of external applicants as you are given an explicit brief of what is required of the role directly from the people who are searching for candidates. Recruiters will also have a feel of the culture and ethos of a company that is not immediately obvious from a cursory internet search and help give you the edge on your preparation.”

One shot at success

Despite it being commonplace in many sectors to conduct multiple interviews before deciding on the most suitable candidate, Randstad research indicated that this isn’t always the case. Almost three-fifths of employees (57%) only had one interview before landing their current role, with less than a fifth requiring two interviews (19%). These figures highlight the need for making a good first impression as there may not always be an opportunity to make amends in a subsequent meeting.

Mark Bull said: “The jobs market is white-hot at the moment and employers are acting decisively to ensure they fend off the competition for the top talent. In the time it takes to invite candidates back for second or third interviews, the chances are they may have been snapped up by a rival organisation. This is good news for job seekers frustrated with protracted interview processes, but also means that they are only getting one chance to make a decent first impression so it is imperative they grab each chance with both hands.”