7 Small Ways to Make Yourself More Employable

We’ve all read about how quickly first impressions can be formed.

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Articles differ about whether you get sixty seconds, thirty seconds or a mere seven seconds to make that crucial first impression, but the overall message is clear: you don’t get very long to impress people, and there’s no area where that’s as important as when you’re applying for a job.

Thirty seconds? Seven seconds? The pressure to make a near-instant good impression can feel overwhelming.

Some first impressions will be formed on things you can do nothing about, such as your height, name or gender. But others will be based on things you can change. And as an interview wears on, you’ll also have opportunities to correct a mistaken first impression and change someone’s mind.
Employability can be a matter of experience and qualifications – the things on your CV that get you the interview in the first place. But once you’re in the interview room, chances are that your CV and covering letter were about as good as anyone else who made it to the interview stage; so it’s time to think about everything else that makes a good impression and demonstrates to your prospective employer that you would make a good employee. Here are our tips for the small things you can address to make yourself more employable.

1. Practise your handshake

It’s a job interview cliché, but it’s still worth addressing. Most articles will advise that you should have a firm, confident handshake. This is true for most people, in that most people will be nervous coming up to the interview and therefore are likely not to be firm or confident in anything they’re doing, handshake included. But if you’re more likely to come across as overconfident (perhaps it’s your coping mechanism when nervous), then you should think about your handshake accordingly. If anyone has sore fingers by the time you’re done with them, you’re shaking hands the wrong way.

Who knows where a decent handshake could take you?
Who knows where a decent handshake could take you?

Also consider where your interview is taking place. In the USA or UK, a confident interviewee reaching out to start the handshake might make a good impression (though it could come across as cocky) – but in South Korea, handshakes are initiated by the most senior person, and they should be soft, not firm. In Turkey, similarly, firm handshakes are rude, and the hand should be held for considerably longer than it would be in the UK. If it’s an international company and your interviewer might not be local, it might be best to forgo seeming confident and let them initiate the appropriate form of greeting.

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2. Adapt your vocabulary

Code-switching is the social skill of changing your language according to the setting you’re in. In the most obvious sense, it’s switching from one language to another depending on whether the person you’re speaking to speaks the same language, but it can be much more subtle than this. Think about the bilingual expatriate family who speak the language of their country of origin in the home, but switch to the language of the country they’ve moved to when they’re out and about.

We code switch all the time, depending on the context we're speaking in.
We code-switch all the time, depending on the context we’re speaking in.

But you don’t need to be bilingual to engage in code-switching – most of us do it at some point, and the more diverse the circles you move in, the more likely you are to need to do it. Armstrong and Miller’s Second World War fighter pilot sketches are a handy demonstration of the use of a particular dialect where it’s not expected; in the accents of the 1940s upper class, they use the dialect you might expect from modern-day teenagers.
So when you’re at a job interview or similar, remember to adapt your vocabulary so that it’s appropriate to the situation. This doesn’t mean that you should starting speaking like the Queen, but even avoiding verbal tics like “like” at the end of sentences can make a difference in how you’re perceived. This shows your prospective employer that if there are any clients you’ll be called upon to meet and impress, you’ll be capable of code-switching appropriately and using the vocabulary that’s right for the occasion, just as you are doing in your interview.

3. Answer questions thoroughly, but concisely

There are two particular types of interviewee that employers dread: the monosyllabic interviewee and the waffler.
The monosyllabic interviewee will answer the question of whether they have any experience of customer relations management with “No” or – if they’re really feeling wordy – “Not much.” The interviewer will feel like they had to do a disproportionate amount of the word of dragging words out of the interviewee, a little bit like a parent trying to get a twelve-year-old to tell them what school was like that day.

Both types of interviewee, however, can be profoundly boring.
Both types of interviewee, however, are profoundly boring.

The waffler, on the other hand, simply will not stop talking. The question about customer relations management will be answered, at length, with reference to the school club they were a member of aged thirteen and the summer job they had two years later, and probably a handful of other repetitive or irrelevant examples, as if a lack of experience can be covered up with a lot of words. The interviewer will feel like they struggled to get a word in edgeways, whilst also not feeling like they learned much about the candidate either.
An ideal interview feels like a conversation, where no one is paying attention to the amount each person speaks because it flows naturally. But in job interviews – especially when it’s for a relatively junior position, and even more so if you’re nervous – it won’t always reach the ideal. Under these circumstances, try to answer the question thoroughly, but without going on for ages. For the question about customer relations management, illustrating your experience with one solid example that allows the interviewer opportunity for further questions is great. After all, if you can speak well in an interview, hopefully you’ll be able to speak just as well in meetings once you’ve got the job.

4. Don’t put yourself down

Modesty is an attractive quality, especially if you’re being employed for an entry-level position; no one will want to hire you if they think you’re too arrogant to do what they tell you.
At the same time, don’t put yourself down. It may be that the interviewer is deciding between you and one other candidate. You’ve said that you’re terrible at budgeting. The other candidate is equally bad at budgeting, but perhaps described it as something they want to work on. You don’t want to be rejected for the job because your own negative assessment of your capabilities was enough to put the interviewer off.

With Alan Sugar sitting opposite, is it any wonder that they're nervous?
With Alan Sugar sitting opposite, is it any wonder that they’re nervous?

Many people find it tricky to give the kind of confident answers that an interview requires, at least without sounding like one of the more hopeless contestants on The Apprentice. It might help to fake it until you make it; it’s daunting to try and be some kind of best version of yourself, but acting the part of a confident person who happens to have the same qualifications and experience as you can be easier.
If that distinction doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry. It may instead be worth remembering instead that plenty of people show up late to an interview, or don’t show up at all and expect to get a second interview; others show up on time but neglect personal hygiene; and others will just be rude. So remember that even if you’re unremarkable among your peer group, you might still be doing a lot better than the people applying for the same job as you.

5. Have good answers to standard questions

This is a very small and simple thing, and yet it’s surprising how many people don’t do it.
There are a sizeable number of interview questions that come up time and time again, some of them because they are common sense, and some of them because interviewers can lack imagination. Questions such as:

  • Why do you want this role?
  • Why are you leaving your current role?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What would your friends say about you?
  • What do you know about this company?
  • What are your goals?
  • What are your salary expectations?

    "...but, unlike most biscuits, I never crumble under pressure."
    “…but, unlike most biscuits, I never crumble under pressure.”

Even the zany questions (“if you were a biscuit, what kind of biscuit would you be and why?”) are usually quite predictable – if it’s not biscuits, chances are it’ll be animals or fruit.
There is therefore no reason to go to an interview without having at least considered your answer to the questions above. You shouldn’t be startled by being asked why you’re leaving your current role, for instance – it’s a question you should expect. You especially shouldn’t hum and haw over the salary question, because if you don’t know what you expect to be paid, chances are that even if you’re offered the job, you won’t be paid as much as you should have been.
Also, if you don’t consider questions in advance, you might just say the first biscuit that comes to mind, and then you’ll forever be the person who went into a job interview and said, “I’m a custard cream!”

6. Dress well.

Some people view dressing up for an interview as deceptive; as if by putting on a tie or heels you’re betraying your real personality, and if you get the job you’ll have to be some kind of puppet of yourself the whole time you’re there. But this really isn’t how it works. Virtually nobody dresses the same at work as they did for their interview. They dress that way for the first day – or perhaps the first week, if they’re really keen. After that, the shoes get more comfortable and the routine of getting ready in the morning gets a lot quicker.

Looking sharp can make all the difference.
Looking sharp can make all the difference.

It’s important to remember that in an interview, you are not just demonstrating to your employer that you know how to behave and dress for them. You are also demonstrating that you know how to behave and dress for everyone else you might encounter in a business context. They know that you won’t have freshly polished shoes every day at work, but they also want to know that if you have a meeting with a really important client, that’s when you’ll remember to polish your shoes. Performing for an interview isn’t just about how you’ll be every day at work – it’s about how you’ll be when your work requires you to be at your best.
Beyond getting the iron out, dressing for an interview can be a challenge. A shirt and tie is always a good start for men, and a suit is worth considering (it’s usually better to be overdressed). For women, there are more options, but also more pitfalls. For any gender, there are other things to look out for – for instance, if you’ve been decorating your wrist with a collection of increasingly ratty festival bracelets, now is the time to let go.

7. Get fidgeting under control

This is last on the list because although it’s a small thing, it’s also extremely difficult to do. If you’re an instinctive fidgeter, you probably don’t realise half the time that you’re doing it, and it probably gets worse when you’re nervous. That’s something of a perfect storm for a job interview.

Can't stop fiddling with your glasses? It might be time to try contacts.
Can’t stop fiddling with your glasses? It might be time to try contacts.

To beat fidgeting, you first have to figure how you fidget. Do you rock back and forth in your chair? Instinctively chew pens? Push hair out of your eyes? Fiddle with your glasses? Whatever your habits are, they’re probably more obvious to other people than they are to you – so if you want to fix them, you have to submit yourself to the embarrassment of asking other people what they are. A one-minute mock interview should be enough for someone to figure out the most annoying things you do.
Then look to fixing them. The best way is to make them impossible. If you fiddle with your hair, can you tie it up in some way that makes it unfiddleable? If you chew pens, can you make sure that any pen you have in the interview room is placed a good distance away from you when you’re not actually writing with it? If you rock on your chair, can you concentrate on ensuring all four legs are on the ground?

Finding a job is always a challenge. What small changes have you found made you more employable? Let us know in the comments!
Image credits: paperclips; clock; einstein; chatting in bar; bored cat; pile of biscuits ; businesswoman; dog wearing spectacles; coffee table


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