ImageThey say you don’t mix business and pleasure, but the key to success in both professional and romantic interviews (the latter are also known as ‘dates’) is the same: don’t exude desperation.

However infatuated with the person or job (or just the salary) you may feel, do yourself a favour and don’t let anyone get the impression that this is your only option. In the dating world, obvious desperation suggests that the person a) has little confidence in what they have to offer, b) can’t cope with their own company (in which case, what’s to say that others can?) and/or c) has been single a very long time. It’s pretty much the same for job interviews. A desperate candidate inspires at best pity, at worst mild repulsion and – like an £80 dress reduced to £15 in the Topshop sale – makes the other party suspect there’s a reason they haven’t been snapped up already.

Unfortunately, confidence and calm is the stuff of dreams for many jobseekers. They’re all too aware that in today’s competitive job market there are not only plenty more fish in the sea for an employer, but plenty more bright, well-qualified fish.

Having tried both pitiful grovelling and cucumber-coolness in interviews, I can report that, hard though it will be, reining in the inevitable desperation does get results. Compare and contrast:

  1. Interview for a paid role at a charity. Genuine enthusiasm plus extreme desperation = disaster. Shaky voice, overuse of random phrases (such as ‘in terms of’), flushed cheeks and prolonged babbling. I capped things off by going completely overboard in praise of a 20-second quote I’d heard my interviewer give on a radio programme.
  2. Interview for an unpaid ‘journalism’ internship at a rice broker. The role was almost certainly not for me, but as it was local I caved in to a badgering recruiter and went along for interview practice. Being ambivalent about the outcome, I was polite but assertive – not arrogant – about my worth, skills, and the kind of job I wanted. When they asked why I wanted the role I replied, honestly, that I wasn’t sure I did.

The result? I was gently turned down by the charity, whereas the rice brokers offered me first the internship and then, when I’d said thanks but no thanks, a full-time, paid position. (I declined).

Clearly Scenario 2 is rare (most people only go to an interview if they’re interested in the job), but it was the first time an interview had felt more like a mutual pitching exercise and I realised that when I clearly valued what I had to offer, others valued it too. When it came to the interviews for Eyes Wide Opened a week later, my mini revelation helped me strike a balance between emotional wreck and ice queen, and I managed to come across enthusiastic but not desperate.

Ann Donoghue, one of EWO’s coaches, has conducted countless interviews during her career in major businesses such as Unilever, and last year was on the panel that selected the gamesmakers for the London Olympics. She told me:

‘It’s important to remember that interviews are two-way: an opportunity for the employer to find out about the prospective employee and vice versa. It’s like a first date in that, following online research, both parties arrange to meet and ‘check each other out’ (so to speak!) to find out if the facts stack up. So take a deep breath, relax and be authentic.’

So there we have it. Try to retain your self-respect even if it feels like the interviewer has the power to make or break all your hopes and dreams, because if you don’t demonstrate that you value yourself and your abilities enough not to bend over backwards for any old firm or role, they won’t believe that you’ll be an asset to the company. And given that you’re letting them challenge you for 90% of the interview, don’t miss the opportunity to turn the tables and ask some daring questions at the end. Like what? That’s a topic for another day…



Like the cut of our jib and fancy some face-to-face career-clarifying help from Eyes Wide Opened? Register for one of our upcoming public courses.

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