Welcome to my placement blog where I will provide monthly updates, sharing my own experience of securing a placement and the work itself. I’m a Politics and International Relations student with my two placements being at Camp Takodah through Camp America for 3 months and the Refugee Council Children's Section for 6 months.  

Stress-inducing, sweat producing, butterfly generating. The interview is undoubtedly the most nerve-wracking aspect of the whole placement experience which is worsened by it being the first time most of us have gone through such a rigorous job process.

Prior to securing my placement at the Refugee Council, my interview experience was mixed. Two years ago, I was interviewed for Camp America but the next year my position was completely reversed and I was on the other side of the table interviewing candidates for the very same job I had last summer.

The way I was interviewed was extremely relaxed: in a Starbucks over a coffee and then through Skype. The next year when I was now the interviewer was entirely different. My camp had decided to go to a recruitment fair in London. This experience couldn’t have been more different. It was incredibly intense with over 250 camps where the 1000+ applicants could be hired on the spot or…rejected there and then.

I had between 5 and 10 minutes to decide if I would pass an applicant onto the next person at my camp to continue the interview or thank them for the time and wish them good luck with their life. When you conduct about 30 interviews, you quickly learn the characteristics of an applicant who you’d pass on to the next person and one who you’d reject outright.

What I found was that while the content of what they were saying was important, the way they said it and the body language they used was equally crucial.  Here are a few dos and don’ts shown through politicians which I used when interviewing for my placement at the Refugee Council:

  1. Trumpian: Trump’s body language is a constant exercise in dominance. He uses overemphasised gestures which take up a lot of space to highlight how much power he wields. While confidence when interviewing is pivotal, trying to assert dominance over the interviewer is not going to get you on the fast track to a job. Pointing and raised finger gestures are particularly domineering and off-putting as is his disinterested slouch when talking to those he is trying to state dominance over. Unsurprisingly, this form of confidence isn’t going to get you far in an interview.
  2. The Obama box: A good rule of thumb for how expressive your body language should be is to stay inside ‘the box’, the pictures below illustrate this well. Some candidates I interviewed had clearly been told to be expressive and that is certainly good advice. But there’s a difference between being expressive to show interest and having jazz hands.
    Especially in the format of an interview, where you aren’t talking to large audiences using overemphasised body language which strays outside of the box suggests you aren’t entirely in control. Instead, if you can use expressive but controlled hand gestures such as Obama in this video it reinforces what you’re saying. Be wary that public speaking is different than an interview and that you would probably want to use slightly toned done variations of what public speakers do.
  3. Theresa’s uneasiness: On the flipside of Obama’s sureness are Theresa May’s constant giveaways of discomfort. Whether it's walking onto the stage like a robot or walking out of 10 Downing Street with her head down, the Prime Minister looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. Having your head down is a typical tick when feeling vulnerable because it is a natural attempt to protect your neck, the most exposed part of the body and has the added defence mechanism of avoiding eye contact.

    In the context of the interview, body language is crucial as soon as you enter the building because not only will people make a natural judgement on you but if you present with confident body language, that forged confidence will eventually become real – fake it til you make it.
    Interviewing people who show closed body language (avoiding eye contact, crossed arms, shifting body weight) is uncomfortable and won’t end with a job offer.
  4. Tone of voice – the content of your answers is not only strengthened by corresponding body language but also inflection. When we’re nervous, we have a tendency to focus solely on what we’re saying and not how we’re saying it. As an interviewer, when someone spoke in a monotone way, it didn’t matter how interesting their answer was, within 2 minutes I’d basically written the candidate off. As unfair as this is, it’s hard to engage with someone and buy into what they’re saying if they don’t sound like they buy it themselves.Alternating the pitch and emphasis of a sentence makes it more engaging and when paired with appropriate eye contact heightens the impact of your communication. When you’re talking about a past experience that you want to show passion for raising your pitch communicates this well. On the flipside, when you’re answering a question on an issue that’s more serious, dropping your pitch shows you understand its importance.

Many of these tips will come naturally but if you can be more aware and therefore are more deliberate in your body language it can have a hugely beneficial impact in your interview success. Good luck!

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Placements

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