What I wish I knew as a 20-year old

What I wish I knew as a 20-year old


If there was one thing, I would tell myself when I was 20 years old, this would be it;

Over the last 15 years of being a headhunter, I have been asked several times by friends and family if I would “have a chat” with their son or daughter who were about to enter the world of full-time employment. Almost always, they had never had an interview before so it’s perfectly natural that they were no way near prepared for it. I can remember some quite dramatic results from just understanding and carrying out some basic principles of how to stand out in an interview.

Anyone with children will know that they can often refuse to listen to any advice their parents pass on but will take seriously the same message from somebody who doesn’t know them as well?

Typically, the most common situation was where a student in their last year of higher or further education had to suddenly confront the prospect of having to get a job (and more often to pay off their student loan) and they had no idea how competitive it would be to land that prized “graduate training” role or even an internship.

No one would expect them to pass their driving test without any lessons so why expect them to go into an interview which could be pivotal to the rest of their life, without any guidance and plan?

I have found that a good way to get the message across is to break the plan down into three parts:

  1. Before the interview
  • Research the company, the people interviewing you and their competitors. There is no excuse with search technology today not knowing all about the organisation you are meeting – annual reports, press releases, strategy statements, share prices etc.
  • Ask who you are meeting, how long the interview will be and what form it will take e.g., panel, group or individual.
  • Arrive in good time and make sure you are well presented. It’s a cliché but polished shoes, tidy hair and smart clothes will be noticed.
  1. During the Interview
  • Make sure everyone you meet gets strong eye contact and a firm handshake. Such a basic error made by so many young people but so impactful when they get it right.
  • Have plenty of positive examples of what you have done so far in your life that will make them remember you. Everyone remembers a good story.
  • Prepare several questions in advance to ask at the end of the interview. One essential one is “what training and investment can I expect if I was to join you?”. Good candidates always have choices, and they need to remember that the interview is a two-way process!
  • Make sure you don’t leave without knowing the process and timescales of the next stages.
  1. After the interview
  • This is often forgotten but an email to thank them for the interview and confirmation of your interest in the role can be very helpful in making you stand out from the crowd. If you can refer to subjects you discussed in the interview, then even better. There may also be questions not asked in the interview that you want clarification on too.

If any of this sounds relevant to you or anyone you know, drop me a line at neil.watkins@hanoverfox.com and I may be able to help.