On Friday afternoon I received an email telling me I’ve been invited to interview for a programme which I’m hoping might actually change my life! Perhaps it’s ironic that somebody who spends his life giving interview and recruitment advice to others should be a little apprehensive about such a daunting prospect, but then being nervous will ensure that I take it seriously, and plan and research accordingly.

The thing that concerns me most is not the interview itself, simply that I will be sent my interview time and date, and I won’t have a chance to pick the time which suits me best. Indeed, when it comes to scheduling interviews, we don’t always get much of a choice. Even if we’re given a blank calendar, modern life intervenes, and we might have limited availability, but should you have the luxury of choice, what time should you pick? if you’re actually asked when you’d like to interview, here are some things for you to consider…

Plan to your strengths.

If like me, you’re a lark, then an early slot will suit you best. I’ve often been accused of having too much energy in the mornings, but that would work to my advantage in an interview situation, since if I’m fully prepared, my positive energy would demonstrate how much I want the role.

Similarly, if you’re a night owl, and not even a treble expresso can get the synapses firing until the early afternoon, try to pick a time when you know you’ll be at your best. Avoid the slot immediately after lunch, unless you happen to be particularly dynamic, because the body takes a while to digest the food, and most interviewers dread going back into interviews immediately after lunch. There’s a similar school of thought to avoiding the last slot immediately before lunch, since interviewers might be desperate to get away, and interviews can often be cut short – but I’m not convinced (more later…)

Avoid certain times.

Even if you’re a lark, don’t aim for first thing on a Monday morning (and remember that for some interviewers, ‘first thing’ could well stretch past 11 am), and similarly, don’t aim for last thing on a Friday, since you’ll end up being the candidate who prevents the interview panel from getting away for the weekend!

Interviewers are people too (I know that’s hard to believe sometimes, when you’re sitting nervously on the other side of the table…) and they may also be owls rather than larks, so even if you’re an early riser, you might find that you’re playing to an unsympathetic audience at 9 am. You can try to find out the interviewers’ routines by asking what hours they usually work; an innocent-sounding question which should demonstrate your willingness to fit in with the panel – but it also gives you all the information you need to choose the optimum interview time!

What order should you go in?

There has been so much research on the ‘perfect’ interview time, and none of it is definitive! Most research agrees that there are key slots which should be avoided but part of the reason why most experts disagree about time slots is because there probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to interview times. If the panel are larks, then they’ll be ready at the crack of dawn, but if your interview panel is a mix of larks and owls, or mostly owls, the chances are that they’ll take a little longer to get into the stride of things.

Another consideration is the number of interviews which are taking place. If you are one of two interviewees, then I don’t think that going first or second is likely to make much of a difference. You’ll either set the standard for the second candidate by going first, or be able to eclipse the first candidate if you go last! If you’re one of three candidates, again, the above more or less applies, with slightly less certain odds!

However, things start to get a little more interesting with 5 or 6 (or more!) candidates. This is when you have to get more strategic, and work out how many candidates they’re seeing in the morning and the afternoon. You need to try to choose the slot which works best for you whilst also weakening the competition – all’s fair in love and war, and this is most certainly war!

There is still no definitive ‘optimal’ interview time, but the following will give you an insight into the mind of a devious interviewee (aka yours truly!), to show you which interview slot I would plump for, given a choice of six slots throughout a whole day’s interviews:

09.00 NO – too early. Let the panel warm up on someone else. (6 choice)

10.00 Not my first choice. I’m likely to be forgotten by the end of the day. (4 choice)

11.00 Maybe. Let the panel remember me as they go for lunch! (Joint 2 choice)

Lunch

13.00 Never. The panel just want to sleep off their lunch. (5 choice)

14.00 Definitely! The panel are awake again, and likely to remember me. (1 choice)

15.00 Yes if it’s an early enough finish, and I bring energy to the table. (Joint 2 choice)

In reality, I’d prefer the 5th interview slot, but I’d be happy as long as I didn’t get either the first slot of the day or the first slot after lunch…

Coping with the ‘wrong’ interview time.

If you end up with an early interview but you’re not a lark, then part of your planning should be around a temporary change in your body clock. If it takes a couple of hours to get you going in the morning, don’t try to wake up fifteen minutes earlier on the day itself, start several days ahead. Set the alarm for an hour earlier, and try to go to bed earlier, so that your whole body clock shifts forwards. After a few days, your body really won’t mind, and your 10 am interview will actually feel like it is taking place at a more ‘respectable’ 11 am!

After all, if you do end up securing the job, you may have to change your routine permanently, especially if you’ll be working a different pattern, or travelling further to get to the office…but as an owl, you need to think carefully about whether or not you’re willing to make a permanent change to your established routines!

Finally, if you’ve secured an interview through a recruitment agency, talk to them about the best possible slot for you, and see if they can rearrange the interviews to suit you. Whenever I have to arrange several interviews, I ask my candidates for their first and second preferences to try my best to accommodate as many of them as possible; it might take longer, but I want my candidates to perform at their best…

If you’re struggling to get to the interview stage, you may be interested in our upcoming event, “How to get a job you love: book launch & evening seminar with leading careers author, John Lees!” The evening will include insider secrets from John’s new book and every delegate attending will receive a free signed copy. The new, 2015/16 edition includes many new features which John will be sharing in his ideas-packed presentation: for more information, click here.