Ah, job interviews. Every year, millions of workers looking for greener pastures send out resumes to employers – a quarter of which will be eligible for a chance to pass the dreaded job interview.
You can sugar coat information in your resume, but you can’t do the same for a job interview. Job interviews will make or break you.
You may be the most skilled employee the world has ever seen, but if you can’t communicate well during an interview, you won’t make the cut.
So what’s keeping you from nailing that job interview?
Could it be your lack of confidence? Your lack of knowledge about the company you’re applying for? The arrogant impression you make during the interview?
Whatever it is, here are five key interview tips.
1. Do your research
Most applicants overestimate their knowledge about the organisation they’re aiming to join. If you’re applying for a company, being a loyalist of its products or services is not good enough.
It takes a deeper understanding of an organisation’s vision, scope of operations, culture and management style to truly appreciate it.
So, where should you start?
Checking the company’s website is always a good first step. The “About Us” section gives you an overview about the company.
Read online news articles too: What have been the company’s success points and challenges recently? Is it performing well in the market? Who are its competitors and what is its strategy in the next five years?
Your variety of knowledge will surely impress the recruiter as it sends the message that you are serious about your application.
Finally, don’t just end with the homework – link it back to you. Is the company’s “reason for being” aligned with your career roadmap?
If your answer is yes, share this with the interviewer as it will drive home the message (e.g. say “I live and breathe art, and working in a prestigious advertising agency that can further hone my graphics design skills is the reason why I’d like to join your organisation”).
2. Master the FAQs
There are job interview questions that have stood the test of time and you have no excuse not to prepare for them.
By now, you should have selected good friends or mentors who are willing to conduct mock interviews for you.
Ask them to cover these most frequently asked questions (FAQs):
- Why are you leaving your current job and seeking opportunities elsewhere?
- Why choose us as your next potential employer? Why this industry?
- What is your ultimate career vision? How do you see yourself three, five, and 10 years from now?
- What do you think are your weaknesses as an employee and how do you manage them?
- Tell us a story about a challenge you encountered with a colleague at work and how you overcame it.
Practising what and how to answer these FAQs will not only increase your confidence but also help you anticipate other questions that may be asked later.
I personally believe this is a vital part of the preparation process. Benjamin Franklin painfully reminds us: “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.”
Remember that preparation breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds confidence. And when you’re confident, you become unstoppable.
3. Dress to impress
Clothes will always set the tone the moment you enter the interview room. Consider yourself as a gift and your clothes as the gift wrapper. Beautiful wrapping paper makes the receiver excited, and more so when the quality of content matches the wrapper too!
Aim to look sharp on this day as it might change your interviewer’s impressions. Your choice of colour is critical: white, black and blue are best suited for management positions because they convey leadership and power.
Purple and pastel colours convey creativity suited for artistic jobs. Avoid loud colours like yellow or orange which can make you look unprofessional.
Finally, stick to classics: long sleeves and slacks for males, and pencil skirt with blouse or a one-piece dress in solid colour for ladies. Wearing your favourite or lucky shirt that makes you comfortable also helps.
4. Clean up your social media profile
When we say “clean up”, we assume that everyone has their fair share of incriminating posts on the internet.
Beware that human resources recruiters check candidates’ profile online and judge you based on what they see. Yes, first impressions can be wrong but, first impressions also last, so do your part to make a good one.
Do you have a video on YouTube featuring your awesome drunk-dancing moves? Remove them.
Did you just describe yourself as “Beyonce’s bootylicious twin” on your Twitter profile? Change that too, please.
Customising your online profile to position yourself to a target audience is called ORP (online reputation management) which you can do either by yourself, or by hiring a professional social media expert.
Don’t have a LinkedIn account yet or have one that’s incomplete with no profile picture? That’s part of ORP that you shouldn’t miss too.
5. Ask and talk back
A job interview should never be a one-way street. You’re not just there to be assessed by the interviewer, you’re also there to find out if the job is the right one for you.
There are many jobs that are advertised using beautiful adjectives but aren’t really what they promise to be. This is your golden opportunity to find out its authenticity.
Consider asking these questions:
- What is the work culture in the company?
- How big is this department and who will I report to?
- What is the scope of work of my potential boss?
- What is expected of the employee in his/her first two months at work?
- What are other career opportunities in the company should I succeed in this role?
You will probably get indirect answers, but it is your duty to get clues about the position you’re taking.
Will your working style match with the people? Is this a newly-created position that the company is experimenting on? Did someone resign because there was just too much on his/her plate?
Or did he/she leave a bad boss that’s just waiting for the next “victim”? Is this really a marketing job or a sales job disguised as “marketing”? How much time will I be spending in the office or in the field?
Remember that this is your only window of opportunity to know your employer and your job before you say ‘yes’!
When you’re done with the interview
After you’ve sweated it out, don’t forget to ask the interviewer for the next steps: will someone contact you to give feedback, or should you follow-up in a week’s time?
There will be polite recruiters who generously inform you via e-mail about the results and there will be some who expect you to understand that silence means “I’m sorry”.
The key is to have an understanding that everyone’s time is important, and making someone wait is simply rude.
It is never the end of the world if you fail an interview. Like in failed relationships, there are many factors to consider why both of you were never meant to be.
As long as you’ve done your best to prepare, use the defeat as a means to fuel your hunger to ace in the next interview.
The worst thing to do is to lose hope immediately. When you’re all primed and ready, say it with me: “I’m a gladiator. A gladiator in a suit.”
Handy tips from others
I ask some folks to share their tips on how to prepare for an interview. Here’s what they have to say.
1. Reserve time to compose yourself
There was one time when I was slightly late for an interview and this diminished my confidence all throughout. I felt so guilty I couldn’t concentrate on the questions. I learnt my lesson well: buffer at least an hour before the interview.
This time is crucial because it allows you to imagine yourself in the interview and doing everything right. Mental preparation is always the key!
2. Say it in numbers, not just words
When talking about achievements from your past company, don’t just say what you did in words. Say it in numbers.
For example, “I launched a new product that increased the company’s annual sales by 20%.” Recruiters want to hear statistics and figures because it gives a more accurate measure of your success.
3. Turn the tables around
The best people to ask if the company has great culture are its own employees. I bravely ask my interviewer about his personal experiences in the company: what he likes about it, and how he has grown through the years.
I check his body language and facial gestures when he answers this question. You’ll be amazed to get some clues if the company is worth aspiring for.