How to Ace that Interview

I’ve decided to pen this down on my blog because I’ve been getting lots of questions from friends recently with regarding to acing that heavenly job interview. I have no idea why, but perhaps I have the ‘serious’ look/character or I do provide useful constructive advice and feedback? HAHA!

However, I have to first disclaim that I am in no way a ‘guru’ for job interviews and that I have failed at interviews and faced sucky interviewers before as well. But just for the sake of sharing, I hope they would be of some help to you.

First and foremost, kudos to approaching the next stage in life, whether you’re a freshie, mid-career switchers or just desperately trying to get out of your current hell hole which unfortunately, your tyrant boss is digging the hole even deeper everyday…

No sweat.

Job applications are pain in the ass and they are not easy to come by, especially on the shortlisting process. I know they take a hell loads of time to get back to you (esp in the public sector) and I hate to be left in a limbo where you are required to get back to them but on the other hand, you are still crossing your fingers (and toes!) for that perfect job you have in mind…but have yet to (or is never gonna) call you.

Recruitment process-wise, I have no take on that. I guess it all depends on the economy, company’s budget as well as the stiff competition faced with other candidates (FT ANYONE?! AHEM!).

But if you are ever desperate for quick tips on interview, I do have some useful info that you might wanna take note of.

They say first impression counts, and that’s true. And it’s true for almost everything, that 1st interview, that 1st date, that 1st social event you are attending etc… Humans are judgmental and everyday is a judgmental day so you would need to put on your best front if you want to ace that interview.

Some companies require rounds and rounds of interview, especially for a high position. Some interviewers might turn out to be the HR executive/recruiter or YOUR POTENTIAL BOSS HIMSELF/HERSELF.

Nevertheless, extra attention is required if you know that the interviewer is your potential boss. But never possess the mentality that with the HR execs as the interviewers, you can slack it off. NEVER. Potential bosses might most probably sieve out info from the HR… you’ll never know, so play safe.

1. APPEARANCE

Depending on the job you are interviewing, your appearance as in your clothes vary as well. If you are interviewing for a office job, dress formally. Long sleeves may/may not be required, depending on your position. I reckon positions such as admin/secretaries/personal assistants need not require them but positions such as executives and above should strongly consider wearing them.

If the nature of the job falls under a more ‘trendy’ and ‘stylish’ type such as a hair stylish, fashion industry etc, you should wear less formal to suit the nature. But never go in too casually such as spag tops/tank tops/shorts/slippers. A major turn off.

Ladies, cover what you have to cover. Take note of your skirt/dress length, unless you want to attract the wrong attention.

Guys, ties are not necessary and sometimes deemed as ‘too over’ but if again, depending on the nature of the job, perhaps managerial positions should strongly consider having a tie on.

2. SMILE.

I’d always try to do so because I’m not a fan of smiling and almost everyone, classmates, school mates, colleagues and even families have remarked that I have a very unfriendly face – though I always claim that it’s the default face that they see. Plus, with the ageing in process, my laugh lines are even more prominent than ever. Not forgetting the braces as well. I am even more mindful when I smile/laugh or simply when I open my mouth.

Aesthetic reasons aside, smiling becomes extremely important and awkward when you have an unfriendly face with narrowed eyes staring down at you. But nevertheless, put on a fresh new skin that is thick enough to smoke through your awkwardness. Yes, in other ways, YOU NEED TO BE THICK SKIN.

Friendly interviewers – IT’S YOUR LUCKY DAY!

UNFRIENDLY BUNCH – YOU DIDN’T PRAY ENOUGH.

Smiling also portrays your self-confidence. Even if you are shaking, panicking, screaming inside, NEVER show it on the outside. But don’t overdo it, your interviewer might just think that you’re too goofy and weird (?) to even begin with.

3. OFFER TO SHAKE THEIR HANDS

As a rule of basic courtesy, some friendly interviewers might extend a warm handshake for a simple self-introduction or to inform you of their names… But even if you had forgotten to put on your lucky charm or missed the trip down to the temple/church to pray, you should consider taking the first step. Smile, extend a warm and FIRM handshake with them. Don’t grip too tightly, especially if you’re a guy, it might just send the wrong signals. It needs to be firm because it presents your self-confidence as well as your sincerity.

Shaking at the tip of the hands/fingers is a no-no. The other party might think that you are insincere, haughty or you might keep thinking that they have poor hygiene. A good 3 secs would be preferred but unless they hold on further, let go after 3 secs.

Ladies, don’t hold on after 3 secs even if they insist, scream and shout MOLEST and run out of the interview room as quickly as your legs (or heels) can carry you. Nah, I’m kidding. Unless you look extremely sexy/attractive on the 1st day of interview, I doubt such things would happen. But of course, many perverts are lurking around these days…

4. BODY LANGUAGE

Slouching puts off people, especially interviewers not only because it is a tell-tale sign of the lack of confidence, it also speaks volume of your character – LAZY. Who wants to employ lazy people right? I mean, yes it might be biased to conclude that, but such body languages usually gives the impression that you don’t even have the bones/energy to sit up straight…!

My advice is to sit confidently, you need not sit up so straight as if there’s no arch in your back, but your shoulders must be straight and not slouching downwards. If you can’t contain your nervousness, try placing your hands on your laps. Only take them out when required. Of course, control yourself and prevent from shivering/shaking. Not only does it indeed verify your nervousness but it’s quite embarrassing as well, isn’t it?

When conversing with the interviewer, look directly at their eyes, naturally. I don’t mean to say to stare hard at them but this is also basic courtesy and reflects your confidence. What I usually do when I’m nervous is to take a few seconds off, especially when I’m thinking but always make it a point to look back at them again, to show that you are still engaged in the conversation. I think it’s normal for people to look either left or right (upwards) when thinking  (Neuro-linguistic programming answers this : This natural connection between thinking and eye movements show that the eyes shift between seeing and thinking. When we are in deep thoughts, our eyes are shifting to thinking mode and we are looking inwards rather than looking to see something.) Thus, interviewers shouldn’t feel offended.

If you ever need to cough/sneeze, remember to cover your mouth, or best if you carry along a packet of tissue. If you need to excuse yourself, politely do so. Control yawning, based on my personal experience, this requires some practice, but it’s quite obvious when your eyes become teary (This is due to the lachrymal ducts which holds your tears, when you yawn, some muscles in your face contract which squeezes this sac, and it produces tears from the tear duct.)

Basic courtesy like this should always be checked and kept in place. I think I’ve already elaborated much on this.

5. COMMON QUESTIONS

a) Tell me about yourself.

Oh lord, I know how detestable such questions are and I totally loathe them too. The trick, which I came up with, is to be confident but NOT over-confident. You need to view yourself as a product and how you can contribute as an asset and value-add to the company. You may or may not have possess any skills relevant but general ones such as leadership, team work, great interpersonal skills, diligent, highly motivated, problem-solver, able to work with deadlines, able to handle stress etc. Sometimes, you may find these as one of the pre-requisites in a job advert. You need to back up with evidence from past experience in school/work experience. If you held onto to leadership positions, don’t be afraid to make use of them to boost your resume and confidence.

Back in secondary school and even in JC, I thought little of having a CCA/class positions etc, but even before entering the workforce, I realised how important they were for school applications. Grades are now just part of the requirements and with the stiff competition, you need these additional ‘help’ to beautify and boost whatever applications, be it job or school. If you’ve memberships or belong to an external organisation which showcase whatever skills and abilities you have, then even better.

Also, the “tell me about yourself” question may touch upon your hobbies as well. I’m guessing that this might allow the interviewer to have a brief idea of the character you possess or your other external commitments that you serve, which might more or less affect your commitment to your job. So think before you speak. Always good to prepare an answer before you attend the interview, but try not to regurgitate as if you’ve stayed up the whole of last night memorising word for word. Bad impression.

b) How can you contribute to our company? i.e. Why should we hire you over other candidates?

Have some self-reflection and self-discovery moments of your own. It would do you some good. See the goodness in yourself, this is some positive feelings that one should have as you love yourself as time goes by.

Taking into account whatever skills and abilities you have attain from school/work experience, and use that to your advantage. Try to sell and market yourself to the company and what you can offer, as well as how the company can benefit in hiring you. Of course, you won’t know the calibre of other candidates but here comes the tricky part. Boast but don’t over do it. Just like how you remain confident but yet not excessively so.

For example, you may have won a competition, say fashion designing, so you should focus and elaborate further on how this may help you in your job. Or if you were the head prefect, how this set of leadership skills which you have attained and learnt from experience would guide you in your job.

c) Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years’ time?

Ugh, I know. What? Am I applying to be a fortune teller now?

Answer is no, BUT employers do want to know what’s in for you and yourself, and whether you have any goals/aspirations to work towards to. This might come in useful in relation to the career advancement question (point e)

This would also set a goal in mind and expectations for you yourself as well as your potential employer. It is also good to plan ahead and have some directions not only in career aspects but life in general.

d) Salary

Remember, every company is looking to cut cost, especially if they are a new company. They are working on a tight budget so make sure you state what you are worth, based on your credentials. Freshies shouldn’t expect much. Anything above $2.3 is a good take, but depending on the nature of the job as well. If you are applying for administrative role, do expect lesser than one who is employed in a specialised role.

Pen down something realistic which you and the co can relate. My advice to freshies is not to complain and expect too much, really. Some freshies are finding it difficult to get hold of a job or either that, more often than not, they are picky. Everyone has to start somewhere low, nobody joins and get paid as a high flyer. This is life, so work towards climbing that corporate ladder, especially if you are extremely ambitious.

Also, more often than not, companies might try to negotiate the expected salary you have stated, so think wisely if you are alright with it. Don’t be compelled to agree/disagree. Conduct market surveys and do your research. This is very important as well.

e) Reasons for leaving previous job (if applicable)

NEVER bad-mouth your previous boss no mater how !@#% they were because this might imply that you would do the same in the future to the potential boss too. NEVER complain about the low salary no matter how meagerly you were paid – because face it, money is never enough and workload is never ending. Ask around and you will realise that nobody is satisfied with their current salary, except for a very small handful only.

Suitable reasons such as career advancement, change of environment, career exposure etc are acceptable. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot by claiming career advancement if you are applying for job that requires little/lesser skills than before or claiming career exposure when you have only worked 1 to 2 yrs, or even worse still, for few months only. You have not been exposed in detail with regards to the job, so how is it possible that you claim career exposure?

Bad idea.

d) Any other questions?

Don’t heave a sigh of relief thinking that the battle has ended. It hasn’t. This is the time to showcase your keenness in the job, unless you aren’t interested anymore by this point of time.

Take this opportunity to find out more about the company. Of course, don’t burst your bubble by asking silly questions such as “What does the company do?”, Sensitive questions such as salary issues whether your potential is a male/female (if the interviewer is not your boss) and definitely NO PERSONAL QUESTIONS.

Instead, take this chance to find out MORE about your job role. I don’t mean to say what is your job scope, you should have already known by now. Ask more relevant questions, but not over do it to prevent annoying your interviewer.

Lastly, know when to stop and when to speak. Don’t annoy the hell outta your interviewer/employer because that’s certainly gonna be a red light for them.

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MOST IMPORTANTLY, I CANNOT SAY THIS WITHOUT ANYMORE EMPHASIS, FIND OUT ABOUT THE COMPANY YOU ARE APPLYING TO.

It irks the hell out of the interviewer, especially if he/she is your potential boss, when candidates do not have any idea or knowledge about the company and the job itself. There are basic expectations such as these to be met so ensure you are well-equipped before you attend your interview session.

Google will be your best friend, but most importantly, read info off from their official website.

Additional knowledge about the particular industry/products would value-add your portfolio and impression.

The bottom line is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

When you are told that the interview session has come to an end, thank the interviewer, smile smile and smile. You would most probably be told that you will be contacted should you be shortlisted or either that, if your lucky charm is working, or unlucky for that matter, a decision would be made on the spot and you would be informed right at that moment. But more often than not, most would inform you that you’re chosen instead of lashing out an outright rejection in your face, unless they are really meanies. But then again, you may not even want to work with such people, right? Consider yourself lucky then. 😉

Send a thank-you email after that, stating you enjoyed the interview and hope to receive a favourable reply soon.

If you are told of a stipulated date which they would get back to you, bear that in mind. Ring them up or drop them an email should you feel awkward to ask for a follow-up politely. Remember, they don’t owe you an explanation, they don’t owe you anything. The decision is theirs to make and their discretion belongs to them. You have already done your part at the interview session.

Last but not least, don’t put all your eggs into one bag. I recall mass emailing my job applications as well as resumes to several companies daily before I managed to snag this current job which I’m quite happy with. So don’t give up. The problem kicks in when you have to revert to several companies or when you are still waiting for the ideal job. The trick is choose the lesser of 2 evils, give up the one which you think has lesser job prospects or potential to revert (although this guesswork is a tough nut to crack). If you are chosen by a company you deemed acceptable in every aspect, then why not. Don’t end of waiting and waiting, and eventually ending up with a shitty job or jobless.

These are all what I can think of right now. Should there be additional pointers, I’ll do up a part 2.

Hope you guys find this useful! 🙂