I was helping someone preparing for her job interviews recently, and shared with her my experience. Just for background, I went through numerous job interviews in the past, many of which I failed, and quite a number of which I passed. Through the experiences, my own reflections as well as from the advice of others, I am now sharing what I know here. Note that I am not a professional HR personnel, so do not take anything here as professional advice. But rather, take this to supplement your own knowledge when you prepare yourself for an interview of any kind.
Fill Up The Forms Properly
You may have realised that job applications comes with many forms which many feel is redundant, especially when they have already asked us to submit our CV (or resume). HR sifts through many applications a day, and the application forms are actually to help the HR filter out what they require. Your CV will come at a later part when you have made it through your sifting. Hence, you should still fill up the forms properly and do it well. The forms are to help the HR do their work properly, your convenience as a job seeker was never in their considerations.
The next one may not apply to all, but certain companies do like to use this technique. Sometimes before your scheduled interview they will make you fill up even more stupid forms or to do a written paper. They may include some easy but seemingly meaningless instructions, or writing answers to a question you know is stupid. But be very sure to follow every instructions they give, whether it seems sensible to you or not. The instructions are there to test whether you are able to follow instructions well. In a job, you get multiple instructions a day. How well you are able to follow instructions is often a criteria bosses grade a worker. If you cannot even follow simple instructions when filling up forms, chances are they will not bother to entertain you. They do not have time to interview and get to know every candidate well. They have to do a mass filter before getting to know the selected ones better.
Dress appropriately for the job interview you are going to. If you are going for a white collar jobs, a standard office suit is necessary. If you are going for an interview as a car mechanic, probably just a jeans and shoes will be sufficient. Whatever it is, your personal grooming reflects your character and your respect for the job. Just like nobody should wear slippers to attend a wedding because it is basic respect for the couple, why would you wear slippers to a job interview and not show respect to your future boss? If the interviewer looks at you and determines that you are not putting enough effort and respect into this, you will get an immediate failure.
Furthermore, people are superficial. For most people, they treat pretty girls and handsome guys better. We treat smartly dressed people better than the guy who dressed sloppily. Do not shortchange yourself unnecessarily.
Read Up About The Company
One of the very common interview questions is often, ‘Why do you want to join our company?’ or ‘What do you know about our company?’ Everybody knows you want to join a particular company because you need a job to survive. The answer they want to know is how well you know about their company, and the rationale behind it is they want to know if you bother to find out more about the company you are getting into. If you do not even bother to do a background reading up on the company, they will not think you are that serious about getting a job with them. It also shows your attitude towards work. What if next time your boss gives you a task to do? Will you be serious enough to do it well? If it is a bigger task, will you be pro-active enough to find out more and see if you can do it well?
Also, go to Glassdoor or the forums to read up about what staff writes about the company. Reviews there are often credible to a certain extent. If you know your company is one which pays well but which expects everybody to work over time, do not go in and say you want a work life balance even if you have the intention to do so. If your company is one that emphasise on continual learning and upgrading (eg teaching roles), do not go in and say you feel further learning is unnecessary. In short, know what are the values and culture of the company you are interviewing for, and be sure that during the interview you show yourself to be aligned to them. Afterall, no bosses would want a staff that does not agree with their core values and direction.
Prepare A FAQ For Yourself And Know Them Well
Interviewers frequently ask the few standard questions as a means to get the interview started and to test if you are prepared or not. Typical questions include:
- Please introduce yourself.
- What do you know about our company?
- Why do you want to join our company?
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
- Please state an example of a conflict which you had with one of your colleagues. How did you resolve them?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why should I hire you? (I hate this question the most, not because I cannot answer them, but because it sounds very condescending.)
- What do you think defines a leader? (This is important if you are applying for a leadership position.)
Each of these questions have a meaning behind it and your answer have to satisfy what they want to know. The first question is self-explanatory, while the next 2 questions have been explained above. Things like conflicts with colleagues are real, and bosses want to know how you will handle such situations in the new company. As to strengths and weaknesses, do not give the cliché answer like my weakness is that I always strive for perfection. Going a roundabout way to say your weakness is actually your strength is a big no-no. Bosses are not stupid. Instead, I usually give a non-critical flaw such as me having a bad memory and then follow up with a solution to say I carry a notebook with me wherever I go to note things down.
For questions more specific to the job, it will also be good to find out more. I remember going through the forums to research on previous interview questions related to my job and found certain useful things, giving me a decent level of prediction and knowing what to expect when I show up for my interview.
I would not be able to list all the questions down here. But prepare for the questions which you may be asked and have an answer ready. Your answer have to be sincere though.
Stand In The Shoes Of Your Boss
It is not about you getting the job. It is about the boss getting the right man for his job. So when you answer then questions, take note that it is not all about you. While letting them know your strengths and motivations, also let them know the value you can bring to them. Let them have the impression that hiring you is worth their money and interviewing you is not a waste of time. Consider from their perspective, what do they want? If you are the boss hiring for this position, what kind of staff do you want? With this perspective, you will be able to craft out answers nearer to their satisfaction.
Know Your Strengths And Weaknesses
No, this is not related to the interview question of ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ This is related to you as compared to other candidates. If you are a fresh graduate out from school, your strength is that you are young and energetic with a high learning capacity. If you are a middle-age person, your strength is your work experience. Take a hard look at yourself and identify your own strengths and weaknesses. You will need to edge out against your competitors. In your interview, emphasise on your strengths and not talk about your weaknesses unless necessary.
Know your value. Justify what you want. Just because person A gets $4000 a month does not mean you are entitled to get it too. Neither does it mean you cannot get above that. If you are just an average worker, then you will only get an average salary. When it comes to salary negotiation, first let the interviewer know what are your expectations and explain the value you can bring to the company. For example, most teachers only teach a very specific range of grades, such as primary school levels or secondary school levels. But in international schools, they often encompass kindergarten to secondary levels. If you have the necessary certifications to teach kindergarten levels, you can negotiate for a higher salary, justifying that you can actually do a wider range of jobs. Rather than employing 2 teachers, just you alone will be sufficient. Of course you will have a higher workload, but it also justify your higher salary. Anyways, this example is a real life example.
Also, know that your salary package is not just the salary alone. It refers to the overall package which includes other benefits such as annual leave, sick leave, peripheral benefits such as annual dentist claims and benefits unique to the organisation or company. For example, some international schools allow the children of their teachers to study in the schools for free. That itself is a major benefit as education in international schools are very costly. Granted that not every company will have fantastic privileges or benefits, but finding out more about your overall salary package does you no harm.
Always ask yourself and let the interviewer know that the value you bring to the company is worth the money you are asking for.
Do Not Beat Yourself Up Over Failures
Not all interviews will lead to success. I have failed many times, and from all these failures I get the experience I have today. Learn from your failures and improve with each interview.
Sometimes, it is not even your fault that you failed. It is simply because of the organisational requirements. For example, a company cannot have everybody being very ambitious and trying to climb up the corporate ladder. It would result in unnecessary cut-throat politics. There is only a very limited leadership position in any organisation afterall. Neither could an organisation have everybody just trying to earn some money and go home on time. They need a balance of ambitious and contented people. Of course this is one example of balance. There are other measures of balance as well such as gender, racial, nationality ratio and all sorts of other factors. We would not know the internal balance of an organisation, but just remain truthful to yourself and one day you will find a setting suitable for you.
Finally, be patient and keep trying. It is difficult and I have experienced it. The effort to search for jobs, the energy spent filling up all the forms and submitting my CVs, the time taken to prepare and go down for the interviews, the patience to wait day after day and week after week for interview results only to be rejected in the end (or worse still, not receiving any replies after the interviews). But there is no choice. Persist on, continue trying again and again. Take what you have and slowly improve along the way.