Why are so many people so terrified of the first interview they’ve got with their prospective employer? It’s usually the fear of the unknown. You’re likely going to be concerned with minor yet important details such as your commute to the employer’s location, and perhaps, your appearance. You might want to call a couple of friends or do some further research on what to expect on the day of the interview. So many things would be going through your mind once you’ve received the interview calendar invite. Don’t worry, we are going to guide you on how to knock the socks off your initial interview with HR by being well prepared. This article is going to dwell more on the pre-interview than the interview itself.
Responding to your Interview Invite
Always respond to an email interview invite. It’s not only polite, but it creates an excellent first impression. It’s also your opportunity to ask specific questions that would better prepare you for the interview session.
If it’s a startup or an SME with little web presence, it’s okay to ask questions relating to dress code and directions to the office location if it’s a bit unclear. You don’t want to screw up your initial interview by being late or not looking the part.
Suppose you were called to reconfirm the interview appointment before you could respond officially via email. In that case, this is the perfect time to ask whoever made the call a few additional questions. I always want to know who is interviewing me and more about the role. If they can’t answer immediately, you can inform the individual that you’ll be sending an email, and you’ll appreciate it if they can respond before the interview date. You’ll be surprised how many times I’ve gotten a response. Recruiters and HR managers need to fill a role quickly and they are mostly willing to help out good candidates where necessary. Personally, the answer to the aforementioned specific questions helps me better prepare for the interview. More on this later.
Steps to Preparing for the Interview
Step 1 – Creating Buckets and Define your Career Goals
Nothing beats preparation; Nothing! You’ve been pre-qualified because your CV shows that you have the goods; now, you have to prove in-person that you’re the real deal. The only thing standing between you and a job offer is your ability to convince the interviewer that you’re not all hype and other prospective candidates are not as good as you. Generally, it takes anywhere from 10hrs to 40hrs to get prepared for a competitive job interview, in my experience.
This is one of the reasons why I advocate for having a career plan and grouping your job applications in specific buckets based on interest and significance. Grouping allows you to prepare for specific jobs in a particular method. If you already defined your career plan before applying for jobs, grouping makes it a lot easier. You can either group by the job sector or by interview methodology. Many companies within the same sector follow similar interview methodologies. So, preparing for one company within the same sector reduces your preparation time for another company within that same sector.
Step 2: Know the Players and the Process
If you’re looking to nail a job interview, there are three things that you must get right:
1) What is the interview process – How many rounds of interviews would be conducted? Some companies can conduct up to 5 interviews before deciding on a candidate. You also need to know what each round consists of. Would you be presenting to a panel? Are there any case study interviews? Are there going to be any technical interviews? You should know exactly what each stage consists of so that you can better prepare.
2) Who are the conductors: Another critical element is for you to know the profiles and positions of those that would conduct the interviews. I typically would check out their profiles on LinkedIn to know a bit about their professional background. I can use this information to build rapport at the interview or at least have an idea of the type of questions that i would get asked. A general note is that most people tend to ask questions related to their professional experience because it’s easier for them to smell BS from a while away. A salesperson could be more interested in how you achieved your quantitative metrics with your current or previous employer. In contrast, a finance person may want to know if you pay attention to detail or make minimal errors on the job. There’s no hard rule here, so you have to prepare for just about any question.
3) Who are my likely competitors: Every job interview you attend would likely have another five or more other candidates jostling for the job. You need to know who these other candidates are. If it’s a reasonably large company, checking the profiles of people bearing the job titles (past and present) would give you insights into the type of candidates that the company tends to recruit. Some companies only recruit candidates from specific Universities or have worked in particular companies, perhaps, other competitors. You should be able to devise a pitch that shows you’re the better candidate and you need not wait for them to ask directly. If you are asked about your strength or why they should hire you, this is the best time to give that pitch.
Step 3: Understand the 5 stages of the interview process.
Interviews are broken down into various stages and being familiar with each one would significantly improve your outcome for success. Not all companies would follow the five stages I’m about to mention, but at least you’re armed with the information and what to do if it does present itself.
Making a good first impression starts from the moment you’ve walked past the door. You should put on a smile and acknowledge everyone present in the room. The first stage of the interview process is the introduction. Usually, the interviewer(s) would lead the conversation from the onset by way of a brief introduction and expect the same from you. You should say a few words and let your body language do the rest of the talking. Project your voice and sound confident. Look the interviewer straight in the eye and smile as you introduce yourself.
Depending on the interviewer’s mood or schedule for the day, expect to engage in small talk for a minute or two. This is the first time you’ll get to show your personality and build rapport with the interviewer. Avoid discussing sensitive topics such as politics, religion, or sports. Also, please don’t give the interviewer any compliments as it can be confused for flirting. Stick to light-hearted questions such as the traffic situation, weather, industry news, or company-related information. If the company was recently in the news, you could talk about it, if it was positive. I need not tell you to bring up any negative information. That’s undoubtedly not a good look on your part.
The first main interview question that most people get asked is, “Tell me about yourself?” There are many variations of this question, but it all boils down to one thing; a personal elevator speech. In less than 90 seconds, you should clearly articulate what about you is unique and why you’re the best person for the role. Don’t go off and start talking about how many siblings you have and what you studied at school. The interviewer could care less. Focus on your professional and personal achievements. You want to leave a lasting impression so that the interviewer would easily remember you.
How you answer the first question determines what happens next, so you have the opportunity to change the narrative somewhat.
There are a couple of questions that usually come up at all business interviews. Be ready to answer technical questions, situational questions, personality questions, ethical questions, leadership questions, and performance-based questions. The aforesaid does not include classic interview questions such as “why do you want to work at this company?” or “What are your salary expectations?” Your ability to be concise, articulate, yet descriptive when answering these questions results from quality preparation. How well you perform at interviews plays an essential role in salary negotiation. If the interviewer is genuinely impressed, you can get the individual to bargain a compensation at the top of the company’s budget.
Before going to the last stage of the interview process, here’s a list of the top 10 interview questions you should always be prepared to answer.
- Tell me about yourself?
- Describe the role you applied for and its key success factors
- What professional achievement are you most proud of?
- Describe a difficult work situation or project, and how you overcame it?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why would you like to work for this company?
- What do you bring to this role that other candidates don’t?
- Describe your management/leadership style?
- What are your salary expectations?
The above are all classic interview questions. Regardless of the job role, you would likely be asked at least 8 of these 10 questions.
Finally, the last stage of the interview process is where you get to ask questions. It’s a bad idea not to ask any. It could show a lack of interest, which is not the impression you want to leave behind. Also, don’t leave without having any information on the next recruitment step. It would be best if you had an idea of what happens next so as to manage your expectations.
Step 4: Post-Interview Follow Up
I always advise candidates to send a personal post-interview email to the interviewer, and if you don’t have that person’s email, you should send it to the hiring manager that confirmed the interview appointment. This could be the last opportunity you have to interact with the company. Make the email a little personal. Indicate what you liked about the interview session, your strong desire to work for the company, and once again, why you’re the best person for the job.
Interviews can be a nightmare for candidates that think they could walk in and freestyle the entire session. You need to practice answering a variety of question types, not in front of your mirror but with someone you trust who can give you honest feedback about your body language, the tone of your voice, and general articulation. It is the best way to hone your interviewing skills and increase your overall confidence, which is also an important part of the process. Another way to improve is to go for more real-life interviews. Many years ago, I would attend job interviews for positions I wasn’t keen on taking. All I truly was interested in was networking with recruiters and building my confidence as an interviewee.
This post is part of the dream job course, an 8 part series guide on landing your dream job.