How To Rock Your Job Interview
First written in May 2013.
A job interview, it is every student’s biggest nightmare, every applicants moment of fear. Yet at the same time, an interview is your moment of glory, a moment to express your qualities and show what you are worth and what your future potential holds. This article will describe in depth some steps leading towards the job interview, the interview itself and what to do afterwards. The advice given follows both from the literature and the experience of the author in interviewing applicants.
Two pages of text to describe your whole (student) career up until this point, that is all you get. Or actually even less than that if you take into account how long every hiring manager will probably be spending reading your resume; about 20 to 30 seconds. It is, therefore, most important to stand out and have a perfect resume. Choose for quality over quantity, name the things that you have done well and turn your responsibilities into achievement statements. Be concrete, use examples (and numbers) to validate your achievements. At the same time, keep it simple; no one will be impressed by the word-art anymore nowadays.
Not so long ago resumes were sent via the post office, now you will most probably send it via email. Make sure to send it as a .pdf. Nothing is more regrettable than sending a .docx that you forgot to save when you updated or that is full of red underlining. By saving your resume as a .pdf you make sure you will both check the CV and that it will look exactly the same when arriving at the company.
Of course, you do not want to send the exact same resume to every company you would love to work for. Personalize your resume for every different job. Write the language they speak, appeal to their values (which are probably on their website). Next to change the description of your former experience also edit the former jobs to display, to make the job your applying for look like the natural thing to do.
One last tip for writing a resume is to be creative. There is a big chance that a lot of other applicants have searched the web and have optimized their resume, customized it for the job and showcased their achievements. Make your resume stand out by doing something others do not have, this can be everything from a special design to having an experience or skill that no other applicant has. See below for an example CV.
(I had an example here, but it’s a bit outdated now)
Now that you have your customized CV for the job, it is time to start working on the motivation or cover letter. The goal is to show your interest in the job, your specific motivation, your skills and how to follow-up. This all must be conveyed on one page, remember that the hiring managers have a limited amount of time. The first paragraph includes why you are applying for the job. Give mention of where you have found the application. If this is via a person working at the firm, feel free to mention his or her name.
The following paragraphs are to describe what you have to offer the employer. This is the place to describe your skills that match the wanted skills on the job offer. Do not hesitate to use the language the job offer is using too, but do not overdo it. You are taking things from and are relating to your resume, but here too do not have too much overlap. Here is also the place to elaborate on something that is really great about your resume, or something where there might be a gap.
The final paragraph is to thank the employer for considering you for the position. It is also the place to refer to your resume and to include information on how to follow-up. Most of the time this will be a referral to your means of contact and that you would love to be invited to a job interview (to which we will come next). End the letter with a complimentary close (e.g. Respectfully yours,) and add a signature.
Job Interview – Preparation
Now that you have passed the first two hurdles it is time for the job interview itself. There is a vast amount of things you can do beforehand and on the day of the interview itself. Always read up on the company, know what they stand for, but also zoom in on the department you are applying for, know what they do. To do this you can always call the company itself if you have not done some of this research beforehand. A good candidate prepares both for the questions that will be asked (e.g. Name 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses), but also prepares questions himself. Ask something about where the department or company is heading, how the interviewer got there or how the culture is at the company, and what they expect from you if in the next 30-90 days if they hire you. One other type of question is to specify on something the interviewer is asking you if he is being unclear on what he wants to know you have all the right to ask for clarification (which will improve your answer significantly).
But back to the preparations. When anticipating for questions about the job skills, your experience and abilities it is good to write your answers down. It is even better to practice with a friend (or multiple friends). You will find out that practising the answers to common questions allows you to answer them fluently, reduce your thinking time and makes you more confident about your answers. When practising with a friend make sure to ask him or her to add some questions, this will keep things novel and also prepare you for those questions that were not on your list.
On the day of the job interview, you will want to wear the clothing you will be wearing on the job itself. If in doubt what to wear, choose to overdress instead of underdressing. Here again, it is not a shame to ask someone working at the company what is customary. Have a good night sleep before the interview and reserve time in the morning for a good shower, shave and breakfast. Nothing is a bigger turndown than someone not looking fresh, they also expect you to look your best when you have the job. The breakfast serves the function of providing you with rich nutrition and energy during the interview. For an interview that is during the afternoon, exercising is also a good idea. This promotes the blood flow and reduces stress levels, but do not forget to change back into your formal wear.
Job Interview – The Interview
When you walk into the building, about 10 minutes before the interview, be courteous to everyone you meet. You are there to leave the best impression possible, this also includes the lady from the front desk. Smile friendly and sincerely, an interviewer most probably knows how to read body language very well and spots a fake smile from a mile away. Speak clearly and sit in an active position (chest up, shoulders back, chin up). This allows your voice to carry better and showcases confidence.
One thing that is overlooked sometimes, is to be honest. During an interview, you may feel you need to conceal things that do not make you look good. But remember that there is a large chance that the interviewer already knows this (via a background check). And by telling something about something not so great (e.g. failing a study) you have the chance to show your side of the story and make the truth look as good as it gets. This also shows character on your part, and who knows this gives way to a connection with the interviewer who has had a similar experience.
When you are invited for the job interview the employer knows you are a competent and smart person. So keep it short and simple during the interview. Structure your answers to be between 30 and 90 seconds of length, any shorter will make you look unqualified and any longer will make them lose interest in the answer. Incorporate some humour into the interview, you do not want to come over too stale, and at the same time avoid slang-words and humour that can be interpreted in a bad way or that are off-colour. Also talk about what your friends think you are good at, skip the part where you refer to your friends and be confident in that you possess the skill you are speaking about.
As with your skills, also get your personality across, be personable. The interviewer has to remember you for who you are and not think of you as number 3 from school X. Try and come over as genuine a person as possible and show that you are warmhearted or extrovert when you are. Have something pop out, make them remember you by the thing that characterizes you best.
Job Interview – After
When you came into the door you give a firm handshake to the interviewer with which you expressed your confidence, liking of the interviewer and excitement for the interview. You looked the interviewer in the eye and made a connection. Do this again when you leave, convey that you found the interview to be pleasant and that you love to hear from them again. You can also send a thank you note or letter after the interview, thank them for the time and if you really forgot something important you can subtly add it too. If after two weeks you still have not heard anything from the interviewer you can contact them and inform about it.
In this rather long article, the author has tried to give an oversight of the things to do before, during and after a job interview. There are a lot of techniques mentioned. There are however many more out there that will help you succeed in finding your dream job. Please do take some time to read through the materials and practice beforehand. Although it may seem like a lot to do, it will determine the rest of your life and will have a significant return on investment!
References & Further Reading: