The Art of Job-Hunting: Lesson 3 – Master the Interview

You have done all the necessary groundwork. You have built up a network, done the necessary research, distributed your resume, and contacted potential employers. With all the homework done, you have finally managed to land yourself an interview. The interview is the most important step in landing the job you want. The interview gives you that chance to sit down with the employer and show them what you are made of. It is important to use this time to make the best impression possible on an employer. Although every employer and interviewer is different, there are a few important rules that can be applied to all interview situations. You may not land every job you interview for, but you may find using these techniques useful…


(Also check out: Lesson 1 and Lesson 2)


1. Dress Well

Make sure you dress professionally for any and all job interviews. All employers will form their initial impression of you by how you look. Unless the interviewer tells you otherwise, dress in business casual or business attire only. This means, dress shirt, pants and shoes. Make sure you look clean-cut and well-groomed. Dressing well not only makes you look professional in front of the employer, it also makes you feel good about yourself.



2. Be Early

Arrive ten to fifteen minutes before your interview. Being earlier than that makes you look desperate and creates unnecessary awkwardness, especially if the interviewer is not ready. Plan to arrive early. If you are way ahead of time, spend that extra time at a nearby coffee shop getting yourself ready for the interview.

Being late is absolutely prohibited. When you are late for an interview, the first thing that pops in to the employer’s head is, “If he’s late for the interview, he’ll definitely be late for work all the time.” Once again, first impressions are very important.



3. Come Prepared

Never show up empty-handed to an interview. Buy yourself a nice-looking business/presentation folder. You can get inexpensive ones from any office supplies store like Staples. The folder should contain a copy of your resume, references and lined paper. There are two advantages to bringing these items: (1) you will be more organized, and (2) you will appear more organized. If possible, have a few questions written down for the employer. If the employer tells you any important details, you may need to write them down.


4. Have the Right Attitude

Be positive. This cannot be stressed enough. Have a smile on your face and appear enthusiastic. Be ready to offer a proper, firm handshake. In office environments, employers hire people they can see themselves working with everyday. In retail and hospitality environments, employers hire people they can see customers talking to. However, be careful not to overdo the positivity. Your attitude should be (or at least come off as) sincere. You don’t want to appear fake or over the top with your enthusiasm. We all like outgoing, friendly people. At the same time, people who are overly happy all of the time can get annoying too.

Be energetic. If you have the option of picking the time for your interview, pick one that suits your energy level. If you are slow-going in the mornings, then don’t schedule yourself an 8 AM interview. If you don’t have a choice in the time, then give yourself a boost with coffee or energy drink. Don’t overdo the energy however. You don’t want to look like you are tweaking or tripping on speed during your interview. You should be alert, but calm.



5. Ask Questions

As mentioned earlier, come to the interview with some questions prepared. All interviewers will invite you to ask questions. Although you may not think this is an important step in the interview, it is. Asking a few (three to five) questions about the employer shows the interviewer that you did your research on the company and displays a genuine interest in their business. That being said, you should ask the right questions.

Do NOT under any circumstances ask about wages (this is something you should have done your research on or should be brought up by the interviewer), breaks, or vacation times. Good questions to ask are those related to company goals, company expectations of employees, or room for employee growth. One question that always impressed me as an interviewer was about how I enjoyed my experience working at the company. This is a good question to ask because it breaks the interviewer from the formal role and allows them to empathize with the employee, i.e. it reminds the interviewer that they too are an employee.

6. Common Interview Questions

Different interviewers can ask many different questions. Let’s be honest here though. Most corporations like to streamline the hiring process and all of them invariably rely on the same generic, time-tested behavioural questionnaires that everyone else uses. In all interviews, some form of the following questions will appear. You may choose to answer them any way you want, but it is good to be prepared for them.

(i) “Tell us about yourself?”

This is the one question I have always found the most challenging. You would think it would be easy to talk about yourself, but it really is not. The problem is you are not quite sure what they want to know: your entire life history or something else? The answer is: a highlight of what you have said on your resume.

Give the employer a few key personality traits (e.g. “outgoing, hardworking, motivated”), give a reason as to where are in your education (e.g. recently graduated from University with a degree in Political Science), say why you are seeking the current opportunity and why your previous work and education experience led you here. If possible, also give a brief summary of your extra-curricular activities such as any volunteer work or sports. Try not to ramble for too long. This should be a (relevant) summary of you, not a biography.



(ii) “Why do you want to work for us?”

This is a good time to impress the employer with your research about the company. Tell them what you know about their company (e.g. “Canada’s leading retailed in men’s undergarments”) and relate it to what you are looking for. If you know someone that works there or is a client, then tell them the great things you have heard about them. It’s always good to know your personal goals, state them to the interviewer and tell them that you hope to achieve them through this experience while contributing to the company’s success.

(iii)”What are your strengths?”

Pick three and talk about them. Choose them in relation to the company. “Athletic” or “Active” may work in a restaurant or health environment, but are not as important in an office. A few that can be used for most interviews are: teamwork, communication skills, hard working, ability to follow guidelines, and organization. Try and relate your strengths to the job you are applying for and say how they will help you be a great employee.

(iv) “What areas needing improvement?”

This is a tricky question. If you make the mistake of actually saying any faults, then the interviewer will always prod more. For example, you say that you could be more organized. Now you have done two things: (i) the employer jumps to the conclusion that you aren’t organized at all; and (ii) the employer is invited to dig deeper.

You should take a cautious approach to answering this question. Do not fall for the trip. Try and twist the question to your advantage. The best answer is to say that you are someone that is always trying to better themselves and, as such, are always reflecting and improving, by being more organized, healthier, better communicator.



(v) “Where do you see yourself “x” years from now?”

If you remember Lesson 1, then you may recall the “plan”. The “plan” is the most important step in the preparation for job-hunting. The plan includes short term and long term goals. It is good to write down realistic goals for yourself before you begin talking to employers. When an interviewer asks you this question, use your own goals to tell them what they want to hear. No company wants to invest their time and money on you, only to have you jump to another opportunity a year from now. No matter what your goals, try to convince the interviewer that you want to achieve them with their company.

(vi) “Questions about dealing with co-workers/management.”

Always be positive when answering this question. Many interviewees make the mistake of complaining about former employers or co-workers. Do not ever speak badly about other people during an interview. When employers ask this question, they want to know how tactful you are in dealing with other people. Employers want to avoid workplace politics and drama. Always give answers that display your ability to manage difficult personalities with calmness and diplomacy. In some situations, the interviewer may try to entrap you by offering some negative comments about your previous employer. Just smile and say something nice about your past employer (even if you hated them).


Also check out: Lesson1 and Lesson 2.



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