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The internet is filled with so called ‘job interview tips”. Most of them do not go beyond, ‘dress well, take a copy of your resume, do not sit until you are told, say thankyou, smile, etc, etc.’ Whilst these tips sure come in handy to be a basic human being, there is SO much more about walking into an interview that you control, that you do not even realise.
I vividly remember the first job interview I ever walked into. It was at my last year in my bachelor program in a college where almost everyone was as smart as I was, if not smarter. After all, we all had to top our respective high schools to get into the halls of this college. And I mean, not just academics. My batch mates excelled in drama, sports, dancing, singing, debating, raising sponsorships, organising festivals, entrepreneurship and what not. Even though I went on to an elite business school straight after and people often ask me about the kind of people I had around, I always tell them, “Average”. Everyone that was not average, I knew and befriended. Yes, they all may have made it through this crazy entrance exam and the process somehow, but so many of them lacked basic life skills even though on paper they had stunning resumes. This made me question the universe a lot and what the hell was I doing there as a fresher with no work experience whatsoever compared to these ‘amazing on paper’ folks. Little did I know, that you don’t just need to be great on paper to land a dream job. You need so much more.
Anyway, back to my first interview. The guy was a finance specialist who came to hire for a job that I didn’t want in the first place, but since I was shortlisted and I was not allowed to cancel my interview, I went half heartedly anyway. Even if you don’t want the job, there is something nerve wracking about the whole interview process nevertheless. Something about letting a random stranger decide your future in the course of a few minutes, or if you’re lucky an hour! The interview felt like the longest fifteen minutes of my life. The interviewer asked me about why I wanted the job and I gave a vague answer (remember I didn’t really want it). He then proceeded to ask me, why my grades dropped in year 2 and was it because “I was having too much fun in college”? I should have known then to give a better reply but I just kept shut and listened to this man rip my resume apart piece by piece. I walked out half in tears, humiliated and not able to understand how an absolute stranger could make me feel this bad about a job interview I didn’t even want in the first place. Sounds familiar?
Fast forward one year, I nailed every interview I gave ever since this incident. How did I manage to do that? Did I have special job interview tips and secrets that no one knew about? No.
I am, the sum of all of my life’s experiences. I didn’t arrive independently to succeed in any given situation. In fact, I have failed a lot, but what I have not done is give up at any point in time. Post my humiliation, I had some time to buckle up for my business school admission (IIM’s) interviews and I decided I wasn’t going to let this experience ruin my self-confidence and future. I was going to nail every god damn interview I ever walked in. And even if the result was that I didn’t get the job or the admission, I wouldn’t go home feeling like I didn’t do my best.
Here’s my job interview tips that have made me excel time and again in any kind of interview!
Rehearse the crap out of “Tell us something about you” question.
First impressions can make or break your interview. This is the single most important thing to get right, even if you get everything wrong. Research has shown that the interviewer knows in the first five minutes whether or not she will hire you. What does that tell you? If you’ve interviewed enough, you know you will be asked this question 80% of the time. I have been asked this question more than I can remember and the best job interview tip I can give you is – Rehearse the answer to this question like its your favourite love song.
The more generic, boring and run-of-the-mill answer you come up with, the lower your chances of creating a kick-ass first impression. Don’t be a bore.
Here’s an example of what I would say in a hypothetical interview:
I’m Shruti. I was born and raised in India, but have in the last 5 years, worked and studied in Asia and Europe. I have an academic background in business and economics, and I’m passionate about all things digital and technology. I have worked on building multi-million dollar start-ups in India, and also in multinational corporations such as Procter & Gamble in the business development, strategy and marketing divisions. I am looking forward to build a career in *insert the industry/division you interview for*. When I’m not working, I am splitting my time between travel, yoga and trying to empower people via blogging.
What did this introduction do? It summed up pretty much all of my life with a major focus on professional life but also coming across has a person who has passions and wholeheartedly follows them. If you at this stage, just repeat the names of your schools, the degrees that you have and the marks that you received, you will not impress the recruiter. I know this, because I have recruited my own teams and very much count this as a huge red flag. So I am not just saying this after I read some generic ‘job interview tips’ and then copy pasted them here. Nope.
Research the company, the job and the industry like it’s the only thing you’re meant to do.
Who doesn’t love self validation? I know I do. And the chances are you do too. The person sitting across from you wants to be reminded of why working at this role, company and industry is as exciting for you as it is for me to go to space. This is why, it is SO important to know everything you can about the job and industry you apply for. If you come across as a person who simply needs this to ‘build a resume’ or ‘put money in the bank’ (which are exactly why everyone wants a job in the first place), do not make it look like that. The extra effort you put in your research will reflect in your answer when you’re asked- ‘Why this company/job?’, and you inevitably will, if it is any company worth its salt.
Determine your motivation of wanting the job and what you bring to the table that no one else does?
Again, no generic bullshit. You are probably not the only person the recruiter will have for the day and definitely not the last in a string of many. Make yourself stand out. Not in the way, where you talk about going and winning Master Chef (which if you did, WOW, hats off to you), but in the way where you tell the recruiter exactly HOW and WHY you will bring value to this job and to this company. Sit at home and think about it, because the truth is, if you yourself do not know what the answer to this question is, you are either a) not suited for this job, or b) only doing it for reasons other than what you should.
What is it that the company and the job brings to your life?
Again, going on the self-validation note. Do not praise the company and the job like it will change your life completely, but do understand, rehearse and communicate how amazing it would be to get this position. This will directly be linked to your past and of-course where you see yourself in the future.
If you could narrate your life as a story, how would that sound?
At the business school, we were always taught to know how to answer ‘situational questions’, such as ‘Tell us about a time you had a difficult team member and a looming deadline. How did you deal with it?” I can either a) make up a random story here OR b) use an actual story from my past and make it sound like I’m Sheryl Sandberg.
Remember, when you answer such questions related to your past, focus on a clear direction. The ‘challenge- solution- outcome‘ logic always helps to eliminate jargon that no one wants to hear. And then narrate it like you would a story to your friends, on a pleasant day at the beach!
Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Remember being humble is not always a bad thing.
Even though self confidence is monumental to nail every interview, it pays to remember not to go over the board. Do not say that your weakness is that “you are a perfectionist”. Oh come on, this is not realistic. The interviewer asked you this during your interview for a reason, and admitting here that you are human will take you far. That said, do not say totally unbelievable things like, “I can’t control my farting”. No, that shit won’t sail. (pun intended).
Know your resume inside out.
This seems like the most logical thing to do, and some how the least cared about. I have had moments when some one I interviewed blanked out when I asked them about an activity on their resume. Wait, what? Isn’t this like the sum total of your life on two pages?
If there is ONE blooper, you CANNOT afford to make, it is this. Know your resume in and out if you want to nail every interview. Also be prepared to defend things that don’t make sense. Things such as, taking a year off to go live in a camper van. I love the idea, but does your recruiter? You never know what you’ll be asked to explain. Do not look stupid by being unable to explain your very own resume.
Do your research on the people likely to interview you. It pays off.
Again, sounds intuitive right? Humans love being validated. Stalk your recruiter on LinkedIN, Xing or wherever else you can find information. More often than not, you will be informed of the name of who you are going to interview with. Use google to your advantage and research like a maniac on this person. It will definitely make you feel less nervous, knowing half as much about this person, as they will about you during the course of the interview.
Personally, I love this step because it gives me such a good insight into how/when/why some one made the life choices and if this person were going to be my future manager, I’d like to know their background too. You know what else is great about doing this, USING this information in your interview to get ahead. Talk about something common or a related passion and you will instantly bond!
Have 2 or 3 solid questions that you want to ask the recruiter.
Coming across as sincere, curious and well-researched person during the course of a job interview, never hurt anyone. Before you leave, make sure to ask at least one or two good questions to the recruiter. You can even use this time to get to know more about them and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they love about the company. This also makes the interview seem less like an investigation and more like a conversation!
Devour online forums such as Glassdoor to get an idea of potential questions you will get asked. Even better, make a list of 10-15 questions that you think are most likely to be asked!
Along the lines of researching before your interview, PREPARE for the most likely questions. You are less likely to come across stupid when you already know exactly what to say. You don’t need to sound like you’re rehearsing dialogs for a play, but you do need to know and be confident in what you are saying and why you are saying it.
Not everyone can come up with perfect answers on the spot (with the exception of extempore champion debaters who were also huge school nerds like me). Use the time you have to perfect all the potential questions you can be asked during the interview.
If you went to or plan to go to a business school, you may want to read why I think it’s not worth the money.
Extra Job Interview Tips That You Probably Know But Need to Be Reminded Of
- Dress in something that is aligned with the company’s culture (do not go wearing a suit to a small start-up) and in general look your best damn version. First impressions matter and how you dress will be critical in what that first impression is. Related: Why The Way You Dress is More Important Than You Think
- Always reach the interview place an hour before and carry a copy of your resume and other important documents that you used during your application. It will help calm your nerves down and ease into the environment instead of arriving last minute and running into the room.
- Do not forget to thank the interviewer at the end of the interview no matter how bad it went. You have to remember that this person took out time to sit, listen to you and understand who you are. Time is valuable. You must not take that for granted.
If you ever feel like your confidence is dipping and you’re sweating profusely, it helps to remember the company needs you just as much as you need the job. One cannot exist without the other.
If you would like a personal interview coaching session, or a long term training plan, book a session with me here.
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Here’s all my job interview tips that have helped me ace interviews since my one big fat embarrassing blooper, do you have some more?
Thanks for the tips – they’re great!
I especially liked your tip about not overdressing if the company is smaller – I had a feeling once or twice that i was wearing too official clothes in my interviews with smaller companies where there the style is more chill.
I am an interview coach and I stress the importance of “tell me about yourself.” Although this should be an easy answer, it is the hardest question to answer in an interview. I make sure all of my clients script their elevator speech and practice, practice, practice.
Hi Jada! Thanks a lot for stopping by. I totally agree that this is the single most important question at the beginning of any interview.
Thank you so much Elena. It happened to me too! hehe
Thank you so much for stopping by olivia! 🙂
curious tales of 20 something year old says
Hi I recently started following you! Maybe you could check out my post as well? I just started blogging!