How To InterviewI've just finished interviewing 20 candidates from NUS, SMU and NTU over the past week. I now have some views on this subject! Here are my suggestions...
First - a few specific tips:
1. Be on time! Being late may screw your chances irreparably.
2. Guys: don't wear an earring. Personally this doesn't bug me but upon canvassing my colleagues, a LOT would disqualify you on this count.
3. Dress smart casual or even semi formal but don't look like you're going to a funeral.
4. Listen to what the interviewer says. Eg we asked one guy to wait while we called the last person who would interview him and he just walked out. When we asked him where he was going, he said he thought the interview was over. Duh. It's quite OK to ask someone to repeat something you don't understand but if you're not sure, don't assume because we know that makes an ass out of someone and it's not me.
5. Keep the names of your interviewers straight. Although each candidate only met 3 people, only 1 out of 20 was able to get our names right in the end.
6. Smile – not like a moron but smile. A few guys were so petrified with fear they never cracked a smile the entire interview and this made it difficult to build a rapport with them. On this point, you should obviously be making eye-contact with your interviewer… normal eye contact not like you're a serial killer but please make it clear you are more interested in the interviewer than the back of your hand. You know how weird it is to talk to someone who looks down the entire time? Any kind of strange behaviour will disqualify you.
7. You need to be natural with the people you are talking to. If you freeze up in these situations, then you better set up A LOT of interviews because you need to learn to relax. Take up debating or public speaking… join toastmasters… learn to talk to people in authority and/or older that you with ease. Talk to your professors more. Join an organization where you will regularly talk to people who are 20-30 years your senior as your equals. If you are freaked out in such scenarios it will be interpreted as a weakness and the interviewer will find it harder to see beyond this to your strengths. Don't wait until interviews are approaching to gain this skill. If you know this is your weakness then start sorting it out immediately.
8. Questions: when you have the opportunity to ask some, take it. Again don't ask some ass kissing question to try sound smart. "What is your company's strategy?" I mean do you really want to know? What you should be asking are things you genuinely care about… like what would be expected of you, whether you work with a team or individually, the nature of the work, the hours, who your boss would be. You might also want to know if you have internet access in the office but don't ask that. If you think you've already screwed up your interview and this will be the last time you see these people then why not ask for advice, "How do you think I can improve myself for future interviews?" If they don't answer then no loss… but you'd be surprised how many people would be willing to give their opinion. Take it.
9. Your answers shouldn't sound rehearsed but they should sound honest and well thought out. Go through the 25 most difficult questions you will be asked in an interview and at least think about the topics raised. An obvious question is "why do you want to join us?" yet a lot of people didn't know how to answer. Equally bad were those ass-kissing rehearsed answers like "Because your organization has a 115 year history of excellence in the … industry." Please. Do you ever watch American Idol? When Simon Cowel asks "What will you do with your $1m if you win?" those who answer "I will invest it and give some to charity" get ripped apart but those who answer "Well for starters I wanna buy a Pink Cadillac…" get cheers. Why? Because it's candid and original and isn't an obvious attempt to brown nose.
10. Which brings us to the key point: Show some personality. Be passionate about something. If you can't talk passionately about one of your class modules then what about a hobby or sport? If you read, what is a good book you read recently and why? What makes you interesting and different from all the other candidates? Everybody will say they are a hard worker and are a team player. That will not separate you from the pack. Make sure that under the "Interests and Hobbies" section of your CV there is something which will catch the interviewer's eye and provoke a conversation. Just put things like "exercise, reading and talking to friends" is BORING. Now the girl who collected and traded perfume bottles or the guy who was into salsa dancing… now THAT caught our eye. You see that and you want to know more.
The interview process IS NOT about proving that you are the best person for the job. That is a widely held misbelief. The interview process is about (1) showing that you are capable of doing the job and then (2) being the person the interviewer likes the most. Candidates who are good with people will have a real advantage over candidates who may be extremely well qualified but have no social skills. Don't get me wrong, you can't show up with an average grade of D and think you can talk your way into a job. You have to meet the hurdle criteria for being hired. But if you've reached the interview stage, have probably met most of the basic criteria.
The interviewer may be looking for specific traits depending on the job, but generally, most will be looking for the following:
1. Articulate – can understand the question and express the answers easily and clearly
2. Confident and Natural – interacts with ease
3. Builds a Rapport – You want to be able to click with your interviewer. You will know when you've achieved this because the conversation is easy, there's a but of humour, you'll feel your energy level rising because you're enjoying the conversation and you feel like it would be fun to be able to work with these people… not just because you want the job or you think it would be good to have on your CV, but because you've connected with the people interviewing you. This is very hard to fake… if you can fake it you have a useful talent. But most people can't. It's also something that isn't totally in your control – it depends on both your personality and that of the interviewer. However you can do a lot to improve the chances of this happening. At the very least, if you avoid annoying the interviewer, and if you are interesting, funny, natural and confident, you will set the groundwork for this to happen.
Tags: interview, nus, smu, ntu, job