Whether you’re in Bogota, Toronto, New York or here in Barranquilla, there’s one thing you can’t avoid and that’s the horror of your first, third, ninth and 30th job interview. If you’re a sadistic bastard, it might be your fetish and you might be itching to go; but for the rest of us, job interviews (all of them), are usually an uncomfortable experience we’d rather skip. Unfortunately, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who found a job through a friend or relative, you’re going to have to sweat through it, literally.
That said, interviews don’t have to be uncomfortable. In fact, if you know what questions are coming, you can prepare yourself to ace it – seriously. It’s actually quite easy to ROCK an interview and to impress the hell out of the people on the other side of the table.
So who the heck am I – what do I know? Well – I’ve personally sat in the hot seat around thirty times and I’ve been on the other side of the table well over five hundred times. As a regional manager for a blue-chip Canadian telco, and as an entrepreneur and business owner, I’ve been involved in the hiring of thousands of people. I know what hiring teams are looking for – I know what gets them excited and I know their pet peeves. I’ve also taken courses in nuero-linguistic programming and I know how to manage human perception.
So, here’s my top five list of infallible “rock the interview” techniques:
- Check with your network – schmooze.
If you read what I wrote above, many people skip the interview altogether by finding a job through their network. That’s your first task – reach out to your friends and family. Check with your coach and anyone else you know – an enormous amount of jobs are found through contacts. It’s called nepotism; up North the concept is frowned upon but here on the coast, it’s in full swing so take advantage of that. Even if you still have to do the interview, knowing someone with power in the company can really help grease the wheels.
While I’m on the topic… NEVER stop networking. When you meet someone new, get their contact info and write it down – make a note of how, when and where you met them and then at least once every few months, follow up to say hi and see how they’re doing. A very useful tool for this is Linked-In – check it out. I recommend creating a profile and then hiring a language teacher to check it for spelling, grammar, and flow. Remember that your online profile is an extension of yourself – it should be perfect. On that note, if you have a Facebook account, turn up the privacy settings so that prospective employers can’t read about your personal life.
- Know the industry and the company you’re applying to.
The average person I have interviewed has been downright daft (ignorant). When I asked them what they thought of a recent event in the industry they had no idea what I was talking about. Why? Because most people fire out a million resumes and are willing to take any job they can.
If you want to land a great job, you need to set yourself apart from the herd. One way to do that is by reading through the company’s website and Facebook page, and maybe even doing some Google searches on the industry in general. Spend a few hours learning about the role you’re applying for. Find out what the company’s strengths are – what products do they have and what are they well known for. In every interview, they will ask you if you have any questions. Don’t say no. Memorize one or two questions. For example, if you’re applying for a role in marketing, you might say – “I saw that your latest product has done really well – will this role allow me to work with the team who created that campaign?” Managers want to find candidates who can think outside the box – being knowledgeable puts you way above the crowd.
- Be Professional
You may say, “Well duh Mike – obviously!” but you’d really be amazed how many people go to a job interview looking and acting like a slob. Dressed in dirty, ripped jeans. Chewing gum. Coming late. Not bringing a resume. Not having a clue.
When I see any of the above, I immediately spin them around, show them the door out and send them packing – it’s not worth my time speaking to someone who doesn’t have the basic common sense to be professional. There are some jobs that don’t require that look – especially in marketing and art – but at least for your first interview, I recommend erring on the side of caution.
- Play/Look the part: Get a haircut. Take a shower, brush your teeth, and if you’re going to use cologne, spray yourself once – just once. A strong cologne or perfume will instantly turn off a prospective employer. Wear business casual clothes – a clean dress shirt with long pants (not jeans), a plain belt with a small buckle and casual shoes (not runners). Pretend you’re going to your grandmother’s house for a special dinner – look like that. If you’re a smoker, don’t do it before the interview – it stinks and it’s a turn-off.
- Come early: A sure-fire way to make sure you DON’T get a job is to arrive late. Here on the coast, everyone always arrives late – I think some people would come late for their own funeral. When you come late you’re basically saying you don’t care and you don’t respect the other person’s time. In business, that doesn’t fly. If your interview is at 1pm, plan to be there at least an hour earlier, at 12pm. Check-in with the receptionist when you arrive and wait quietly and patiently. Don’t smoke, don’t chew gum and don’t listen to music – it’s a good idea to bring an industry magazine to read.
- Be prepared: Bring a notebook to write in, a pen and a few copies of your resume in a folder or A4 envelope. You may not need any of these but that’s ok – you aren’t bringing them to use them – you’re bringing them to show that you are a person who is prepared. In my experience, most people come to interviews thoroughly unprepared. Just like looking unprofessional, not being prepared casts doubt on your ability to do a good job.
- Put on your game face: From the moment you walk into the company, you’ll need to be in game mode. Even if no-one’s looking, consider your deportment and behavior. When you meet someone, shake their hand firmly and look into their eyes. Looking away from someone implies that you’re not confident or that you’re lying – both big no-no’s when applying for a job. In the interview room, ask for permission to sit and then do so calmly. When people are nervous, they often twiddle their fingers or play with their hair. Some people shake their leg like a jackhammer and others adjust their clothes. Throughout the interview, keep your hands together in your lap. Place your feet flat on the floor and sit up straight.
- Know yourself.
Everyone has a specific skillset with strengths and weaknesses. You need to define yours – what are you good at and what do you need to improve. Are you a team player or would you rather work on your own? Are you proactive or reactive? When there’s a problem, do you fix it yourself or wait for someone else to do it?
The interviewers (just one if you’re lucky) will 100% most definitely ask you to describe yourself. They will ask you why you’re applying for the job and they’ll ask you why they should hire you. If they’re really nasty, they’ll ask you to give examples of situations in the past where things happened and how you reacted or what you did. The trick is knowing the answers to their questions in advance. “C’mon Mike – don’t be crazy! No-one can predict the future!”
Well… I’ll let you in on a little secret – interviewers are people just like you – many (maybe even most) interviewers get their questions from the internet. So you can too. And in my experience, all interviews follow the same pattern of questions. When you’re in the interview, you’ll have only a few seconds to consider your answer before giving it. I highly recommend doing a search in Google for “the most common interview questions” and spending the time – maybe a few hours or even a few days, thinking about answers to at least the top 10 questions. This exercise of reviewing questions and thinking up answers in advance will dramatically improve your ability to answer in the interview because you’ll be accessing your short-term memory rather than the long-term, slower hard disk in your head.
You don’t have to memorize full answers – just think about situations and past experiences – perhaps things that happened in your family or at school. Try to be as truthful as possible – most people stretch the truth on resumes, and for the most part, managers expect that. But in an interview, especially if the interviewer has been trained in NLP techniques, it’s obvious when you’re lying. What’s important is your ability to answer a question with confidence. When you lie, it can become quite easy to confuse yourself and then you lose your ability to speak clearly.
- Be assertive and humble.
Speak plainly. Don’t babble and don’t try to make yourself appear smarter than you are by using big words (yes – I’ve seen this many times). When asked a question, take a moment to make sure you understood and then frame your thoughts and answer in short sentences. Don’t speak more than you have to. A common trick interviewers use is staying quiet which prompts you to speak. Don’t fall for it. Once you answer their question, stay silent. If you don’t understand the question, say so. Don’t say “uh-huh” or “uh uh”; say “yes” or “no”, and smile. Smile again and then smile some more. Smiling puts people at ease and makes them subconsciously like you more.
You want to show the interviewer that you’re smart, confident and organized, but you also want to show that you’re open and receptive to learning. No-one likes arrogant people and saying that you know it all is an instant put-off. When they ask you if you have any questions, it’s a good idea to make it clear that you’re interested in learning more and expanding your knowledge. Ask if they have programs for self-development.
Above all, know that you can do whatever you set your mind to so.