10 things you need to know about interviews

10 things you need to know before going in to your (first) interview:

1. Research as much as you can about the company or organisation you’re hoping to work for.

Use some of your legendary internet stalking ability that you usually reserve for your latest crush, and find out all you can about the company’s history, their values, their CEO, where they operate, their partners/funders, everything!

2. Dress simply and conservatively.

Try and find out what people in the office wear, and then aim for one level above that. If you’ve been a student for the past three years, it may be worth investing in a decent suit, shirt and tie if you’re a guy, or a pair of formal slacks or pencil skirt and blouse if you’re a girl. Remember not to show too much cleavage or leg, or wear colours that are overpoweringly bright (unless it’s a fairly unconventional workplace and they’d appreciate that). Don’t wear too much makeup, and don’t go overboard with the perfume or cologne. The most important thing is to be neat and clean, and to feel confident that your outfit (or hair piece!) won’t let you down.

3. Sounds lame, but practice, practice, practice!

Nothing beats the confidence that comes with knowing how you’re going to answer before they’re even asked. Get a list of commonly asked questions off the internet and do a mock interview with a friend. It’s especially good to have examples ready to answer those pesky “Tell us about a time you had to work in a team/deal with conflict/take the lead/handle failure/make an important decision/chop a Christmas tree into toothpicks with a butter knife/kill a wild boar with your bear hands/cook a meal for 12 with nothing but sour milk and toothpaste.

4. Aim to get there early.

Like, 30 minutes early. Take a book if you need something to do while you wait. Because sitting awkwardly on a hideous orange patent leather couch that makes your legs sweat is preferable to arriving 10 minutes late because there was traffic/your taxi driver got arrested for driving a vehicle that is not now, never was, nor ever will be roadworthy/your baby niece decided it would be a good idea to throw up on your shirt just as you’re about to walk out the door. You’re under enough pressure as it is. Don’t make it worse by giving yourself too little time to be able to cope with life’s little hiccups.

5. Know your answer to “Tell me a bit about yourself”…off. by. heart.

This may be the only chance to show off your strengths and do a bit of underhanded bragging. And it’ll also be the first question, the one that comes when you’re most nervous, so knowing this answer is a good way to start with confidence. If you get off on the right foot, the rest of the interview is bound to be a breeze!

6. Use the STAR technique.

When you’re asked one of those horrible “Tell us about a time you…” questions, the worst answer you can give would be one which is unstructured. If it’s really a question you haven’t thought of before and have no prepared answer for, take your time to think of a good example. Don’t panic. Ask them if you can have a moment to think. Then structure it according to the acronym STAR: Situation – give the background or context for the story. Task – explain what was asked of you. Activity – describe what you actually did. Result – explain how your actions brought about a positive result or conclusion to the situation. This technique will mean you don’t waffle, go off on a tangent or let the story drift off without a real ending. If you’re not sure if you’ve given them what they’re looking for, ask “Does that answer your question?” to check whether you need to elaborate any further. And be specific. If the event was for 400 people, mention that. If you raised R25,000 for charity, state the exact amount. It’s so much more impressive that “I raised a bunch of money and it was great!”

7. Think like an interviewer.

Think about if you were interviewing for this position, what kind of questions would you ask? And more importantly, what kind of answers would you like to hear? What kind of keywords would you be wanting to tick off your list? Diligence? Patience? Initiative? Honesty? Innovation? Drive? Persistence? Flexibility? How would your ideal candidate look, speak, act? Figure this out, and then give the interviewer exactly what they’re looking for. That is basically your only job in an interview.

8. Interview the interviewers.

An interview is a two-way process. Try to figure out, by thinking about the questions they ask and what kind of things they’re looking for, what it would be like to work there. When they ask you at the end of the interview whether you have any questions, ask about organisational culture, ask what the role entails on a day-to-day basis, ask whether the job is more collaborative or a solo-mission. As much as they want to figure out whether you’re right for the job, you need to be figuring out whether the job is right for you. It’s like a date, only more corporate.

9. Fake it till you make it.

If you’re a shy, introverted wallflower who’d rather spend time with a book than being the life of the party, then it may help you to play the part of a confident, social people’s person as if you’re acting a role in a play. Unfortunately, if it comes down to two equal candidates, employers will usually go with the employee who seems the most social and outgoing. If it’s hard for you to identify what such behaviour might be, try and think of two or three friends who you think appear confident, self-assured and competent, and figure out what it is they do that gives that impression. Is it smiling? Is it a firm handshake? Posture? Eye contact?  Don’t worry about portraying an image that isn’t quite yourself at this stage. Once you’ve got the job, they will get to know and love the real you.

10. Try to relax.

Before you go in, take deep breathes. If you need to, go to the bathroom, have a sip of water and dry your hands if they’re sweaty. When you’re in the interview, remember not to fidget, don’t slouch. Sit comfortably but upright. Body language makes up a big percentage of communication, so be aware of the impression you’re creating beyond the words you’re saying. If your throat is dry and you’d like a glass of water, ask for one. It will show you know how to ask for what you need.

Ps. Go get ‘em, Tiger!

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Melissa Nefdt
Mel is a resident freelance writer and moderator at Yebo Students. She has a passion for helping young people realise their potential, and has several years experience running youth development programmes. She likes to write about, well, everything, and wants to travel, well, everywhere. She gets her kicks from meeting new people and having interesting conversations.

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