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Work Place > Crack that interview
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Remember Vedika, my neigbour’s daughter? She was ecstatic that her newly-made, crisp CV had done its job! A leading MNC had short-listed her CV for the position of PR manager. Having waited long for the right interview call, she was nervous. It was a make or break situation for her. Well, it has been for many of us, hasn’t it?

Interviews have always been a daunting challenge. Rejection, fear of losing out or stagnation in the current job has made interviews look like Herculean monsters. Here are some tips I shared with Vedika to gear her up.

Be Prepared
An interview is not just a knowledge test. It also provides insights to your personality, employability and managerial/organizational skills. So, prepare well.
  • Carry a professional-looking document dossier. Place your CV, academic credentials, testimonials/pay-stubs in order of importance. Use post-its for easier access. Carry documents, even if you have emailed/faxed a copy.
  • Remember dates, companies, roles/ responsibilities. Discrepancies can be detrimental.
  • In about 4-5 points, make a mental note of your current job description.
  • Memorize one/two achievements in each of your jobs.
  • Highlight your skills with real-time illustrations. Succinctly describe a situation and your effort to find an outcome.

Do your Homework

  • While researching the potential employer, look beyond the website. Subtle use of recent press information can earn you brownie points.
  • Speak to your consultant/friends to understand the organization’s culture.
  • Gather details on interview process, background/experience of the interviewer.
  • Get preliminary information about the role, reporting structure etc.

Fielding Questions
Vedika fretted, “Will my replies make a positive impact”. Well, that is tough to predict. However, you can be prepared for some/all of the following

  • Personal profile – Give crisp, unemotional answers to questions regarding marital status, children and family background.
  • Situational Questions / Cases – Take time to assimilate. Ask pertinent questions. Provide relevant explanation. Interviewers not only judge your analytical ability, but also thought, process flow and presence of mind. Therefore, you may score on other attributes, even if your answer is skewed.
  • Strengths & Weaknesses – I asked Vedika to do a self-SWOT (Strength-Weakness-Opportunities-Threats) Analysis. List down your personal attributes under these four categories. Pick relevant strengths which will add value to your candidature. Avoid personal attributes like “respect elders”, “loving/caring”. Similarly, identify some weaknesses which will also work as your strengths. Avoid blatant shortcomings.
  • Career goals or “Why are you suitable for the job?” – Prepare a reply in advance.
  • List down probable questions. Take help from the consultant or friends.
  • Be honest and straightforward. Never oversell yourself or sound desperate.
  • Active listening will enhance your replies and help in responding better. Don’t ramble.
  • Do not talk about compensation. If asked, state your current emoluments and use sentences like “I am sure your offer will be competitive” or “your offer will be commiserate with my experience”. Discuss it in detail at the final stage.

Dress for Success
There is no denying that appearance matters. Therefore, dress the part.

  • Understand company culture. Be sophisticated but conservatively attired. Choose an outfit which makes you feel confident. Wear simple, well-fitted, clean/laundered attire in pleasing, soft colours. Keep metallic colours and dark prints for social occasions.
  • Play safe - wear an Indian outfit. Go for pant-suits/western formals, if you can carry it off.
  • Choose comfortable footwear. High-heels/stilettos may affect your gait.
  • Wear simple jewellery. Jangling bangles, neck/hair pieces and rings are a big distraction. Avoid colour coordinated accessories/watch and garish makeup.
  • Apply muted nail varnish. If you wear perfume, choose a soft, day fragrance.
  • Use the restroom to check your appearance. Carry a small vanity case with cosmetic essentials and mouth fresher. Bad breath is a big put-off.

Conversation, Attitude & Demeanour

  • Wake up early, eat a good breakfast. Arrive 10-15 minutes early and take time to compose yourself. Turn off your mobile.
  • Smile. Be confident, enthusiastic and pleasant. Tell yourself “I am here because I am good”.
  • Walk tall with an easy and positive body language. Keep your handshake soft but firm.
  • Maintain eye contact during the discussion. Scanning the room or shifting focus is a definite sign of nervousness.
  • Avoid slangs. Use gestures effectively. Excessive hand movement breaks train of thought.
  • Refrain from using casual terms like “you know”, “like”, whatever” etc.
  • Answer to the point. Do not repeat, interrupt or argue.
  • Seek clarification if you don’t comprehend a question.
  • Do not chew gum, fidget or play with your fingers/hair.
  • Avoid complaining about present job/supervisor.
  • Close the loop with a short thank you note.

Next day, Vedika informed me that her first interview was over lunch. It is common for companies to arrange interviews over breakfast/lunch or dinner. In this scenario, your social and dining etiquette will also matter. Remember,

  • Eating is only a medium. Your focus should be on the interview.
  • Do not slouch and keep your elbows off the table.
  • Wait for the interviewer to order and follow suit.
  • Avoid ordering messy food like pasta, pizza or soup. Look for simple/ light items on the menu. Don’t experiment with new cuisine. If you are not used to knives/forks, avoid items which will test these skills. However, if you are stuck in a fine-dining situation, the thumb rule is to start from the outside and end with the fork/knife on the inside.
  • Do not start eating until the interviewer begins. Eat in small portions and don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  • It may be tempting to make most of a free buffet meal in a five star restaurant. Do not pile food on your plate as if it is your last meal.
  • Be polite to the hotel/serving staff.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages even if the interviewer orders.
  • Do not complain about the food /prices or offer to pay for the meal.
  • While the restaurant’s ambiance may be relaxing, don’t get personal.

Today, telephone interviews have emerged as a cost-effective alternative. In addition to the above, here are some specific pointers:

  • Keep your phone line free ten minutes prior to the call. Ensure that the CV, stationery and a glass of water is handy.
  • Address interviewer as “Ms.” or “Mr.” Do not use first name until permitted.
  • Voice is paramount in a telephone conversation. Keep your tone confident and relaxed.
  • Be audible and crisp. Talking too fast indicates nervousness.
  • Do not interrupt the interviewer. Wait for your turn.
  • Take the call in a place where there is no disturbance. If you are at home, ensure minimal domestic activity.
  • If possible, take the call on a landline. Weak cell phone signals can disrupt continuity and tempo of the conversation.

Vedika left for her lunch interview brimming with confidence. I will keep you posted on how she fares. One last point, before I sign off… explore new opportunities when you are successful in your current job. Self-confidence and positive frame of mind will help you tackle interviews better!

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