Wednesday, 27 August 2008

How to Ace Your Job Interview

Picture thanks to danagraves

Last Friday, I took part in a trial shift for a part-time job I really wanted and aced it. It wasn’t luck, it wasn’t a job any monkey could do and I really don’t have a whole heap of experience in the field. How did I do it?

No, this isn’t a trick question or an unanswerable riddle, it’s a simple equation:

Your Interview + Preparation = Success.

There really isn’t much that lies within the realms of reality that you cannot achieve with some well laid plans.

Let’s look at it this way: you turn up to your interview, dressed in the ‘best-thing-you-could-find’ crumpled old school shirt from the back of your wardrobe, you know very little about the job, very little about your employer, you haven’t prepared anything to demonstrate or to ask, you flail around like a fish out of water and the whole thing ends up a little bit embarrassing, sound familiar? I sure as heck know that I’ve been there.

Why haven’t you planned in this case? Because, deep down, there’s very little chance you actually give a damn about the job. You’re a student; you don’t really want to slog away for minimum wage at work that is the complete opposite of what you’d ever want to do as a career. If they turn you down (which they’re well within their rights to do if you act this way!) you’ll probably show disappointment on the surface, but that little devilish voice inside you is cackling ‘I didn’t want that worthless job anyway!’

The first major point to consider when going for a job is the other person’s point of view. They don’t want someone who couldn’t care less about their business and their priorities as equally as you don’t want to work for someone who couldn’t care less about you and your priorities.

It’s much easier to achieve this if you can spark within yourself some kind of interest in the company you’re applying to. Whether it be a supermarket or fashion outlet, leisure centre or bakery, there’s bound to be an interesting business there, something somebody built from the ground up; a business with ethics and outlook. You should go for a job which you can in some way relate to: if you love fashion, chances are the company recruiting for that clothing retail position feels the same; it’s likely the person who began that business felt the same. Look for a job that ignites a passion in you, however small, then go ahead and show it with some enthusiasm.

Once you’ve manufactured a little of this enthusiasm, you’ll find the job becomes a much better prospect for you and less of a potential daily grind. Think where the skill gained from this line of work could take you, how it could build your character and add to your CV. If you can get to a point where you’re buzzing with enthusiasm for the job, believe me, this will show. You are selling yourself to this company and they don’t want to be sold a dud, they want to see some energy!

A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide to Acing Your Job Interview:

♥ First and foremost, plan ahead. All these steps require you to take a little time out to organise yourself (before the day of the interview!) This will leave you feeling primed, happy and with a lot less unnecessary stress on the day.

♥ Dress for the position. Imagine you had the job and you were heading in on your first day, how would you look? Obviously don’t turn up in the company’s uniform! That’s a little too eager, just be sure to look like a suitable candidate. If in doubt, always go looking as smart as possible. If you need to invest in a new shirt then do it, it is an investment, meaning that if it helps you to get the job then it’s worth it; it might just give you the edge over the chump who turns up in a tracksuit. Smart clothing says ‘I care.’ And believe you me, their business is their baby and they want someone who’ll care for it. Have your chosen attire ready to go the night before; don’t leave yourself with a last minute ironing catastrophe.

♥ Ask questions. This is a key way to show off your newly ignited enthusiasm. Research the company online a little beforehand if you can or just wonder how they started, where they’re headed, and how they plan to get there. They’ll nearly always ask if you have any questions and you should have, don’t leave it at ‘how much do I get paid?’ Don’t just kiss ass either because this will be glaringly obvious (though sometimes employers do like a jobsworth…) for extra points ask their expectations of you and how you can assist them to get where they’re going.

♥ Prepare answers. You know the type of codswallop they put on application forms these days like ‘explain a time when team work has benefited you.’ Well, they can easily drop a question like this in an interview and you want to have quick-fire replies at the ready. Imagine the qualities the job requires, traits that they’ll want to see in you, and work answer templates around these.

♥ Be decisive. Don’t ‘um…’ and ‘ah…’ at their questions. Say what you’ve got to say, be clear and to the point, make it what they want to here and be done with it.

♥ Relate past experience. They want to know that you have at least some skills related to the job at hand and the chances are you have loads you don’t even know about, it’s just a matter of working out what they really want to hear. This is where you should probably spend the most time planning ahead. If you’ve done a little babysitting – you’re responsible; if you’ve helped your granny weed her garden at the weekend – you have a good work ethic; you’ve taken the time to bother showing up to this interview – you’re proactive! Cultivate action words like these into key points that reveal you as a super nominee for the job they’ve got going.

♥ Make friends!
All these tips are key to your success in an interview but they won't be if you act like a robot doing them. Relax, be chatty, be yourself and strike up a relationship with your interviewer, they're a lot more likely to remember you this way. You're not a walking CV, you're a lively, animated character with a great personality - show them!

♥ Be positive. Go for the job with a positive outlook, you should really want it but equally it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it. Treat all your job-hunting incidents as invaluable experience; teeny tiny baby steps toward your dream career.

So, you starry-eyed senoritas, what’s your best interview tactic? Or your worst ever blunder? How many of you are opting for part-time work alongside your studies? Got an interview coming up?


Sean said...

Sound advice. A couple of other points that have served me well.

The night before is as important as the day of the interview (except in my current job where the night before WAS the interview). Don't go out and get wrecked with your mates till 4am. No matter how pretty your shirt the next day, the smell and the eyes will betray you.

Do have a bath and an early night. You'll be up with the lark feeling raring to go, you'll feel better and that will convey more than any words. Remember most interviewers make up their minds in the first 10 seconds after they meet you, your non verbal communication is the key to your success.

Everything else you do needs to reinforce their first impression, which had better be good.

Don't converse nervously with the other candidates before you go in (if you meet them, be polite but stay aloof), their negativity can rub off. If you talk to them you'll likely end up feeling inferior to them -you want them to feel that way about you.

Do be prompt, but not super early (if you arrive half an hour early or more, talk a walk in the vicinity, the fresh air will make you feel better and you won't come over as super needy),

NEVER be late, if you are kept waiting (a classic trick to keep you feeling inferior), read a book, take look around at the place, try to get a feel for it, imagine yourself working there and fitting in. Afterwards leave smartly, but unhurriedly, as if you have somewhere important you need to be (like another interview).

If you get a question you can't answer, be honest and say so. (Never lie in an interview, you can be "economical with the truth", but a lie will set off non verbal alarm bells). However, don't panic about it, or feel embarrassed. Try and counter it with a question of your own. Again remember they have already made up their minds, and if they want you they will bend over backwards to help you out. If not, it won't matter anyway.

Don't put the interviewers in the position of power, they are your equals not your betters, if you are trembling at the knees, it often helps to imagine them with their trousers round their knees and a silly hat on - remember they use the throne and wipe there a*** just the same as you do.

If you've done your homework, and you feel valuable, you'll come across as valuable (try not to stray into the realms of arrogance though). And that stems from how good you feel. Your mind and the power of positive thinking are your greatest assets, but negative thoughts can be your greatest enemy.

A couple of quotes to bear in mind:
Its not how good you are, its how good you want to be.
You have nothing to fear except fear itself.

BTW, for those of you still students, this all works for exams too.

Voila Megan said...

'sean' - your comment is an article in itself! perhaps you should be blogging...

The Pieces said...

This is a great article! I have a interview in a few days and I knew if I poked around your blog you would have some pearls of wisdom, thanks heaps! xo

Jacqui said...

Thanks! Got some uni interviews coming up so this was very useful :D

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