The job interview
Perhaps your professional skills are brilliant, but that grease on your hair, the profound smell of cigarettes, your disney socks flashing out of your shorter-than-perfect trousers and constant chewing of that gum might horrify your interview hosts. And also let’s hope they are not going to remember you as ‘the guy who kept scraching his earlob’.
Please bear in mind these things if you have an interview appointment. Almost needless to say, you are not welcome to just show up without an appointment. (Sounds really simple, but we had this experience.) Also, please don’t show up INSTEAD OF someone else. Yeah, it had happened, too.
The company’s website and social media presence
It’s kinda amazing that we have to remind so many people about this, but yes, please please always check the company’s website and other online presence places. This is also true if you hadn’t applied to that particular position, but were headhunted by an agency. First of all, you win a battle if you know the other party, as the old saying goes. (But hey, don’t think of them as your enemies. :P) The website will have certain content, but it is also important to note what it doesn’t have! You can guess the size of the company, its products, partners, services and job openings. The website itself will give you hints about the atmosphere, work culture, future colleagues, or long term strategy. No information is information, too! Is it up-to-date? Is it taken care of? If it is not a very well designed thing, they may not care about their image or may not have money for it!
Nowadays, with LinkedIn and some other social sites available, you may be able to check the person who will be your interviewer. (When setting up the appointment, make sure you ask for the name of the person who you will meet.) You may very well find out the person’s title, subordinates (perhaps you know someone?), operational tasks etc.
Many companies provide a map, accessability, check those, too and don’t be late!
Also, you may get immediately the question: ‘What do you know about us?’ Or directly: ‘How do you like our website?’ Good points if you can give a ready answer.
Also do run a simple search in the engine, too. You may get interesting connections to news or people. Yes, always try to find someone who works at the company and can tell you a little about it.
Being there on time
Oh yes, you gotta be there on time. On time and not before. And of course not after, that is self-explanatory. There are folks who tend to worry too much and get there way before. That’s not a good strategy. Sometimes you arrive too early because you travelled from far away and couldn’t have known the time it takes to actually get there. In this case please go for a walk. (You can use this time to get prepared.) Do some tai chi. 5 minutes before the time is just right. Some companies (especially the small ones) do not have facilities to make you sit down and so you may hold the employees up by staying in their common room. You may also give the impression of a person who is not using their time the best. Nowadays if you have a 40 minutes extra, it is not a very good impression. Time is money and money is time.
If you get held up somehow and can’t make it, please make a call. If this is an agency interview, notifying the consultant about your delay comes down as very positive. It signals a reliable candidate. If there is no notification, recruiters may think they can’t trust you.
Your own CV/resumé
Please know your CV by heart. It sounds so lame to hear ‘Gosh, that was so long ago!’ Yes, you must know when where and how you worked. Company names, product and project names, dates, colleagues, bosses etc, all must be memorized. Even if you have a very long work history and very bad memory. In the latter case just bring a copy of your CV and put it in front of you, so you can peek into it if in trouble. The typical case is, that the interviewer has a longer career history than yourself. If that person knows his own by heart, it sounds silly if you don’t being much younger.
Clothes and looks
OK, to us you can arrive as you are. Seriously, we’re tough. We can bear anything. Especially if you let us know in advance, that you won’t be able to wear your suit, so that we know that usually you can, if you have to. 🙂 But at any other place please try to look decent. And try not to scare anyone with your looks. If you decide to put on your costume or suit’n’tie – noone is going to get hurt. Although if the place is a geeky startup, just put on your good old jeans – cleaned. Again, looking at the website of the company will give you a hint. Is everyone photoed in a suit or in business casual? There you go… But it’s also a good idea to call your consultant and simply ask. (You see, the agency is actually your bumber.) It’s not a very easy situation when you are overdressed compared to the interviewer.
Actually, nowadays more and more businesses give up the strict office style and favour casual attires, tolerate stylish individualism or don’t pay attention if someone does not give a damn about fashion. There used to be so-called “Casual Fridays” at large corporations, maybe there still are, but the dress-code if there is one is getting less strict.
The important thing is to be comfortable. You will need all your concentration to give good answers to tricky questions. It is not a good idea to suffocate in the brand new apparel. This concerns your shoes, too. That can hurt. And redirect your attention to somewhere else.
Never run to catch the train! Leave earlier! Arriving sweaty is killer. It WILL kill your first impression! Also, it is better to be a little cold than having to undress and remove the cover off the odors. (But of course, don’t get cold.) There is nothing worse than a stinky candidate, really. Also, check your armpits before entering the building. Is there a big stain there? If there is (it happens to anyone), just take care about your moves. No hands up.
Obviously you can bring in your personality to the interview represented by your own dressing style. If this is something very radical expect it to be noticed. You wanted it…
So if you don’t want to be judged by your looks – don’t draw attention to it. If it’s a miniskirt and there is no table – you will be noticed. Question is, will your legs do the job, or your head. You see? Also if you are not used to wear a make-up, don’t start it on the interview day. Partly smeared eyeshadows are good jokes after you left.
And finally, be clean. Your nails, too. And your collars. So trivial, but our sad experiences suggest that they have to be repeated over and over.
Ok, do not bring any accompanying person. Neither your girlfriend, nor your mom. (We’ve seen that before.) The interview is a confidential discussion. Even if you feel you have no secrets in front of that person, you won’t behave the same way as with them watching. Just leave them in the bar at the corner. And tell them not to call you in every five minutes. Speaking of phones:
OM MANI PADME HUM, SWITCH OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE!
Getting ready for information exchange
There is a very short article explaining the essence of a job interview by George Bradt at Forbes Online which you should read. (“Top Executive Recruiters Agree There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions“) Basically all interview questions are about these three:
1. Can you do the job? – what are your true skills and strengths
2. Will you love the job? – what’s your motivation
3. Can we tolerate working with you? – do you fit here
So whatever they ask, they want to get answers to these three as they don’t need to know more. The faster you get the message through, the faster you can be done with the whole process. But we are giving advice to you, not the employers, so let’s turn this around. You’ll be there not only to sell your workforce, but to choose, too. So you also have to think this through:
1. Can I do the job? – or is it too much as of yet, causing me dissapointment and no sense of accomplishment?
2. Will I love this job? – will I be happy every morning that it’s morning and I can go to work? What’s the Dilbert Factor here?
3. Can I tolerate these people? – Will I want to have a beer with them after office hours?
The typical questions
There are many typical questions, but perhaps these are the ones we noticed that keep being asked over and over accross industries and independent of sizes and positions. So you can actually get prepared with ready answers. Even if you get different questions, they will be easier to handle if you know the answers to these:
Why have you left that employer?
Why are you looking for a new employment?
Why are you interested in this position?
What do you know about us?
What are your long term plans?
Which was your most successful project?
How did you deal with a difficult situation?
What was your biggest challenge so far?
What was the biggest criticism you received so far?
How do you handle stress?
What are your major strengths/weaknesses?
Therefore, do get prepared. And learn by heart all the reasons of every job change, because this one you will surely get. Especially if there is a scandalous one among them in the list, be ready with the answer. It’s not a good idea to start suddenly tattering, and switching face colour. If you were ever fired, tell it. You will get the ‘honest guy’ points, which is great. If they find you an honest one, they will be more ready to believe everything else that you say.
By the way, we are collecting the ‘bestof list of quitting’. If you have a cool one, please drop us a line. The cutest one so far is ‘I fell in love with my boss.’ ‘Did you tell him?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And?’ ‘He thanked me for my special attention.’ ‘And then?’ ‘And then nothing. So I quit.’ We keep wondering how the boss felt that day. Perhaps elevated from the floor a little. Or outright shitty.
Talking of bossess and past companies, please stay clear of pouring your wrath onto a badass ex. You just never know who knows who. This is a small-small world. They may be neighbours, relatives, clients, whatever. On the other hand the way you speak of your past employers is probably the way you will speak about this company to the outside world. They must be confident you wouldn’t blacken them later. If you had a row, just state it simply, be frank and use short sentences. It’s a communication trick, you know. E.g. ‘I had a bad relationship with the boss, so I quit.’ ‘OK, why?’ ‘Because we didn’t agree.’ ‘On what?’ ‘On the colour of the new packaging.’ The shorter you go, the shorter the question will be. At the end, it will be inconvenient for the interviewer to keep pressing on this. However, if you give a broad answer, such as ‘personality misfit’ the interviewer will be ready to jump on it and chew on it. So don’t let them. But be ready with all the answers.
Your successes should be connectable to the job description of the position you are applying for. If you need to speak about less successful events or outright failures, choose a complex one and it is important if you mention what is it that you learned from that case and how did you tried to improve the situation. (Please note, that there are positions into which you are not likely to get hired unless you had already one failure previously!) If asked about your biggest challenge, make sure you describe the problem or task, and actions you have taken and also the outcome. Do have goals and plans for the next 3-5 years, and try not to make the impression of a person to whom things just happen. Try to emphasize goals that are in connection with the position. When asked about past work experience, concentrate your own role. Don’t just talk about the company or the team’s tasks, be specific about yourself and your own actions there. They are after all not trying to hire the whole ex-team just you!
Unfortunately, at some places they like to ask something really weird. E.g. what kind of furniture/animal/etc would you like to be. (Asking which Game of Thrones character you would want to be would be much more fun, but perhaps easier. Tirion. Fullstop. Or no, Daenerys. Or actually… Arya?) We had tried the furniture one in our team, and somebody said ‘electric chair’. The person doesn’t work at our company anymore… 😀 Anyway, the purpose of these games are finding out how you react to weird situations, your see your creativity. The problem starts if the interviewer wants to get too much out of these personality related questions without having a degree in psychology.
In any case, never lie. A lie can hunt you long after told and every lie gets uncovered sooner or later.
Very often you are asked to list your 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses, so be prepared with ready answers. The trick is, that these should be related to the position your are applying for, and not just random, and not just what comes to your mind first. It IS possible to answer such a question honestly, and still make a progress towards getting an offer! Among the weaknesses, it is possible to refer to something in the past, where you were unskilled back then, and explain what you had learned from the case. On the other hand, although there may be numerous skills you are excellent at, you’re better off mentioning those which actually contribute to performing successfully at that position.
Also, there are many questions aiming to find out how well you know yourself. Do think through what kind of personality you have and how it is seen by your colleagues or others.
If they are asking you so-called illegal questions, which may lead to discrimination, be very careful. (Children, family plans, religion, political views etc. are all illegal to ask in the European Union.) In most of the cases there are no bad intentions behind asking these. But do be conscious about this: they have no right to know such things about you. If you are hard-pressed to answer, you can simply draw their attention to the fact that they have no right to ask these. Actually, the best would be if everyone did this. Sooner or later society (and the employers within it) would learn what is allowed and what is not.
Last but not least they will ask about your salary request. Yep, you should figure this out in advance. When faced with this question, you should clarify what they mean by salary request, just the monthly wage or maybe they mean the total package you are aiming for. It is never a good answer to state “it depends on the work to be done”. By this time you should already have enough information on the position, the company and its circumstances to be able to assess the difficulty and the responsibility level of the job. (Unless asked at the very beginning, which is highly unlikely.) If you really have no idea, you can state your current income and that you are willing to change for X% higher.
And because we like buddhism, we’re repeating here our mantra:
DO SWITCH OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE!
And for heaven’s sake, don’t pick it up during the interview! Just don’t.
During the interview
Note to self, OK? Being cool and laid back is just very near to being cheeky and impudent.
Note to self #2: They are just as excited as me.
Oh, that famous first impression
Eye contact, clearly understandable introduction, firm handshake… (No, not the one of the dead fish, and neither that embracing politician syle AKA ‘vote for me!’ – and of course not the bone-killer one.) If they offer you a drink, take the water or the coffee, but don’t say ‘a whiskey on the rocks, please’. Well, actually you can, a little joke is OK. But we’ve seen cases where the candidate thought the receptionist lady was a waiter. No, she’s usually not. Water sans bubbles is a good idea. Unless you can joke about the bubbles, later on. 😛 These starting rituals enable both parties to de-freeze and set an atmosphere. We know you’re nervous, but please try to behave naturally, don’t overplay it. There are these simple human things, like feeling cold, warm, being thirsty, not knowing where to put your coat. The more naturally you behave, the easier it is for THEM. You know, they are nervous, too!
Sit relaxed but be conscious and cautious. Listen carefully. Don’t interrupt the interviewer. Watch out for your tone, volume, style, gestures, mimics. Too much, isn’t it? No, you’re not asked to be someone else than you are. But if you do know that you tend to splutter or be low-voiced just remember that you may be actually inaudible and ununderstandable, so you have to slow down or speak up! If the interviewer simply does not hear you, he or she will tell you – once. Than it’s kinda inconvenient. One thinks, gosh, I might be deaf. And you lost your chance.
Sometimes, you will be met by a group of people. Make sure you have eye-contact with all of them, even with the one furthers away, or with seemingly lowest rank. It is of course difficult to look into the eyes of many people parallelly (unless you are the Dalai Lama) so try to rotate your facial attention to allocate time to all of them. (Well, softer than when you’re watching a tennis game.)
The completely laid-back (meaning back into the back of the chair) pose with streched out legs sends a message of overconfidence. In this case the experienced interviewer is going to bomb you with nasty questions. The less experienced one will simply not feel well.
Your answers should be short and to the point. Don’t start with Genesis. Just start with the answer and not with the justification. E.g: ‘Do you have experience in X?’ ‘Yes. Here I did XYZ’ or ‘No, not yet. But I want to try…’ and never start with the explanation – you may never get to the actual answer. When you leave the room, the interviewers should feel, that they got the answers to all their questions. If the questions make you uneasy, try to answer with the shortest possible sentences, but avoid the yes/nos. If this is something they really want to know, be honest and frank. E.g. ‘Do you have experience in X?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ – This way there’s nothing to add here, and they can’t torture you with something you have no idea about. If you move down your voice, it actually forces to open a new topic. You may try to start a new thread to shepherd the conversation to safer areas but be careful, experienced interviewers will not let you escape. Still, don’t forget, it is actually you who directs the conversation! If you don’t mention something, it will not exist! If you do, it exists, and can open a new topic. If you go deeper into something, that is what they will go deeper in with you.
If you don’t know the answer, perhaps to a tricky question, it’s better to say it loud quickly, that you don’t know, and then try to ‘think loudly’. Something like this: ‘I do not know, but I think XYZ, because ABC and DEF, so it’s logical that…’ This way they can peek into your beautiful mind! There shouldn’t be long silences. FYI, in oral communication, 30 seconds of silence is waaaaay too long. Always dare to ask for more information! Think of it, in real life you will have to solve problems. And most probably you will have the search engine at hand. Or a colleague. Or a friend. Every information source is possible to use. The point is to solve the problem somehow, almost no matter how.
Don’t just pay attention to yourself. Watch the others, too. Look at their body poses, facial expressions, gestures! If you see they’re sort of turning away, looking out the window, forcing back a yawn – these are clear signs of boredom. In this case close cut it short, and stop talking. On the other hand, playing with their pens, drumming with their fingers or feet, scratching body parts can show tension, irritation, nervousness: ‘I don’t want to listen to this shit.’ Make sure you get these hidden messages. If you don’t, they will conclude that you don’t have good communication skills. Or they may not be so conscious, just simply don’t like you.
If you entered into your CV that you possess advanced or intermediate language skills (or higher), than do expect to have an interview in that language. We will test it, too. Most of the recruiters and HR personnel speak several languages. If you just don’t remember one word suddenly, that’s OK, take your time, or try to go around it somehow. It is also a good test of ‘problem solving’. If you’re not that good, the solution is to pay less attention to perfect grammar, and certainly forget maximalism in this situation. Your goal is to make yourself understood, no matter how. If the job description contained language skills, it means you do need it. Please be prepared that the interviewers may suddenly switch to that foreign language, to check how you react. So anything you may want to say in your native language might be necessary in that particular foreign language, too. Therefore, yes, learn your CV, typical questions, career plans etc. by heart in Klingon and Elven, too, if you applied to a Klingon-Elven interpreter job. If you are unsure of yourself, try it at home, by speaking loud in that language, and hear your on voice. That’s the best practice to speak. Reading is not enough.
What if the interviewer is not a pro…?
Oh, yes, they do exist. Non-professional interviewers. Actually, most of the line managers are like this. And think of it, it’s not something you’re taught about at school. Also, you may run into people who will have their very first interview with you! If this is the case – and you realize it somehow, well, be nice. And make it easy for them. If you see they ran out of questions, you can ask if they could speak about the company or the role or the product. They may remember what it is that they wanted to ask, but you have given them what they needed: time. You can also take the chance and put a question yourself. Good questions are excellent proofs of good communication skills, intelligence and expertise in a certain area. So if you are actually a more experienced interview participant than your partners, don’t humiliate them. They may actually be excellent colleagues or knowledgeable in their own areas.
What to ask?
At the end of the interview you will most probably have the opportunity to ask questions. Questions demonstrate that you are sincerely interested in this company. So in fact, not asking anything may seem a little rude. But your questions must be well thought through, and when they talk about themselves or their projects you must actively listen, so that you can build your questions on these information bits.
At the end, you should get a clear picture on the position, hierarchies, responsibility level, scope of the role, exact task, team structure, subordinates, direct supervisor, and the boss of the boss. What are the plans of the company in the mid-to-long run? Why is this position open? What defines success in this position? How can success be measured here? How are you going to be evaluated? Who are the competitors of the company and the product? When and how they are going to make a hiring decision? What is the selection process? Etc. etc.
Having 3-4 good questions shows interest and respect. The best are the ones that are open-end, such as “can you please tell meg a bit more about the product itself?”. On the other hand, do not flood them like an interrogator, that doesn’t make a good impression, especially if the discussion was already lengthy. Collect the open questions after the interview and perhaps send them via email to your contact or the organizer of the interview.
Do thank the interview
…and repeat it in an email maybe a day after. By doing this you can create a possibility of further communication. You can ask about next steps and thus create a positive imprinting by giving the impression that you are genuinly interested in the company. (And if this is what we discussed, please send us your updated CV if it was Mimox you came to! 🙂 We tend to give quite thorough advice on writing CV’s.)
So what if you had the interview two weeks ago, and still nothing? When should you start getting worried? Well, in fact, there is never a really good reason for worrying. They WILL let you know if they want you. If they don’t, it does mean they don’t want you. So simple. In this latter case you can add them to your blacklist. Really. Not getting back to a candidate is badass. Then you know what? They don’t deserve you, full stop.
However, there are situations, when a decision takes long weeks or even months. (Some kind of communication is should be going IMHO, though.) The reasons can be various. Perhaps there are dozens or hundreds of applicants to process. Or the other way round, you were the only one and they are not sure. In this case they are waiting for the next candidate to see (usually brought by an agency) or are busy actively seeking for another one to compare you with. Even if you were actually good. Or you were choice No. 2. In case they don’t agree with choice No. 1, they may turn to you. Also, there are these nasty operational deadlines of the line managers, who can’t have the time to make resource decisions because they don’t have enough resources. Deadlock. Also, maybe you asked a brutal salary and HR has to modify 6 policies and get involved in a bazooka fight to clear the road to have you…
If you received a negative answer
If you received a rejecting notification, it is very important that you try to find out the reason. You can’t lose with it. In the worst case scenario you don’t get an answer. But you may be able to learn and thus benefit from getting the reasons. It may help you to do better next time. Most probably the answer will be superflous or really not giving away much – well, you need to respect that. The thing is, that it is very difficult to communicate bad news. This is perhaps the most loathed part of the recruiters’ job. Even the most seasoned HR stuff hate to ruin someone else’s day. Also, the person may do this for hours, and only one person was contacted with good news that day. So don’t be pushy. A neat thanks is enough to keep you in their good memories. For next time.