Acing Job Interviews

As a Human Resources professional, I have been a part of many interviews over the years. There are times when I’d interview someone so impressive I’d feel such warmth and confidence in the recognition that our country has such good talent and couldn’t wait to have that person as part of our working team. And then there are other times when I have to fight to keep a straight face at some of the answers people give. Many times, when I go through a “bad” interview, I tell myself that universities across the country need to start having an interactive course or session for graduating seniors that teaches interviewing skills.

I am happy for this opportunity to share a few tips on how to ace an interview. Keep in mind that every interview is different and every organization has a different culture and interviewing style. Some
organizations may interview in groups while others have a series of interviews you go through with different staff persons. Additionally, some organizations may hold their interview process in stages – the pre-screening interviews, first interviews and final interviews. Some organizations are very formal with their interview process and others may be slightly informal and laid back. However, when in doubt, the following tips should be a good starting point to prepare for and hopefully deliver a good interview.

” Job business hard” as we say in Liberia, so once you are in front of potential employers, it is important not to ruin your chances with a few ill-chosen remarks or unbecoming attitude. This is your moment to shine.

Your resume (or CV) has caught the eyes of the recruiter and thus the interview is your opportunity to”sell” yourself. Let the interviewer or interview panel know what skills and experiences you bring to the table. An interview is your opportunity to make a good pitch on why you, out of the many applicants that have applied, should be selected for the job.

There are so many I could talk about, but due to space constraints, I will only mention a few:

1. First Impression: It is often said that there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. This rings true for interviews. many time, the first impression of a candidate an influence the interview – positively or negatively. Dress appropriately and professionally. A general rule of thumb is a business suit. Be ready to greet the interview/s with a firm handshake, winning attitude and a smile.

2. Prepare for the Interview: Before the interview, try to read online and find potential questions that may be asked and practice answering them. This may even mean standing in front of a mirror and having a friend to ask you the questions.

2. “Tell us about yourself”. Most interviews would almost always start with the statement “Tell us about yourself and why you decided to apply for this job”. For Lord’s sake, please don’t start by telling the interviewers you are ” Brenda Moore, born into union of Barak Obama and Michelle Obama in
Pleebo Maryland County and the union was blessed with nine children..”. Honestly nine out of ten interviewers aren’t interested in knowing what village you grew up in and your family pedigree. So please stick to summarizing your resume, highlighting your experiences as it relates to the job you have applied for. Develop your 1-2 minutes “elevator speech” about who you are as an applicant. Specifically mention your name, residence, your education level (bachelors /masters in….). Keep it short, simple and focused on you as a job candidate and not your biography.

3. Know the organization. Research the organization you have applied to and know what business they are engaged in. It shows total lack of disinterest in the organization when you are asked by interviewers “what do you know about our organization” and you have not the faintest clue. Get online and Google the organization and at least have the most basic information on what they do.

4. Avoid reading from your resume- unless it’s to confirm dates you aren’t quite sure of. I found it so unnerving recently when an applicant had to refer to his resume each time a question was asked. It was almost as if he wasn’t sure what he had written and wanted to make sure he got his stories right. This included even when asked what are his strengths and weaknesses.

5. Don’t talk ‘tribe’. I see this so many times. An applicant enters the room and is introduced to the panelists and as soon as he/she hears a name that is associated with a particular tribe, he/she will quickly say “Doe, Doe? Is it Sinoe Kru Doe or Krahn Doe?” This is potentially dangerous as yes, while there is a possibility that this may help you click with a panelist who may share the same tribe as you do, this may also give the wrong impression. An interviewer could be put off by it who may want to avoid tribal “clique” in the organization and see it you “sucking up” or may not like people referring to tribal relations in the workplace.

6. Don’t drop names. Again whilst this may help you in some instances, it is very risky. You may mention the name of someone who may have had a falling out with one of the panelists awhile back and while this may have absolutely no bearing on your performance during the interview, it may just rub that person the wrong way. So even if you are related to Bill Gates, please, keep that information to yourself, especially in the country we find ourselves.

This is why you get to list your references instead.

7. Know Your Weaknesses. I had to fight to keep a straight face during an interview for a managerial position when I asked an applicant what were his weaknesses. The gentleman looked me dead in the eye and said “I hate waking up early in the morning to come to work. It’s a challenge for me as I am used to running my own business and showing up to the office when I like. If this job will require being to work at 8:00, I could try, but it will be a challenge.” While his answer may have been very honest, he was too honest.

We don’t want to hear your worst shortcomings, only to see how you are able to turn a bad trait into a positive. The weakness question is an opportunity for you to highlight an area you are limited in for professional growth – would be time management, a working style or a technical skill.

8. Don’t chew gum. I recently had an applicant who came into the interview room chewing and smacking her way into the seat offered her and continued chewing the gum throughout most of the interview. At one point, another panelist had to ask her to please remove the gum from her mouth as it was
making her answers come out garbled. Need I say more?

9. Don’t talk about political affiliation. I don’t care if you know someone on the panel to be a well-known partisan of a particular political party; please don’t start discussing what a loyalist you are to that political
party. In this day and age of constant switching of players in the political game, you never know the person’s current political allegiance. Besides, how does this tie in with your ability to do the job you have applied for?

10. Smile. A smile shows your confidence and even helps you to relax even if you are nervous.

11. Don’t ask about salary unless you are asked about your salary expectations. In Liberia, we say “don’t be Abu-kitty”, meaning, don’t rush.

You will still get asked about your salary expectations during an interview. Also, many job postings may include a salary range. This should be an excellent guide to what the minimum and maximum salary levels are.

12. Be audible. Why would you come this far with this opportunity to blow the interviewers minds and you decide to speak so low that others have to strain to hear you?

As I mentioned earlier, it would be a good thing if the universities could develop a program or career advising opportunities each semester for human resource professionals to provide tips to graduating seniors. The program objectives could include preparing seniors for interviews, resume and cover
letter writing, learning how to conduct themselves, and developing their knowledge of typical questions and expectations. Many people often wonder why they didn’t get a job they have interviewed for when they are so sure they aced the interview. I would not be so surprised that one or two of the
tips mentioned above are sometimes the cause of them not nailing that job.

Sometimes you may know the subject matter you are being asked about, but articulating that can be a problem. Try to show enthusiasm and passion  regarding the job for which you are being interviewed and remember to be on time. Hopefully these few tips will help you prepare for your next interview or have brought you some awareness if you have unknowingly done any of the above mentioned above to avoid.

Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s