These days it is a gargantuan task trying to find any kind of job and when looking for a job that fits you and stimulates you, the problem compounds manifold, a veritable Gordian knot. So if you want to find and follow your destination rather than letting other factors take you along where they will, there is a lot of work to be done. No matter how much effort you put in studying and trying to be an expert in your discipline, there are always hundreds of job seekers who have worked hard and built expertise as much as you, if not more. Anyone who has been through a recruitment process will know the large number of people that clear the initial written examination and how those numbers dwindle rapidly once the group discussions and interviews start. So it seems that in trying to rise above the crowd, knowledge is necessary but not sufficient.
The other side of the coin that will give you the right stimulus is smart learning, personality, presence of mind and a host of other factors that are generally not so high in an average candidate’s list of priorities. So this is where a candidate can make a real difference in how he or she is perceived as a potential employee by the employer.
Today we will discuss some job interview tips on how to prepare for and tackle an interview or HR interview questions. There is no dearth of material available today that purport to teach you the same, from self-help books to internet blogs written by everyone and your grandma. Even though the veracity and effectiveness of these might be questionable, the important point is that this knowledge is no more exclusive and one can safely assume that their competitors will be privy to that information. So apart from time tested general advice, we will also look at a few real scenarios, quirky anecdotes, unconventional questions and witty answers that might just give you the edge.
Possessing knowledge is good, but most candidates do not realise that too much knowledge might even be an impediment to their success. We all remember what happened to poor Chatur in the movie ‘3 Idiots’.
Although an interviewer will definitely gauge how much an interviewee is rooted in the basics, beyond that what happens more often than not is that the interview panel will be assessing how much a candidate would fit in a new role, how much mouldable and adaptable the person will be in an alien environment, how easily he or she can unlearn and learn again with ample aptitude and how willing he or she is to slay his or her own biases and dissolve all preconceived notions, ideas and impressions.
The first step that is rarely considered by most is to know as much as possible about the interviewers. Sure most candidates come familiar with the basics about the company and the roles and designations of the interviewers, which in itself is a good strategy and every interviewee should at least be proficient in that, it pays much more to go the extra mile. Try to know as much as possible about the people on the other side of the table that will be vetting you out in the interview. Try to know the interviewer’s personality, distinguishing characteristics, idiosyncrasies and other individual traits. It is a common lore in the annals of crime that to catch a killer, one should be able to think like the killer. More the empathy, easier it is to anticipate the next move. Although this analogy might be considered by some as being too drastic, they should lighten up to the amusing fact that the brains of CEOs and leaders are wired differently than ordinary people, much more akin to that of psychopaths.
The more mundane advice about how to dress, how to behave (e.g. always make eye contact, do not fidget, keep a pleasant countenance, be confident but subtle etc.) are common knowledge today and ingrained into the mind of every job seeker and interviewee. That is not to say that they should be taken for granted. There have been instances where the interviewee switched off their mobile phone prior to the interview only to hear the alarm ring out in the middle of an important discussion. It is important to realise and accept the fact that there is no such thing as being over-prepared. No matter how much talent and intellect a candidate possesses, they will never compensate for a sloppy appearance, more so in an interview where the interviewer will be meeting the candidate for the first time. Too much nerviness’ quickly earns the label ‘weirdo’ or ‘freak’ and people always tend to hate what they don’t understand.
It should always be assumed that the interviewer is smarter and more knowledgeable than the interviewee. Their experience amalgamated through years of conducting interviews makes them much better judge of character and reader of body language. It is not beyond reason that an interviewee is always advised to refrain from telling lies. When a person lies, the eyes automatically tend to look in an upper right direction, and this is just one of the many tells that an experienced interviewer will spot right away. So unless a candidate has trained through many years of subverting human nature, he or she is a slave to their emotions. To summarise, ‘Do Not Lie!’
As mentioned earlier, an interviewer is more interested in the future, how productive the candidate will be in the new role, rather than what he or she was in the past. Even if someone has an exemplary service record, it is paramount he or she not cling to the past but be ready to prove themselves in the present. Experience alone is not enough, what a candidate perceives as a 10 year experience might just be a 1 year experience repeated 10 times. The interviewer will be looking for leadership and management skills, ability to perform in the face of stress, dealing with uncertainty and other such proclivities. An interviewer will have no patience for comments like ‘I am a good team player’ and ‘I handle stress very well’. They sound artificial and clichéd and to prove those abilities a candidate needs to provide specific instances where those proficiencies were put to the test. A similar approach is also warranted when faced with the all too common question about strengths and weaknesses. No one is immune to weaknesses but a careful approach might even help in getting some traction out of these negativities (by johnson). Mentioning weaknesses should be complimented with examples about how much learning has taken place in the face of those weaknesses and how the strengths have been used to tackle those weakness and get something positive out of it.
Every interviewer is unique and will generally ask some questions that do not conform to the general advice. It is here that the candidate must display abilities to deal with the unknown and not be perturbed by it. A few examples will shed some light on how myriad the questions can be.
1. When an interviewee mentioned that his hobby was reading, he was asked to summarise and review the last ten books that he had read. This is definitely not an easy one, especially so in a tense interview room.
2. A candidate was asked to leave the room and come back in 2 minutes. When he re-entered the room, he was asked what changes had taken place in that room. In vain he tried to remember the previous arrangement of objects in the room and spot anomalies. He had assumed the question to be more difficult that it really is and failed to realise the simple fact that the thing that changed in the room were the position of the needles on the dial of the wall clock. Moral of the story, ‘Don’t overcomplicate matters and always keep Occam’s razor in mind. It is also generally advisable to speak slowly and clearly and not rush through the answer as that will provide some time for the interviewee to think ahead and nullify potential errors.
In another case, an interviewee was offered a cigarette during the interview which he politely declined. The interviewer then asked ‘What is the difference between you and me’ and the interviewee was smart enough to point out that ‘The difference is that you can smoke in front of me but not I in front of you’. Needless to say, he got the job.
3. A favourite question that interviewers ask in case of management interview or technical interview
relates to estimation, determining and quantifying something that occurs in larger quantities. E.g., ‘Estimate the number of petrol pumps in this city’, or ‘Estimate the mass of monsoon clouds.’ While this may really scare some out of their comfort chairs, it really isn’t that much complex if one follows the definite method to address these kind of questions. E.g., for estimating the number of petrol pumps in a city, one might start with the population of the city. Then it is an educated guess as to the percentage of population that own vehicles, the average mileage and distance travelled per day, the number of times per week that the vehicle is refilled, the estimated service time for one vehicle etc. Although in reality one might be way off from the actual number, it is insignificant. What the interviewer is looking for is the approach the interviewee adopts in the face of such questions, his thought patterns and creativity coupled with acumen. This is a pretty good indicator of how the interviewee handles a mammoth task and how successfully it is broken down into discrete manageable chunks.
The caveat here is that the interviewee should have a basic grasp of the demographics like population, employment, gender ratio etc.
In most of the cases the interviewee will have had a previous employer, even for freshers as many would have joined any job that they could secure before preparing and opting for a better role in a better organisation. When asked about the previous employer and the reason for quitting, blaming and pointing out flaws is the natural response. The interviewee should understand that this is a delicate but necessary question and spurting out defects and deficiencies of the previous employer might cost him the job even when he has aced other modules of the recruitment process.
Going about practice sessions of mock group discussions , technical interview, HR interviews is one of the most important and smart strategy that an interviewee can hope for. This goes a long way in reducing performance anxiety while teaching the candidates to think on their feet even when faced with the toughest and non-conventional questions. That an interviewee maintain a modicum of control cannot be over-emphasised. This is the reason that the term ‘cold and calculated’ exists. The best data processing and decision making requires a quiet mind where the interviewee can focus and concentrate without the burden of extraneous factors.
To rephrase all the above points concisely, a candidate must display proper grooming and dressing, show interest and confidence, have a positive attitude and body language, keep their technical basics in mind, not be overtly perturbed when facing difficult questions, display a knowledgeable and creative mind and try to adopt the mind-set of the interviewer to gauge his expectations and be aware of the most common questions that are likely to be asked and the proper response. In the heat of the moment, an interviewee always tries to get his message across at the cost of being a good listener. Listening skills are as important as a proper articulated method of answering. It is easy to go overboard, hence the interviewee must always keep in mind that simplicity is the highest sophistication.
The conclusion lists some of the major body language issues that have to be taken care of. The main ‘Don’ts’ of behaviour are:
1. Not to rub the back of the head or neck as this might be construed as a lack of interest.
2. Not to touch or rub the nose as this gesture usually manifests when a person is not being completely honest.
3. Although the universal picture of Swami Vivekananda with folded arms looks elegant, it will not work in an interview. This gesture implies that the candidate is reserved and not being as open as the interviewer would like him to be.
4. Crossing or shaking legs imply lack of patience.
5. Not to slouch in the seat but maintain a proper and confident posture .
6. Not to neglect looking at all the other interviewers in the panel even when they have not asked a question.
7. Not to shake the head overtly to the interviewers every comment as this can be interpreted as the candidate is blindly accepting the interviewer’s each and every word just to get on his good books.
8. Even in the case of a telephonic interview, these pointers should be adhered to because they have a high degree of impact on the candidate’s personality and state of mind.
Of course in real life all these generalisations might not always apply as there is no universal wisdom that guarantees success. Every scenario and interaction is different, every interviewer and interviewee is unique and every interview is a highly dynamic process. But these simple suggestions can go a long way in establishing a secure foundation on which the interviewee can build and project his or her own unique personality and thought process.