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How to improve your performance at interviews

The short time you spend at a job interview could have a dramatic effect on your career prospects. It is therefore important that you perform well because no matter how good your career record is to date, the employment interview remains an important step towards fulfilment of your ambitions.

These hints, combined with the guidance if requested, will equip you with valuable information on how to conduct yourself during interviews with prospective employers.

Be prepared

You may be required to answer questions like

  1. Why did you choose this particular vocation? What do you really want to do in life?

  2. Why would you like to work for our company?

  3. What do you want to be doing in your career five years from now? Ten years from now?

  4. What was the size of your last salary review?

  5. What style of management gets the best from you?

  6. What interests you about our product or service?

  7. Can you get recommendations from previous employers?

  8. What have you learned from some of the jobs you have held? Which did you enjoy most?

  9. What have you done which shows initiative in your career?

  10. What is your major weakness?

  11. What do you think determines a person’s progress in a good company?

  12. Are you willing to relocate?

  13. How do you spend your spare time? What are your hobbies?

  14. What does teamwork mean to you?

  15. Have you saved any money? What entrepreneurial activities have you been engaged in?

  16. What types of books do you read? How many books per year?

During the course of an interview, the employer will be evaluating your negative factors as well as your positive attributes. Listed below are negative factors frequently evaluated during the course of the interview and those, which most often lead to rejection.

  1. Poor personal appearance.

  2. Overbearing – over-aggressive – conceited “superiority complex” – “know-it-all”

  3. Inability to express thoughts clearly – poor poise, diction or grammar

  4. Lack of planning for career – no purpose or goals

  5. Lack of interest and enthusiasm – passive and indifferent

  6. Lack of confidence – nervousness

  7. Over-emphasis on money – interested only in remuneration

  8. Evasive – makes excuses for unfavourable factors in record

  9. Lack of tact – maturity – courtesy

  10. Condemnation of past employers

  11. Failure to look interviewer in the eye

  12. Limp, fishy handshake

  13. Lack of appreciation of the value of experience

  14. Failure to ask questions about the job

  15. Persistent attitude of “what can you do for me?”

  16. Lack of preparation for interview – failure to get information about the company, resulting in inability to ask intelligent questions.

Preparation is the first essential step towards a successful interview.  Company interviewers are continually amazed at the number of applicants who drift into their offices without any apparent preparation and only the vaguest idea of what they are going to say.  Thus it is important to:

  1. Know the exact place and time of the interview, the interviewer’s full name, the correct pronunciation and his/her title.

  2. Find out specific facts about the company – where its plants, offices or stores are located; what its products and services are; what its growth has been; and what its growth potential is for the future. There are a number of research publications providing this kind of information.

  3. Refresh your memory on the facts and figures of your PRESENT/FORMER employer. You will be expected to know at least the basics of a company that you have previously worked for.

  4. Probing questions you might ask:

    1. A detailed description of the position?

    2. Reason the position is available?

    3. Anticipated induction and training programme?

    4. Company growth plans?

    5. The next step?

  5. Pay attention to all facets of your dress and grooming.

Dos and Don'ts

DO plan to arrive on time or a few minutes early. Late arrival for a job interviews is never
If presented with an application form, DO fill it out neatly and completely. If you have a personal resume, be sure the person you release it to is the person who will actually do the hiring.
DO greet the interviewer by his/her surname if you are sure of the pronunciation. If you are not, ask him/her to repeat his/her name.
DO shake hands firmly.
DO wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. Sit upright in your chair, look alert and interested at all times. Be a good listener as well as a good talker.
DO look a prospective employer in the eye while you talk to him/her.
DO follow the interviewer’s leads but try to get the interviewer to describe the position and the duties to you early in the interview so that you can relate your background and skills to the position.
DON’T answer questions with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Explain whenever possible. Tell those things about yourself which relate to the position.
DO make sure that your good points get across to the interviewer in a factual, sincere manner. Keep in mind that you alone can sell yourself to an interviewer. Make him/her realise the need for you in his/her organisation.
DO be prepared to answer typical questions like:
What kind of job are you looking for?
What are your strengths
Your weaknesses?
What do you know about our company?
Why did you choose your particular vocation?
What are your qualifications?
DON’T lie. Answer questions truthfully, frankly and as ‘to the point’ as possible.
DON’T ever make derogatory remarks about your present or former employers or companies.
DON’T ‘over answer’ questions. The interviewer may steer the conversation into politics or economics. Since this can be ticklish, it is best to answer the questions honestly; trying not to say more than is necessary.
DON’T enquire about SALARY, HOLIDAYS, BONUSES, RETIREMENT etc. On the initial interview unless you are positive the employer is interested in hiring you. You should know however your market value and be prepared to specify your required salary or range.
DO always conduct yourself as if you are determined to get the job you are discussing. Never close the door on opportunity. It is better to be in the position where you can choose from a number of jobs – rather than only one.

Closing the interview

  1. If you are interested in the position, ask for it. Ask for the next interview if the situation demands. If he/she offers the position to you, and you want it, accept it on the spot. If you wish some time to think it over, be courteous and tactful in asking for that time. Set a definite date when you can provide the answer.

  2. DON’T be too discouraged if no definite offer is made or specific salary discussed. The interviewer will probably want to communicate with his/her office first or interview more applicants before making a decision.

  3. If you get the impression that the interview is not going well and that you have already been rejected, don’t let your discouragement show. Once in a while an interviewer who is genuinely interested in your possibilities may seem to discourage you in order to test your reaction.

  4. Thank the interviewer for his/her time and consideration of you. If you have answered the two questions uppermost in his/her mind:

  5. Why are you interested in the job and the company?

  6. What can you offer and can you do the job?

You have done all you can.

What's next?

You have done your research, studied your success stories and prepared answers to the interview questions explored.  

The idea is to have a general familiarity with the most important items so that you can inject them in a natural way into the conversation when and if the occasion arises.

Once you have done that you should call it a day particularly if it is now close to dinner time.  Take the time you need to eat a meal and stop working on your preparation.  Unwind.  Clear your head. Pick out that sharp outfit you are going to wear tomorrow.  Remind yourself that the first and most important asset you will be bringing to the interview tomorrow is yourself.

Don’t spend all night feverishly preparing for questions.  If you are tossed a tough question during the interview, one that really throws you for a loop, you have two great options for dealing with it.  Here they are.

Find some way to tie in the question to one of your success stories.

Admit you don’t know the answer to the question posed.  Explain that it is simply out of your experience base and let your interviewer know that if you came across such an issue in a work setting you would appeal to a superior for guidance.  This answer is perhaps not quite as attractive as the first option and it is not to be appealed to more than once during the interview.  But it is a valid and often effective response nonetheless.

If your interviewer is like most of the people who have to evaluate the potential new hires, he or she spends a great deal of time listening to people explain that they can handle any crisis, respond to any challenge and work any miracle 24 hours a day.  By acknowledging with disarming honesty that you don’t know it all and that you appreciate the necessity of appealing to experience now and then, you may be able to win points.  You will be, after all, handling the question in exactly the way a good professional should when assessing an unfamiliar set of facts, admitting the limitations of one’s knowledge without getting flustered about those limitations.

You’ve given the job of preparing for the interview your best shot.  Your job now is to make sure that you look and feel your best when the meeting itself rolls around.  Eat well, get enough sleep.  Tomorrow morning be sure to groom yourself carefully for the interview.

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