Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Preparing for an Interview

Here is an article which I posted on the Lowyat Forums to help people prepare for an interview. Its a long read but I do hope that it will help everyone out there who is in the midst of looking for a new job. Also I will continue to update this article as well as the one in the forums.

Preparing for an Interview

What to bring:

1) Copies of your resume
Bring a few, because sometimes there might be more than one person interviewing you and you could distribute a copy of your resume to them right before the interview session. I have personally seen three interviewers sharing a copy of my resume and then trying to pass it around to another interviewer.

For more information on resume writing, click on this link.

2) Copies of your degree, certificates, transcripts, reports, thesis
Bring copies of your degree, certificates and academic transcripts. I would advice that you make a few copies of them and staple them together. Then it would be easy to give it to HR rather than you trying to sort it out in front of them.

Another option is to bring a copy of your thesis or report from your university days. Most employers may not be bothered with it but you never know. The best I have seen was someone who binded her report nicely with hard leather covers and had gold coloured letterings printed on it. It looked really professional.

If you are in the media and art line then a portfolio of your work would be more suitable. Maybe even video presentations.

3) Original documents
Do not forget to bring all original documents to allow the HR recruiter to verify the authenticity of your copies. Keep them in a clear folder for easy viewing. Try not to jumble them up together and put them in the same order as the copies you passed to HR. It shows a little bit of organizational skills you might have and a exhibit a little professionalism.

4) Passport sized photo & Copies of your MyKad

Prepare a couple of passport size photos. You will most probably need to give the HR recruiter for your application. Since the proliferation of digital cameras it is quite easy to get passport sized photos so please bring a few just in case. Sometimes they might require two. One for application and one for a company badge if you are selected.

Don't forget to prepare a few copies of your Photostatted MyKad in case the company requires it.

5) Pen and notebook

You would need a pen to fill out the application forms and also a notebook to take simple details or do simple calculations if you were asked IQ questions. Bring a couple of pens in case one runs out of ink.

6) Bag
With all the items mentioned above, you definitely need a bag to carry your stuff around especially if you do not have your own means of transportation. Believe it, its not easy juggling 3 folders while being cramped up in the LRT at 7.30am in the morning. Bring along a smart looking bag, nothing too fancy and nothing too rugged and out of place. It depends on the environment of the company you are applying to.

What to wear:

For any interview, an ironed out shirt and tie together with slacks and formal work shoes should do. If you are very particular, make sure that your belt matches with your shoe colours. Refrain from wearing bright colour socks. Oversized clothes are not preferred especially pants. It’s good to bring a comb to the interview because you never know when a strong gust of wind might just mess up your hair on the way to the interview. Also try not to wear a jacket or coat as it may be too formal here in Malaysia. If you are attending one overseas, then it might be necessary.

Since I am a guy I would need some feedback in regards to women's clothes worn during interview. I know for sure that smart looking work attire such as a business suit is well suited especially pants and a jacket. You should refrain from wearing those super short mini-skirts. You never know if the interviewer might be a guy or a girl biggrin.gif

Ladies, remember not too much make-up. You are not auditioning for a play at the local kabuki theater.

What to prepare:

Read up about the company before attending the interview. Find out as much as you can about it, its current financial situation, locations around the world, work culture, company aims and objectives, the company vision, values and more. A good way is to ask people who are currently working in them or another alternative is to use Google. Most companies might have a company website which provides all of that which is good. Try learning and remembering about the company's history, it helps to impress your interviewer that you took the time to learn about the company. Sometimes you can check the company's latest press release and bring it up as a conversation piece with the interviewer.

Usually if you are applying for a technical position, then prepare yourself by reading up some of your past lecture notes and try to recall what you have learned in university. Of course that would be almost impossible to remember everything so just study the ones that are related to the job you are applying for. For example if you are applying for a position that is related to marketing, then reading up on your marketing notes would be the first priority.

Even if you are applying for a position that is not related to your field of study, there are plenty of libraries out there as well as the internet to learn as much as you can. It’s better to be prepared than not to be at all. A good example would be engineering students who are applying for a management trainee position at a bank. You definitely didn't learn any banking skills during lecture so do your research!

Most interviews would require you to give them a brief explanation about your past experiences in extra curricular activities and this is a great opportunity for you to shine with your previous involvement. Some of the very standard questions would be, "Explain a situation where you were in a tight spot" or "Explain a situation where you showed leadership skills". The answers to these questions should always be ready in your mind and by giving out a detailed account of your experiences, it would greatly help you to show your leadership skills as well as give a good impression to the interview as you had prepared for this interview.

A good way to answer these types of questions is to first slowly map out the entire situation first and then identifying key incidences such as when you stood up and led the team in certain situations or when you took charge of part of the project or even contributed ideas of change.

Some interviewers would just ask the question and then let you answer them but I had experienced some who kept asking in detail about the situation. For example, I mentioned that I called a certain someone to discuss about the project. The interviewer then asked me, "How was the guy's reaction when you called him?", "Did you think that he had confidence in your judgment?" and "How long did the conversation last?". It was that detailed. So don't try and bullshit your way through it.

Be honest and always tell the truth, interviewers will know when you are trying to bullshit your way into the job. It is ok if your situation is not as spectacular as how you would imagined it would be, sometimes it just about how you present yourself or how well you can communicate it to your interviewer is what that counts.

Lastly, find out simple things like who is your interviewer, what position does he/she holds, how many interviewers will there be, how many stages would you have to go through in order to obtain the position and ask. Do not be afraid to ask.

What to do while waiting:

Arriving around 15minutes earlier should be enough time for you to settle down and relax a little. Some HR recruiters will then ask you to fill out some application forms or even provide you with some questionnaires or tests. Another time the interviewer might be late because he/she could be caught up with some important work.

How you spend your time right now is crucial before the interview. The first thing you can do right now is to calm your mind and relax. A calm mind allows you for quick thinking and answering. Another thing is to be as observant as you can. Look around to see if there are any company posters or posters that try to encourage people. These posters, believe it or not, can help give you that extra edge in the interview.

For example, I sit in the HR waiting room waiting for my interviewer to arrive. I see posters such as "Company Motto: To strive for excellence" or "There is no I in Team" or even the company vision or tag-lines such as "Excellence, Performance, Efficiency" and more. Instead of just looking at them, I can use them in my interview. I could tell my interviewer that I work hard and strive to excel in anything I undertake. Also I could say that team work is extremely important and that it brings out high performance and efficiency.

Another thing you can do is try to evaluate the working environment and observe as much as you can. Another example is that I noticed one company was using VoIP phones and I started a conversation with the interviewer about that after the interview session and we had a few good laughs and thoughts regarding the technology and all.

While waiting for the interviewer to arrive or if you are waiting in the hall or at the reception, take this time to go to the toilet to relieve yourself as well as check your outward appearance. You can also practice your smile while checking your teeth to see if there are any unwanted stains or food leftovers lingering about those gaps. Take a breath check as well, it is good to have some gum or mint candy handy especially before interviews.

This is also a good time for you to turn off your mobile phone.

What to do during the interview:

During the interview, you should always remember to shake your interviewer's hand when entering and always have a smile on your face. Creating a pleasant outlook of you is important. If there is more than one interviewer, take the time to shake hands with each of them and introduce yourself to them. Do not sit down until the interviewers tell you so or ask them politely whether if you could take a seat. Most probably the interviewers will ask you to have a seat upon entering the room.

Always keep eye contact, sit up straight and be attentive. Eye contact is very important and for those of you who cannot talk to a person and look them straight in the eye, you better start practicing. Make eye contacts not stares.

It is also important to switch between the interviewers (>1 interviewers) so that none will feel offended. When making eye contact, try to focus on one eye, switching between eyes of that same person gives a nervous impression. If you are the type that is afraid to look someone in the eyes, you can always look at the areas near the eyes, such as the nose. Practice with friends before the interview.

On the hand shaking part, gives firm and powerful grip. However on some occasions, initiating a hand shake with a future employer might be bad by giving an aggressive impression.

If you look away when speaking to someone, you're viewed as lacking confidence or interest.

When answering questions, answer in a clear and easily understandable manner. Try not to beat around the bush, get to the point straight. For example, you can take about 2-3 minutes describing a certain scenario, once explaining the key points you can always ask, "would you like to hear more?" or “Did I give you enough detail?”. Good interview sessions are all about giving and taking. It’s never easy to just constantly talk about yourself all the time while the interviewer is busy doing something else. Asking questions will draw the interviewer out to speak a little which is good.

Its good to ask questions, ask about the company, ask about the interviewer and how his view of the company is, ask about the job position, ask about the work environment, just ask. It shows that you are very curious about the company and that you have the initiative to ask questions. Most employers would prefer employees that ask a lot of questions and not the type that just sit down quietly being dumb.

When taking the time to think about an answer, try not to just keep quiet and still. Instead portray an appearance that shows you are thinking and trying to remember. Observe how your interviewer carries himself/herself and try to pick up a few good points from it.

Think of the interview as if it were your first date. Sometimes it is human nature to defend ourselves and during interviews, when bombarded with "killer" questions, we might come up and be all defensive about ourselves which could cost you the job itself. On your first date, you would never want to offend your date would you? Instead you are trying to sell yourself, about how good you can be in a relationship. This works the same for an interview.

Remember, be natural. When you perform unnaturally, it gives the interviewer a feeling that you're nervous and not confident.

What to do: post interview:
After some comments by people and my friend who works in the HR line, it is good to leave a thank you message either by email or maybe a simple message to your interviewer. Its the same as a smile, a simple gesture could really make someone's day and wouldn't you want your interviewer to be happy when evaluating your application?

Mistakes Made During the Interview:
1. This happened during my interview with a semiconductor company based outside of KL. They asked if I applied to other companies based in KL and they asked if I were offered a job in KL would I take it. Being my first interview and being naive and honest, I said yes. Thanks to that I didn't get the job.

2. Some interviews are in a few stages, 2-3 interviews. I didn't really give a good answer during my first interview but although I managed to get a second one, I answered the 2nd interviewer differently to the same generic question (Why this particular company?). I didn't get the job and I have a big feeling its due to the fact that my answers were not consistent.

Article Contributors:
- DeathWing
- hans.excel
- SincerePrayer
- =--ChoonG->>
- samurai1337
- spanker
- yingchai