24 Aug

5 Tips to Ace Your First Job Interview – And Every Interview Thereafter

You have done all the hard work – the exams, the nights of study, making choices of career streams, the research on companies, the preparation – and now, the day is finally here when all of this hard work must come together and you must perform on that final threshold to your career – your first job interview! You want to ace it and there is this nervous tension and anxiety you experience – it’s fair to be nervous, I guess all of us were nervous the first time around. And you look around for some last minute help – from friends, online, from books – so that you feel better prepared.

It’s been quite a while since my first job interview (I got rejected!) or my second (rejected again!), but I remember the feeling, and it was not a good one. Over the years, I did manage to get it right and after 20 years at work, where I hired and interviewed several hundreds of people, I have learnt several points you could focus on to be successful at your first interview, and every interview through your career. Here are my top 5…

1.Anxiety is the experience of failure in advance; its opposite is anticipation – How you approach the experience is a choice and I would urge you to choose to be positive on the day. Worrying doesn’t help and only has a negative effect on your confidence and performance. I suggest that you address any potential causes for anxiety through planning your day – wake up early, eat a hearty meal, prepare your briefcase and documents the night before, travel to the location with enough time on hand, reach early and so on. The goal is to enter the room with a positive energy and prepared for success.

2.Dress to impress, not to change who you are – How you look and the first impression you create is important, so what you wear and your personal grooming is critical. Wear clean, well ironed clothes, the best you can afford. Dress up a level but wear clothes that are comfortable – A suit and tie or sari is impressive only if you don’t look uncomfortable and fidgety while wearing them. Groom yourself well, bathe, shave even if you think a stubble is cool (I have rejected too many young men for walking in looking scruffy in a stubble) and go easy on the deodorant unless you have a serious body odor problem. Women usually do better with dressing sensibly, but sometimes you can go over the top. The goal is to be smart, presentable and like someone the interviewer would want to have a conversation with.

3.Ask questions, it’s not against the law – I ask every candidate whether they have any questions and am completely turned off by the large number that don’t have any questions. It’s my first signal to not hire the person – if you don’t have any questions, it indicates that you haven’t given enough thought to the job, the company or the people you will work with. Most candidates see questions as something that will challenge the power of the interviewer and tend to avoid them as a way of not rocking the boat. But, questions are a powerful tool in your arsenal and a thoughtful question can start a conversation with the interviewer instead of it being a one-way street. Questions indicate that you think, are listening well and convey intelligence far better than simple responses. The key of course, is balance – not too many, but certainly not too few either.

4.Don’t just answer, engage with your story – Questions can be answered in multiple ways and most first time candidates prefer to be straightforward – question, answer, question, answer and so on. It might work, but it very quickly gets boring and the interviewer begins to wonder how soon he can close and move to the next candidate. When asked to say something about yourself, you can choose to share a list of factoids about yourself or you can share your journey, how it influenced you and made you the person you are and therefore a good candidate for the role. Humans are wired for stories and we love them. So, when you have the opportunity, share your story.

5.Rejection is not just about you, it’s about them as well – the one thing I absolutely tell everyone I interview is that selection to a job is not just about competence, it is about fit as well. The 3 fundamental questions every interviewer wants answers to are – Can you do the job? Will you love the job? And, can you add to the workplace culture of the company and be successful? To me, the third question is most critical and I usually evaluate people on that criterion first. I think you should evaluate that dimension as well, because these will be the people you will see every day and spend a significant part of your life with. Most candidates see rejection in an interview as a personal failure or mark of incompetence. It usually is not about competence but about fit, take my word for it! Also, when you begin to see jobs as being about fit, then your approach to interviews will change and you will begin to look for signs and ask questions that allow you to make that judgment as well. So, even as you are answering questions, think about whether you will enjoy working and hanging out with the interviewer. And if the answer is No, you know what to do.

I hope these are helpful as you prepare to begin your professional journey. Good Luck!

– Vijay Iyer, Founder – HeadStart Education