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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview for a Job: How to Handle (Part - II)

It is often noticed that in spite of having the right set of qualifications, technical skills and experience, candidates fail to impress the interviewer. The reasons could be many, but a proper preparation for the interview is sure to help a candidate to impress the employer better. Some of the key approaches that enable a candidate to fare better at the interview are:

Learn About the Company Beforehand
It is desirable to know about a company and its operating practices well before attending the interview. A visit to its website coupled with a little bit of market research gives an overview of a company’s activities, its financial muscle, and status in the market. But the most desirable approach is to have a dialog with its current employees, for they are the most reliable source of information. A friendly chat with them helps
  • One know their opinion about the company.
  • Two, it enables one to know its cultural ethos. 
  • Three, one could make a reasonable guess as to what kind of people the company might be looking for.
It is worth remembering here that today companies are not merely looking for functional skills; they are also concerned about a prospective candidate’s ability to align his/her personal goals with the organizational goals; himself/herself with the organization’s culture. Against this background, a friendly and functional dialog with a company’s current employees helps in determining whether one fits into it or not and also whether one would be able to make a career in it. Finally, such knowledge will better equip the candidate to articulate his cause before the interview panel. 

 Pay Due Attention to the Application Form/CV

Application form—still in vogue in traditional establishments/CV is a marketing tool that summarizes one’s employment qualifications for predefined target audience, which has become popular in today’s job market—is the primary and the very first opportunity that a candidate gets to impress an employer. It is indeed the very first instrument that enables an employer to shortlist the candidates. Some applicants tend to treat the application/CV cavalierly thinking that it is the interview which matters most. True, interview does matter, but it is the application form/CV that makes the first impression on a prospective employer and at times it may even prove conclusive. 

In simple terms, a CV must demonstrate that the applicant not only knows what he/she wants in a job but that one has also taken time to learn what the employer wants from the candidate. It is the application of one’s mind to rightly position oneself by candidly listing out one’s strengths in the application/CV vis-à-vis the specific requirements of the job under consideration which creates a right wicket for one to bat on at the interview.

Here it is important to know the difference between a resume and a CV:
  • A resume is a one or two page document that gives a brief narration about one’s education and experience and other such relevant information for the job under question conveyed in an easily grasped format. It is drawn up in reverse chronological order—listing the most recent experience first. It must be written in such a way that it should advertise everything of a candidate that is salable. 
  • A CV, on the other hand, includes over and above what is furnished in a resume, one’s teaching and research experience, publications, research grants/fellowships obtained, professional affiliations, awards and all other information relevant to the job for which an application is being made.        
There is nothing wrong in copying a format that one finds most appealing, but one must always remember to personalize it—change it to well reflect one’s own personality. Secondly, it is advantageous to fill the resume with action verbs—such as “investigated, organized, surveyed, systematized, overhauled, programmed, remodeled, adapted, coached, instituted, integrated, assessed, rehabilitated”, etc.—for it gives power and direction to a resume. 

By all means, generality must be avoided. Remember, it is the application/resume/CV that sets the tone and direction of the interview. Hence, it deserves the utmost attention of every seeker of employment.

Personal Presentation

An interview is a means to check mutual suitability for a job. If there is ever a time when first impression counts, then it is undoubtedly when one attends for an interview. So, as one enters the interview room, one should
  •  walk forward confidently, 
  •  body straight, and 
  •   head up.
Smile and be prepared to shake hands briefly, but positively, if the interviewer offers to shake. Sit straight, but in a relaxed comfortable position, hands preferably on one’s lap.

It merits dressing up normally and formally, but not unusually, for any extraordinary attempt tends to make one feel uncomfortable. This would automatically reflect on the performance. It may even annoy an interviewer. To highlight such irritants, it is worth citing an incidence here: once, a lady candidate came for interview adorning herself in costume jewelry, and whenever she moved her hand or neck she jingled to the amusement of the interview panel.

In another instance, a male candidate attended an interview putting on a suit, perhaps, for the first time, and right from the minute he sat before the panel, he was found swirling in discomfort, realizing which, one interviewer asked him to loosen his tie and be at ease. 

In an interview, one has to be at ease to attentively listen and respond to the questions intelligently, and for this to happen, it is critical that one has to dress up normally.

As soon as one is settled in the chair, he/she shall maintain good eye contact with the interviewers. This builds rapport between the candidate and the panel which in turn makes them interested in putting questions. On the other hand, if one answers the question staring hard at one’s feet or palms, there is a danger of interviewers losing interest in the candidate. And that would make their job of rejection easy. Secondly, it is desirable to always remain calm and collected. If the candidate is seen as going to pieces, there is every likelihood of the interviewer’s thinking that he/she cannot handle stress. 

Be an Early Bird

To be late to the interview is the sure way of mucking up the interview, for a latecomer is viewed as either a careless candidate or a poor planner. And both are equally damaging for the candidate’s interest. Secondly, by being late to the interview one gets tensed up and obviously cannot give his best at the interview. On the other hand, arriving at the venue 10 minutes earlier enables one to have a feel of the place and this strengthens confidence which in turn tends to improve his/her performance at the interview.

Anticipate Questions and Plan Answers

The questions that are usually asked at an interview can be grouped into:
  • one, questions meant for testing one’s conceptual skills; 
  •  two, questions that are asked to evaluate functional competency; and 
  •  three, questions designed to test the personality of the candidate.           
And looking at the kind of job that one has come to give interview, it is possible to visualize the kind of questions that can be asked and to list them down for planning answers and their style of articulation. For instance, if a statistical scholar is appearing for an interview for a job in insurance company, he should anticipate the questions that are more contextualized to insurance business rather than straight statistics. Therefore, he/she should anticipate questions such as:
  • What do you understand by the law of large numbers? 
  • How does it matter for insurance? 
  •  What do you understand by probability? 
  •  What is its role in insurance business? 
  • From mortality rates available for the last 10 years, can you predict the likely mortality rate for the next year?  
It is true that one cannot list out all the questions that one can be asked at the interview, but a rigorous analysis of the job profile and its requirements will certainly enable one to come up with a fairly good question bank coupled with appropriate answers. And importantly, what one must remember while preparing for any interview is: the interviewer is not interested in knowing the candidate’s professional knowledge or what he read about, but is more concerned about knowing whether the candidate has the wherewithal to execute the job better.

Similarly, when it comes to internal promotions in traditional establishments, or for that matter even in modern establishments, what the interviewer would be interested to assess is:
·         not the candidate’s past performance but
·         how suitable he/she is to handle the responsibilities of the new/higher post. 
So, obviously, the questions would focus more on the macro-environment/macro-vision of the discipline that he/she is being picked up to head—say for instance, if it is to head a research division/establishment, questions tend to stay focused on current lines of research in the major globally acclaimed research institutes, the future direction, mentoring domestic scholars towards that kind of research, constraints, if any, for pursuing research in those lines and how to overcome them, etc., plus assessing one’s ability to adapt to the new role of leading professional teams, inspiring them to aim high and the ability to initiate and manage change. Any preparation worked out on these lines is more likely to ensure that the candidate is not surprised by unexpected questions—at least they can be minimized.

It makes sense to remember that interviewers are equally tensed up at the interview in view of paucity of time. Though interviewers have predrawn time-budget for each interview, a seasoned interviewer does allow time elasticity in evaluating a slow-starter but a potential or a borderline candidate. Nevertheless, it is highly desirable for a candidate to give such answers which are compact, precise but loaded with content. A good preparation on the lines discussed under the previous head is sure to make one give pithy replies. 

The Most and the Commonest Tricky Question

“Tell us about yourself” is the obvious opening question for all kinds of interviews. It is perhaps the trickiest question that even an experienced candidate finds hard to answer. Remember that this question needs to be answered with an element of sincerity. It should go beyond what is already written in the CV. 

One should talk about how passionate one is to take up a job and quickly learn to do it well. Say about one’s ability to gel well with teams. Talk about one’s commitment to punctuality and the importance that one attaches to time management. One may share one’s life goals and the plans for achieving them. Here, it makes immense sense to add a few special qualities that one is endowed with linking them with one’s recent work or academic experiences. Whatever one wants to say about oneself must be said with confidence and conviction. It should not sound hollow. Do not blurt out; say slowly giving time to the interviewer to follow what the candidate is saying. 

One way of putting across these ideas could be: “My name is ‘…, I have done my ‘MBA’ in ‘Finance’ from ‘University of Delhi’ in ‘2004’. Presently, I’m working as ‘Assistant Vice-President’ at ‘ICICI Bank’, where, since my last promotion, I have been successfully handling the credit portfolio of the branch which is about Rs 900 million … As a person, I am cheerful, friendly and self-motivated, and like to enjoy my work and after-work life equally.”

Prepare to Face the Commonest Questions 

One often encounters questions such as:
  • How did you come to apply for this job?
  • Why have you applied for this job?
  • Why do you want to leave your present job?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What is your objective in life?
  • Where do you want to see yourself after 5-10 years from now?
  •  Are you ready to be relocated?
  • Who is your role model in life?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
These questions sound pretty ordinary but answers to them are to be really labored out. Secondly, the impression created by the answers to these questions almost decides the selection or otherwise.

One should, therefore, diligently prepare his/her answers for these most probable questions well in advance. For instance, for the question, “Why do you want to leave your present job?” one may say all the positive aspects about the position advertised and its matching with his/her personal goals and also how his/her past experience comes handy in executing it with finesse, provided, of course, it is true. 

When it comes to questions such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” one may not find any difficulty in sharing confidently one’s strengths, especially highlighting those strengths that matter for the instant job. But when it comes to telling about one’s weaknesses, it will become a tricky move. One may however mention one’s weakness in a way that implicitly sounds more like a strength than a weakness—saying about ‘honesty’ as both one’s strength as well as a weakness. But one must be ready to offer an impressive explanation as to how it is so, for the interviewer, hearing the answer, is sure to ask, “Hoe honesty is weakness?”

Similarly for the question, “Where do you want to see yourself after 5-10 years from now?” one might say something—not an overambitious picture but something that is in line with one’s overall career graph, a reasonable picture—that enables the interviewer to assess how the candidate is visualizing his/her future and working for its accomplishment. 

Answers to these commonest questions must be well rehearsed before the interview, but while articulating the same in front of the panel, it must sound natural as though said as a matter of fact. In no case should it appear as tutored stuff.

Be Alert

It is good to bear in mind that a candidate is interviewed right from the minute one enteres the employer’s premises. Anything one says or does at the premises of the prospective employer is factored into the decision. Interviewers watch every movement of the candidate—how one sits and interacts, and how casual or cavalier one is. Suffice to say, not only one’s verbal output but also one’s body language is equally watched for arriving at a decision. So, one needs to be on alert right from the moment one steps into the employer’s premises. 

Secondly, to be alert means, paying attention to what is being asked by the interviewer. And good listening indicates the respect that the candidate has for the interview panel. Impatience to listen, on the other hand, becomes visible by itself and this is certain to offend the interviewer.

Thirdly, being alert helps to structure one’s answers crisply, confining it to the question raised—neither more nor less. An alert mind, by answering the questions to the point, creates a more favorable space to the candidate and makes the interviewer inquisitive to raise a few more questions in the same direction. In other words, a smart candidate, by being alert, can make the interviewer shoot more questions in the same area which he is very comfortable with. Whichever way one looks at it, being alert at the interview pays dividends. 

Steer the Interview

An interviewee can also steer the interview towards his area of strengths provided he is alert and agile. It is to be borne in mind that it is the answer to the previous question that gives a cue to the interviewer for raising the next question. Therefore, a candidate must answer the question put to him in such a way that it gives him a right cue for the next question which tends to be in your areas of strength, which one can answer with confidence. Most successful candidates in an interview often end up claiming to have succeeded in steering the interview in their favor. 

For instance, if the interviewer asked a question, “Why do you want to leave your present job?” if one answered, “As I see nothing further to be learnt in the present job, I am looking for a change”, there is every likelihood that the next question of the interviewer would be, “Do you think the present job will offer you that scope?” The next could be, “ Do you think you have the wherewithal to do this job?” which can be followed by another question, “Will you leave us once the present job becomes routine to you?” and the game continues—one answer leading to the next question, making the interview ultimately look hunky-dory.

Take Time to Think Through

It is not necessary that one should answer every question as fast as the question is asked. It is nothing wrong to ask for time to synthesize one’s thoughts and structure answers properly. It is always better to seek time and reply cogently than shoot out an irrelevant reply. But do not slip into a Samadhi. For, prolonged silence sends the interviewers into jittery.

Do Not Bluff

However diligently one might have prepared, there might be occasions where one might get a question for which he had not prepared, not had any experience to answer, or had no knowledge of it. In such a situation, it is perfectly alright to admit one’s ignorance rather than bluffing. Most of the interviewers appreciate honesty. It would be a fatal mistake to underestimate the competency of the interviewer and keep bluffing, for he is sure to make a mental note of it without ever giving out a cue of it and later discard such candidates.

Do Not Tweet “Sorry, Sorry”

A candidate must exhibit poise and confidence at the interview. It doesn’t however mean that one should be aggressive, and at the same time one must not be apologetic of one’s performance. One must learn to be assertive in handling the cards that he has been dealt with well. 

Ask Questions
Most of the interviewers give an opportunity to a candidate to ask questions or seek clarifications. This has to be used to one’s advantage by asking relevant questions about the company’s policies, scope for learning in the job, etc. One should bear in mind that the kind of questions that a candidate puts across speaks volumes about his/her personality. So, one should prepare in advance as to what one should enquire about. Posing questions about
  •  its internal employee review process, 
  • about ‘study-further’ policies, if any, of the company,  
  • scope to upgrade one’s skills through internal training and development practices of the organization,  
  • the challenging facets of the job that one can look forward to, 
  • mentoring and coaching practices for the personal development of employees,
  • lateral growth prospects that one can anticipate from the company, etc.   

is perfectly alright. 

At the same time, it makes sense not to raise sensitive questions that are more likely to embarrass the interviewers. Similarly, it is not right to ask questions about salary or other benefits until one is offered the job, for the interviewer will be inclined to think that you are more interested in the money than in the position. 

Importantly, one must remember that the opportunity given to raise questions must be used to further consolidate one’s performance at the interview but not erase the good impression created before. 

Box 1: Psychometric Tests
Of late, many organizations particularly, from the sectors such as ITeS/IT/finance have started using standardized psychometric tests as a part of their recruitment process. According to the British Psychological Society, it is “a psychological test on the basis of which inferences are made concerning a person’s capacity, propensity or liability to act, react, experience, structure behavior in particular ways.”

The test may have questions relating to interpretation of inkblot images, word associations, numerical ability, logical reasoning, verbal ability, diagrammatic questions, trend-based problems, etc. The beauty of the test is: affords an equal opportunity platform for all the participants and thereby facilitates relative grading of the participants irrespective of their socioeconomic, cultural, and academic backgrounds. They essentially aim at measuring a candidate’s verbal and numerical reasoning skills. There are, of course, no right and wrong answers—it is all about what the organization and/or the role demands from the individual. These aptitude tests are timed and designed in a unique way.

These tests are found to be very useful when used in conjunction with other methods of assessment such as technical and functional processes. As they need substantial time to show a ‘near-real’ picture of the person being tested for recruiting, it is used only in the case of critical positions, or in the case of internal promotions to senior positions.

Nevertheless, real-life experiences about psychometric tests tell differently: Paul Flowers, the ex-chairman of the UK’s Cooperative Bank, said to have been hired based on his doing well in a standardized personality test, proved to be otherwise as its chairman. Reacting to his performance as chairman Omadaun commented: “Psychometric results should be a conversation starter and not conclusive evidence of any trait or disposition. They can really help frame a conversation and surface issues that otherwise may not have come up… if properly used, they are an enhancement, if not, at best useless and at worst dangerous.” (FT, February 3, 2014)

Observe Common Courtesies

It is often found that candidates do not observe even the elementary courtesies, perhaps being tense of the interview. Of course, no interviewer is going to write off a candidate merely because he has not greeted him, but observing basic courtesies underscores one’s presence well. On the other hand, if the job is more about managing a project involving scores of people, then these things do matter a lot. 

Listen to the interviewers attentively. Do not interrupt them. You need not always agree with the views expressed by the interviewers. Or, you may have a different view of it. In all such cases where you are sure of yourself, express it, but gently— start with, “I am not sure I follow your reasoning…”; “There might be another way of looking at it…” and then continue with your understanding of the subject. Remember: “Gentle disagreement is as valid as aggressive agreement.” Whatever you want to say, say it distinctly. That will speak of your confidence.

Managing the ‘Interview-Anxiety’

All of us are afflicted with fear, anxiety, nervousness or worry many times in our lives. For instance, while sitting in the hall waiting for one’s turn for the interviewer’s call, some are prone to be tensed up—anxious of what would happen. Anxiety before interview is normal—even experienced people face it. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines anxiety as: “A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event, or something with an uncertain outcome.” In the instant case, it is the fear of failure in the interview, or the self-evaluation that indicated failure, or the very fear of the unknown might be some of the common causes for anxiety. To say otherwise, it is a candidate’s urge for success at interview that generates ‘restlessness and anxiety’. To start with, one’s body chemistry kicks in to make one ready to perform. But certain individuals/candidates may inaccurately infer from these feelings that one is nervous. This restlessness leads to the next stage of feeling that one is about to fail in the interview. This negative cycle continues to build up into a full-blown nervousness. 

The most interesting point to be noted here is: it is the way in which one talks to himself/herself about one’s problems that makes one emotionally disturbed but not the problems themselves, said Albert Ellis, the proposer of ABC theory of emotions. For instance, in our case, the interview is the event. Candidates who have told themselves about it being a challenge that can be faced with sound preparation have worked on it and made themselves ready for the D-day. But candidates who are having a highly critical ‘self-image’ telling themselves, “The interviewer will ask me questions that will expose my ignorance”, or “I don’t stand a chance because everyone else here is better than I am”, or “I can’t handle the tension of interviews!” tend to end up in great anxiety. And it makes them ‘frozen’ and go ‘blank’ at the interview saying things that they didn’t originally intend to say. Such would be the impact of anxiety on one’s productivity. 

Now, the question is: How to handle it? One proven way of handling anxiety of interview is: build confidence through preparation and practice—rehearsing answers to the anticipated questions with a friend or by undergoing a mock interview through some career services agency. It alone enables one to realistically approach the interview. 

The other way to overcome the interview blues is to practice “visualizing success at the interview and developing a positive psyche” which can maximize one’s performance at the interview. Remember, anxiety is caused by what one initially told himself/herself—”The interviewer will ask me questions that expose my ignorance”, etc. 

So, while preparing for the interview one should not allow one’s mind to be fed with images of failure, instead it must be fed with a software that feeds one with scrolls: “I have conducted thorough research about the company, its requirements, the likely questions and reviewed my answers to them, I am prepared to face any reasonable question”; “Yes, I feel tensed up, but I am sure I can cope with this and I will not let this tension get the best of me”, etc. Such auto-feedback strengthens one mentally and finally enables one to manage the anxiety reasonably well. 

One should learn to accept oneself and failures are not an end in themselves. All cannot succeed all the time. One should therefore learn to accept realities and be ready with contingency plans to overcome failures by constantly working to improve oneself. It is only through cultivation of such habits, anxiety can be better managed. 

Lastly, one must remember that an interview is basically a process of determining the alignment between a company’s requirement and a candidate’s qualities and capabilities. Failure to be picked up by a company for a job is not a reflection on the basic merit of a candidate but it is only a mere reflection of the incongruence between the job requirement and the candidate’s capabilities. If one attends an interview with this basic understanding, one will be free from tension and can do well in the interview. 


It pays dividends if one avoids the temptation to memorize or script one’s answers/conversations with the interviewers, for you tend to sound as too rehearsed, which can prompt an interviewer to throw at you an out-of-the-blue question which may simply derail you. Therefore, participate in the conversation enthusiastically and contribute to its smooth sailing knowledgeably. 

It is often found that candidates do a lot of talking in an interview but never seem to reach the point of the answer, which is sure to annoy a recruiter. Secondly, it leaves an impression that the candidate is not an effective communicator. Either way it is against the interests of the candidate. So, the rule of the game is: be succinct and specific and ask if they need further details so as to avoid flooding them with unnecessary information that may at times unwittingly expose the candidate’s hollowness. 

So, the key for winning in an interview is to be positive, professional, and authentic and demonstrate how one can contribute to the job by using concrete examples from one’s past.

Courtesy: IUP Journal of Management Research
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