By Joseph Alcantara
So, you got that much-awaited call that may supercharge your career growth.
Weeks after hitting that ‘Apply now’ button on ‘LinkedIn Jobs’ along with 500 other potential candidates, your CV stood out and your profile was successful at the paper screening phase. You made the cut for the next stage of the job application – the dreadful series of face-to-face interviews.
After nearly two decades in the corporate world, I’d have to say that there are no hard and fast rules or unspoken secrets in making or breaking that ‘interview of a lifetime’. Yet, there are timeless and universal basic ‘must do’s’ that can help to at least get half of the task done.
Here are my top 5 tips to ace that ‘first date’ with your dream job:
While actively searching for your next job, for sure you’ve applied to more than 10 postings in various companies and had your CV sent with a templated cover letter. You might haven’t even researched the background of the companies you’ve applied for and simply hit that ‘Apply now’ button. Nothing wrong with that while expanding your reach, choices and ‘chances of winning’. But once you receive that invitation for an actual interview, you need to make a conscious effort to properly prepare before showing up for that professional chat.
In today’s digital age where everything can be Googled and social media is a free research tool, you don’t have any excuse to not know what you’re getting yourself into.
For starters, research about the industry, the company, its highlights, lowlights, strengths, weaknesses, culture, competitors, opportunities, and customers. Secondly, dig deeper into the job role that you’re applying for – the qualifications they’ve published, competencies required, standards and expectations, reason for hiring and growth path. Lastly, find out more about the interviewer – who he is, his role, management style, achievements, personality and pet peeves.
Remember, the more you know, the better equipped you are in getting things right first time.
You initially picked up that item at the grocery store because of the attractive packaging. You ended up with your current partner because you were physically attracted to him first. It’s not shallow, but it’s human reality – first impression and physical aesthetics do matter. Same applies in job interviews.
I’m not saying that you need to be stylish or to wear designer clothes or go to the salon first to have yourself fixed before the interview. But, if you’ll show up looking unpolished and untidy, no matter how fantastic your CV is, your look (or the lack of it) could blow your chances.
Choosing what you’d wear and how you’d fix yourself is simple – being in a well-pressed suit (dark coat with a matching pair trousers, light dress shirt, dark tie and polished formal leather shoes) for guys and a flattering dress combination (dark blazer with a complementing skirt, blouse, and medium heeled closed shoes) for ladies would be safe. Without overdoing it, feel free to add accessories to elevate your look and to showcase your personality. For instance, I always include either a colorful pocket square or a quirky lapel pin to my coat – not only do they look nice, but they serve as a conversation piece (true story, one interviewer once asked me where I shop for clothes and she still asks me now since I ended up receiving a job offer from the company).
While some industries may be more ‘relaxed’ and the general corporate culture is now evolving from ‘strictly formal’ to ‘smart casual’, your task as a candidate is to positively stand out across all aspects. So don’t feel entitled or find any excuse to not look the part, you still need to dress to impress. And once you’ve ticked that off – look good, feel good and let your confidence shine!
Due to the traditional concept and actual definition of ‘interview’, we have the misconception that an interviewer’s role is to simply fire away tons of questions to us and that we should give the right answers to get the job. Unfortunately, this isn’t 100% true.
For me, job interviews are done to get to know a candidate inside and out, validate what he’s written on his CV, gauge his fit for the role and the organization, and feel if we’d have a good rapport should we end up working together. This is better achieved through a conversation between the interviewer and interviewee. It shouldn’t feel like a stiff Q&A, but more of a natural ‘getting to know you’ talk while keeping a certain level of professionalism of course.
I also partly blame the culture that we’ve learned back home where we should give the highest level of respect and not talk too much (or at least be timid) to people above us in terms of corporate rank. Sad to say, if you keep this mindset, you’d end up showcasing your ‘inferiority complex’. Like Westerners, learn to apply the art of ‘small talk’ to establish a comfortable space where the both of you can feel at ease, become genuinely interested and have a really natural exchange. Do pay attention to your interviewer’s nuances when he listens and talks, doing so will allow you to complement in making a meaningful conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions too, this will give you the opportunity to show your brilliance (if you ask really good and relevant questions) and interest in the job.
Think of it this way, when the interview’s over, the both of you should feel great and have that inner feeling of ‘I definitely want to meet him again and work with him in the future’. How do you achieve this? The answer is a real meaningful and thought-provoking conversation that you can stir as it flows – the ball is in your court so know how to play it.
Indeed, a good interview may have a ‘free-flowing’ feel, yet you need to be strategic when responding to critical questions. While your answers’ content and substance would always be king, structuring how you package your delivery is equally essential.
Use the ‘SOAR’ structure when faced with situational questions. This acronym stands for S-Situation, O-Objective, A-Action, R-Results. For example, if thrown with the typical ‘what was the most challenging project you’ve ever had and how did you handle it?’ question, answer it by first providing a clear background situation to give the right context, followed by the objective you’ve received or had in mind as you started the project, then a rundown of specific actions you’ve taken to highlight your skills, competencies, and expertise, then end it with the tangible results that were generated from the activities.
When delivering your points, always be clear, then clever (not the other way around). Also be concise (avoid beating around the bush), yet substantial. Finally, be simple, but thought provoking.
Putting your best foot forward doesn’t mean that you need to fabricate a new and better version of your current self. If you lie and create illusions that aren’t really just to sell yourself, the interviewer will see through you. Should you get away with it, the false claims that you’ve created will eventually run after you.
Rather than putting a fake front that you think will make you ace the game, leverage your authenticity instead. While breathing positivity and pragmatism, showcase your real personality and use it to your advantage. Pick your strong traits and provide examples of how these can benefit the company in terms of achieving business goals and uplifting the team’s culture and morale.
Today’s modern corporate set-up has transitioned from the passé ‘command and follow’ management to a ‘collaborative’ leadership style. As such, new joiners are expected to reflect openness, adaptability, teamwork and collective inspiration. It will be ideal if you can allude to possessing such values to potentially thrive and up your chances.
Remember, all other candidates invited to be interviewed are as good or may even be better than you in terms of qualifications. But, if you’ll be able to establish your distinct and compelling differentiator while leaving a positive and memorable impression, you might just win it.
So, aim to be naturally likeable and exude that greatness that’s distinctly ‘you’.
One of Illustrado’s 2018 100 MIFG, Joseph lives and breathes Marketing over the last 18 years and has practiced his passion across 7 organizations and 4 countries. A true dreamer, an advocate of positivity and a proud Filipino, he now simply aims to inspire others to reach their dreams and aspirations through his thoughts, stories, and reflections.
Illustrado 100 – Joseph Alcantara: Joseph Alcantara – 100 Most Influential Filipinos in the Gulf 2018
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