Preparing for the all-important job interview

EducationWorld March 2019 | Teacher-2-teacher
Asha Kaul, professor and chair, communication area and former chairperson, placements, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Adapted from Harvard

With contemporary India experiencing the phenomenon of jobless growth, particularly in the organised sector or formal economy, competition for the shrinking number of best jobs at the entry and middle management levels is intensifying. Here are some guidelines and useful tips for bagging that all-important job.

When you enter the room and are facing the interview panel, the first question you are likely to be asked is, “Tell me something about yourself”.

Before you begin answering, bear in mind that these days, recruiters care less about grades and academic performance and more about soft skills — how quickly and creatively a candidate thinks, whether she will be able to cope in high-pressure environments, and what is the candidate organisation fit.

Therefore it’s important to prepare yourself for the big day by being familiar with the organisation’s culture and values. It’s easy to source this information from the company’s annual or media reports, or by connecting with current employees over LinkedIn and reading up reviews on websites such as Glassdoor. Look for clues: For instance, is there age diversity and what is the overall attrition. Low attrition will indicate that the organisation nurtures its employees.

Now comes the critical part of preparing for the difficult questions. Based on my interaction with recruiters as the former placements chairperson at IIM-Ahmedabad, I am aware that some questions are designed to unnerve the candidate and test her responses in a stressful situation. Here are some tricky questions you can expect, along with suggestions for conceptualising responses that will demonstrate your suitability for the job.

“Why should we hire you?”

Your response to this question should be steered to indicate a ‘fit’. Demonstrate confidence and present your personality traits which match the recruting organisation’s culture. “My achievements match your requirements” (spell out the requirements which you have researched) is a starter to lead recruiters in a direction that’s comfortable for you.

The next question is likely to be, “What are your achievements and to what extent do they match our requirements?” This is a good time to detail your achievements in sports, academics and extracurriculars. Be careful, though, to link them to the position you’re discussing. For instance, tie your accomplishments in sports to leadership; in academics to project management; and in extracurricular activities to teamwork.

Another question recruitment managers are likely to ask is: “What are some of your weaknesses?” This is a query framed to test your honesty.

While responding, spell out some of your weaknesses in a straightforward and honest manner. You are human after all! However, the confessed weaknesses should not be ones that may be interpreted as detrimental to work. Responses such as, “I nitpick”, “I am in the habit of interrupting”, “I tend to talk while eating” are neutral and won’t hurt your chances of landing the job you want. It’s advisable not to be too frank and confess too much. Try to be imaginative and original in your answers. There’s no need to copy or emulate seniors or other students. And don’t list more than two weaknesses.

Another typical question recruiters like to ask: “What’s more important — goals or rules?” This query is to test whether you believe that ends justify means.

For decades, if not centuries, philosophers have expounded on the means and ends of debate, and to the best of my knowledge, have still not found an answer. Expecting you to give a definitive response to this question is to check how well you can think on your feet. Some suggested answers: “I’ve learned to score goals while playing by the rules”; “I don’t believe in scoring goals without playing by the rules”; or “Would you call a goal a successful strike if it’s scored in violation of the rules?”

When you hear the question, “Do you have any questions for us?”, it signals the end of the interview.

Your response to this question should be structured after you have carefully studied the size, culture, public profile and style of the recruiting company. Against this backdrop, you should ponder whether the organisation is in its growth or mature phase. Your response should be structured accordingly. For instance, “What are the targets you want me to achieve in the first year?” or “What are the jobs and responsibilities of an entry-level/lateral hire?”

However it’s useful to remember that while responding intelligently to questions is important, there’s more to doing well in a critical job interview. From the minute you walk into a recruitment interview session, all the panel members will be observing you and forming impressions, i.e, assessing your non-verbal communication. A positive first impression created by a candidate usually helps her sail smoothly through the interview process. Walk-in confidently, maintain eye contact, begin with a warm and firm handshake and take your interviewers by storm.

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