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The job interview

So you’ve applied for a job and have now been called in for the job interview – well done!!

At the job interview, the employer will decide if you are person he or she wants to hire, so this is one of the most important events in your life. How do you pull it off without nervousness or fear? How do you show yourself in the most positive light? Being well prepared for the interview is the key. If you have practised your job interview skills you will feel confident, you will act confidently, and chances are you will end up being successful.

How to Prepare for the Job Interview

  • Know Yourself
    Know your strengths, weaknesses abilities and accomplishments.
  • Research the company
    Find out as much as you can about the company through checking out their website, chat to other people you know who work there. Your effort will show in the job interview, and you’ll be seen as having an interest in the company and showing resourcefulness.
  • Dress appropriately to match the company culture
    Companies have different dress requirements to suit their operations. Make sure you find out what they require before your go for the interview. When in doubt wear business dress. You’ll look good regardless.
  • Be on time
    Being punctual shows your employer that you have the right attitude and behaviour. Being late, no matter the excuse, is a major blunder. Find out in advance what parking is available and what the other travelling options are, and allow plenty of time to get there 15 to 30 minutes early. The interview panel will be impressed.
  • Be enthusiastic
    First impressions, positive or negative, dramatically affect how you are seen and judged by the interview panel. You can make or break a job interview within the first five minutes. Make sure you look interested and keen.
  • Appear friendly and outgoing
    Smile and say hello to everyone, including the receptionist or other support staff in the organisation who may see you before the interview. A positive reaction from them may be an important factor in your evaluation.
  • Be self-confident
    High self-esteem and self-confidence are the characteristics of a successful person. Be able to demonstrate confidently how you have overcome obstacles. Feeling good about yourself is not a crime as long as you don’t go overboard.
  • Come prepared for key questions
    Practice your responses to all the typical questions, such as "tell me about yourself" and "why are you looking for a new position?" How well you speak will have a bigger impact than what you say.
  • Remain involved
    The most effective job interviews are those where an active two-way conversation takes place. Not the typical question and answer type. Begin early in the interview to speak about your own relevant understandings. But remember, don’t interrupt your interviewer.
  • Establish your worth
    Discuss your specific achievements that demonstrate a positive attitude. Such as: you’ve done something extra, trained someone, set up a new system etc. It’s always important to demonstrate how you showed initiative, commitment or creativity in the past, whether it be in paid work or in other activities.

Here is a list of the top 15 most common job interview questions and appropriate responses. Refine your job interviewing skills by practising your answers to each question. Set up a ‘role play’ where you have a friend or relative act as an employer asking you the questions in a mock interview situation. And keep practising till you answer each question confidently and effectively.

Sample Interview Questions and Answers

Question 1:  "Tell me about yourself..."

Be prepared to talk for two minutes about yourself. Be logical. Start anywhere, such as secondary school, college or your first professional position. The interviewer is trying to evaluate your communication skills and linear thinking. You may try to score a point or two by describing a major personal attribute.

Question 2: "Why are you leaving your current position?"

This is a very critical question. Don't bad mouth your previous employer or co-workers or sound too opportunistic. It's fine to mention major problems, a buy-out or a shutdown. You may want to state that after long personal consideration, your chance to make a contribution is very low due to extensive company-wide changes.

Question 3: "What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?"

A good answer to this question can get you the job. Prepare extensively—discuss hard work, long hours, pressure and important company issues at stake. You may want to tell a two minute detailed story, discussing personal involvement.

Question 4: "Why do you believe you are qualified for this position?"

Pick two or three main factors about the job and about yourself that are most relevant. Discuss for two minutes, including specific details. You may mention a technical skill, a management skill and/or a personal success story.

Question 5: "Have you ever accomplished something you didn't think you could?"

The interviewer is trying to determine your goal orientation, work ethic, personal commitment and integrity. Prepare a good example where you overcame difficulties and succeeded. Prove that you're not a quitter.

Question 6: "What do you like/dislike most about your current or last position?"

The interviewer is trying to determine compatibility with the open position. Be careful; don't say you dislike overtime, like management, or get too detailed. It's safe to say that you like challenges, pressure situations, opportunities to grow, or that you dislike bureaucracy and frustrating situations.

Question 7: "How do you handle pressure? Do you like or dislike these situations?"

High achievers tend to perform well in high-pressure situations. Conversely, these questions could imply that the open position is pressure-packed and out of control. Know what you're getting into. If you do perform well under stress, provide a good, detailed example. Be descriptive.

Question 8: "The sign of a good employee is the ability to take initiative. Can you describe a situation where you did this?"

The proactive, results-oriented person doesn't have to be told what to do. To convince the interviewer you possess this trait, give a series of short examples describing your self-motivation. Discuss one example in-depth, describing the extra effort, your strong work ethic and your creative, resourceful side.

Question 9: "What was the worst/most embarrassing situation of your career? How would you have done things differently with 20/20 hindsight?"

Your interviewer wants to know how introspective you are, and to see if you can learn from your mistakes. Don't be afraid to talk candidly about your failures, especially if you learned something significant from them.

Question 10: "How have you grown or changed over the past few years?"

Maturation, increased technical skills and increased self-confidence are important developmental aspects. To discuss these effectively is indicative of a well-balanced, intelligent individual. Overcoming personal obstacles or recognising manageable weaknesses can help identify you as an approachable and desirable employee.

Question 11: "What do you consider your most significant strength?"

Know your key five or six strengths—the ones most compatible with the job opening. Discuss each with specific examples. Don't include your management or interpersonal skills unless you can describe specific examples of good management, or how your relationship skills have been critical to your success.

Question 12: "Deadlines, frustrations, difficult people and silly rules can make a job difficult. How do you handle these types of situations?"

Most companies, unfortunately, face these problems daily. If you can't deal with petty problems, you'll be seen as uncooperative. How you overcome these are important. Diplomacy, perseverance and common sense will prevail in difficult circumstances.

Question 13: "One of our biggest problems is… What has been your experience with this? How would you deal with it?"

Think on your feet. Ask questions to get more details and break the problem into subsections. It is highly likely that you will have had some experience dealing with the subsections. Answer these and summarise the total. If you can't answer directly, state how you would go about solving the problem. Be specific and show your organisational and analytical skills.

Question 14: "What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself five or ten years from now?"

Be realistic! Pie-in-the-sky goals label you as immature. One or two management jumps in 3-5 years is a reasonable goal. If your track record indicates you're in line for senior management in 10 years, then mention it. If you've had a rocky road, be introspective.

Question 15: "Why should we hire you for this position? What kinds of contributions would you make?"

This is a good chance to summarise. By now, you should know the key problems. Restate and show how you would address them. Don't be arrogant— instead demonstrate a thoughtful, organised and strong attitude

Download the checklist 'Are you ready for your job interview?' (DOC, 100kb) to help you prepare thoroughly for your job interview.

During the Job Interview

  1. Always be yourself.
    Most employers and interviewers are smart enough to figure out whether or not you are actually a good fit for the job, and if you’re even really interested. You have nothing to lose by simply being genuine.
  2. Be confident.
    Confidence is attractive to employers. For a company to believe in your abilities, you need to believe in yourself. There is a reason the company called you in for an interview. Sometimes, you need to approach a job interview like a tryout for an athletics team and put the competition to shame. Remember that this is a competition of sorts, so don’t sell yourself short.
  3. Be humble.
    You never want to be too self-assured, though. There is a major difference between being a team player and thinking you are the entire team. Nobody likes a show off, and very few companies view arrogance as a desirable quality. Show that you believe in yourself, but remember that modesty shows maturity.
  4. Being able to identify your weaknesses is a strength.
    A popular question interviewers ask is: "what is your biggest weakness?" Now, while this might be more difficult to answer than a question about your strengths, it is just as important (if not more important). Part of modesty is acknowledging that you have weaknesses, as well as the patience and determination to turn those weaknesses into your greatest strengths. If you know the areas in which you excel and the areas in which you can improve, then you will be a much more valuable asset to any team.
  5. Ask more questions.
    Don't be afraid to reverse the roles. Become the interviewer for a portion of the meeting. This shows that you have interest in the company and the position, and it gives you a chance to steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Sometimes, on the ride home from an interview, we will remember questions we wanted to ask the potential employer. Well, ask them in a follow-up email or phone call. This demonstrates your passion and perseverance.
  6. There is always room for improvement.
    We can always get better. Find out what companies are looking for in an employee. Be sure to get feedback from the interviewer after the interview, or even after the rejection. If you’ve already been rejected, what do you have to lose by asking? This is when some of the most genuine dialogues occur, including my aforementioned experience.
  7. Be more than just a piece of paper.
    Changing a few words around is not going to be the determining factor in a job interview. Yes, your résumé is important, and so is your cover letter. But no company is going to hire a piece of paper. The personality, the skills, and the work ethic of the person behind the résumé is the key to winning the position.
  8. Sometimes, rejection is a blessing in disguise. 
    While getting turned down is certainly not the best feeling in the world, there are definitely some lessons we can always learn from a job interview rejection. Hopefully, we can use these lessons to keep improving. We will take away something valuable from the experience, regardless of the outcome.

Things to learn from not getting the job

If you've had lots of job interviews without any success, the problem may be with the way you are presenting yourself. That's no real surprise because we don't do job interviews very often. You need to evaluate the way you do job interviews the same way as you would evaluate how well you do other activities that you need to measure, such as: sitting for exams, doing school assignments, playing sport or performing arts. Here are ten reasons why you may not be getting a job offer:

  1. You're not qualified. You don't have anything to lose by applying for every job that takes your interest. However, if you exaggerate or even lie about your qualifications and experience, you can guarantee it will come out during the interview. Sometimes the interviewer doesn't properly screen job candidates, and it's not until the interview is well under way that it becomes obvious that the candidate lacks the necessary skills or experience. There's not much you can do about that, but think twice before you set yourself up for failure by applying for jobs that are clearly outside your level of expertise.
  2. You may lack enthusiasm. You must show your enthusiasm for a job if you don't want to be knocked out early in the interview process. Not everyone has an extrovert personality, but if you look too laid back, and can't demonstrate a reasonable amount of enthusiasm during a job interview, a hiring manager will wonder how good your attitude will be after you're hired.
  3. Failure to establish your worth. When you give the impression that you are only interested in "what's in it for me" without regard to what you have to offer during the job interview, you can say goodbye to that job opportunity. The hiring manager wants to know what you can do for him or her, so you'll want to make sure that the interviewer sees the value in your experience, whatever it is, and you establish your worth by the specific things that you say in answer to his or her questions.
  4. Unclear job goals. Many candidates are eliminated from further consideration if their job goals are unclear. If you don't know what you specifically want to do, or can't communicate your job goals during the interview, you're in trouble. Employers are only interested in hiring people who know what they want to do.
  5. Bad mouthing previous employers. There is no faster way to be dumped from further consideration than by saying something negative about your current or most recent employer. Regardless of the situation, think twice before you talk about it. It's better to put a positive spin on your job search, saying you're looking for better opportunities when asked why you are making a change. Employers want to hire people who are positive, and not seen as whingers. What you say tells the listener more about your flaws than about the person/company you are talking about. Although it may be tempting to tell the interviewer how badly your previous employer treated you, keep your negative thoughts to yourself.
  6. Poor personal appearance. Your personal appearance contributes to your overall first impression. If you appear untidy at you job interview it may send the wrong message to your potential employer. It is important that you fit in with the way others in the company dress and present themselves. Ensure you dress in a manner that is professionally appropriate for the position for which you are applying. Clean, neat and conservative is best. A poor personal appearance can eliminate you before you open your mouth.
  7. Unprepared for the interview. If due to a lack of practice you stumble with your answers, it'll be clear that you're unprepared. Preparation involves practice answering interview questions as well as researching the company. Interviewers are always impressed when you know something about their company. Be ready to answer the question: “What can you tell me about yourself" in two minutes or less. It's obvious to the interviewer when a candidate hesitates to answer a question that he or she is not prepared.
  8. You may not have demonstrated appropriate interpersonal skills. On paper you may look great. On the phone you are impressive. Your references look fine at a glance, but face to face you fail the test. Working with people is crucial to every job, whether it's working within a team, your manager or members of the public. It's important that you can highlight skills such as verbal and non-verbal communication, problem solving and decision making. Suggesting that you lack interpersonal skills might hurt your chances of being the successful candidate.
  9. Responding to your weaknesses. Interviewers will ask you tough interview questions that you must be prepared to answer. Practice answering the question: "Can you tell me about one of your weaknesses?" Take it one step further and have three weaknesses prepared. Ensure you can articulate strategies you are implementing to overcome these weaknesses.
  10. Failure to sell yourself. Your responsibility during the interview is to sell yourself and that includes highlighting your strengths. Be proud of your abilities and don't be shy about sharing your achievements with the interviewers. Reinforce your interest in the job as well by following up post-interview with a few questions.

There could be other reasons why you may not be getting a job offer. These ten reasons are among the most likely. Regardless of the reason, it's your responsibility to make sure that you get rid of anything that would stop you from improving your interviewing skills and ultimately landing the job.

Reasons why job interview candidates are rejected

  1. Poor communication skill (25%)
  2. Lack of proper etiquette (24%)
  3. Lack technical ability (19%)
  4. Not qualified (14%)
  5. No understanding of the organisation (10%)
  6. Other reasons (8%)