5 rules to ace your Job Interview
10 years ago I was a student in the final year of my graduate studies. Those were uncertain times. We constantly worried about landing a job and interviews were a huge part of it. A lot of time has passed since then. I have taken part in countless job interviews while being on both sides of the table. Here are a few, slightly unconventional rules that I have learned over a decade.
1. Dress well, at least well enough to stand out
In the past 7 years of my engineering career, there hasn't been one place that had mandated rules for dressing. Engineers are notoriously casual in their attire. We are the spoiled children of the corporate world.
But that is different when you go for an interview. It is always good to ask whether or not there is a dress code. You might get a reply that there is no set dress code. But still, dress a little sharper than usual. I have found that a blazer along with a dress shirt and jeans works best. Anything beyond that becomes overly pompous, you don't want to be the odd one in a three-piece suit and tie while the panel is wearing shorts and t-shirts.
Dressing well has two main benefits, Firstly it gives you a feeling of power (A Blazer originally comes from a military uniform). When you take special care to dress up it makes you feel much more confident than your usual self. Think about the difference you feel when you are dressed well for a party vs when you are in your pajamas.
The second benefit of dressing well is a good first impression. It conveys to the panel that you put effort into preparing for their interview. You took it seriously and brought forth your best self. This impression along with your confidence boast can give you just the edge you need.
2. Always have options, even if the option is you being jobless
When I started fresh out of university I would apply left, right, and center. I had little self-awareness and I desperately wanted a job. After years of experience (and hardships), I realized my strengths and weaknesses. This allowed me to focus on areas where I knew I could perform the best while refusing to be in areas where I didn't want to be.
Now when I am interviewing candidates I see a similar pattern. A candidate wants a job, any job. They would agree to anything that you ask of them. This gives the impression that they have no special motivation to work for our company. All they want is a job, whether it is us or any other company it doesn't matter.
When you are going for an interview treat this place as special, give it a full chance. Don't be desperate. I know its hard, we all have our personal and financial responsibilities. But despite that, take a moment to think that you have options, be comfortable with not getting this job. This would take the pressure off you.
Never make up your mind before you do the interview. Understand that as much as the panel is interviewing you, YOU are also interviewing them. Understand that they need you too. Take pride in that fact and you will never be cornered.
3. Demonstrate where you could be, not just where you are.
If someone were to ask me what is the most important skill any manager looks in a prospective candidate then I would tell them it is to have the humility to know what you don't know and yet still have the drive to learn what you should. This is called the beginner's mindset in Zen Buddhism. Why is it important? Because no matter how many degrees you have or how many years of experience you have under your belt, there will always be a learning curve. Every company is different in its methodology. A task that took you 3 steps might take 7 steps in another company. Instead of staying rigidly in your old mindset, shed it, and start from zero again.
People who can unlearn and then learn again are going be far ahead of the people who are rigid in their thinking, no matter how smart they might be. It does not matter if you don't know the answer to their question. What matters is your ability to be humble and yet still have the motivation to learn.
4. Talk slowly and get comfortable with silence
An interview is an environment of pressure. You have multiple people judging your every move. If you can hold that pressure and still perform then you will get far ahead of everyone else.
We all react in different ways when we are under pressure. We get nervous, the heartbeat goes up, palms start sweating and we start talking faster. A moment of silence and your heart jumps in your throat. To fill it we just start to say something whether its relevant or not.
But silence is powerful. Your ability to talk slowly and then hold silence shows that you value your words carefully. You think before you speak. You measure your words and you will not buckle under pressure.
Breathe, talk, and make silence your friend.
5. Say no often
A lot of times when you ask candidates if they can perform a certain task their default answer is yes. 'Yes, I can do it', they say, while their whole demeanor is shouting otherwise.
Remember that the panel is not looking for someone who knows everything. Everything is already on the internet (or intranet). They are looking for someone they can rely on. Someone who can deliver what he says he can. A professional environment is predicated on trust. Your word is everything.
Hence if someone asks you something that you don't know, say that, straight away. If you don't acknowledge that and try to worm your way out of it then it implies that you cannot be trusted with important tasks. Acknowledging your shortcomings doesn't necessarily put you down, it brings more value to what you say you can do. Anyone can learn the technical stuff, trust is what matters most here.
Bonus tip: Drop some humor
Corporate environments are often as dry as a bone. The panel that is interviewing you has gone through hundreds of similar boring interviews asking the same questions and sifting through the same CVs. A great way to distinguish yourself is to have some humor, maybe a little sarcasm. It breaks the ice, lightens the mood, and makes the whole experience more memorable.
This doesn't mean you'd want to memorize a joke book, this means that you can relax and channel your personality. We all have some degree of humor inside all of us. All we have to do is to relax and get out of our way. Relax, breathe, and smile. You'll get through