It’s no secret that interviewing for a job can be quite intimidating, especially for young graduates with little to no experience. Having been in the same boat myself, I still get shaky knees, sweaty palms, and a dry throat when appearing for an interview for an internship or a job.
Only if we knew what goes on in an interviewer’s mind when taking an interview, the process would become easier for us..
HEC statistics suggest that close to half a million young adults graduate every year in Pakistan. Surprised? So was I. But what makes me more nervous is the fact that we’re all part of the half a million adults applying and competing for the same number of limited jobs across the country. That makes it quite a competitive world to step foot in, doesn’t it? The question is: How do you stand out in the crowd?
In many of our conversations, my classmates, colleagues, and I have also discussed the topic and reaffirmed that only if we knew what goes on in an interviewer’s mind when taking an interview would the process become easier for us. If you have been in the same boat as us, we can agree that being aware of candidates' expectations for a successful placement can help us feel more prepared and confident when appearing for an interview. It can also boost our self-awareness, and ultimately give us the much-desired edge in front of an interviewer. So I thought to myself, why not take the query to the experts on the other side of the table and ask them, “so what is it that makes one candidate more fitting than the rest?”
To get answers which are helpful and practical, I consulted with some Pakistani HR and recruitment specialists. It’s been quite a learning experience for me to have discussed the topic with them. Without further delay, let’s dig into the recommendations I’ve gathered from their professional wisdom of 36+ years combined.
Do Your Homework
"The biggest and most common mistake that interviewees make is not doing their homework about the organization.” - Naveed Zafar
Let’s get this clear and straight - as a fresh graduate, HR doesn’t expect you to know-it-all all and is the expert at the start of your career, be it technical or otherwise. Fresh graduates and young adults who have recently joined the professional landscape are seldom evaluated on their professional expertise but more for their passion to learn, and dedication to the job and the company. Remember, the interviewer doesn’t want to know how well you will do the job, but how dedicated you are about the respective field and the company.
Naveed, a Learning and Development (L&D) Specialist at Nexus Corporation and a recruitment specialist with more than 6 years of experience in interviewing candidates, including fresh graduates, believes that "the biggest and most common mistake that interviewees make is not doing their homework about the organization.”
A part of your homework is to learn about the company
An easy way for hiring managers to establish if you are a go-getter and someone who truly wants the job is for them to witness whether you’ve taken the time to learn about the organization, and the expectations attached to the role you’ve applied for. It would be fitting to consider it imperative to actively work for the job even before getting the job.
To know how you can be a value-adding employee is to witness exactly how you will fit in the organizational culture and the only way for you to exhibit that is to research about the organization, the role, and the company’s placement in the industry.
So when the employer questions: What motivated you to apply for this role? Why should we consider you for the role?
What not to say: “I came across the vacancy and thought to apply”
Take this as an opportunity to exhibit your professionalism. In response to the query, take the thoughtful approach and address how your passion, vision, and professional philosophy matches that of the company and what interests you in the role is your interest in this field.
Know your resume (and avoid the cliched)
“I want to be part of a growing organization where I can polish my skills and contribute to the growth of the organization.” – Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It is a pretty common objective statement and several candidates quote the same in their resume. The truth is, employers, don’t appreciate it.
Be original about your resume and embody the same in your interview.
In my conversation with Tahira Khattak – Director HRBP at Telenor – I realized that it is quite disappointing for interviewers to come across candidates who either don’t know their resume or have copy-pasted a desirable resume off the internet.
Ms. Khattak, having been in the telecom industry for over 12 years, has come across thousands of resumes. In her experience, most resumes she comes across lack originality in their objective statements, and many candidates, when inquired, are unable to comprehend their objective statement.
So you want to be someone who can respond to queries about their resume. A candidate who can explain how his resume translates into his professional growth thus far, is someone interviewers feel impressed with. Hence, our recommendation to you is to be original about your resume and embody the same in your interview.
The interviewer is also likely to spend some time going through the achievements and academic experiences. The purpose is to understand if the candidate will be able to apply that knowledge to the responsibilities of the job in question. As part of embodying your resume, make sure you’ve thought through these too. This is another part where you can go above and beyond your resume and connect with the interviewer with your story.
A desirable resume mentions academic and past achievements but a stellar interview experience is one where the candidate can connect past experiences to the job they have applied for.
How Must You Introduce Yourself?
When you step into the job market, you realize that this is indeed one of the most dreadful questions yet one of the most important ones. If you read between the lines, what the interviewer is asking you to do is ‘sell yourself’!
According to most hiring managers, a simple answer along the lines of a candidate's name, academic background, and a sprinkle of a skill doesn’t cut. They already know that from your resume so why bore them and also lose a golden opportunity to make your mark?
Speak about your experience; be it from school, college, extra-curricular, or past internships. If they apply to the job/company, mention them and be confident about it.
Consider how your career aspirations relate to the job you’re appearing for. Elaborate on that but nothing that makes it fluffy. E.g.: You could be applying for a web development role. Think of how you might have used your web designing skills previously for a university project.
Focus on your strengths and abilities and support them with examples.
Set the Right First Impression
First impressions are a double-edged sword and many recruiters will try not to fall into their trap because these assumptions can be both right and wrong. However, only highly experienced interviewers can give candidates the benefit of doubt and prevent first impressions from making them biased towards the candidate. Thus, it is recommended that the candidate is aware of the first impression they give off. A great way of coming to awareness is when prepping for your interview, ask your friends and family what impression they catch of you in a mock interview.
One of the best ways to set a memorable first impression is to carry yourself with openness, and honesty - No slouched shoulders, dipped chin, and closed arms. You also want to consider avoiding fluff talk. Chances are, they probably know you’re nervous so you might as well be honest about it.
Another recommended way to make an agreeable impression is to share a personal characteristic. It could be about a hobby, a passion, an area of interest (beyond academic and work); anything that gives them an insight into your life. Trust me, a personal characteristic will make you more memorable, and offer them something unique to remember you.
Apart from that, punctuality, being appropriately dressed, greeting your interviewer with a smile, staying calm and composed before and during the interview, and maintaining eye contact should work out best for you.
Avoid the Fluff
Ever heard the question, “why should we hire you?”
Yes, it is quite a common one. Fortunately or unfortunately, there’s no right answer to it hence we can’t tell you what to say. But what is not recommended here is being over smart, and overselling yourself. If you have picked up a clichéd trick from movies (like “you don’t know me yet, you need to try me), we suggest you discard those.
A hiring manager will only need a few seconds to distinguish meat from the fluff. Hence, you must avoid exaggerations. A recommended guide to responding to this, and similar questions is to be candid and show the interviewer what you bring to the table. Tell them exactly how you will make a valuable employee and facilitate growth in the organization. You can use this opportunity to, again, connect your professional goals to the company’s vision and the expectation from the role. Here, you can also mention what you will be learning from the role and how it will take you closer to your goals. Build up your response with examples.
"If you’re telling me that you’ve got good observation skills, don’t just tell me, show me! Show me with examples from your experience such as how you used observation skills to find out what an organization was doing wrong and figure out ways to fix it." - Sana, CEO Minerva
Be Honest and Strategic
At the start of your career when you’re still building the skillset for the career in a respective field, hence being honest can go a long way. Similarly, employers value honesty. So, if you’re planning to overstate your organizational skills, our hiring managers suggest that you think otherwise and wear the armor of dignity.
Being honest, and strategic will always work in your favor. You want to consider this, especially when responding to the “What are your strengths and weaknesses” question. We all have areas of improvement, and fresh graduates more than others. It is something hiring managers are already aware of and that’s alright too.
First of all, discard the word “weakness” from your dictionary and adopt the mindset of learning and improving. When inquired, you want to be forthcoming about your areas of improvement, and technicalities of the job you don’t quite know.
So instead of sharing your weakness as personal or professional hurdles, you want to express your area of improvement which you are aiming to work towards in the respective role. In doing so, also share with them examples of how are you already dealing with your areas of improvement and how are you furthering your strengths.
Be Forward With Your Questions
A common misconception is that interviews are for companies to evaluate candidates for the role; yes that is true but only partially. Interviews are also for the candidates to learn more about the company and the role. So don’t shy away from asking questions – be it about seeking clarity on the role, understanding more about the company’s ethos, inquiring about hierarchy and reporting lines, or benefits/allowances offered other than the remuneration, be forthcoming about it.
“Job hunting is a negotiation and asking questions is your best strategy”- Alexandra Garter, the Director of Mediation at Columbia Law School
As the saying goes, “the ‘why’ is clear then the ‘how’ becomes easy”. Once you understand why certain questions are being asked of you, or why are you even in the interviewee’s chair, the preparation becomes easier.
Appearing for a job interview can be quite daunting. The fear of unemployment is real and present. At the same time, we’re competing against half a million candidates for the same job whilst aiming to stand out. However, it is not a step you can’t conquer. But, first of all, cut yourself some slack and relax your shoulders. Reflect before you respond, think before you say. Don’t be afraid of expressing your originality, have faith in your resume, and be genuine with yourself and the interviewer.
Seize every opportunity (read questions) to highlight your wins, your strengths, and loyalty to the company, and dedication to the respective field. Being prepared can give you a significant edge, and in your preparation, remember that an interview is a two-way process. Confidently respond to the questions, but also don’t shy away from inquiring about the role, company, and related concerns. Be open to the experience instead of being intimidated by it.