Interview advice for young professionals

You got the call that you have been waiting for – now what?

Firstly – when the phone does ring, make sure that you are prepared:

  • Repeat the address, date and time in order to be absolutely sure that you have the correct information. Ask for the name of the person whom you will be meeting.
  • Confirm for which position the interview is – especially if you have been actively job hunting and submitted to more than one position recently
  • Ask about the format of the interview: Will it be a panel interview, is it with the HR department / the line manager / the CEO
  • Will there be some form of practical test involved
  • How much time is allocated for your interview?
  • Do not ask about salary when you get that magical first call – it is not an appropriate time
  • Make sure to thank the caller and state that you are looking forward to the interview.

Now – obviously your mind will start to race and you will want to tell everyone – don’t…. Just DON’T.
You do not need the pressure of everyone (including your mother-in-law) adding more emotion to how excited AND overwhelmed you feel this minute. You also definitely don’t need to post about your interview to social media OR to job seeker chat groups.
This is not the time to reply to well-wishers or “curious George’s”

This is a time for quiet focus and we all know that “where focus goes, energy flows”

Next steps before the interview

Take time for research

This does NOT mean quickly google the company website – you have to do this in any case, to be able to have some background about the company but by asking you to do research, we are here rather referring to practicing for an interview.

The internet is filled with a wealth of knowledge to prepare yourself for standard interview type questions – take the time, make the effort to research these types of questions. Think about your possible answers, your word choice and what exactly you want your message to be.

Keep the set timeframe for the interview in mind while you prepare and keep your practice answers short.
In essence an interview is just a structured conversation – the company already showed interest in you by inviting you to an interview, now is the time to prove yourself. You’ve got this!

Go back to your resumé

Double check your dates listed for each previous position, make sure you don’t get to an interview and accidently refer to five years’ experience in any aspect when it was actually only three years. Memorize your career.

As you go over this – think back to the best and worst parts of each previous position – this will naturally guide you to be able to answer possible interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses / how you function in a team / communication skills / past accomplishment etc.

On the day before the interview:
  • If the interview is in person and if at all possible, drive past the address – estimate the time you need to allow for travel, make sure that you have the address correct, that the name on the building is actually the company that you are looking for, plan where you intend to park or where the nearest public transport drop off point is….
  • If the interview is a virtual online meeting, make sure that you have the correct software downloaded, that you have a quiet suitable area set-up and that the rest of your household is aware that you will be unavailable during the interview time.
  • Decide on an appropriate outfit to wear for the interview. Even if the interview is virtual – dress for the interview as if in person – it conveys not only respect for the company but also shows your level of self-respect.
On interview day:
  • Do not fill your day with too many other responsibilities – these tend to escalate and may leave you feeling rushed or “scatter brained”
  • Visualize your success, believe in your abilities: You just spent the last few days to prepare and was reminded of exactly how good you indeed are – now is the time to present this.
When arriving:
  • Be at least 10 minutes early.
  • Switch your cell phone off – even before you go into the building AND PUT THE PHONE AWAY.
  • Now is not the time to check your e-mails / catch up on news events.
  • Be aware of COVID requirements and register yourself on entrance if needed.
  • If you are unsure, ASK
  • Announce yourself at reception and wait to be called.
  • There is no harm in polite conversation with other candidates who might also be in the reception area – as long as you are comfortable doing this.
  • Use the quiet time to orientate yourself and to get a feel for the company culture – notice how the staff dress, how they speak to each other, what type of telephone calls the receptionist receives…. learn something – it might prove to be useful in some way within the next 5 minutes.
Body language and liquids:
  • One small comfort from COVID is that introverts don’t currently have the stress of obsessing over getting a handshake “just right” Take your cue from the people you are meeting – if they offer to do the “elbow move” then go along with it.
  • Be sure to make direct eye contact with each person you are introduced to.
  • Repeat the name of the person if you get a chance but do not repeat your name – they heard your name the first time, it really is fine…
  • Take a moment to be seated comfortably and upright. Do not lean back in a chair EVER.
  • Should the chair have wheels, pretend that it does not. Use only the chair swivel action if you need to respond to a question outside of your direct line of sight.
  • Keep arms resting comfortably in your lap – do not fiddle.
  • Should you be offered anything to drink, it might be best to decline the offer.
  • This is especially true if you are still feeling nervous – cups and saucers sometimes have a mind of their own to fall over. No-one is interested in how many sugars / milk froth you need for the perfect latté – to make it worse, by the time you are settled your 15 minutes will be over – and the latté will still be scorching hot and untouched!
  • Should you however suddenly feel a weird tingling in your throat and is scared that it will lead to coughing or a weird sounding voice – accept water offered, take a sip, put it down and forget about it.
Now for the actual interview -

Tell me about yourself:

  • This question is the absolute stock standard opening question for most interviews – and here we have to insist on your undivided attention, because your answer can make or break an interview, although just four words, the question can also have four meanings, which are:
  1. The interviewer needs to regain his own focus for a moment and wants YOU to start
    (insider secret – it happens to all of us at some point)
  2. The interviewer wants to put you at ease by starting off with something non- threatening.
  3. The interviewer is himself unsure about the actual course of the interview
    (this sometimes happens to business owners who don’t interview daily)
  4. The interviewer wants to hear an answer that relates to THIS POSITION

All bets are in – we are putting our money on motivation number four

This is the ONLY question where you need to have a prepared answer for, the answer that has to be sitting ready in your pocket.
No matter which of the 4 motivations are really behind the question when it is asked, make sure to have your answer ready.
Not only in your pocket, but on your bathroom mirror, against the fridge door – your mantra for everyday while preparing for the interview!
An example of a solid answer:

“My 5 years as a sales representative in the paper industry, means that I have a good understanding of the challenges, seasonal trends and buying habits of the printing industry. The printing industry already forms the core of my client base. I applied for this position at ECO Paper because I can service the same client base with your range of sustainably sourced paper products. Your product range is also the perfect fit for my personal values of sustainability.” 

……and there you sealed the deal!
Because no matter what the motivation for the question was, you now have their undivided attention.

Should the interviewer actually have intended to get an answer about your homelife and interests, they would have asked the question in a way to make it clear that they are interested in your pets / hobbies / interests / kids.

Be aware of the reaction and behaviour of the people who are interviewing you, not just their words – their body language should be a good indication of their perception of you.
Should three out of five look bored, shorten the answers you give to questions, maybe raise your voice slightly, add positive energy to the way you talk.

From here on you can expect it all to be smooth sailing.
You are prepared, experienced and confidant. Trust yourself.

And finally – when it is your turn to ask questions:

Please, oh please don’t ask about all the benefits and leave days / if they do in fact pay for overtime – You don’t want the final impression of you, to be that you are most interested in when NOT to work.

Have one good closing question ready – it would be best if you could revert back to a specific aspect mentioned during the interview itself. Maybe something you need more information about, or that really peaked your interest.
Should you want to depend on internet wisdom and suggestions for a good closing question – please stick to something that will be applicable to the position, don’t try to sound clever or use words that don’t form part of your everyday vocabulary.

As a last word, we want to remind you again that an interview is only a structured conversation.
The purpose is to learn about the candidate – the person behind the resumé, and nobody can present that better than you.

Our best wishes accompany you to your next interview
You’ve got this!

FS Personnel team



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