Tips on how to make a positive impression before you’ve even said anything and how to handle those dreaded questions about your strengths, weaknesses, as well as salary negotiations.
Applying for a job has to be among the most emotionally exhausting tasks in a country like South Africa where unemployment stands at 29%. From fussing about whether your CV is impressive, compelling and comprehensive enough, to drafting a cover letter and the waiting after the application process. You are alone with your thoughts like: ‘Are they going to call or email to schedule an interview? If they don’t, what did I do wrong? Should I write them again to check if they received my application?’
Finally, you get the ‘big call’ and are invited for an interview — and the anxiety of having to prove you are the best candidate for the job is one that overwhelms you so much that you might find yourself fixating on the smallest mistakes while being interviewed. Whether you’ve been to a few interviews and have not managed to impress as much as you had hoped, or you’re a rookie when it comes to interviews, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Carol Ledwaba, has some advice on how to successfully get through an interview.
Don’t sweat the small things
Before you can prepare for an interview, remember that it’s a conversation to assess your skills and personality — these are things that you know. The purpose of an interview is for you and the company to reach a common understanding in that, you’re elaborating on skills already listed in your CV and they’re trying to figure out if you are the most suitable candidate, not only for the job, but to add value and growth to the company.
The first step in preparing for an interview is research. “Get extensive information about the company, the position and the interviewer prior to the interview. Research the company’s website and social media, latest articles on the company’s financial results, international connections, company culture, mission statement and values,” Ledwaba advises. Although the details of the position are almost always included in the job advertisement, Ledwaba advises that you should familiarise yourself with the details of the position, including responsibilities, reporting lines and key performance areas. “Ensure that you prepare pertinent business questions,” she adds.
It’s perfectly normal to want to take extra copies of your qualifications or other documents that you think might come in handy. But Ledwaba says you should first ask if you need to bring additional documents, “if not then don’t take anything because the company already has your CV.
Although it’s an interview about a profession you are well versed in and you’ve prepared as much as you can, you can’t help but think, “will they ask me difficult questions?” Even though it’s not clear what these may be, Ledwaba says you can expect job related questions. “Understand the job specification, so that when they ask you job related questions you are able to answer and give examples in your answers.”
As far as creating an impression is concerned, Ledwaba says the basics are always important: “Be punctual, dress smart, show interest in the company and the role you are being interviewed for”. How you look says a lot about you and dressing in a professional manner is a great way of creating an impression before you’ve said anything. This means, “a suit jacket, a shirt and tie for men, while women can wear a blouse and a skirt, or pants, or a statement dress. Colours are just as important. Navy, white, grey and black usually do the trick”. While you may now know the dos, Ledwaba also shares some don’ts: “Don’t chew bubble gum during the interview, don’t be late and don’t lack energy or enthusiasm”.
Two way street of interviews
As intimidating as interviews may be, they are not only for the benefit of the employer; believe it or not, they are also for your benefit. While plenty of emphasis has been placed on making sure that you deliver your best to impress the potential employer, it’s equally important to ensure that the working environment is conducive for you to perform at your best. This forms part of your research because you will need a thorough understanding of what is expected of you. Knowing which questions to ask can be very tricky because you don’t want to ask ‘stupid’ questions — even though its often said that there’s no such thing.
Ledwaba says, “remember, this is a two-way discussion. So, think carefully when asking questions and make sure they are relevant to the industry, market, company and the role you are interested in. You can ask about the expectations of the role, KPA’s and how your performance will be measured”.
The Most Challenging Questions
Regardless of how prepared you are, there are certain questions that still strike fear within you; not because you don’t know how to answer but because you don’t know how to structure your responses concisely and comprehensively. The three most (arguably) daunting and challenging questions to answer are “tell us about yourself”; “what are your weaknesses?”; and “why should we hire you?”.
Ledwaba says the first question allows you to sell yourself to the company. “Talk about your work experience and career achievements in your current role that relate to the job you’re being interviewed for”. The biggest challenge with selling yourself, also comes with having to talk about weaknesses honestly. You obviously don’t want to jeopardise your chances of getting the job. “The trick is to structure your answer in a manner that makes your weaknesses sound like something you can overcome. Always provide positive feedback in relation to weakness; for example, speak about the things you’re doing to help improve your weakness,” says Ledwaba.
While trying to be an impressive candidate, the ultimate trick when answering the question “why should we hire you?”, is to still sell yourself by giving an answer that is short and straight to the point. The employer wants the assurance that you can do the job and, “indicate that you can do the work and that you will fit in with the team and the organisational culture,” Ledwaba says.
The S Word
You may be confident in your ability to get the job done but can you put the right price to it? While you may have been paid a certain salary at your previous/current job or researched what the package is for people in the position you’re interviewing for, you don’t want your salary to be lesser or astronomically higher than the industry-related amount. The interviewer will ask what your package is and telling them your amount might be a little awkward. “Always state your current cost to company and when asked about the expected salary always make sure you range the salary instead of saying an amount,” Ledwaba says. For example, rather say R5,000-R10,000.
Ey Man Be Cool
When you are vying for a position, you don’t want to seem desperate. “Last impressions are almost as important as first impressions,” Ledwaba says. She adds, “if the prospective employer offers you the position during the meeting, do not feel under pressure to give an immediate answer. Indicate your interest in the opportunity, give them a timeframe for when they’ll get a response from you. Thank them for their time and give a firm handshake before leaving”.