acing the job interview

Acing the job interview


You’re probably here because you’ve been submitting job applications here and there, and voila, you’ve been invited to an interview! And now you’re thinking – Oh crap, how do I got about doing this thing?

Well, fret no more my dear friends. In this post, I’ll share with you some of the tips and steps that I’ve used in my past job interviews. Hopefully, some of the things I share here might be beneficial for you in preparing for your next job interview.

But, before that…

If you are either (1) still looking for help in landing a job interview, or (2) still a university student and prepping for your job search soon, these are some Fresh Grad 101 posts that you might be interested to read:

  1. Fresh Grad 101 – Introduction
  2. Getting that first job
  3. Get that personal finance in check
  4. What to look for in a job?
  5. Making your job application stand out

Now, back to the post. You’ve got one foot in through the door – you’ve made it to the interview stage. You’ve probably impressed the hiring manager enough to make them call you in. Or you’ve probably intrigued them enough with your application to make them want to learn more about you.

Either way, you’ve passed the first hurdle, and now have another bigger challenge to conquer.

How do you ace the job interview?

Now – let me be clear that this is not a full-proof guide on how to ace a job interview. As always, it will differ with every single person, and the job opportunity itself. You may pick and choose which of these steps / advice to take, and which to ignore. It may be that there are some things that would not work for you, depending on your personality and the job industry itself, so please do take things with a grain of salt.

Throughout the post, I’ll be pulling in some personal examples from my own experiences. For people who might not know me, I previously spent 4 years as an undergraduate student in the US, where I’ve had three part-time jobs (library, admissions office, international office). After graduation, I worked in a private university in Malaysia for a year before going to the UK for my Master’s. I am also currently working part-time as (1) a library staff in a UK university and (2) a student ambassador for my university.

Prep-ing for the interview.

Usually, you’ll get the interview invitation a few days (or sometimes a week or two) in advance. So you’d at least have some time to prep yourself for the interview. It’s time to brush up on your knowledge about the company, the position itself. 

Get to know the position / vacancy itself

Technically speaking, it’d be great if you have done this before you’ve applied for the position. But, it’s always good to refresh yourself, especially if you’ve been applying to more than a couple of positions.

Go through the job advertisement (on JobStreet, LinkedIn, the company’s job portal, etc) and read through every single information given there. Understand the job requirements, familiarize yourself with the description and note down anything that stands out to you (either something that you’ve done in a previous job(s) or something that you want to clarify on). Check for any discrepancies in the job advertisement vs interview invitation.

For instance, one of the job vacancies that I applied for previously was for an executive in a department in their student development center. However, the job description on their job portal vs what I’ve heard about the actual vacancy (from the director of the center itself) was different. It turned out that they accidentally put up the wrong description on the portal, but they didn’t realize it until I asked them about it during the interview.

Pull out two / three things from the job description to highlight and match it to your experiences.

You probably would not have time to talk about ALL your past experiences in your interview. So, it’s best to stick to a couple of big achievements that you have done. And it’s better if you can match it with the job requirements itself, to show that you are suitable for the job.

For example, here is the person specification (a fancy term for job requirements) for the position that I am currently in. To recap, I am a part-time Weekend Customer Service Assistant at the University of Leeds Library.

You can see that there some that I’ve marked with a red tick. Those are just some of the things I wanted to highlight in the interview using my past experiences. And most definitely – two of the things I’ve used to showcase my strengths are my previous job experiences, which is a 3.5 years experience working part-time as a student staff in a university library and a 1-year experience in student advising in a Malaysian university.

Going through the job description / requirements and pulling some things out would help you to prepare some possible answers that you can use during the interview. Think about some big achievements that you’ve done, probably some projects or events that you’ve managed. Practice talking about them to a friend or a family member, and go over it again and again to get used to it.

Practice some common interview questions and know how to tackle them.

Some common interview questions to practice:

  • Tell me/us about yourself.
  • Why do you want to join us?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 / 10 / xx years?
  • What is your biggest strength / weakness?
  • Talk about a project that you’ve directed before / a team you’ve led before.
  • Talk about a time when you had to make a difficult decision and how you’ve handled it.
  • Tell us about a time when you’ve worked in a team / worked with a difficult teammate.
  • Why should we hire you / what sets you apart from other candidates?
  • Tell us about something that you’ve done out of passion before.
  • Tell us about your previous job / employer / company.
  • How would you react if ________ ?

And, no, this does not mean you need to memorize your answers. Please try not to memorize your answers as it may make you sound less human / like a robot. But instead, know how you would answer them, and practice answering them multiple times until you get used to it. Sometimes, some experiences can be used to answer multiple questions, depending on how you phrase your answers. So if you can get a couple of major experiences / achievements and use them to practice answering various interview questions, that would be good.

Understand and use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Response) when answering the questions. Instead of saying “Yes, I have leadership skills“, show them that you have it by using the STAR method in explaining your answers so that they can better understand you. Sometimes, the employers want to know more about how you think and react. So, in these behavioral questions, you can use the STAR method to plan your answers.

Relate it back to the job itself.

If you can relate some of your answers here back towards the job description, that would be a bonus. For instance, let’s go back to the job description for my current part-time job at Leeds. One of the requirements stated that the candidate should have “substantial experience of working in a library or other similar busy customer services environment‘. 

Now, when I’m answering the ‘Tell us about yourself‘ question, I would perhaps include a line or two to say that while I was studying in the US, I also spent time working as a student assistant at the university library. Even though the scope of the jobs are different (student worker vs actual library staff), at least I could show that yes, I do have experience working in a library. I could also mention that I’ve worked in a university for a year, which would also relate to the job itself (as the library is in a university).

The more you can think about your past experiences and relate it to the position you’re looking for, it’d be better (in my opinion). At least, you can show the employer that yes, you are suitable for the job. 

The job interview day itself.

Now, make sure that you’ve prepared yourself the day before, so that you’re not rushing on the day of the interview. That means preparing all your documents (interview invitations, any degree / academic certificates / transcripts, previous payslips, etc). This would help you to have a smooth start to the day without having to worry about last minute rush to the printers or anything.

Better to over-dress than under-dress.

It’s a personal preference, of course, but I think it’s always better to over-dress than under-dress. That means, I’d always dress up as best as possible, and, if I feel like I’ve overdressed for the interview, I’ll take off a layer (usually my blazer) to make it less formal.

People would probably say it’s best to dress in neutral colors (black/grey blazer, white blouse/shirt, black pants, etc). That is one option (a safe option) which I’ve used multiple times as well. But, sometimes when I want to stand out a little, I’d go for a brighter, bolder color, like red (see picture below).

This is perhaps one of my favorite formal outfit to wear, despite the bright red color.

You probably can’t do this in a lot of situation, but if you feel like the environment and the company’s vibes would allow it, why not? I’ve worn it to an interview before (not a job interview though, it was for the Chevening Award interview). And if the interviewer(s) ask about me, I’d say that the color red suits me well. It’s bold and fierce and full of passion – just like me (acewahhh).

Be courteous, to everyone you see that day.

You’ll never know how things would turn out, so be courteous and kind to everyone you meet that day. Actually, no, you have to be nice to everyone every single day, but make an extra effort to be nice on the interview day. From the cleaners at the building, to the receptionist and security guards, etc. Be polite and friendly, even to other interviewees who are waiting alongside you. Make small talk – it’d help you to calm your nerves and ease the tension in the air.

Plus, you’ll never know if you’d meet anyone there that could potentially be in your networks in the future. Even if you don’t get the job, the connections that you’d make can last a long time (if you still keep in touch, that is).

Extend a handshake (whenever possible) to your interviewer(s), and either wait to be asked to sit or ask if you may sit down. Never intervene whenever an interviewer’s talking, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ whenever you can. 

Basically, be a good human being with good manners. After all, manners maketh man, no? 

Portray your confidence, but also be humble.

Nobody likes a show-off egoistic person in their team. So, while you need to portray your confidence to the interviewers, you would also need to be humble. After all, confidence and arrogance are two sides of the same coin. You need to believe in yourself and your strength, but also show that you are open to learn new things. Don’t portray yourself as “I’m your best candidate, you should hire me because the other candidates are loser“. But instead, show them that “I may not be the best candidate, but I am capable of this job and I know my strengths and experiences will help me succeed in this job“. 

Other than how you phrase your answers, you would also need to be mindful of your body language. The way you sit and how your body moves (your legs, your hand, etc). Be open and friendly, and show that you are an approachable person who is willing to be guided and mentored.

Answering and asking questions.

Never rush in answering the questions that they throw at you. It is completely fine to take a few seconds to gather your thoughts before you answer. If you are unsure of what they’re actually asking for, ask them to repeat the question again. Clarify the questions to ensure that you are actually answering the right question. This is especially useful if you’re not used to interviewing in English and you need time to fully understand the question. 

Whenever possible (during or at the end of the interview), if you are given the opportunities to ask questions – DO IT. Always ask at least a couple of questions to show your interests in the position / company.

I wrote some of the questions that you could ask in a previous post, Making Your Job Application Stand Out. You can, however, ask whatever questions that you have that are related to the job / company itself. Remember than an interview is a two-way street – it is not just for the company to assess you as a possible employee, but also for you to assess them as a possible employer.

So use that opportunity to ask about things that are important to you. If you’re a parent with a young child, ask about possible flexible times or childcare, etc. If you’re a fresh graduate, ask about training and development programs to help you hone your skills. Ask about probation process, about confirmation, about other non-monetary benefits (medical, etc). You can ask about the office environment, about the interviewers’ experiences working there, etc.

By asking them questions, you’re showing them that you are interested in more than just getting the paycheck. You’re showing that you are invested in being a part of the team, and that you have done some research about them.

Ending the job interview with a good closure.

Say thank you to the interviewers for their time in interviewing you. Don’t forget to reclarify anything that may have not been clear during the interview. Also, take the time to reconfirm with them about the next step in the application process. Ask about the timelines, about when you can expect to hear back and if there is anything else that you need to do. This can at least help you to know how long you need to wait before you start to email to ask for updates from the HR / recruiter.

If possible, you can also ask the interviewer(s) for their contact information (or business cards). This could help you in sending thank you emails to them later (preferably within 24 hours). You can also use the thank you email as a way to follow-up with any questions that you may have lingering after the job interview, or to provide additional information to support your application.

Post-Interview – What to do while you wait.

Keep yourself in their minds.

As mentioned above, ensure that you’ve sent either a thank you note or a thank you email, just to wrap things up with the interviewers. The email also helps to keep you in the interviewers’ radar, especially if they’re interviewing more than a couple of candidates in a day. Briefly mentioned some highlights from the interview, something that you’ve discussed or talked about, so that they remember who you are.

For example, below is a sample thank you email that I’ve used before. I used it not only to thank the interviewers for their time, but also to provide additional information that relates to my application and can hopefully strengthen my application.

Thank you email after job interview.

But, whatever it is, do not be a stalker. Do not bombard your interviewers / HR with countless emails and phone calls every day. You can send a follow-up email maybe a week or two after the interview, just to see how things have gone. But never harass them and keep on sending emails every single day to check on your application. That might make them think that you’re desperate for a job.

Do a personal assessment.

Now, personally I haven’t done much of this (apart from my Chevening interview). But a couple of articles online (like this) have suggested that you do an interview assessment right after the interview itself. It’s merely for you to reflect back on the interview and how it went. Write down the questions that they asked you, what you’ve learnt about the company and/or position, and how it made you feel.

Did you get a good vibe from the interviewers? Did the HR people treat you nicely, or were the interviewers late and rude? How did being in the office (if you had an in-person interview) feel? Could you see yourself working in that environment? Was there any interesting topics that were discussed? Did you have other follow-up questions to ask?

Also consider how you think you did in the interview. Did you do good enough? Was there anything that you could’ve improved on? Were your answers jumbled up, or did you manage to arrange your thoughts well? 

Doing this assessment would allow you to remember each job interview.  This way, if you get invited for a follow-up interview, you’d know what questions you need to bring up. It could also be useful for other interviews as you’d know what you need to improve on.

Never stop your job search.

Even after you’ve attended a job interview, never stop your job search. Keep on submitting your applications to other places and attending other interviews. This can help you in the case that your job interview did not go well, at least you have other things that you’re still waiting for as well. Besides, if you get a couple of offers around the same time, it’d give you leverage in asking for a higher salary / better benefits. 

Some people may get lucky and land an offer right after their first interview. But for most people, things may not be as easy. So, never stop your job search. Go on LinkedIn and JobStreet and look for as many opportunities as possible. Reach out to your networks and ask for recommendations. Attend as many interviews as possible. This can not only help you in gaining experiences from attending interviews, but also provide you with different perspectives on how different companies and industries act.

At the end of the day, you have to be patient.

You’ve done all that you can, and now you have to be patient and leave the rest to God and fate. Whatever the outcome may be, accept it with an open heart. 

Hopefully, some of the things I’ve wrote about here can help you in your future job interviews. Feel free to share it with your friends and family if you found it beneficial. If you have stories or other advice to share, please do share it in the comments section! I’m sure other readers, me included, would love to hear from you as well 🙂 

Don’t forget to read the other posts in my Fresh Grad 101 series as well, as some of them might be useful for you too!

Until next time – stay awesome and take care!

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