Some of you won’t like what you read here, but you need to know the way it really works.
An interview has only two outcomes: pass or fail!
Since most of you will be interviewing for a job, this article will focus there. (Academic interviews for college/university will be discussed another time.)
Have you ever had these kinds of thoughts?
- “I shouldn’t have to wear dress shoes for this!”
- “Haircut? What for?”
- “If they don’t like people with multiple piercings (or body art… or striped purple hair… or ten-inch fingernails… or [fill-in-the-blank]…) then they don’t deserve me!“
- “So I’m a few minutes late… no biggie.”
Hey, I agree; life’s not fair. In an ideal world, only your relevant job-related talents would be judged, and it would never matter what you look like, smell like, or how you dress. So… how ideal is the world, exactly? How many perfect days have YOU had recently?
Now again for the HARD REALITY. Why do you think they’re spending their valuable time to interview you live, instead of just picking you from a Twitter/Facebook menu?
Every workplace has a certain corporate culture (even if it’s a laid back, small time, “non-corporate-looking” loud-hip-hop-music-playing marijuana-smoking backstreet off-the-wall roadhouse) and you either fit in… or you DON’T. They get to decide, not you.
Get used to it. Job hiring is NOT a fully democratic process. Of course you do have rights; but they have the final decision!
Now, in some places, you might actually fit in better with a black leather biker jacket, chains, major facial tattoos, and a decent command of jive English. If so, that’s great! 🙂
Yes, yes, I know… the world should totally respect your individuality, and life shouldn’t be so shallow. But sometimes it is. Didn’t you read the earlier article on how life is not fair? (Click here to refresh your memory.)
Now, there are certain universal elements that all interviewers think about, regardless of their company’s culture (and you won’t get feedback from them, so please pay close attention):
ONE. They are going to ask you the most obvious question! “Why do you want this?” You wouldn’t believe how many candidates I’ve witnessed who prepared so well… and then forgot to prepare that answer. As an interviewer, I’ve cringed for these people, because some were fantastic candidates for a position… and then they blew it.
The second most obvious question is “Why YOU?” so again, you’ve been warned, so be prepared… Sometimes in life, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” This is NOT one of those times.
TWO. Be on time. Better yet, be early. In fact, show up a day or two (or a week) ahead, check out the place, and learn something about them. Even the most laid-back people (secretly) won’t forgive you for being late. It’ll also help because you’ll be more familiar with the place, and therefore more relaxed (strange places make people nervous). Arrive early! You can do it! Think of the last rock concert or sports event you attended. That brings me to…
THREE. Show some interest, if you really want to get hired. Investigate the company and the big shots (you know, the ones who have the power to hire you) and find out something about them – something you can discuss intelligently. This one tactic alone will make you stand out! Why? Because… most people make minimal effort. Besides, young people again have the advantage: you are tech-savvy. Use the internet and find out everything you can about the company and its leaders… especially whoever’s likely to interview you.
I once walked into a major teaching hospital when they weren’t hiring, and walked out with a firm job offer… one hour later.
FOUR. Even if you think you already look hot, or cool 😉 (of course you are!), make sure you’re trimmed and neatly presented. And take a shower the morning of the interview, brush your teeth, and use deodorant. You wouldn’t believe how often this kind of oversight hurts good people’s chances…
FIVE. Even if everything’s going great, don’t become too relaxed. It is possible to ace the interview… and then crash near the finish line. Always keep it neutral and polite, and avoid expressing any kind of humour that could be controversial, and NEVER talk about politics or racial matters (unless it’s directly relevant to the job, and even then BE CAREFUL!). In the worst case, interviewers may try to bait you (but hopefully not). So be prepared! Further to that point…
SIX. Clean up your entire internet profile, including your email (don’t use an ID like “firstname.lastname@example.org”). Things you posted years ago can come back to hurt you; some details may even have been put up without your knowledge and cross-referenced by search engines. So, do yourself a favour: Google-search your name and check everything about yourself, and purge anything that even looks remotely regrettable. Make sure there’s nothing that you’ll have to defend!
Here, young people again have the advantage… 🙂 for a change! You are adept with social media, and have an earlier start in life to establish your internet presence. So do it wisely.
Last bit of advice for now: even if you don’t get the job, don’t make the common mistake of just deleting everything. Always, always, follow up with a thank-you! It’s a REALLY GOOD IDEA to do so anyway, because you never know if they might have been positively impressed, and keep you in mind for a future opening. Or maybe they’ll recommend you to someone else. This happens all the time…
So, getting back to that “ideal world”, it’s fine to want to change the rules… but first, YOU have to get to the position of authority, and THEN you can make the new rules!
By this point, you might already be thinking, “It’s too much trouble, so I don’t really want that particular job any more” but I’m telling you that YOU ACTUALLY DO. You have to start somewhere, so even if it’s not your first choice, just get started now… and think about transferring later. You’ll at least have something to fill in your résumé, AND hopefully some decent references too. Don’t underestimate how important that is! That alone makes it more likely that you’ll get the job you really want, next! 🙂
I could go on, but those are the basic points. Having a decently written résumé and cover letter are also vital, but since that precedes the interview, we’ll discuss that separately.
Good luck. Please believe that I truly want you to succeed; so, the last question is, how badly do you want it?
Prof Ling 🙂