Think of the times when your parents forcefully drag you to a relative’s house or a family function. You sit in the car whining and bracing yourself for the impending boredom. But when you reach their house, why do your complaints magically change into smiles and warm greetings? When they open the door, why do you say, “It’s so nice to see you!”, instead of saying something like, “Argh! I hate my life!”
It’s because we play several roles in our lives. We’re playing a different role in front of our parents, professors, other students, close friends, at work, in the gym, etc. When you go for an interview, you are entering into a role-play.
Your role is to show the interviewer how you would behave with people, and what you have done or can do to add value to their company, team, and jobs. Whether you “sell” yourself or say everything nonchalantly and honestly is your call. But you have to mention how you’ll add value to them multiple times! And the points from “Why we should hire you?” (given below) must be repeated. If they don’t directly ask you this question, you must bring it up yourself. If you want to MASTER interviews, practice the following part like you’re auditioning for a million-dollar role in a big movie:
Adopt the style in which you would speak to a professor you respect very much and whom you’ve spoken to multiple times. So you would automatically smile when you see him/her, you retain eye contact, your face is pleasant, you’re honest, you use fillers (yes you CAN use fillers), you speak with enthusiasm, you speak in Hindi sometimes, you accept your contradictions/mistakes, you’re candid, etc. When I work with students on interviews or conversation skills, this is where I focus the most because this is the game-changer (the tone, language, and style).
Introduction/Tell us about yourself
You can mention 1-2 lines on each of the following points
- Where were you born and brought up? (Mention your school IF it’s popular.)
- Do you have any one highlight from school? (optional)
- What made you choose your graduation degree after XII?
- Do you have any one highlight from college? (optional)
- Mention your internship experience or any project/application-work relevant to position you’re interviewing for.
- If you’ve done a post-grad, then again mention what sparked your interest in going for it.
- And again, the highlights during your master’s program?
- Talk about work experience if any.
- End with what you are currently seeking. (The earlier parts can be skipped for older people. Pay attention to the LAST 5 years.)
I’m a local (not “localite”!)… I went to Bombay Scottish School, where I was the sports head for 2 consecutive years. I developed a keen interest in the speed with which telecom technology was growing, which is why I chose Engineering. During college, I actively participated in various extra-curricular activities like debating, organizing cultural fests, etc. I’ve also interned with company A where I consistently exceeded expectations as the business development executive for region X. My fascination with the marketing of these products led me to an MBA. In the last 2 years of college, I have consistently performed in the top 10 percentile of the batch, have been a key member of the XYZ Committee, and have also represented my college at the ABC Competition. Additionally, I have interned with Company B where I was responsible for streamlining the online sales process and achieved a conversion rate of 95% throughout. Currently, I’m seeking a position that allows me to use my expertise in technology and marketing.. (Stop, nod, smile, make eye contact with everyone. Basically, you’ve answered the question and are awaiting the next one.)
There is no need to mention your name unless they ask you specifically. I recommend using your natural style. It is absolutely okay to begin with “ummm” or “well”! But please note, if you end up blurting out “Myself ____” at the start, or “…and that’s it” at the end, excuse yourself, walk out of the room, and slap yourself. Please do not memorize your responses!! It’s okay to remember pointers, but every time you practice this question, your words must be different and you should elaborate in an impromptu manner.
What are your weaknesses? Why should we NOT hire you?
Be honest, but pick the “harmless” ones that wouldn’t interfere in your ability to carry out the task at hand. (Otherwise you shouldn’t be applying there in the first place anyway!) Some of my favourites:
- “I’m not very good with numbers.” (For non-Finance profiles!)
- “I get in trouble with my friends/family because I fail to maintain a work-life balance.” (I.e., I’ll be working long hours for you!)
- “I’m not very good at judging people in the first meeting.” (And no one expects this of you anyway…the CIA failed to judge bin Laden, too!)
- “My English isn’t very good, as yet.” (If it’s true, the recruiter would have already noticed, and would appreciate your honest assessment.)
The ones you don’t want to mention are mostly about character and discipline. And whatever you do, don’t say “I don’t like working with people/teams” – you’ll be working for a business, not for a Buddhist Monk in the Himalayas.
Why do you want this job? Why should we hire you?
- Talk about your interest/passion in the specific area of work
- Mention your skills/experience/know-how (give PROOF; e.g., “I’ve handled the core part of this job in my last internship successfully”. Feel free to list several points here, as long as they’re all solid and backed up with practical work/references.)
- Mention a few of your personal qualities that would help you succeed in this role
You don’t want to mention how “this would be a great learning experience” for you or any of that crap. Don’t insult the capitalists by asking them to pay you just so you could “learn”. They don’t care! Instead, show them how YOU can add VALUE to them.
Do you have any questions for us?
You can ask: “Is this going to be a sales-only profile or is it going to progress towards a marketing role later?” “Is there a particular technical background you’re looking for in the candidate?” If you don’t have a genuine question, don’t try to sound desperate or intellectual. Saying, “no, everything’s clear”, is perfectly alright.
This is one game you just CANNOT lose, IF you follow my two rules:
- The winner is the person who stays cool and holds a pleasant smile. Whether or not you know the answer is inconsequential.
- Think before attempting a question. If you start answering a question you don’t know (maybe something outside of your domain/field), you’ve already lost.
Just smile and keep saying, “I’m not sure”, “I have no idea”. What else are you going to do anyway – look like a guy whose parents just found out his real grades?? If an amateur recruiter who has forgotten to take his IQ-pills still continues to play games with you, stick to the strategy and wait patiently. If you get tangled up in circles about an answer you gave and you’re not sure or if they’re asking you the same thing repeatedly, just say you’re not sure! Remember, if you’re cool and giving a pleasant look, you’re going to win.
Control your fate, regardless of your interview skills
If you bomb your interview, if you couldn’t answer any questions that you should’ve, if everything fell apart, you CAN still get through! But only if you are genuinely a big value-add for the company and only if you speak from the heart. All you have to do is, before leaving the room, tell them: “I realize the interview didn’t go well, but I feel I’m an excellent candidate for this profile because…. (answer the question Why should we hire you?)”
Or you could say, “I’m sorry I was really nervous, I’m actually pretty bad with interviews although my communication in other areas is very good. I’d like to say that I’m really passionate about… (answer the question Why should we hire you?)”
Answering behavioural questions
Google “STAR technique”. Practice the common ones and be ready with the instances. When answering these questions, make pictures in your head and describe them with gestures and enthusiasm.
What is your salary requirement?
“I’m interested in the profile and growth at this time, not the salary. I understand your company has a fair, competitive salary structure, which is good enough for me.” “I can’t say how much, I’ve not yet begun working full-time. I’ll leave that to you.” Don’t give any figure if you’re not sure, regardless of how many times they ask you.
A crucial part of my work with students is confidence-building and controlling the anxiety. It’s much easier and impactful to do this face-to-face but the following will help too. To ease your nerves, the night before or a few minutes before the interview:
- Notice where the anxiety is coming from (hands shaking, heart beating really fast, etc.)
- Notice what you’re saying to yourself. “I’m so screwed! I have no idea what’ll happen! What will I say in the interview? Will I be able to answer the question?”
- Reply to these questions with the following:
- I will answer what I know, and say, “I don’t know” for the other questions. It’s not like panicking will help me come up with answers!
- I’m going to be honest and tell them why they should hire me. If they like me for who I am and what value I can add, then that is exactly the kind of company I’ll be successful in.
- I will achieve my life goals one way or another. One job or one recruiter’s decision is too insignificant to change my entire life!
- Ask yourself: “What can I do to increase my chances?” “What can I read about?” “Can I practice playing the ‘cool’ style mentioned above in this article?”
- Getting the job is not in my control. Doing better than I did in the last interview is. That is what I’m going to do.
- Some things that help release nervousness: Breathe deeply, walk around, rub your hands, cough, fake a yawn (to breathe deeply), laugh with friends, laugh for no reason (pretend you’re on the phone if you want to avoid being taken to the mental asylum)
- Look at the “What if they ask this or that; I’m so screwed” thoughts with contempt. Hype yourself up like sportspeople do, pump your fist, get excited for facing a challenge, and say, “I’m going to move ONE step closer to mastering interviews. I’m going to play ‘the role’. BRING IT ON!”
For more on eliminating anxiety, watch the TEDx talk on fear of public speaking on this page.