5 job interview must-haves

The job interview is a nasty piece of business.  Sure, it’s a necessary step that is required to weed out unsuitable candidates but in the end, it’s generally awkward and uncomfortable for all participants.  Having been on both sides of the table, here are my 5 most important interview tips:

  • Know about the company.  You need to know the ins and outs of the company you’re applying for.  What are their products, their mandate, their goals?  This information can usually be found in the job description or the company’s website. Aim to spend at least half an hour reviewing basic information about the company.  You should be able to answer questions like, “What do you know about the company?” or “Why do you think you’re a good fit for the company?” These questions also often come up during the initial stages of the interview as well, so it’s a great chance to show off and impress the interviewers with your enthusiasm.
  • Have stories prepared.  And no, I do not mean “prepare fictional stories”!  I mean that you should prepare 2-3 stories from real life, which illustrate key points about your qualifications.  You might have a story about an awesome project you took from start to finish, a story about the horrible colleague who eventually became your friend and mentor, or the difficult customer you cajoled into purchasing an alternative product.  Many of these stories can be adapted to answer other questions.  For example, the awesome project story might answer questions about your “proudest achievement”, your “most difficult task” or a “moment where you showed great leadership.”  For example, I often pull out a story about learning how to swim at the age of 18.  I use this story as my “proudest achievement” and my “example of goal-setting”.
  • Practice answering questions out loud.  I do this for every interview.  Ask a friend or mentor to fire questions at you and practice answering them in a clear, concise and friendly manner.  For example, prior to starting a massive job hunt just recently, I relied on my mentor to ask me interview questions over coffee.  It was a great help because it assisted me in identifying areas where I needed further review.  This technique is especially important for technical interviews.  You might know how to design something or code something on paper, but doing so out loud while being watched by one or more strangers is a different story.  In these situations, I suggest printing out a sheet of questions and having someone quiz you.  They don’t necessarily need to know the answer – but they can give you feedback about your presentation, delivery and appearance.
  • Know your s**t.  It always bugged me when I interviewed co-ops for a job in a research lab and they could not do a simple dilution.  You’ve been in biology for 3 years and you can’t dilute by a factor of 10?  No thanks!  So please, before going to an interview, make sure you know as much as you can possibly cram into your head about your field.  This is especially important for technical jobs but also important in other fields.  You should know common terms from your industry and be able to talk about them.  For example, in finance, you should perhaps know about interest-rate swaps, short sells or stop-loss orders.  You should be able to talk about current issues facing the finance sector.  In software programming, you might need to know about memory management and concurrency.  You’ll probably get asked about some newer technologies and their usages.  And if you’re applying for a lab job, please know how to do a simple dilution!
  • Smile and be friendly.  Try to be friendly and converse with your interviewer rather than sitting back and being passive.  If you can manage to create a personal connection with your interviewer, you are that much closer to landing the job.  During one of my interviews, I had several very genuine conversations with my interviewer about new technology and software tools.  At the end of it, I felt brave enough to make a crack at the expense of HTML5, which garnered more than a few chuckles.  Being friendly and personable gives the interviewers a taste of what it’s like to work with you.  If they feel like you’re the type of person they want to work with, they’ll probably be more willing to overlook your inability to define the difference between “final, finalize() and finally” (that’s a technical coding question for you non-computer types!).

What are your job interview tips?

Posted in: Career and Work

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