Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Job Interview Questions: How to Prepare

Applying for a job in any field either for the first time or the umpteenth time is always nerve-wracking. Stepping inside that office, with that assessor sitting across a desk or waiting comfortably in an armchair while you've been on tenterhooks since the call was made to appear for the interview, is a crucial moment for any applicant and like any other crucial moment, preparation is required to make those tenterhooks seem less painful.


Getting ready for a job interview means four things:

  • knowing yourself well
  • knowing the job or position well
  • knowing the company or institution you want to work for well
  • knowing the wider environment your company or institution inhabits (social, economic, political, etc.)
Now of course we all know that in certain milieus, knowing the people who really matter in the hiring process very well is far more important than answering interview questions adeptly, but in this article I don't plan to address this issue. The aim of this article is to acquaint prospective job candidates with possible questions they need to be aware of and, by dealing with them beforehand, enable them to tackle similar areas of inquiry during the interview.

Preparing for a job interview is best done by answering sets of questions on a variety of days. The sets of questions uploaded on this blog are numerically marked, so you can print them out and deal with them sequentially. Many are intended to overlap previous questions so you have the chance to rework answers after you've had time to think them through.

First and foremost, never prepare at the last minute. When you apply for an opening, start training yourself. Sit with someone who has gone through the process or, better yet, who has sat on a panel and interviewed applicants in order to get feedback on your answers. If you don't have anyone to help coach you, try jotting down notes as you answer the questions so you can study them later before you go on to answer the next set of questions.

And speaking of answers, what is a good answer? You will find numerous sites which give sample answers to sample interview questions or tips guiding you to formulate a proper answer. However, it is difficult to provide job applicants with set answers because each interviewer is different, each job position is different, and once answers start sounding the same to hiring managers, it's almost certain they'll choose the candidate who sounded creative, stood their ground and didn't churn out the usual drivel.

Be honest, open, eager, forthcoming, professional, well-rounded and know your stuff. I think that might be the key to getting a job (yes, I hear you voicing an argument -- I said I'm not going to deal with nepotism, so keep that argument, which I myself agree with, to yourself for now if you would). Striking  the right balance between what they want and what you have to offer is the goal to achieve.

But let's put all this into a more organized schema. 

Gather Info

The first stage of your preparation consists of gathering the facts so you have something to say at the interview. You need to have:
  • a set of key words to juggle which you will indirectly refer to through concrete examples
  • your CV delineating what you've studied, achieved, where you've worked, what your skills and competencies are
  • the job description's main points outlined in bullets
  • the company's history and current dealings outlined in bullets
  • the company's mission statement outlined in bullets
  • the job position's usual requirements outlined in bullets
  • your personal statement outlining your strengths and weaknesses (according to your opinion and other people's opinions), as well as your goals (in life and your career)
Key Words 
Trying to impress by saying overtly what you know the recruiter wants to hear is a bit too staged. The best way to let the other person know what you're made of is by knowing what qualities are desirable and airing them through specific examples. 
For instance, it would be too deliberate to say "I would be an extremely diligent employee if you hired me." The key word you want the interviewer to keep in mind when making their decision about who to hire in this case is "diligent", so instead of blatantly stating the fact, you prove it. Mention your regular hours of work per day or per week, how you take work home with you or stay at the office until you finish what needs to be finished. In other words, show your diligence, don't merely declare it. 

With that said, here is a list of key words considered employee qualities / strengths:
  • diligent, industrious
  • conscientious
  • persistent, perseverant, determined
  • punctual
  • attentive to detail
  • careful, meticulous
  • active
  • efficient
  • organized
  • disciplined
  • sincere, honest
  • principled
  • outgoing
  • approachable
  • receptive
  • unbiased, open-minded
  • competent
  • eager to learn
  • loyal
  • flexible
  • co-operative
  • supportive, responsive
Feel free to add any other adjectives to this list as you prepare for the interview and find instances which would characterize you as having them.
Your overall impression should be to prove that you can learn from training but that you already have:
  • integrity
  • a strong work ethic
  • self-confidence
  • resiliency

You may find other areas of focus like these four, which is natural, but whatever you do, don't forget to jot them down on a piece of paper during the preparation stage. It is important that you go into the interview with a clear idea of what impression you want to give the person or people who are your prospective employers.
The Company

If you wish to be hired, you need to know whom you plan to work for. Learn all you can about the company or institution you have applied to because there are bound to be interview questions asked which will require you to demonstrate how you're a good fit. This is only possible if you compare your skills to their equivalent prerequisites. Don't talk about how you will help usher a new era when the institution's modus operandi is to stay conservative or promote its long-standing traditions.
To avoid making the one or two faux pas, read up on the company's history, past and present, find out what its mission statement and values are, and what they are looking for now that they are hiring. With this information on hand, you can better satisfy their requirements during the interview by bolstering those qualifications you have which would suit their demands. Besides this, if the interviewers see you've come prepared and know a good deal about where you have submitted your application, it will register positively with them.
Additionally, know the context in which the company finds itself. What is the socio-political situation like? Are you hoping to work for an institution situated in a city or country currently experiencing economic difficulties? How many competitors does this institution have in the region? Knowing the context surrounding your work environment will enable you to put things into perspective when answering interview questions. Imagine how silly it would sound to say that as a Development Coordinator you could easily attract donors to contribute to the company in a city where the unemployment level is well over 20%.
The Position
As mentioned, you need to be clear as to what the company wants you to do. This will undoubtedly have already become known to you from the job description you read which made you apply for the job in the first place. 
Putting that specific information to one side, the next thing to do is make sure you know what a position such as the one you have applied for includes in general. Cross reference this position with similar positions in other businesses and see whether the company you intend to become a part of has left out anything from the job ad you've seen, then use it in your interview. Knowing everything there is to know about what you are expected to do is crucial.
Your CV and Personal Statement 

You read up on the company, the position and know what qualities recruiters would like applicants to have. Now it's time to understand:
  • who you are
  • what you want to achieve
  • how others see you 
  • and make use of what you've learnt and done 
The job interview is the time to say what cannot be said in a CV. If you've attended dozens of seminars or conferences you couldn't include in your résumé for some reason, include them on the notes you're making based on your CV and see if they might come in handy with one of the interview questions. Related interests are often left out of CVs as well -- now is the time to list them for future use.
Use everything you have to prove you are deserving of this job position. 

Dealing with the questions

Now that we've talked about the basics, it's time to look at sets of questions. Remember to practice on separate days with the intervals in between serving as study periods where you go over your notes (from your CV, the company's mission statement, job position requirements, etc...) and prepare a plan how to best use the information you have to answer before you proceed to the next set of questions. 

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