When I walked into the room, several expectant faces sitting around a table stared back at me. So this what they meant by a ‘panel’ interview. “Well this is not intimidating at all,” my 17 year old self blurted out. This was met by chuckles from those at the table and the level of ice between myself and them broke. I’ve since attended seven more interviews, the last of which took place on Thursday.
The petite blonde woman conducting the interview was busy briefing me on their dress code: “We like to err on the side of conservative here so no visible shoulders or cleavage.” She paused to look at me – clad in a black chiffon scarf pinned under my chin, a shirt worn back to front because the actual front’s neckline was not high enough a tailored jacket in the peak of summer – “But I see that will not be a problem for you.” I grinned.
That little anecdote above takes me to my first tip:
1. Look presentable
Rather be slightly overdressed than underdressed to such a degree that you can spring-clean or house or workout at gym after your interview. I’ve heard people advise against open-toed shoes. I don’t know why but there’s something about toes that seems to rub certain people up the wrong way. Technically, toes are just fingers at the bottom of your body. Either way, I have a designated interview shoe: nude court heels that my mom bought for me in 2013. At the time, they were retailing at Woolworths for R200. When I popped into Woolworths on Friday, I spotted the exact replica for R399. Inflation – unlike South Africa’s chances in a soccer match – is real and high.
2. Say no to negativity
Don’t psyche yourself or indulge in negative thoughts prior to an interview. This includes thinking things like: they probably received applications way better than mine etc. if you don’t believe that you are good enough then you can’t expect to convince someone else of that fact.
3. Don’t make your background a burden
Background here could mean educational, occupational or even cultural background. Your experiences and background are not a handicap. In fact, they may even be an asset; it all depends on your mind-set. Don’t give people [or even yourself] permission to undermine you or your achievements.
4. Go over your CV/Resume and the Job Advert Beforehand
Skimming through your cv/resume as well as the job requirements will allow you to draw connections between your experience/background and the prospective job/opportunity and how they feed into each other.
Perhaps this ought to have been number one, but I kept it for later (does that count as a pun? Probably not). Don’t be late! Just don’t. Often the interviewer is interviewing on a normal working day and has painstakingly allocated a time for your interview in their busy schedule. Don’t make them regret that. Secondly, arriving there all rushed and out of breath will only increase your anxiety.
6. First Impressions and Sixth Sense
More times than not, you have to announce your presence and reason for being there to someone who is not interviewing you. This will be someone in a lower rank than your interviewer such as a secretary or entry-level employee. What you may not know is that this is actually the beginning of the interview. This person will suss you out in those early moments. Their opinion may also be considered by the interviewer after the interview. In the case of job interviews, this person may end up working closely with you as a colleague. You best be making a good first impression!
A bit of a disclaimer: this is not the exhaustive list by any means. These tips are based on my experiences. Maybe veterans in the job market would give you different advice.
The job scene is extremely competitive, complex and constantly in flux. But in a time of impersonal devices and words on a screen, people are impressed by interpersonal skills and good ol’ courtesy. Consider what qualifications you have and multiply that by all the other people who attended those courses with you as well as the ones you have never met. An interview is an opportunity for you to win a potential employer/benefactor (in the case of scholarships) over and attest to your singularity. Some interviews may get off on a rough start or end badly. It’s important not to give up and make sure your intentions are in the right place. After all, every action is judged by its intention.