You’ve studied, you’ve done extra courses, you’ve applied for job after job, and finally, someone has asked you to come for a job interview. No matter if you are interviewing for a learnership, a training programme or your first job, any interview can be nerve-wracking.
But there are a few ways you can prepare, plan – and control your nerves – so that you can put your best foot forward and impress.
Ask Yourself: Who Am I?
Our parents and mentors often tell us that it’s what’s inside that counts. And this is true – but it’s also true that we make hundreds of assessments about people based on what they look like, how they dress or speak.
Here are some simple examples of the kind of assessments we can make:
business people wear suits; people who wear glasses are clever; people with coloured hair are rebels; people who can’t speak properly are stupid.
This means that when you interview for a job, the people you talk to will make assessments about you based on what you look like and how you behave – it might seem unfair or wrong, but the choices we make about what to wear and say DO tell people some of our values and what is important to us. And in a job interview, most companies are looking for people who have values similar to theirs – or at least, are not wildly different.
So firstly, take some time to look at the ‘unwritten’ messages you send to people – when you go to your job interview, you want the company to see a person who is professional and takes a job seriously. You don’t need to dress and act like a CEO, but you do need to give the picture of a serious person interested in a serious job.
Look the Part
One of the first impressions we make is in our appearance – and this includes what clothes you have on, how you are groomed and perhaps even smell.
Whatever the job you are interviewing for, you will probably be interviewed in an office – even if the actual work happens in a warehouse or on a construction site, so your best bet is to dress in “office-style” clothes and in more subdued colours and styles. Nearly all companies are more conservative than casual society, so look towards your ‘church’ clothes to wear for an interview, not your party outfits.
It might sound frustrating that you can’t show off your top style and most colourful outfits, but you want the company to remember you, not your bright-red sneakers. In the same way, remember to take care of your personal grooming – have clean nails, clean teeth, and don’t wear too much cologne (the office could be small). Avoid clothes with logos and slogans on them – it’s your words that should communicate, not your shirt.
Act the Part
Just as your outfit puts your most professional foot forward, so does the way you behave. The good news is that professional conduct is more about what you don’t do than do – again, a good general guide is ‘church’ behaviour – don’t swear, don’t use very casual language, use ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ and be respectful in your body language – a job interview is not the place to say ‘sharp, ma bru’’ or slouch in your chair.
Talk the Walk – Research & Practise
We often feel nervous when we’re in situations that are new to us, especially when we want to make a good impression! So research the company to get rid of that ‘all new’ feeling – use Google Maps and ‘Streetview’ to look at the building and visit the company’s website to find out more about their business and where you might fit.
There are standard questions that most job interviews will cover – what are your strengths/weaknesses; how do you work with other people; how do you handle stress, and so on. This site offers a good list of questions that you can prepare answers for, or give to a friend to role-play a job interview. (*2)
Make a list of your positive characteristics, and pin down around five to six clear points about why you want the job and why you’re the right person for the position. And prepare some questions of your own – this shows initiative and planning, both skills that companies like in employees!
Focus your questions on details of the job or the business of the company; you could ask how your training will be monitored, or about opportunities to grow within the company. Here is a sample list of questions you could ask: (*3)
Researching the company offering the job, and doing practise interviews will all help to reduce your nerves – and help you perform at your best.
On the day of your interview, give yourself plenty of time to get ready and travel. Make sure you know your transport route, have the address and telephone number of the company and copies of your CV. Take water with you and try to eat some protein an hour or so before your interview – this will help to keep your blood sugar stable and your brain working at top efficiency.
Try and plan to arrive a little early for your interview – running late will just make you more nervous! If you have to wait a bit, don’t get lost in your phone – use this time to look around: What are people wearing, are they smiling, do things look ‘professional’ – all these subtle clues will give you information about the company.
If you are offered refreshments, ask for a glass of water, rather than tea or coffee. Your brain needs water to work at its best and help you pay attention (*3) – and you definitely want your brain working well during a job interview!
Pay Attention to Details
When you are introduced to someone, make sure you remember their name. If you aren’t sure you got it correctly at first, do ask them to repeat it – it’s far better to do this when you first meet someone than forget their name during your interview. Simply ask: ‘May I make sure I got your name correctly – please will repeat that for me.’ Then say their name back as they gave it: ‘Thank you, it’s good to meet you, Mr Jones / David / Sibongile.’
There are a number of people who might be at your interview – it depends on the company itself and how they run things, the type of position, and the seniority of the job. If you are applying for a learnership position, you might talk to a Human Resources Officer, the direct Manager of the position, and perhaps a Development Officer in charge of your qualification assessments.
Research, prepare, practise, plan – and remember that the people you talk to want someone they are interviewing to succeed, they want to find the right person – you want that person to be you.