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How to nail your next job interview and land the gig of your dreams

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From childhood we are taught that if we study hard and do our best, we will be rewarded with a good job. As adults, we often realise it’s rarely that bloody simple.

Getting any kind of job is difficult. First comes the utter torment of creating a resume, where you’re tasked with making “packed plastic bags at Woolies” sound like a colossal achievement.

Then there’s the cover letter, which is a more arduous and time-consuming than writing a 2,000-word essay for your HSC on the significance of curtains in The Truman Show.

Once they’re out of the way, you send off your application and forget all about it. If you’re anything like me, you rinse and repeat the process for a few similar roles, substituting the relevant keywords along the way.

After a week you probably can’t remember what you even applied for. Then you get a call: “Congratulations, we’d love you to come in for an interview.”

Relief! Ecstasy! You might even have a drink to celebrate. But it’s as you enjoy that frosty IPA that you realise the toughest part is ahead of you: the dreaded interview.

Here are some proven tips that’ll ease your anxiety and help distinguish you from the competition.

Clean up your social media

Within a few minutes, employers can make an impression about you from your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts, as well as anything else you have done in the internet public sphere.

Ideally, activate the maximum possible privacy across your social media accounts. Ensure that there are no pictures on your Facebook of you passed out at your 18th, and delete that Instagram post of you pashing the French exchange student you met at The Scary Canary.

Drunk man lying on grass in park with empty bottle of vodka.

It seemed funny at the time, but photos like this are not a good look.

You may think your social media is pretty clean, but we’d be willing to bet there’s something you’ve forgotten about that you wouldn’t want them seeing.

If there’s too much to go through, consider de-activating until you’ve got the job. There are plenty of sites that will make this task easier for you.

It’s about projecting a respectable, professional image of yourself. You don’t need to go too crazy. When in doubt I always use what I go by the rule: what would my mum say if she saw this? It’s usually foolproof.

Know your resume

A large portion of the questions are going to be based around your resume, so it’s kinda important that you’re familiar with it. Make sure you know all the relevant dates of employment and roles that you say that you’ve fulfilled.

Something that helps this is if you don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate your job skills or duties either. Saying that you speak fluent French when you took one class in year nine is only setting you up for disaster.

Remember, though, that employers have already studied your resume. They don’t want you to regurgitate what is summarised on there – add some more context, information and anecdotes that aren’t on the piece of paper.

Do your research

The company gets to look at your resume to learn about you, and you should be looking at company resources to learn about them. Have a quick browse around the web – read the company website, their LinkedIn page, and look for any recent reports or news articles that featured them.

See what words the company used to describe its goals and remember them. Employers love this practice. It shows that you’ve put the effort in to learn about them, rather than just turning up and hoping for the best.

If you come across a recent product they launched, or a post on their website that you found interesting in some way – mention it! It only takes a few minutes of your life and shows that you have initiative.

Man reading off laptop and writing on notepad.

A quick peek at the company’s website or blog can give you an edge.

Sometimes you will be in contact with your interviewers beforehand. In such occasions, take a few minutes to look at their personal Twitter accounts or their LinkedIn sites. You might see something there – a mutual connection or a shared love of Chai tea that you can use to connect.

It’s important to use discretion in such scenarios. It’s wouldn’t be the smartest idea to mention how attractive their ex-boyfriend is after scrolling through their Instagram feed.

The test begins before you enter the room

Everything you do before you enter the actual interview is important, from the time at which you arrive to the way you greet the receptionist.

If you swagger in five minutes before your appointment, grunt at the receptionist and shoot death stares to the three other candidates in the room, you’re going to come off as a bit of a dick.

Show up at least 15 minutes early and address both the receptionist and any other employees or candidates in a polite, kind way. It’s not much to ask. Basic “please” and “thank you” is all that is necessary. Manners go a long way.

When in doubt, just pretend that you’re being constantly watched and judged (spoiler: you are.)

Look good, play good

First impressions matter. Rightly or wrongly, the way you are presented has a huge impact on that impression. This doesn’t mean you need to shed 100kg or get a Brazilian butt lift. It just means that you shouldn’t be wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

Dress as sharply as possible, but know your industry. As a general rule, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Yes, this even includes if you’re interviewing at Google and the employee uniform is Aladdin pants and a scarf over your bare chest. It’s better safe than sorry.

The idea that a potential employer would look at you in a suit and say “wow, that loser is way too dressed up” is minimal. People tend to look impressive when they’re dressed nicely, well-groomed and carefully presented. If you instead turn up in Vans and a button-up with a 3-day stubble, there’s a high chance that your interviewer is going to consider it a bad look.

That said, use some common sense. Don’t wear your finest tuxedo or ball gown to an interview for a job that requires you to clean toilets. In fact, just don’t do anything from Step Brothers.

Bonus points: Smell nice! Throw on a fragrant perfume, but make sure not to overdo it. And bring a pen. No one has ever regretted bringing a pen. You never know when it will come in handy.

Watch your body language

Another simple one, but hey, it’s the simple things that people neglect. You’ve been called into the interview because they suspect you can do the job and they’re trying to analyse whether you’re someone they want to work with every day.

So, sit up straight. Don’t slouch. Don’t tap your knee, or the desk, or look longingly at the clock.

Retain eye contact when people talk to you but don’t stare at them like you want to eat them. It’s unnerving.

Forbes reported that among top-level executives, the single most important thing to remember is to give a firm handshake. No one likes holding a slimy, limp fish in their hand.

“A strong handshake shows you are in control, while whimpy handshakes and sweaty palms are a turnoff,” said contributor Erika Brown in the report.

Employees shaking hands.

A firm handshake could make or break your interview.

Also, make sure you get a good night’s sleep beforehand. No one wants to employ someone who turns up looking like they just stepped out of a Seth Rogen movie.

Practise your answers

There are very few surprise questions in job interviews. You know that they’re going to ask you to “tell them about yourself”, as well as question you on your past jobs, successes and education.

Take some time to practice your responses beforehand. Not only will you sound more eloquent, but it will also help with the nervous stammering and stuttering.

Of course, there’s the one question that we always know is coming: “Tell us about your biggest weakness”. You can’t say “I’m perfect”, and you certainly can’t say “where the hell would I begin?”.

The struggle comes in finding a balance between showing your fallibility without ruining your chances of landing the gig.

The key is to spin it. Tell them something honestly negative about yourself, but show that you know how to fix it (or are at least working on it).

Phrase it along these lines: “I am poor at doing problem x, but I overcome it with solution y.”

A broad solution is to say that your weakness is public speaking. It’s something that many people struggle with, and it’s something people easily relate to. It’s honest and understandable.

For example: “I’m really bad at public speaking, but I overcome it by writing notes and practising in the mirror beforehand. Now I’m better equipped to deal with it, but I still consider it something I struggle with.”

Note: You probably don’t want to say you struggle with public speaking if you’re applying to be a lawyer, a game show host or something along those lines.

Plan for behavioural questions

Questions about your past roles and workplaces should be relatively simple stuff. Where it can get difficult is when interviewers ask specific behavioural questions which necessitate that you reflect on your past performances.

They do this to get a gage on how you behaved in the past, and how you will potentially behave if they are to employ you. Basically, they’re trying to figure out if you’re someone they won’t mind having around the office every day.

These kinds of questions will be along the lines of, “tell me about a time you dealt with a problem at work”, or “give me an example of when you assumed a leadership role”. Answering these questions correctly is make or break for your success in getting the role.

Young man and woman shaking hands over desk cluttered with laptops.

“Hi, yes I’m definitely normal and perfectly sane.”

A good way to approach such questions is using the STAR method. You want to describe the relevant Situation, outline the Task you were trying to complete, what Actions you undertook and what the Result was.

It’s best to practice for these questions beforehand and take your time. No one is going to begrudge you a few seconds to think. When answering, try to be as clear and concise as possible.

Have questions ready for the interviewers

You get to the end of the interview. You’ve nailed everything they’ve thrown at you. The boss is practically painting the walls on your new office and inviting you to dinner with his wife and the kids. You’re stoked.

Then the final question comes: “So, do you have any questions for me?”

You freeze. Wait just a second, you think, who the hell’s doing the interviewing here? Let me tell you now, there’s nothing, nothing, NOTHING worse than not saying anything then. By not coming up with some kind of question at the end of the interview, you’re basically tossing your own resume in the shredder.

Employers use the tactic to ascertain your level of interest in the company, and whether you’ve really been listening for the last half-hour. Not answering can suggest you haven’t been engaged and is a terrible last impression to bookend your meeting.

Ideally, your question will relate to what you spoke about in the interview and show that you were interested in what was said. For example, “So, Eddie, you mentioned that you worked on a new PlayStation 4 game with Mary and Sue. Is collaboration important at Sony?”

But it doesn’t even have to be so specific. Prepare some questions beforehand based on the company research you did. Another good one is, “I was on your website researching the company and noticed _____, can you tell me _____ about it?”

Asking a thoughtful question shows that you’re attentive and might also give you some insightful information.

If you freeze, it’s good to keep some generic ones in your back pocket. “Could you take me through a typical workday in this position?” and “If I were to be hired, what results would you expect within the first three months?” are two excellent ones.

Just make sure you’re not the guy or gal who says “nope” and goes on their jolly way.

Send a thank you email

A day or so after the interview, send a follow-up email saying thanks and reiterating your interest in the role. Wish the company luck with the recruitment process and get the hell out of there.

You don’t want to write more than a few basic lines. It’s something that’s easy, harmless and a quick reminder of your existence.

Don’t use the email to try and start a conversation or ask any further questions. Once you follow all these tips and get the job, you’ll learn everything you need to know in due time.

About the author

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Contact me at jackndelaney@gmail.com.

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