Tips for interviewees


Life is about substance as well as show, reality as well as appearance, isi as well as gaya.

NOW and then all of us are interviewed for a job, assignment or honour. On such occasions, it is important to put our best foot forward. Though there are no sure recipes, some observations may be useful.

First, I believe in the ancient dictum esse quam videri – to be rather than to seem.

However, experience also teaches us that life is about substance as well as show, reality as well as appearance, isi as well as gaya. We must not only be, we must also appear to be!

For this reason we must go prepared to showcase our achievements and to project ourselves as the best candidate for the job. However, there should be no bluffing as our record may be known to the interviewers. Our past is as important as our claims for the future.

Second, before appearing for the interview, prepare an impressive CV with a colour photograph. Do not put the best at the end. Begin with the latest and the best. Prepare a one-page synopsis highlighting the summits of your life. This is the page they will read!

Include a few strong references. Enclose proof of your accomplishments and accolades. The interviewers wish to measure whether you are a jaguh kampung or the voice of your profession.

Third, prepare an impressive ope­ning statement which will highlight your immersion and passion for the post you are being interviewed for. This will reveal your depth.

Fourth, often chairpersons allow the interviewee a parting statement. For this reason, prepare a carefully crafted closing statement that will highlight whatever you wish should be known.

Fifth, do some homework about the organisation that is going to interview you, the targeted position or reward you are seeking and who the likely interviewers may be. Knowledge of what makes them tick may help you to anticipate the direction of the discussion.

Sixth, anticipate and prepare for likely questions. For example: “Tell us about yourself. What is your work-history and experience? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What have been your outstanding successes?”

“How do you describe your personality? How do you react to pressure? What is your management style? How do you deal with colleagues? How many books or articles have you written? Are you on the board of a professional body? Why are you applying for this job, promotion, scholarship, grant etc? ”

Seventh, the interviewing organisation definitely wishes to know what you can contribute to it. What can you do for it that others can’t? What has the organisation done that is right? What can it improve on? How can the organisation cope with and beat the competition? How do you envisage the future of the organisation and your place in it? What trends do you foresee?

Have your ideas organised and at your fingertips. Precise, systematic answers always make an impact.

Eighth, prepare some questions in case the chairperson gives you the opportunity to ask questions. Even if he/she doesn’t, request permission to put in a few carefully phrased pre-prepared comments. Avoid issues of salary and other terms unless you are asked to state your terms.

Ninth, try to find out the format of the interview. Sometimes it requires you to make a presentation. If so, make sure the presentation is not pegged too low. It should have some food for thought for the interviewers. However, avoid an extremely technical show. Not all interviewers are from your field.

Tenth, your appearance, clothes, hair and shoes must be appropriate. First impressions do count. Avoid outlandish outfits. Be cautiously moderate.

Eleventh, at the interview greet the chairperson and members warmly. Do not focus on only one interviewer. If you have a CV or a publication to show, seek the chairperson’s permission to distribute it.

Do not be seated till asked to do so. If the chairperson forgets, politely ask, “May I take a chair?”

Twelfth, show positivity and enthusiasm about whatever you are being interviewed for. Exude an intensity of commitment, a fire, a burning desire, a single minded determination to achieve your goals. Attitude, more than aptitude, determines altitude. This attitude has to be cultivated. This fire has to be lit within. It will not be the result of spontaneous combustion.

Thirteenth, if you have prepared a brief, impressive opening statement, slip it in before you answer the first question. Well begun is half done.

Fourteenth, listen very attentively to each question. Maintain eye-contact. It is not nice to say “come again”. Say “I beg your pardon”. Answer in full sentences, not in monosyllables. Do not be evasive in your replies. Communication skills are the most vital tool at an interview and indeed in any future leadership role. What you say is sometimes less important than how you say it!

Fifteenth, be pro-active in slipping in positive information that showcases your achievements. However, do not exaggerate accomplishments. Be honest about limitations but state how you intend to overcome them and that you will not allow your limits to limit you.

Sixteenth, do not be thrown-off by unfriendly questions. Sometimes they are asked to test your composure. Hemingway said: “Courage is grace under pressure”. Patience is restrained strength.

Seventeenth, use the same language as that of the interviewer unless he/she instructs otherwise.

Eighteenth, never demonise your former boss, organisation or colleagues.

Nineteenth, once the interview ends, you must thank everyone and sign off with a pre-prepared closing statement.

Finally, do not be disheartened by lack of success. Do not give up. Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities but in their determination and perseverance.

Keep dreaming. It is on dreams that realities are built. However, don’t be an “angan-angan Mat Jenin”. Act on your dreams. Remember Kipling: “If you can dream but not make dreams your master. If you can think but not make thoughts your aim”.

> Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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