How to bring your A-game to the interview room

SEPTEMBER 6, 2016

Many job applicants think – incorrectly – that the war is pretty much won once their CV gets the nod and they get invited to a job interview. Yet the shortlisting is only the first hurdle and, once cleared, candidates must prepare to compete on a very different level against other candidates who also passed muster on paper, an expert says.

“Interviews can be scary affairs, and anxiety often trips up otherwise deserving candidates,” says Wonga Ntshinga, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, the largest and most accredited private higher education institution in South Africa.

“The purpose of an interview is to get to know a candidate more closely, and to try and determine which shortlisted candidate will be the best fit not only for the work and a position’s unique challenges, but also for the company and its culture,” he says.

Ntshinga says that few people will ever encounter the level of scrutiny recently visited upon the applicants who interviewed for the position of Public Protector. However these interviews, which enthralled millions of South Africans, did provide valuable lessons on how to cultivate one’s interview A-Game, and very importantly, how not to destroy one’s chances of being called back, he says.

“The best defence against wasting a valuable interview opportunity is to be prepared. Very prepared,” says Ntshinga.

“If you have all your ducks in a row by the time you go and sit in front of the panel, you will be the master of your destiny - not your fear and anxiety.”

He says the following should be kept in mind in the lead-up to the interview:

DO

Pay attention to detail  

Do your research about the position and the company, opportunities and challenges. List and rehearse your career highlights as they relate to the requirements of the job you want to land. Focus on what you are currently doing, what you have done, and what you expect to contribute in future. Demonstrate how you will solve problems, manage projects and make decisions.

Understand that your track record is constructed throughout your life

When showcasing who you are and what you have done, source relevant and exciting examples wherever you can find them – whether from school, higher education or previous positions. Prove that you have successfully worked with various kinds of teams, for instance large-scale, diverse or across continents, and that you understand how the physical world works.

Keep it clean

Skeletons – alleged and otherwise – came back to haunt a number of the interviewees for the Public Protector position. Realise that when two candidates are equal, the one that is able to demonstrate a positive impact on their community, and resilience and strength of character, is more likely to land the job.

A good reputation is an invaluable asset. If there is a negative in your past, be prepared to convince the panel that you have grown and learned from it.

Demonstrate that you are part of a professional community

Join and become active in your industry body or a professional organisation. It shows that you are not an island and are committed to growing your career.

DON’T

Fake and fumble

Preparation is key. Know what you want to say, and find opportunities to do so in the questions that are posed. Ditch the unnecessarily lengthy monologues, and answer questions honestly and precisely.

Above all, answer questions in a cool, calm and friendly manner. Show your entrepreneurial spirit, by providing examples of times you have looked for innovative solutions to problems.

Think your good grades and technical proficiency will pull you through

There is a good chance that most of the candidates competing with you during the interview stage will have the same level of subject expertise as you. That is why you have to demonstrate how you as an individual will be the best choice.

Amplify and articulate your technical skills, but be sure to also showcase your great communication and strategic skills, and your emotional intelligence.

Let your social media activities destroy your real-life opportunities

All employers will do a social media background check on prospective employees. Online mistakes can last forever, so always be very responsible in your posts and interactions. If you have beef with someone, take it offline and solve the problem like an adult.

Nothing says “stay away” like seeing unsavoury exchanges on your candidate’s timeline. So, even before you apply for a position, do a personal social media audit and ask yourself the question – would you hire the person you are seeing in those Facebook posts and tweets? If not, you should invest some time in developing a more professional online presence.

Caption: Wonga Ntshinga, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, the largest and most accredited private higher education institution in South Africa.