No matter how confident you are with job interviews, there are bound to be nerves and situations where you wonder what is the right thing to do or say. Good news is, you’re not alone and there are experts in the industry who are ready to give guidance on all things interview-related. Here are the answers to some questions that may have been haunting you — from experts and us.
Punctuality and scheduling of interviews
1. Can I reschedule?
‘Can’ you reschedule? Of course! But should you? Unless the reason happens to be related to sudden ill-health or a family emergency, that’s not recommended. Despite possessing the right credentials, you may lose out to someone who was ‘present’.
The key to this is being tactful.
If you have to reschedule, do it as early as you can, convey your apology and let the recruiter reschedule the interview at their convenience so you don’t come across as pushy.
2. How early do I arrive?
Ten to fifteen minutes before the interview and not a minute earlier. Ambra Benjamin, a tech recruiting manager at Facebook likens it to ‘throwing a dinner party where your guests arrive way earlier than you expected.’ Turning up too early shows poor time management and social awareness skills, which is definitely not what you want. To avoid this, head over to a nearby café or park if you are early and check in for the interview 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time.
3. What if I am running late?
It could be the cursed traffic, an unexpected childcare crisis or a miscalculation of time, but whatever it is, do call the interviewer and inform them about the delay and the estimated time of your arrival. Though uncomfortable, this call, if handled with sincerity, may actually net you brownie points for being thoughtful.
But don’t go overboard in your apology as you might end up undermining yourself. Keep it positive and let this be an example of how well you handle a crisis situation.
4. Should I ask the recruiter how long the interview is expected to last?
If you ask this question to the interviewer, that means you haven’t done your homework. The answer to this question should have been sought at the time of scheduling the interview so that you can manage your day accordingly and not during an interview as it may set off an impression about you being disinterested or ill-prepared. If there is a delay from the company’s side, you should avoid blunt phrases like ‘When will this end, I have other commitments.’ Instead offer your schedule details and seek clarifications politely.
What to wear and what to carry
5. What should I wear to the interview?
Dress for the job which you are applying to (dress up in a suit if you want to work in a bank, for example). Each industry has its own dress code and you should do your research before you choose your outfit.
A blue, grey or black suit is the safe choice for both men and women. Well-fitted and modest is the way to go. Goes without saying, but avoid funky hairdos, accessories or excessive make-up. If you are applying to a company with a relaxed dress code, don’t turn up in shorts and a t-shirt. You need to look professional to be taken seriously so formal wear is a good idea.
6. What are the things I may need?
Career experts say you need to have seven things on you when you walk into an interview.
- Your identity proof
- Hard copies of your resume (even if you have e-mailed it before)
- Your college transcripts and certificates with photocopies (if you are a fresh grad)
- Your work portfolio (if you are an artist, journalist or copywriter)
- A hard copy of the list of references with contact information (even if you have e-mailed it before)
- A neat folder or briefcase to store your documents
- A notepad and pen
7. What if I have a wardrobe malfunction?
Hopefully, the outfit you choose will pull through for you. But if the odd button or zipper comes unstuck, don’t panic! Overreacting will only make it worse. Handle the situation with grace and the recovery will leave a positive impact on the recruiter.
Conducting myself through the interview
8. How should I introduce myself?
On Quora, veteran video game designer David Mullich looks at the introduction as a ‘one-minute commercial’ where you highlight the important aspects of your life in an interesting way that tells the recruiter your story. Start with your name, a line about where you are from, your last job description and why you are there. You can even add in a line about your educational qualification and hobbies (without going into details) so you present a well-rounded and concise look at you the employee, and you the individual.
9. Should I talk about my family/personal life?
You may choose to inform the recruiter about your family life like you have two young kids, or that you are a single parent or that you are the primary caregiver for your elderly parent. This will make things transparent between you and the recruiter. But this isn’t Facebook! Going on and on about your ex-spouse or how much you love your cat is edging into TMI territory.
10. What topics should I stay clear of?
Alexandra Levit, author of ‘New Job, New You’, gives a big thumbs down to painting your previous employer in poor light. Avoid trigger topics like politics, religion, controversial events, and relationships to keep things civil.
11. How should I explain why I am quitting my current job?
Yes, we know your last job sucked but don’t go about saying that. Experts suggest reasons like ‘looking for a new challenge’, ‘looking for a better work environment’ or ‘better growth prospects’. Citing work pressure, office politics or a horrible boss as the reasons why you quit, may not work. Instead, career coach Jessica Smith, says you can rephrase it in a better way by saying ‘you are looking for an environment that supports teamwork and opportunities for learning which was not possible in the previous company.’
12. Where should I sit in a conference room during the interview?
Definitely not at the head of the table which is only for the interviewer. If the set-up has just two chairs, take the opposite one to the interviewer once they ask you to have a seat. If it is a panel interview, take the chair in the centre, facing the recruiters. If you find a long table with two chairs on each end and several chairs in between, do not sit on either of the end chairs. According to Carol Ginsey Goman, author of ‘The Nonverbal Advantage: Body Language At Work’, these are the power positions reserved for the leaders.
13. Who should I look at if it is a panel interviewing me?
Hiring experts are unanimous on this one. Keep eye contact with every member of the panel. When you answer a question, start by looking at the person who posed it then continue to look at other panel members slowly and naturally.
One useful tip comes from former Fortune 500 executive and business trainer Lisa Quast who recommends making ‘connections’ where you involve more than one panel member by name and provide an answer that links both their questions.
14. Should I accept or decline the offer for beverages?
If you feel that saying a flat ‘no’ might offend the recruiter, thank them and request for a glass of water. While a cup of hot coffee might sound good, authors John B. Molidor and Barbara Parus, advise against accepting anything except water as it annoys the recruiter, wastes time and creates a distraction.
15. Should I ask for a break, if I need one?
Experts caution against taking breaks during the interview as it can disturb the flow of conversation. Each candidate is allotted a specific time slot and a break in between is sure to delay subsequent interviews, disrupting the recruiter’s schedule. If it’s an emergency, you may have no choice but to request for a break and hope for the best.
16. What should I do if there is an important text message or call?
It’s not ideal but if you are expecting a critical call or message during the interview, you must inform the recruiter in a polite manner at the start of the interview itself. By doing so, the recruiter is aware of the situation and you can work with them to reschedule if that interruption does occur, says Jeremy Payne, head of people operations at Remote Year. Changing settings on your phone to ensure only that particular call rings (in a low volume) and remains silent for other calls or messages is recommended too.
17. How should I address the interviewer?
This would depend on the country, industry and company culture, believes Brad Weaver, senior recruiter at Randstad Holding. In the US, addressing co-workers by their first name is the norm whereas, in Asia, a ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’ is the expected prefix for senior executives. In Singapore, if you are applying for a mid to senior-level job, you might be more comfortable with addressing by the first name whereas as an entry-level applicant, it is advisable to ask the HR person prior to the interview about what would be best. Keep cultural nuances in mind.
18. Is it okay to be funny during the interview?
A Harvard Business Review study found that humour is second only to work ethic as the top two most important leadership traits and was identified as a marker for high emotional intelligence.
So when you balance your qualifications with a light moment of humour, your pleasant personality will stand out among other candidates. But be careful not to cross the line by saying something that could offend or embarrass the recruiter.
Do not joke around on sensitive topics like religion, politics, gender, race or even sports teams. If the recruiter holds the opposite view, it could make things awkward. Self-deprecating humour is good but only in a tiny dose otherwise, you might end up presenting yourself in a bad light.
19. What should I do if the interviewer is rude?
Your interviewer may have kept you waiting for an hour and shows no signs of an apology. Or they may surprise you with sarcastic comments on your education or work experience. If this happens, try to keep calm and answer as politely as you can. The interviewer is mostly never the person you have to work with.
If you feel the recruiter is crossing the line, you can excuse yourself and let the HR department know about your experience. But do remember, many companies have started taking ‘stress tests’ where they deliberately try to unsettle the candidate to test their composure under pressure and this may be one such tactic.
Explaining my experience and resume
20. How should I explain career breaks?
Remember to tell yourself before the interview that career breaks aren’t a crime. Every career has its own path. When asked about them, be honest, confident and as IT Consultant Martin Krchnak says on Quora, highlight the positives of the break. Emphasize on how the break has given you the motivation to take on new challenges.
21. How should I explain my low score in university?
If you are asked this question, do not squirm in your seat or offer sheepish replies. Start by taking responsibility for the low score and then spinning it into a positive. If the reason is that you took up too many elective courses, tell them about the wide learning you received. If it is due to lack of time as you were doing a part-time job, talk about the invaluable people skills and time management skills you learnt.
22. How should I explain my job hopping?
You can’t hide from it, so own it, says founder and principal of Maven Recruiting Group, Jessica Vann. Start by saying that though it is far from ideal, you have been on a path of discovering your strengths and working with different organizations has helped you grow as a better employee and team player. Thanks to the wide spectrum of experiences you have under your belt, you are more stable now and are looking forward to being committed to an organization for a long time.
23. How much time should I spend talking about my hobbies?
If you plan to mention your hobbies in your brief one-minute introduction at the start, just mention them without much description (like I like rock climbing). Later, if the interviewer asks you to elaborate, give a few more details without going overboard, and make sure to connect that with how it helps you become a better employee. Remember, it is a pitch!
24. How I should highlight my strengths?
Just stating your strengths, even though it may seem to be true to you, risks sounding pompous. Instead, as Jaime Patkanics, founder of career advice firm Prepary, says, focus on how you have used that strength. Talk about the impact that skill has made on the company using data if possible. You can also mention the positive effect it has had on your team and how you plan to leverage it if you get this position.
25. Should I be upfront with my weaknesses?
Just like you are not allowed to blow your trumpet with your ‘strengths’, you are not supposed to overwhelm your recruiter with your list of weaknesses or declare that ‘you have none’. Pick a weakness that is not core to the position you are seeking. For instance, you cannot apply for a job in public relations and say you are an introvert. You can say that you lack experience in a certain non-critical area and put a positive spin on it by stating your strategy to mitigate it, says Josh Doody, author of ‘Fearless Salary Negotiation,’ on Quora.
26. Should I be honest about being fired from a job?
Being ‘fired’ and being unemployed are two different things. The former implies conflict and may damage your chances whereas the latter could be perfectly reasonable if you have a good reason.
Shailesh Mahajan, who holds a senior level position in the Tata Group, suggests not disclosing to anyone that you were fired if it is not mentioned in the relieving letter. He says reasons like ‘being laid off due to market reasons’, ‘former company’s poor finances’ or a health emergency of a close family member (whose care is taken care of now) are all acceptable reasons.
27. Is it okay to lie on my resume, if no one can find out?
A small white lie inflating your work experience or previous salary- that should be okay, right?
No way, says the director of SummitResumes, Graeme Gilovitz. Thanks to technology, recruiters are able to cross-reference data from resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook and even the standard Google search.
That’s just for the first level of scrutiny. Leading companies are particular about ‘background checks’ where they hire a third-party HR firm to conduct a thorough check on you. If your potential recruiter doubts your resume’s authenticity, you will not be offered the position.
28. Who is the ideal person to reach out for my recommendations?
Ideally, a person who has worked with you in a leadership role. You can reach out to a person reporting to you, a mentor or a professor in the industry. This person should have extensive knowledge of your professional skills and be able to talk about them in detail (with examples in possible).
A recent Glassdoor article lists five people who can make good references – your former boss, a former colleague, a teacher, an advisor and a supervisor who may not have been your work boss but was a leader in some capacity.
29. What should be the ideal length of my resume?
One page is the standard. No recruiter spends more than a couple of minutes on a resume, therefore you have to make it count. The only exceptions to the rule are if you are applying to academia or a company that encourages a more elaborate resume or if you have an unusual career shift and would like to provide a few more details to explain it.
30. How do I ask about my boss and team?
At the end of the interview, you are usually asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. Instead of asking a pointed question about what the boss and team are like, focus on what they are working on and how they function. The answer will give you several subtle clues on the style of leadership and the general team environment. You can also check out websites like LinkedIn, Quora and Twitter to get a better idea of your future colleagues’ work profile and interests.
31. How many interview rounds are one too many?
The number of rounds of interviews depends on the seniority of the position. Mid-senior level positions have multiple rounds, because you may be managing different stakeholders as part of your job. For entry-level, the number of rounds may be fewer in number. However, some organisations, like Amazon, Google or Microsoft, have multiple interviews irrespective of the position/seniority, as they place immense value in getting an employee with the ideal fit and skills. For this, they get multiple feedback from interviewers.
Following up on the interview
32. What should I do after the interview?
Immediately after your interview, it’s a good idea to jot down all the questions and answers from the interview, as it helps you preserve your responses for future interviews. After the interview, send a short e-mail to the HR person and thank them for a well-organized interview process. Provide them with your contact details so they can reach out to you if they need any clarification or document. Finally, call your references and inform them that they might be contacted by the recruiter.
33. When is it okay to write a follow-up email?
Job offers, if any, take their own time to appear but you don’t need to sit idle. You can send a crisp and light ‘thank you’ note to your interviewer within 24 hours of the interview. If there is no response for two weeks (or the time period the interviewer mentioned to make a decision), you can send in a follow-up email asking if any decision has been made.
34. What do I do if I am rejected?
Rejection doesn’t mean the end of the road. Even if you are rejected, stay in touch with the recruiter as they are a valuable contact to have. She also suggests adding the people you met in that company on LinkedIn and following their company page too.
35. What should I do if I have been accepted?
Congrats! When you receive communication about being accepted, do write a thank you email to all the people you interacted with. If you have only received an intimation of your acceptance but not the offer letter, you can drop in a short and polite email requesting for a detailed offer letter. Once you receive the offer letter, go through it with a fine comb and draft your response after you have made a decision of taking it up, rejecting it or negotiating for better pay.
36. What if I am on a waitlist?
If you are on a waitlist, you are not the first choice of the recruiter but they see potential in you and would want to offer you the job if the selected candidates refuse. Write an email requesting for more clarity on whether there are likely to have any vacant positions in the near future. If there are no vacant positions, continue looking for a different job.
Negotiating on offer and salaries
37. What should I say if my salary is not good enough?
If your salary is below the minimum salary level you have set for yourself, you can write out an email and thank the recruiter for the offer and say you are mulling over it as the salary is a little lower than expected. Request a meeting for renegotiating the salary in a polite manner and reaffirm your enthusiasm to work with the company.
38. What should I do if the designation is not good?
Again, like with salary, it is best to write an honest email saying the designation doesn’t seem right to you and justify the reasons for saying so. Request an appointment to discuss this in person so there is no miscommunication.
39. What should I do if I have a better offer?
If you have two offers on the table, you need to evaluate what works for you best and take all factors into consideration like pay, benefits, growth opportunities and location. If you haven’t responded to either of the offers, you can write an email and call and convey your decision.
If you have already consented to one offer verbally or in writing before getting a better offer, think twice. If you decide to renege on your first offer, be honest and have a genuine reason to cite so that you don’t burn your bridges with this recruiter. It is a small world and you never know how this might impact your career.
40. How should I reject the offer?
Experts suggest writing a brief but graceful email thanking them for the offer, and saying that after careful consideration you have decided to accept an offer with another company. Do not provide any other reasons and emphasize on the respect you have for the company.
We hope you have found a few of these questions helpful, and all the best in any interviews you may have in future!