AFTER successfully submitting your CV and completing a job application, you finally get a call for the interview.
With butterflies fluttering in the pit of your stomach, uncontrollable foot tapping and practically sweating through your clothes, a million scenarios on how the next hour may unfold run through your head.
It is safe to say job interviews are nerve-racking. But they do not need to be. Four young South Africans, who have been through it all before, shared their first interview experiences and the lessons learnt from them.
Law student, 22, Cape Town
The interview I attended was for vacation work and articles at a large corporate law firm, one that I had dreamt of being part of as it is respected.
I received just 24 hours notice, but made sure I could attend no matter what.
I prepared for the interview by researching potential questions on the internet and verbally practising them to myself.
I arrived for the interview 30 minutes early. I got to know the other candidates and realised we were not much different, although some were older and more experienced.
The head of HR asked all the questions I had prepared for. The HR team were pleasant and remained neutral throughout.
However, halfway into the interview, the director suddenly mentioned that she knew my family, had met me as a little girl and once dated a family friend.
From there, the interview immediately went south. She began picking on me in the most embarrassing and reprimanding way. She made remarks about how I was of small built, too soft-spoken, unassertive and said that I would not cope in a large firm.
She also made a point of saying that I would not be able to stand my ground in a boardroom full of men.
In answering her questions, I tried to keep it professional as possible, but none of my answers seemed to please her. I sat there shocked, but managed to keep my calm.
Overall, I learnt that it is important to really figure out who you are and believe in that.
Although my experience was unpleasant and I was left horrified, I look forward to improving my interview skills and attending more. Practice makes perfect after all.
Financial planner, 21, Durban
To prepare for my first job interview, I had gone online and researched the company on aspects such as values, strategies, sustainability, charity funding and so on.
I then decided if this company aligned with my values before proceeding. Once establishing the connection, I did several mock interviews and thought about some personal experiences that showed evidence of my skills and knowledge.
Unexpectedly, my first interview was online, which I found to be challenging in its own way.
Thereafter, I was invited to a personal interview, which was rather exciting. Feeling accomplished to have made it that far had helped boost my ego.
Just before I met the interviewers, I felt as though I was falling 30 floors but growing wings in the process. The interview went well. They had already done extensive research on me and knew my background, strengths and weaknesses.
I got a call later that day asking me to join the company.
Through the process, I learnt that sacrifices are viewed differently through many eyes, but the most important view is your own.
I realised that being offered a job from a company that wants you for your true self is better than a company that wants you for saying the right thing at the right time in a one-hour interview. It is where you are going to spend most of your life, so make sure you are happy there.
Medical officer, 28, Durban
My job interview was for a medical officer post. I prepared by asking colleagues and friends in my field who had previously attended the interviews for advice.
I spent time studying and researching the questions that seemed to be trending. I made a special effort to reflect and put into words why I wanted to pursue this specific field and the contribution I felt I could make.
I sat outside watching the other candidates enter and leave the interview room and that made the butterflies multiply inside my belly. At the time I felt like it was the be-all and end-all.
In retrospect, I realise it was the first of many interviews and part of the learning process.
I sat down and the panellists introduced themselves by name and designation. They explained an overview of the interview format and made me feel comfortable and welcome as their valued guest.
The first interviewer asked her question. I was well prepared, but nerves got the better of me and I rattled off the correct answer quickly, but in a disorganised manner.
After that, I decided to take a deep breath and a moment to think.
As the closing question, the panel asked me what I do to cope in a stressful environment.
I answered that I rely a lot on my family for debriefing. I added a half-truth that I do yoga frequently. It is a goal of mine, but I have yet to achieve it.
I did not get the job. But from the experience, I learnt that the interview panel is not out to trick you or make you look bad.
Staying calm is learnt behaviour that comes with experience. If you are not confident, fake it. Smiling is important, people like a friendly, approachable person who appears confident.
Lastly, a basic question does not deserve a basic answer. Structure it well and sell yourself.
Ace your next interview and land your dream job with these tips from Usha Maharaj, a leadership and success coach and mentor.
1. Research the company
Nothing looks better than walking into an interview understanding the company’s vision and goals and being able to articulate how you will contribute to achieving that vision.
2. Know its values
Research the company’s values and/or what they stand for and be prepared to share specific examples from your life’s experiences where you demonstrated those values.
3. Show passion
Demonstrate knowledge and passion for the work that you will be employed to do.
If you have listed skills, behaviour or personal attributes on your CV, be prepared to talk about examples where you have demonstrated those attributes.
5. Show curiosity
Be curious about the company and/or role. Have a list of questions that show your curiosity.
6. Be formal
Avoid slang and have good manners.
7. Be presentable
Dress appropriately to the position and company you are applying to. Hair, make-up, clothes should all fit into the culture and style of the company.
So you did not get the job, now what?
Maharaj said the attitude you adopt after receiving a regret letter will set you up for either an upward or downward spiral in your job hunt.
“Remember, the market is full of candidates who are as talented and ambitious as you are and the fact that you didn’t get this one, does not make them any better than you,” she said.
Make a note of the questions that were asked and reflect on how you answered them: “Write out your answers to the questions and note how your answers could be improved. The experience gained in each interview is the best training you could receive for the next one,” concluded Maharaj.