Job interviews are like first dates. You only get one shot to convince someone you’re The One they’ve been searching for. To make kick-starting your career a little less stressful, we chatted to COSMO Movers and other top South African businesswomen for their advice on nailing an interview – and getting the job.
THE DAY BEFORE
Use that nervous pre-interview energy to make 100% sure you know your stuff. ‘Remember, unless you’ve been head-hunted, you’re probably not the only candidate that’s being interviewed,’ says Jo-Ann Sudbury, CEO of sound, lighting and AV hire company Upstage Productions. ‘Always prepare well and you’ll leave a lasting impression.’
It’s vital to learn as much about the company as possible, says Chantal Lascaris, MD of corporate-clothing design studio The Style Factory and COSMO’s 2005 Mover of the Year. ‘Find out exactly what the company does, where they are placed in the marketplace and who their competitors are,’ she says. That way, you’re showing interest and initiative.
Take time to prepare your own responses to the standard interviewing questions. Kate Moodley, general manager of insurance subsidiary Momentum, suggests you practise your answers with a friend or a family member. ‘They will be able to give you honest feedback on parts you can improve and help you refine your answers,’ she says.
Prepare your CV – proofread for errors – and make copies of relevant certificates, reference letters and qualifications. ‘A future employer may need these documents to verify the validity of the details on your CV,’ says Karen Doyle, CEO of recruitment company Ambit Recruitment.
THE BIG EVENT
Arrive about 10 minutes early on the day. Being late will only serve to make you flustered and your interviewer frustrated – not the first impression you’re after.
‘No matter how good your CV is, if you don’t look and sound credible, people won’t buy into what you’re saying,’ says Vanessa Bluen, MD of corporate-training company The Consultant Powerhouse. ‘You are the message. Look professional, clean and tidy, and avoid excesses such as big earrings, bright lipstick, tall heels and big hair.’
While you’re waiting, make sure to be warm, polite and friendly to the receptionist – many execs ask their receptionists what their first impression of a candidate was. Then, when the time comes to go into the interview, Bluen advises you to offer your interviewer a firm handshake and introduce yourself with your name and surname.
During the interview, Doyle suggests allowing the interviewer to take the lead and set the tone. ‘Make eye contact and answer her questions concisely in a clear, confident voice,’ she says. ‘Be prepared to answer questions about your education, training, skills and work experience, as well as the personality traits that make you exactly what they are looking for.’ And if you’re asked a broad-ranging question, such as ‘What are your weaknesses?’, remembering the ‘challenge, action, result’ concept, will help you to break it down. ‘Describe the challenges you’ve experienced, the actions you took and the results you achieved,’ says Bluen.
Terri Brown, strategic director at internal-marketing consultancy Actuate, urges you to ‘ask questions about the industry, the business and the specific role you’ll be playing, what you’ll be doing day to day and what you’ll be accountable for.’
When it’s your turn to ask questions, Rebecca Eliot, CEO of customer-and-relationship-management company LifeWorld Relationship Management suggests keeping them position-specific and avoiding discussing money or perks until prompted. Ask things such as why the position is available, how many people have held the post in the past five years, what the challenges of the position are and how (and when) your performance will be judged.
When you’re satisfied that all your questions have been answered and the interview is over, thank the interviewer for his or her time and the opportunity, and ask how long it will take for a decision to be made.
After the interview, Zanele Batyashe, general manager of Luendo Holdings and co-winner of The Apprentice SA, suggests e-mailing the interviewer, thanking him or her for his or her time and confirming the decision date you discussed in the interview.
And don’t waste time hovering by the phone. Annie Malan, MD of national consumer-promotions company Annie Malan Promotions, advises you to book more interviews. ‘Sitting around wastes time,’ she says. ‘Rather mobilise excess energy into opportunity. If you are successful at more than one company, you have the luxury of choosing the job that’s right for you.’
But if after two weeks you still haven’t heard anything, Ipeleng Mkhari, CEO of Motseng Investment Holdings and COSMO’s 2006 Mover of the Year, suggests following up via e-mail or phone. ‘If you’ve been unsuccessful, ask their advice on what you need to do to improve,’ says Mkhari. Then, says Brown, ‘Pour yourself a glass of wine and hit the classifieds. Often, being unsuccessful has very little to do with you not being good enough – sometimes it just comes down to the fit.’
SECOND TIME AROUND
A second interview can be tricky because many candidates aren’t sure what its purpose is. Eliot says that, if you’ve reached the short list, you’ve made an impression – you then need to prepare to answer more in-depth questions about yourself, your goals and your place within the company. For Batyashe, this is the true test of a candidate – a way to get to know him or her better.
‘People are always more relaxed in the second interview,’ says Malan. ‘Just be careful not to let your guard down – the offer isn’t on the table yet.’
If you haven’t had the opportunity to talk salary and perks, says Doyle, now’s the time. ‘It’s acceptable to ask for a breakdown of the package and what your nett income will be,’ she says. Just keep your negotiation skills honed and nearby, and if you don’t understand anything, ask.