By: Together Abroad 21-09-2017
Being a mind reader would certainly come in handy during a job interview and make the whole getting-a-job process a lot easier, right? It would take away all the pressure of saying the right thing and allow you to fix any verbal blunders. One can only wish...
Since I am not a mind reader and I doubt anyone is, I had to prepare for my first job interview. The job I wanted was in a famous Dutch research-training consultancy, so I made it my goal to predict the unpredictable and to be prepared in the best way possible. I started with a small research on the company’s background. I wrote down all key words and interesting facts I found about it, and I memorized it in the next couple of days. I also read about the job scope and the responsibilities I would have. I thought it would do no harm to learn those since they would come in handy when answering questions.
Then I moved on to reading articles about possible job interview questions and tips on how to handle the situation under pressure, or if something goes wrong. I found some of the questions particularly hard to answer, such as: “What is your biggest regret or failure?” I was confused on whether my answer should be from personal life experiences or from an academic one. At the end, I concluded, the best answer to this question is one with a specific example that shows what I learned. I had prepared for it using an example of something that happened on a project in my university, and with an explanation of what went wrong and how it changed my study habits, so as to get a better grade on the next one. It was simple but efficient, since the hiring manager’s ultimate goal is to understand how I react to failure, and how I take personal accountability when needed, and if I have high goals or ambitions. I applied the same strategy to the next questions, that is, by trying to figure out what they really ask from me and providing them with a satisfying yet honest answer. Mark Twain’s quote “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything”, turned out to be a good policy for me when it comes to job interviews, because when I am under pressure, my brain simply ceases to be of any help. I am not a good liar and I cannot learn how to be one overnight. I ended up with a list of over 200 questions and my answers to them. I was confident that I got one part of the interview-process covered.
The next vital step was the first impression, which is basically the way I behave, the way I present myself, and the way I am dressed. The short answers to these are to be confident, well-mannered, informed and well-dressed. I also tried to find what are the physical signs of being friendly, open and having a pleasant demeanor. This did not seem hard – smile often, do not slouch, project an open posture by angling toward them when they are speaking, and adjust feet, legs, and body to face the speaker. It was also good to not fidget and to maintain frequent eye contact. After reading all these tips, it was about time to practice them. I was rehearsing answers to the possible questions in front of the mirror and would often correct my posture or facial expressions when answering. I learned a lot about myself by this practice and it was useful later on in my personal life, as well. Then I asked some of my friends to pretend to be the interviewer and often, after the mock interviews, I would ask for their feedback and impressions. This helped me feel more prepared and thus, more confident.
The long-awaited day came and I finally had the chance to see if all my preparation was not in vain. I left my house an hour earlier as I had planned to have some extra time, in case I got lost in the building or had difficulties finding the right room. As it turned out, later on, this was a good move, because I did get lost on the floor where my job interview was supposed to be. Needless to say, it made me nervous before the job interview itself. After a minute of being in the trap of the negative self-talk, I decided to look for someone from the staff that would help me find my room. I noticed young, casually dressed people, binding papers on a huge table between the water-cooler and the coffee machine. I thought that they could be interns or new members of the company so I approached them and asked about the room. After we introduced ourselves to each other, I realized that these people were supposed to be my hiring managers. I would have panicked if I were not too surprised by their casual and friendly manner. It put me at ease and this was indeed the first lesson I learned about Dutch people – they take it easy. They complimented me on being punctual while on the inside, I felt as if I had already won the battle.
After I took my seat, I started mentally practicing my answers as I watched one of the hiring managers sitting right in front of me, and the other stood at the side. I was asked if I wanted a drink to which I kindly refused, and I was on the edge while waiting for the first question. To my surprise, there was none. I was shown a presentation about my job responsibilities, which I found repetitive since I had already memorized them, and then I was carefully told about some practical matters such as paying taxes, Dutch insurance, Dutch bank account, etc. I had not predicted that I would not be asked a single question. Instead, I was given detailed explanations and lots of help with signing the contract and explaining the details around it. It was as if a dream came true. I left the room with a broad smile on my face. Right after I came home, I wrote thank-you emails to each person that “interviewed” me.
Despite the fact that my first interview did not go as planned and it was on a whole other level, the preparation and the practice were not meaningless. In the future, they proved to be really useful for my other job interviews, and oddly enough, in my personal life, too. My advice to you is this: with a little practice and preparation, you will be on your way to having a great first interview. And remember, even if you do not get the first job you interview for, do not give up.
Persistence is power and a good preparation goes a long way.