How to Prepare for an Interview
with Madalena Caetano
Whether to get into your dream job or even to join a club at your university there probably is a phase that you need to go through in order to succeed: the interview(s). Most often in a recruitment process, the interviews are the last step for you to win that vacancy. You may feel like you are so close yet so far, and all this anticipation may contribute to your anxiety building up and ultimately ruining your chance of shining at the H-hour.
But worry no more because Nova Skills Association brings you this complete and detailed guide on How to Prepare for an Interview. This is the first of a series of articles that NSA will promote called How-to: Guides. Of course, we could not do this without the help of someone that has already been on the two sides of an interview and has great insights to share with us: Madalena Caetano.
Madalena presents herself as someone in love with the sea, travelling and communication. These last two culminated in the creation of a blog in 2017 called Passarinho Fora do Ninho where she shares her experience of travelling alone through many countries and also writes on how you can prepare an Erasmus or an Interrail (go check it out if you are curious on these topics). At the moment, she is working at Nova SBE on two innovation projects and as a teaching assistant for the course Communication, Leadership & Ethics. In the past, Madalena worked in HR Consultancy and Talent Management which contributed to her knowledge on how to succeed in interviews.
To make everything clear and straightforward, we divided this guide into three moments: before, during and after the interview so that you can browse through all the sections and prepare accordingly.
1. Do your research
First things first: do your research. You might already know someone that has information regarding the company you are applying to. Try to schedule a phone call or just a coffee break with that person because these situations are perfect to get to know the company’s culture, goals, and strategy. If you do not know anyone, this is where LinkedIn comes into action because you can send a message to one of their employees. However, keep in mind that you cannot be too vague about it. To make a good approach, introduce yourself, say what is the context of this communication and ask specific questions. For example, you can talk about a topic that you saw on the news regarding this company.
Also, do not be afraid to use the internet to your full extent: deep dive into the company’s website, try to understand if the company has more of a formal or informal atmosphere, and get to know its mission and vision, and its ambitions regarding the future. If possible, attempt to investigate if the company is in moments of transition, fusions with other firms, and most importantly, if they are in the middle of a conflict because the last thing you want is to enter a workspace that is having some sort of struggle, which can, consequently, harm your name in the job market.
2. Prepare your answers
The second step is preparing your answers in advance. You want your interview to flow naturally and the longer you take to think, the longer you are in this situation.
The number one typical question is the “Tell me about yourself” – this is a less than one-minute teaser about you. At this moment, present who you are and share some characteristics, motivations, and ambitions. Do not start already by telling what you are doing now because you can incorporate that into other questions, or the interviewer may ask you directly. This initial question is the way to create a base for your conversation with the interviewer.
Another one you will probably hear is “Why are you applying for this job?” – at this point, you need to do the link between your past and present experiences and ambitions to the job position you are applying for. Companies also like to access how are they doing out there so start by talking about how you heard of the company (e.g., from colleagues, friends, the news, etc.).
It is also usual for the interviewer to ask about your weaknesses and strengths. Take this opportunity to show your maturity by changing the word “weaknesses” to “areas of improvement” and show that you are willing to do better and to learn more. While preparing your answers, think about five for each (it is better to have a bit more than to run out of aspects at the moment of the interview). Try to associate the presentation of your strengths with stories – storytelling is a perfect technique for the interviewer to get to know you even better.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is also a very common one. Note that, even though you do not see yourself in the company you are applying to, do not say it. Focus on telling the interviewer who you want to be in the future, for example, “I would like to lead a team in this business area”, instead of mentioning specific job titles.
You may also be asked about your hobbies and interests. Sometimes the interview focuses too much on the professional side of things and this might be a way for the interviewer to get to know you more on the personal side.
We could go on and on with more questions but there are as many as the creativity of the interviewers lets them. You can also do some research on which type of questions occur more for the job you are applying for and go from there. These are the most open and standard ones for every interview.
After knowing all the answers to these questions, write your personal script so that you can remember all of these points when you have an interview. You can also link a story database to support your answers and you can revisit it whenever you need.
As much as you can prepare the previous questions and spend time thinking of answers and stories, there might be a question that will challenge you on the spot. We present you with the brain teaser: a type of brain game or puzzle that involves a different way of thinking. However, do not stress! These teasers do not have a right answer since they are only made to see your ability to think outside the box and how you react to unconventional questions. Start from the smaller picture and expand from there. Think of the realities you know and extrapolate them to the given teaser always thinking out loud so that you can sustain what you are doing.
3. “Acordar cedo e cedo erguer, dá saúde e faz crescer” (Early sleep and early wake up gives health and makes you grow)
So, now that you did your research and prepared some answers with stories to support them, it is time to do something else. To help with anxiousness, go for a walk the day before to cleanse your mind. At night, drink some tea and go to bed early so that you get a re-energizing sleep.
On the day of the interview, arrive at the building 15 minutes before. A tip given by Madalena is to get to the area where the building is located even earlier so that you can enjoy the environment (for example, go to the café nearby and solely 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled, you enter the building).
Treat people with kindness – be nice and cordial. Connect with them because the feeling of connection gives us confidence. Try not to get nervous, read some magazines to avoid looking too much at your phone, and do not have personal phone calls in the waiting room.
If the interview is online, take it in an environment that you can, at least partially, control. Make sure you are in a silent room without too many distractions around you; that you have a good internet connection; and that you have all the technical means to reach the end of the interview (battery on your pc/ tablet, headphones, etc.)
Regarding dress code, try to reach out to someone that knows the dress code of the company and dress accordingly. Try to present an intermediate position this is, do not go too formal, unless it is a job position that needs that (e.g., lawyers) but also do not underdress.
Moreover, try to be natural and do not show a persona that does not relate to you. For instance, if you are not used to walking with high heels do not use them, since it can break your confidence, and consequently, influence your flow in the interview. Also, seek discreteness: pay attention to the quantity of perfume you apply, since it can get too intense and not pleasant to the interviewer. Besides that, for women, avoid miniskirts and showing too much cleavage.
4. Act normally
The time has come. You are probably seated in the waiting room and seeing a person coming for you. It probably is the interviewer and there is nothing to stress about it. Just politely greet them without thinking it much over. It is a normal interaction; the interviewer may stretch their hand out to you or, if there is a pandemic going on (not your first, at least), they may fist bump you or just politely lean their head down as a form of courtesy.
The interviewer will then guide you to the room and tell you where to sit and only after that you should sit down. Do not rush in looking for the comfiest chair in the room because it may cause a bad impression on your side. Trust us and trust Madalena: “this will not be awkward at all”; rather than thinking every step through, think just of what not to do and the rest will follow naturally.
5. Pack your bag
You are not going to an art class so leave your pencil case with all those Gelly and colorful pens at home. Rather than that, bring just a simple pen and pay attention now: do not take those clicky pens (retractable pens) because we both know what will happen… Your nerves (if there are any after this guide) will kick in and you will annoy the interviewer with those clicks. The safe option is to bring a pen with a cap (and this is also an important part) that works. Make sure to check you have a good amount of ink in your pen.
Of course, you will also need a notebook if you want to take some notes down. Try to bring a simple and discrete one. If you struggle to act normal with your hands, grab the pen, the notebook or even a water bottle to maintain a more natural posture. Note that you should always keep your hand on top of the table since it is important to have them visible.
6. Possible Struggles
To avoid ticks, first, you need to identify them previously. You can film yourself or even prepare with a friend (perhaps a little session roleplay) to understand what you struggle with the most. In the end, point out these ticks and try to avoid them in the moment of the interview.
You can always have a bit of time to think about answers, however not too much, since it can break the flow of the interview. After a question, use expressions like “Oh, I had never thought about it in that perspective” or “That is a great question” (complementing the question is also good but do not overdo it), and then go for the answer. Note that this is a conversation between two people, not a Q&A marathon. It is, therefore, good to assimilate and not rush answers like a robot.
Also, it is normal to go blank. In these situations, make a question about the question you are not being able to react to. This way, the interviewer may go deeper into the question and maybe unblock your blank. Then, you can proceed with answering.
7. Some common mistakes
- The “me” speech. It is important to talk about yourself, but do not make that the only priority: you need to relate yourself with the company you are applying to, and how can the company win with you there.
- Lying. Do not lie! The interviewer will understand or can check if the information you have given is true or not, and if not, the job market will know, and you may get your profile tarnished.
- Inappropriate body language. Be cordial, keep your hands on the table. Agree with what the interviewer says by nodding your head or saying “mhm… yes…”. Make it a pleasant and comfortable moment for both you and the interviewer but do not forget the context of what is happening. As the Portuguese say: “à vontade, mas não à vontadinha” (get comfortable but not too comfy).
- Dispersing. Maintain your focus, you do not want to confuse the interviewer – preparation is key.
- Not asking questions at the end. For example, you may ask how the culture in the company is, what is the dimension of the team, and what does the company value the most in a person. All these types of interrogations show curiosity and maturity and if you just finish without asking anything, it may even give the impression that you have better places to be at that moment.
Normally, the interviewer will bring the payment subject to the interview. If so, give a range of values (not just a number) in monthly gross values – e.g.: from 750€ to 1000€ – and always sustain your point: “I have been searching and this is normally the entry-level salary for this position at my level of experience. I would work hard to get to the top of this range”. To get to these numbers, you must indeed do some research on the market and not just come up with values at the time of the interview.
On the other hand, if the interviewer does not come up with the topic, do not bring it up and leave it for further down the road.
9. Wait actively for your response
Ok, now breathe… The interview is finally over. Those, maybe 45 to 60 minutes, which felt more like two hours are now over and even if you think you did not, you most probably excelled. However, do not finish your contact with the interviewer just yet. Sending an after-email thanking for the time spent with you is a polite gesture that, although will not win you the spot, will fit well with the interviewer. However, this is not mandatory. In the same way it will not win you the spot, it will not ruin your chances if you do not send it. Also, this might be a good opportunity to add any missing information that was left out of the conversation. Imagine you wanted to suggest a book or a movie following some question you were asked but you could not remember at the time. Send it afterwards, it is always a nice gesture and will show that you go the extra mile.
If the interviewer did not give you a period for an answer and you do not know anything more than two weeks after the interview, send a follow-up email to access your situation. Remember, always be nice and cordial.
Now you just have to wait. We really hope this guide brings you value and that you can keep it as a way of preparing for future interviews. With this, you are one step closer to success!
A huge thank you to Madalena Caetano for her help guiding us through and giving us precious insights into the interview phase of a recruitment process.
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