Preparing for an interview? – Part I

A couple of months ago I had written about job hunting and the search associated with it. Today, I dwell on what happens next once you have identified and found your dream job. You prepare for the interview.

In our career journey if there is one thing that we all have in common, it is the interview experience. We have all gone through the process multiple times. Today’s fast evolving world demands that communicators be agile and possess the latest information on tools and the new mediums of sharing information. An interview process gives you that hindsight on where you stand on the spectrum of having the right skills.

It does not matter at what level you are in your job – certain fundamentals of preparing for an interview process are common and cut across all positions. Through this two series column, I take you through a list of fundamentals that can aid you in your interview process. 

  • Read the job profile

This one sounds easy but isn’t really so. This is not about a cursory glance at the job profile. It is about reading between the lines and understanding the depths of the role. Many a times organisations or even headhunters do not describe a job well. Just don’t read the job profile. Try to understand what the role demands

  • Study the organisation

Most of the companies today have a vibrant social media presence. One of the key reasons behind it is to attract and retain talent. There is absolutely no dearth of information now available about a company. Go through whatever information is available online. Read the annual reports and try to gauge the financial standing of the company you are keen to join. What has been its previous three years’ growth? What crisis it has dealt with? Who are its board members? What is its vision? The more you read and study about a company, the better equipped you are to understand the nuances of that job that you are eyeing.

  • Dare yourself

Dare yourself to look at jobs that either call for new skill sets or provide a new learning experience. Of course you will be asked as to why should the organisation hire you if you don’t possess the skills required. Plan, package and present yourself with an emphasis on your strengths and what you bring on the table – dare to position yourself along the lines of what the organisation gains by hiring you.

  • Structure your story

Often, the first question asked – ‘Tell me about yourself.’ This is your opportunity to set the context. Structure your story and narrative in a manner that you have the interviewer’s full attention right from the word go. We live in a world of story telling. Do practice the opening sentences but do not rattle them out like a parrot! You have to act natural, be yourself and be at ease. This is absolutely necessary. 

  • No compromises

In your interview process you may face an awkward situation wherein the HR says that the job that you applied for no longer exists. That the company has restructured or is relooking at its priorities and so the job has been downgraded – would you still be interested in joining? Do not compromise! Have faith in what you bring on the table and pursue the journey that you have chosen to embark upon. When you accept something that you didn’t desire, you are not going to give your best to it. Therefore, at the cost of losing out on an opening, search for that right opportunity that banks on your expertise.

  • Focus on your soft skills

Recently, I was in an interview panel for MBA graduates and the one thing that stood out was that the students hardly made any eye contact with the interviewers. My co-panelist and I struggled to understand why such bright management graduates were not cognizant of the importance of non-verbal cues…For all the knowledge that you might bring, you may just kill the interview if you lack the ability to look at the interviewers when you respond. Act with poise and confidence to win the job that you seek.

  • Experience is passé

Sure, your experience counts. Do not get me wrong. But more than your experience it will be your agility and willingness to take risks that will matter more. Interviewers search for diverse learning experiences. Have you taken up new areas of work within the organisation? What was your role and contribution? This is what the focus of interview will be. 

  • Stability loses out to agility

There was a period when number of years in the same organisation was a big tick. It showcased stability. It said you were loyal to the organisation. Today, stability has lost big time to agility. You only have to ask the millennials and they will share the mantra with you – focus on acquiring new skills; move on, be agile…If you really wish to grow in your career path, do not let stability keep you tied to one single organisation. Even HR and head hunters have changed their perspective. When it comes to choosing between stability and agility, it will always be your agility that will be given preference.

  • Anticipate questions

Mentally go through the whole interview process – prepare your question bank and write down the answers. Anticipate questions. What you say and how you say will lead to the next question. An interview is always a mix of natural flow and planned questions. When you prepare try to highlight experiences that you will lead to the next planned question from the interviewer. 

  • Understand the ecosystem

When you connect the dots, it is not difficult to visualise the interplay between the work ecosystem and business communications. I once interviewed a candidate who during his graduation was very active in the intellectual property (IP) club where the focus was patents for new innovations by students. However, when asked to share his views on the current IP regime and law, he was totally clueless! Let’s take another example. For instance, if you are a communicator in the automobile business, only by understanding the relationship between the business and the socio-politico environment will you be able to identify the right stakeholders and draw up appropriate messages for them. However, understanding the ecosystem is not easy and calls for reading, talking to leaders and learning how policies are developed and it can impact your organisation’s business.

  1. Know the trends
  2. Expectations v/s reality
  3. Ask that final question!
Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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