On June 17, 2021, Lt. Col. Prem Vas (Ret.) presented a masterclass in interview skills. Prem is the CEO of PreHanJay Ventures. He is a qualified International Business & Life Coach and earned his credentials from the International Society for Coaching Professionals (ISCP, Singapore) affiliated to International Coaching Federation (ICF). Prem has more than three decades of professional career with the Indian Armed Forces and Corporate. In the Armed Forces, he led a Commando Team and commanded an Artillery Regiment. After his tenure in the Indian Army, he upskilled himself from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, to take on leadership roles of four different industries as Head Administration, Chief of Operations, Head of HR Centre of Excellence, and Head of HR of a company poised for next level of growth.
Prem discussed these aspects of applying interview skills:
- Classification of Interviews
- Importance of perception matching
- Mastering the art of preparation
- The 'secret' of excelling in Interviews
- Creating the 'edge' to ensure your 'visibility'
Interviews are Here to Stay, So Keep Your Interview Skills Sharp
In past generations, a worker might plan to stay at one company for their entire career and aim for the gold watch at retirement after 25 or 30 years. However, today's workers can expect to change companies (or even careers) at least three to five times. Each of these transitions requires another round of interviews - and even promotions within your current company may involve interviewing.
As Prem says, interviews are here to stay. It's vital to your career development to keep your interview skills sharp and be prepared for your next interview, whatever your current career level.
In your career, the kinds of interviews you will have will evolve over time. As you gain experience, you will interview for positions with greater responsibility and higher expectations of you. In all types, you need to convey to the interviewer that you can do the job you are interviewing for.
The three types of interviews on the interview spectrum, according to Prem, are:
- Entry-level interviews
- Junior or middle-level interviews
- Senior-level interactions
Preem makes a point of calling the third type "interactions" because the nature of the interview at that level is very different from the other two kinds.
Good Interview Skills Build Good Perceptions
According to Glassdoor, a corporate job opening typically attracts 250 resumes. Out of that pool, four to six applicants, on average, will be interviewed, and only one will get the job. Excelling in interviews helps you be the one.
An interview is a process to seek matching perceptions between the interviewer and the applicant. Each comes into the interview with a different set of priorities and perceptions about them. Initially, the interviewer has a perception of what the job requires and how the new employee in that job must perform. On the applicant's part, the initial perception is what they are capable of and what they will bring to the job.
During the interview, each person will create a perception in the other person's mind. The interviewer will develop a perception of what the applicant can bring to the job, and the applicant will develop a perception of what the job entails and what the employer expects from a new employee. For the interviewee to succeed, these two perceptions must overlap, and the candidate who has the maximum match between their perceptions and the interviewer's will get the job.
The rest of Prem's webinar focuses on how you as the applicant can create the best possible match between the interviewer's perception of the job expectations and their perception of your ability to meet those expectations. The first of the interview skills you need is understanding the three steps to a successful interview:
- The interview itself
- Closing and follow-up
Preparation is the Foundation
Prem attributes 60% to 70% of the success in interviewing to preparation. Preparation will build your confidence in the interview itself and help you create the perception that you want.
The interviewing skill of preparation includes taking a specific set of actions.
Have Both a Master Resume/CV and A Job-Description Specific One.
Your Master Resume is the one you keep for yourself as a catalog of all of your experience, accomplishments, and skills. It can be five, six, or more pages long. For a specific job application, you will pull from the Master Resume only the things that are important to the job you are applying for, according to the job description and your own research into the employer. Be sure that your JD-specific resume contains words and phrases that appear in the job description itself because many employers use automated screening systems that look for the specific terms in the job description.
List Your Strengths & Areas of Improvement From Your Previous Experience.
List the areas where your career experience shows you are strongest, whether in people relations, project management, maths, technical skills, or any other areas. Also, list the areas where you can demonstrate that you have improved your capabilities to show that you pay attention to building your skills. Catalog these in your Master Resume and select for the JD-specific resume the ones that support the job description.
Prepare a List of Q and As (Technical and Behavioral).
Think and prepare a list of questions the interviewer will ask you. These will fall into two categories: technical and behavioral. Technical questions will test your knowledge to see if you have the technical skills the job requires (and that you claimed in your resume). Behavioral questions aim to uncover your personality and what drives you. Your answers should focus on what the job entails and how you can contribute, so you should tie each answer to the job requirements. When you are asked about your future career plans, demonstrate that you are enthusiastic about the job you are applying for and about growing in that area.
Work on Your Doubts and Concerns to Dilute Negativity.
If there are things in the job description where you feel you have doubts or weaknesses, think of ways to address them. You may want to point to other skills or experiences that show you are willing and able to become strong in those weak areas. If you have doubts about things like gaps in your employment history, be prepared to explain them honestly and be assured that many people (especially in 2020 and 2021) have similar gaps. Whatever areas are causing you self-doubt, identify them and think of ways to neutralize them in your thinking so they don't affect your interview experience. Don't let them distract you from why you can perform the job well.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!
Rehearse your greeting, rehearse your introduction, rehearse your questions and answers. The more you rehearse these, the more comfortable and confident you will be saying them in the interview.
Get a Good Night's Sleep and Look Forward To a Pleasant Experience.
Be well-rested for the interview, and remind yourself that the interviewer hopes you will be a good fit for the job. The process should be a career-building exercise, not an ordeal.
Knowing What to Know is a Key Interview Skill
Prem identifies the must-know information you need for each interview type as well as in general. Knowing what to know will guide your preparation and make it more effective.
Challenges the Pandemic Has Posed.
In 2021 and 2022, you will be asked how the pandemic impacted you, your team, your company, and your industry. Besides being concerned about how you have been personally affected, the interviewer wants to know how you dealt with the uncertainty and challenges that came your way. You should be ready to talk about the coping mechanisms you used in your work and how you resolved problems as they arose. You should also be prepared to discuss what you see as potential future challenges and what you recommend you and your new employer do to prepare for and respond to them.
Must-Know Basics for Entry-Level Interviews.
You should be prepared to talk about your academic knowledge as it aligns with the Job Description (JD), as well as additional skills you gained other than the prescribed academic curriculum. Address the learnings you have gained from projects, seminars, and symposiums. Be ready to tell how you would like to contribute to the company from your existing knowledge and how you see your career developing over the next two to five years. The interviewer will also ask about the soft skills you picked up in college to help in your career in areas such as team organization and leadership or communication. To gain a perception of you as a human being, they may ask about highlights of your contribution to the society, environment, etc., as part of volunteering to see if you are inclined to help others. They may also ask about your passions, both professional & personal, because your hobbies and interests indicate how enthusiastic and persistent you are.
Must-Know Basics for Junior and Middle-Level Interviews.
Since technical skills have a short half-life today, you need to demonstrate that you are a lifelong learner who keeps up with new technology skills and developments. Address the additional qualifications and certifications you have added to your formal academics. Be ready to talk about examples of your work accomplishments, such as:
- New tech or work efficiency measures you adopted to improve your team's efficiency
- Your experience from individual contributor to Leading a Team
- Examples of achievements and excellence of your journey from entry-level to current profile
Emphasize the value you can bring from your experience to the job you are applying for. Be prepared to highlight your scope for improvement in your areas of concern.
Interactions at the Senior Level.
At the senior level, employers tend to be interested in your leadership capacity, industry perspective, and networking competence. They want you to tell them how your experience will add value to the position. You can expect the interviewer to ask for your vision to take the Business Unit or department to the next level. They will ask about additional knowledge you've gained from other than academics and how you've applied it over the years. When they ask about your experience, they want to hear about the professional storms you weathered and not the number of years you served in each position. They will ask for your failure stories, not to raise red flags but to learn how you bounced back. They will ask about your interpersonal skills, ability to connect across the spectrum, and ability to influence and inspire leadership - especially your ability to provide leadership to people smarter than you.
Know Thy Company.
It's challenging to create a favorable perception of your fit with the job requirements if you know very little about the company you want to join. In fact, that lack of knowledge indicates that you aren't very interested in joining the company. So you need to research into:
- Industry standing
- Mentions in the news
Researching companies is a "secret" interview skill. Search engines and industry publication websites are great resources for this research.
The "Secret" to Excelling in Interviews
For face-to-face (in-person) interviews, remember that smart dressing pays. Your appearance will set the initial impression in the interviewer's mind. But the interview starts at the starts & ends from the security gate. Every interaction with anyone in between will factor into the hiring decision, so be pleasant and professional toward everyone you meet at the company. When you enter the interview room, project confidence with a friendly smile, square shoulders, and relaxed straight back (not stiff!). An enthusiastic greeting of the day is a MUST! Wait to be asked to be seated & unbutton your jacket before sitting down to keep it from bunching in front of you.
When it's time to start, let them initiate the conversation. As you respond to questions, shift your gaze between all the panelists if there is more than one.
For online interviews, have your tech in place: stable internet connectivity, a good mic & camera, and proper lighting are all essential. Check to make sure you have an uncluttered background, have a copy of your resume/CV on the desk in front of you, and arrange to have no disruptions from people or animals in your home. If something interrupts or disrupts your interview, take it in stride and ask the interviewer if you need to repeat something. Keep your camera on unless the interviewer asks you to turn it off: they want to see how you react to their questions. And the day before, run a pre-session check of your setup: it's as essential to online interviewing as a pre-flight check to a pilot!
When answering questions, remember, you can do it. Put any doubts aside. In answering behavioral questions about your accomplishments, use the DOER technique: Describe the activity, identify the Objective you wanted to accomplish, tell about the Execution of your plan, and list the results you achieved. Remember, the interviewer wants to know if you are a good fit with the company's culture and values.
One interview that is often overlooked is knowing what not to say. Don't bad mouth your current company, salary, or boss, don't sound desperate (never say, "I'll do anything"), and don't only use adjectives (give objective proof of any accomplishment or skill).
When the interview comes to a close, ask the interviewer if they have got what they want to know from you. Ask them what the next steps in the evaluation process will be. Say thanks, and not just to the interviewer, but to every staff member who welcomed you and made you comfortable. And remember: your interview is not over till you leave the premises.
Watch the interview video linked in this article to see Prem discuss these areas in more depth. You should find it helpful in sharpening your interview skills.
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