At the interview, put your best foot forward

At the interview, put your best foot forward

The reason is that the first interview often comes close on the heels of your graduation or acquisition of any other qualification, and you have to be judged not by your job experience but by your academic qualifications and your role in co-curricular activities. When you have acquired four or five years of job experience and want to change jobs, the interview will be different. Your recruiters will look at your performance and experience in previous jobs.

This column discusses the interviews of the latter kind. By now you probably will have an impressive resume to present. You must study your resume and be sure about what you have put into it. Writing a resume is a separate skill, and you may have got the help of a professional consultant in preparing it. In such a case, it is all the more important that you know what has gone into it. The interview generally begins with a verification of the details you have given in your resume. This is very brief, and then the interviewer gets down to business. Often the first question you have to answer is, “Tell us about yourself." Here is your chance to start selling the product: you and your skills, in this instance. Sometimes the question is differently worded. “Can you think of three words that describe your personality?"

Almost everybody would say “I am hardworking". The word sounds bland by itself, almost like a high school testimonial. The image you give is that of someone who slogs late into the night; the quality of the work done is not reckoned here. Another response that can mislead is, “I am independent." This can make the interviewer wonder whether you won’t carry your independence too far. You can create a favourable impression if instead you say “I am innovative."

The adjectives you use here are generally abstract words, but the interviewer will look for concrete evidence that will back up these words. Try to choose words that cover three aspects of your personality, rather than say the same thing in different words, as in “I am systematic, well-organized, and meticulous." When you have given the three words that describe you, the interviewer will use them to frame the next questions.

Abstract words such as sincere, ethical and empathetic are very broad terms, and do not convey your specific skills. Some of the positive words that you can use are reliable, team-oriented and responsible. You can explain how your employers trusted you to finish projects on schedule, and how your team would show peak performance when you were with them. Make sure that all that you say is related to work experience. When you talk about your team spirit, you can introduce your skills in communicating with your team, and persuading them to go with you.

Once you have talked about your strengths, the interviewer might ask about your weakness. There are different ways of responding to this question. The aim is to present the weakness as a stimulus for positive change. Your reply may be, “I am a workaholic, and sometimes my colleagues find it difficult to keep pace with me." You can then say how you solved the problem by redistribution of work and by designing a different sequence of tasks. Another weakness may be that you are a perfectionist, and are never satisfied with the work of others. But then, you have to show how you avoid conflict in that situation and make a strength of this trait.

Some other positive qualities that could impress the interviewer are your ability to troubleshoot, and your ability to work under pressure.

When the interviewer asks what your duties were at your last job, you get an opportunity to show your performance in an actual work situation. Be enthusiastic in describing your work, and show that you are comfortable at work.

Before the interview, try to think of all the possible questions you may have to answer. Practise your responses till they become part of you. Your answers should not sound ready-made or rehearsed; they should sound natural. Your body language will show how spontaneous and natural you are when you respond.

Some job applicants feel that it is embarrassing to talk about themselves. But an interview is a situation in which you cannot afford to be self-effacing. Be assertive in presenting instances of your success in your previous job. The interviewer is looking for people who can deliver and are confident and balanced in their approach to work.

A modern interview is much more refined than a formal interlocution over the table. There may be psychological tests and even a dinner interview. Once you have passed the first hurdle, you must feel confident to go through the rest of the process.

V.R. Narayanaswami, a former professor of English, has written several books and articles on the usage of the language. He will look at the peculiarities of business and popular English usage in his fortnightly column. Comments can be sent to