The important thing to do with any job interview is to research the organisation thoroughly, after all, this is where you are going to be committing 8 out of 16 hours a day of your waking life, for 5 out of seven days a week for the next 1 or more years. Most importantly, try and understand what they do and also understand what you will be required to do when you are accepted for the job. I have seen many candidates who don’t do any research or who wait until the day of the interview before they start asking questions. If this is your attitude to interviews then I would like to most politely say, that you already have a 90% chance of failure at the interview and if you have already been failing at interviews, you probably have just discovered one of the reasons why. For starters, there are some very very basic things you should note, that can increase your chances of success:
• Always dress smartly – a suit, a shirt or other suitable clothing make you look welcoming on the eyes.
• Always try to arrive 15 minutes early (there is no such thing as African time).
• Always remember to turn your phone off as soon as you arrive at the interview venue. Don’t forget this.
• Always obtain a job specification or job description or go through the vacancy thoroughly.
• Always make time to read on the organisation’s website especially anything about them in the news.
• Always research and remember 5 key aspects of the organisation that makes them stand out.
• Always prepare 3 questions to ask at the end of the interview (e.g. what are your expectations of me in the first month I am employed; what is it like working for this organisation; what is the next big direction for this organisation)
• Always wait to be offered a seat before you seat down.
• Always smile and give lots of eye contact with everybody present on the panel not just the one asking the question
• Always sit up straight and be enthusiastic with your answers and questions; don’t speak undertone
• Remember! The energy you show, will reflect in their enthusiasm to hire you; nobody wants a “kill-joy”
People say to me that the culture of nepotism (the “who-you-know” factor) in play during recruitments in most African countries is very high – I don’t deny it exists. But I also believe very genuinely (because I have also experienced it) that if you do your homework well, and perform exceptionally well, in fact so well that your potential employer knows that you have proven yourself beyond a doubt as the best and most suited candidate for the role – believe me, it will be very very hard to exercise nepotism on their part. Even if they did, at least their sleep wouldn’t be so sweet where you are concerned and you can at least hold your head very high.
In terms of Questions at an interview, the easiest and most practical way I have found around preparing is to do this: draw a table with two columns and as many rows. In the first column list down all the most important things (businesses/activities) the organisation does and also the job requirements (i.e. the actual activities or duties that you will be required to do in this role if you are accepted (e.g. to file customer applications orderly on a daily basis, to prepare a bank reconciliation statement at the end of every month, to chase up customers for unpaid loans etc). In the other column, try and match line by line, writing down every activity, experience, skills or anything you have done before or are still doing that makes it possible for you to contribute to or perform the particular business activity or job requirement respectively on each line. Hopefully by the end of this exercise, you should also be able to know if you are (by your own assessment) suited for the role. Let me just say however, that the understanding of most of us when it comes to the word “experience” has to change a little, otherwise, you may wrongfully write yourself off as inexperienced for a lot of jobs. There is such a thing as “transferrable skills”. So although you may be applying for say a job in Banking and finance, there may be many things in the job description that you could do (without further training) as a result of a remotely similar activity you may have done in your old job in a manufacturing company or even at school, even though you have never worked in the Banking and Finance sector before.
Below however, are some things to consider in answering some of the most common interview questions you’ll come across. Enjoy it:
What Are You Bringing To This Organisation?
The easiest way to prepare for this sort of question is to research and find out where the organisation is trying to go, where they are heading, their plans for the future and what they say they need to do to get there. What new activities, business operations, new products, new systems are coming on board. Then ask yourself, what skills or knowledge do you have, that will be needed by the organisation, to reach those goals. Every employer is happy to have employees whose skills or knowledge will help the organisation move into the future. Understand that it’s not all about skill – sometimes, it is also about knowledge. If you are just graduating from university or a professional qualification, you may equally have no skill but more crucially, a certain knowledge that will be a useful ingredient in the potential employer’s future operations – this is your ace card, use it. So remember: try matching the future direction of the organisation, with the skills or knowledge you have which may be good ingredients for that direction – that is what you are bringing to the organisation; an ingredient for their present or future success.
How Did You Find Out About This Role/Job?
This is one of those questions you really can’t lie to, but my suggestion is that if it is possible, decide where you want your career to go – is it auditing, accountancy, consultancy, banking, human resource, development, training etc? Once you have determined that, start looking for jobs in the right places. Employers who want the best HR personnel are more likely to advertise excellent positions in magazines or websites or similar platforms that are subscribed to by HR enthusiasts. And the same applies to other career paths. For some employers, potential employees who read their adverts on these types of platforms appear to them as being more focused and more discerning. They appear to potential employers as people who know where to look for the right things. However, where these kinds of targeted newsletters, magazines, internet sites, platforms don’t exist in your particular country, don’t worry, this question won’t be taking too many marks from you. The other angle to it is this – if you heard about the role from a friend, colleague, family, etc –there is a high chance that you are the kind of person with good human relations and you are good with keeping and managing your contacts – this is a superior skill for any employee to have.
How Long Were You In Your Last Job For And Why Did You Leave?
Here again, employers want to fish out those who are unstable from those who are. If you are always leaving your jobs within or up to a year, you are likely to be considered as very unstable. You need to understand the way employers think. Most of them take employees on, use about 6 or so months to teach them about their companies and how things are done, and don’t forget they will be spending money on you all these while. So if you leave within another 6 months, they have just made a loss. Now, potential employers don’t have a way of gauging how long you will stay with them except by looking at how long you have stayed in other places. If you are just seeking a job for the first time or you have left a few places in the past within 1 year, then you’ll need to provide some assurance to the potential employer that you don’t intend to leave their employment anytime soon. But you can’t just say “I’ll be here for a while” – you have to let them see a reason why you would. Maybe you have a personal program to gain as much experience from this particular employer that you can’t find with any organisation (and don’t try to flatter them, because they always know) ; maybe the organisation itself provides an excellent personnel development programme that you want to take full advantage off; maybe you are a family person and you need some stability in your career; maybe you have gained several experiences in other places and now, you only need settling down; maybe they are the only organisation that provide the type of career you want to develop in; or maybe you have other past events in your life that you can use to prove that you are a very committed person (not your girlfriend/boyfriend type of commitment though). Whatever the case give the potential employer a reason to believe s/he won’t be making a loss employing you.
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