Improving Your Performance at Job Interview

The short time you spend at a job interview could have a dramatic effect on your career prospects. It is therefore important that you perform well, because no matter how good your career record is to date, the employment interview remains an important step towards achievement of your ambitions. This document provides you with valuable information on how to conduct yourself during interviews with prospective employers. Getting hired depends almost completely on the actor factor. You have to treat a job interview as a screen test. If you know your lines, perfect your delivery, and dress for the part, you will get hired. If you do not, you would not. No retakes.

Interview in Progress!
Interview in Progress!

Preparing For The Interview

Preparation is the essential first step towards a successful interview. Company interviewers are continually amazed at the number of applicants who drift into their offices without any apparent preparation and idea of what they are going to say. Thus, it is important to:

1. Know the exact date, time and place of the interview, the interviewer’s full name, and its correct pronunciation and his/her title.

2. Read and understand the job description and requirements of the job you are applying for. This will refresh you on the ability, experience, qualification and personal/character traits expected of the job and facilitate your preparation for the interview. More importantly, you may have applied for other jobs and would not want to mix up the job descriptions and requirements during the interview.

3. Many companies expect you to be familiar with what it is they do. They also expect that you will speak convincingly about why you would love to work at their company. You can visit the websites and google the Internet to supply you with pertinent information about the company, where its offices, plants and stores are located; what its their products and services are; what its growth had been, and what its growth potential is for the future.

4. Refresh your memory on the facts and figures of your present employer and former employers. You will be expected to know a lot about a company for which you have previously worked.

5. Prepare the questions you will ask during the interview. Remember that an interview is a two-way street. If you do not ask questions, especially when the interviewers ask if you have any questions, you look unengaged, afraid or uninterested. The employer will try to determine through questioning if you have the ability, experience, qualification, character and state of health necessary to do the job. You must determine through questioning whether the company will give you the opportunity for the growth and development you seek.

6. Probing questions you might ask include:

  • What is the reason the position is available? Is this a new position or replacement position?
  • How did things work out for the last person in this role? What did the last person in this position do well? Not so well? How long had that person been on the job? If a short time, why did the predecessor leave? (If the last two people both left after a short time, beware.)
  • What would be the ideal candidate for this position? What are the two or three most important things you’re looking for in a candidate?
  • What do you expect the new hire to achieve in the first six months? How will you evaluate my performance at the end of six months?
  • What would be some of my duties in the first year of employment? What are some of the key performance indicators of this position? What will my career progression be like? In the long and short term, what will you be rating me on?
  • What changes would you expect within two years? What would you change about the company? (No matter how prestigious a company may be, it is not perfect, so beware if your interviewer says there is absolutely nothing he would change.)
  • What are likely to be the first couple of assignments?
  • What is the company’s five-year plan?
  • Is the company culture more on the casual or more on the formal side?
  • What would be the ideal candidate for this position?
  • What is the typical management style?
  • What sorts of people have done well in this company?
  • What do you (the interviewer) like most about working at the company?
  • What are some of the organization’s proudest moments or most unique accomplishments?
  • What are the best selling products or services of the company?
  • What are some of the new products or services in the work for next year?
  • What do you think I can personally do to drive this company to the competitive edge?
  • What are the advanced training programs available for those who demonstrate outstanding ability?
  • What is your recruitment process like? Where do we go from here?

7. Appear organized, carrying related documents with you, such as education certificates, training course certificates, extra curricular activity records, employment testimonials and passport-sized photograph. It is advisable to make photocopies of these documents to be brought along. The employer usually requests to validate the original documents during the interview. Hand them the photocopies if they would like to have selective documents – saving them the effort to make copies of these documents and making them feel good about you. Likewise, prepare a few copies of your resume in advance in case any of the interviewers does not have your resume readily available.

8. Show up on time for the interview. Arrive ten to fifteen minutes early, as a sign you are punctual and that the interview is important to you. Where necessary, take some time a day or two before the interview to locate the best route to the interview site. Do not forget to also identify the most convenient parking location. (If you are applying for a job in Singapore, refer to this streetmap for direction.)

Managing The First 20 Seconds Of The Interview

Whether it is morally right or wrong to judge a person the moment we meet him/her, it is biological necessity that we do so. As long that we know that is a fact, we need to ensure that we use it to our advantage.

If you want the interviewer’s initial response to be “this is a friend” rather than the opposite, you should follow a few seemingly simple instructions.

1. Wear a smile, no matter how you feel. A smile conveys confidence, high self-esteem, competence, warmth and enthusiasm. Believe it or not, when people smile, they actually perform better at what they are doing because they are using more of both the left and right sides of the brain!

2. Wear clothes that are appropriate to the occasion. Dress conservatively and preferably in darker colours. Pay attention to all facets of your dress and grooming. Doing so is a signal of respect you will be sending to the interviewer by indicating, indirectly, that the interview is an important occasion to you and that you value the interviewer’s time so much that you have put serious consideration into your appearance.

3. Have a firm handshake, using the whole hand. A handshake that is too loose unconsciously communicates to the interviewer that you are not fully committed. On the other hand, a bone-crushing handshake sends a message that you may be overly competitive. Neither of these messages is attractive to an interviewer. A handshake that is firm with one, two or three “pumps” of the elbow is an appropriate business greeting, signaling to the employer, “Let us get down to business.” There is no reason to shake a woman’s hand any differently that you would shake a man’s hand. Firm and businesslike is the rule to remember.

4. Address the interviewer as Ms or Mr _____ until you are invited to call him or her by a first name. It will sound something like, “Hello, Mr Wong. I am Steven Tan.” Again, this greeting is part of being respectful of the interviewer’s time and authority.

5. Introduce yourself by your first and last names and say that you are happy to be there. Introducing yourself and expressing that you are glad to be there is the first step to putting the interviewer at ease, so that you can both enjoy a relaxed meeting. It will sound like, “Hello, Mr Wong. I am Steven Tan. It is a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for seeing me today.” You will be smiling warmly and offering a professional handshake at the same time.

6. Do not sit down until the interviewer suggests that you do. If he or she does not, ask politely, “May I have a seat please?” As soon as you sit down in a chair in the interviewer’s office, you become part of his or her territory. It is therefore wise to wait until you are invited to sit or you have asked permission to do so.

7. Do not, at any time during the interview, put anything on the interviewer’s desk. Keep briefcase, note pad, date book and handbag by your side or on your lap. The employer’s desk is even more sacred and private territory than the surrounding office. Keep hands, elbows and any other items from the top of the desk. If you wish to take notes, hold your notebook on your lap. If, however, you have been invited to sit at a conference table or a round table that is not a desk, you should feel free to take notes on the tabletop as the meeting goes on. These spaces are shared territory, unlike a person’s desk, which is private.

8. Turn your handphone off before you walk in for the interview. If you forget and it happens to ring, do not glance to see who called. Simply apologize for the interruption and turn off the device.

9. Make your behaviour in the waiting room impeccably professional and polite. If presented with an application, do fill it out neatly and completely. Interviewers often ask their receptionist what they thought about you. Many managers, directors and executives rely on their assistants as a second pair of eyes, so you will want them to give their bosses a good report.

The Interview

You are being interviewed because the interviewer wants to hire somebody – not because he/she wants to trip you up or embarrass you. Through the interaction, which takes place during the interview, he/she will be searching out your strong and weak points, evaluating you on your qualifications, skills and intellectual qualities and he/she will probably probe deeply to determine your attitudes, aptitudes, stability, motivation and maturity.

Be prepared to answer questions about your:

  • Work experience and education – covering your present and previous jobs, underlying responsibilities and achievements, likes and dislikes, educational qualification, and strengths and weaknesses.
  • Skills – covering problem solving skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills and management/administrative skills.
  • Motivation – covering your career goals, motivation at work, reason/s for leaving your present employment, and interest in the position and company that you are applying for.
  • Personal/character traits
  • Hobbies and interests

Interviewers these days want to hear specific data. Your answers to the above questions should provide the interviewer with concrete, quantified examples of what you achieved. An example of a good response pattern to a question like “What kinds of skills do you have that would benefit this company?” can be like:

“I believe that my management, budgeting and purchasing skills would benefit the company. In my past company, I initiated a new procedure for purchasing materials that ended up in a 37 percent decrease in annual materials costs. I am proud of this achievement. That is what I’d like to do for your company.”

You can see a pattern emerging in this response:

  • You mention three skills that would benefit your next employer.
  • You pick one skill that you believe would be most important for the job you are applying for.
  • You tell a very short story about that particular skill. You provide a quantified example.
  • You mention that you are proud of the achievement.
  • You link your past accomplishment or result with your future performance at the company you are applying for.

There may be a question for which you just cannot recall the answer. You might take a moment to put your hand to your chin and comment: “That is a really good question. Hmm… let me see. I have not thought about that one lately.” This stalling behaviour is perfectly tolerated by the interviewer because you are letting him/her into your thinking process. And, after all, you are human, and so is he/she!

If you cannot think of anything relevant to say at that moment, the following answer will keep you poised, while at the same time showing that you are willing to take initiative: “You know, that is such an interesting question. I think the answer deserves time for some research. Can I look into it this evening and call or send an email with my answer first thing in the morning?”

Another question that comes up quite frequently is “What are three of your weaknesses?” Here is a chance to get unhired if you are not careful. Use the answer below or modify it to adapt it to your own situation.

“Let us see, three of them. My weaknesses are more my biases. Well, first, I tend to be biased against people who intentionally don’t perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, who think they are doing the employer a favor by being there. Second, I am biased in favor of getting the work done when I promised and how I promised. I guess you could call it a sense of commitment, and I expect that same level of commitment from coworkers. Finally, I tend to be biased in favor of an organization that fosters challenge and increased responsibility.”

What if you were laid off due to a downsizing or reorganization of your company? The three rules of thumb for explaining a layoff are the following:

  • Do not blame yourself.
  • Do not blame or sound angry with the company.
  • End your statement about the situation on an upbeat note by saying that you are looking forward to a new position with new responsibilities.

Try these answers on for size. They do not get into negatives, and they indicate that you have a clean slate and wish to move on.

  • Due to a mass reorganization of my company, my entire department was eliminated. Now I am looking forward to exploring new options for employment.
  • Due to serious financial problems, my company was forced to downsize. Unfortunately, my position was affected. Now I am looking forward to exploring some new opportunities.
  • My company reduced its labour force to accommodate a major shift in business. My function in the company was moved to Shanghai, where I chose not to relocate. I have two teenage children to take care of. I am eager to pursue other positions in Singapore.

Lastly, do not say you can solve the employer’s problems. A lot of work may have been done on a particular problem, so saying you can solve it easily would be a turnoff. Say you would study the situation carefully, including what has already been done and the principal obstacles. Point out you’ve faced similar problems and have used such-and-such an approach that accomplished the objective, but stress that any solution you attempted in the new position would be tailor-made for your new company.

Closing The Interview

“Do you have any final questions to ask?” The interviewer is signaling to you that he/she is about to end the interview. So ask two last questions:

  • “May I ask whether you have any reservations about my ability to do this job?” This question can be prefixed with a confident statement along the lines of, “I am very interested in this job and I believe I could do it well”.

If they say they have none, they are saying they have no reason not to offer you the job – a very useful admission to draw from them. If they do have reservations they will have to express them, and you will get a final chance to reassure them.

  • “By the way, when can I expect to hear from you?” You can also use this probing question, “What is your recruitment process like? Where can we go from here?”

While you may not expect to receive a job offer on the spot, you will at least want to know what happens next and when. You want to know whether there will be a second round of interviews, whether you will hear by phone or by email, when they will be in touch, and so on. The response and body language of the interviewer may provide useful information and/or signals on how well you think you performed in the interview.

When the interview ends, stand up, collect your things and leave promptly. Before you go, shake hands with the interviewer again if they offer you a hand. Thank them for seeing you, smile warmly (however you feel inside) and make a clean exit.

If the interviewer accompanies you to the reception or to the main exit, chatting as you go, remember that you are still on show. Do not be lulled by the official end to the interview into making any unguarded comments.

After The Interview

You are back from the interview. Remember to call the consultant who referred you to the position immediately after the interview and explain what happened. He/she will want to talk with you before the interviewer calls him/her back. If you are interested in progressing further it will assist if your feelings towards the position are known, together with your perception of what the employer’s reaction is likely to be.

Last, and most important, prepare a focus letter and send it out within 24 hours of the interview. Email is preferred. Mailing or faxing is alternative. The purpose is to leave no doubt in the employer’s mind that you are the candidate to hire. A focus letter includes a gesture of appreciation for the interviewer’s time, but also, and more importantly, it imparts a meaningful message of your newfound perceptions of the company and how your expertise is indispensable to solving the problems of their business.

Two sample focus letters are presented below for your reference. The first is written to the human resource manager and the second is addressed to the hiring manager who led the interview with the human resource manager. Both are written in email format.

Sample Focus Letter to the Human Resource Manager


Subject: Thank you for the interview on 11 March 2011 for the position of General Manager

Dear Ms Lim

It was a pleasure meeting with you and Mr Wong for the interview this morning. I sincerely wish to thank both of you for your invaluable time and the informative session regarding the position, job requirements and key challenges.

Beside the HBDI profile of myself which I have shared with you, I have in the past done the Harrison Assessment and the Behavioral Style (DISC) Analysis. Do let me know if you think it is useful and wish me to send you copies of these assessment reports for your reference.

I hope that I have managed to share my credentials and experience sufficiently yesterday. I would like to reiterate my enthusiasm for the position. I look forward to hearing from you once a decision is made regarding the position. Please feel free to call my handphone at xxxx-xxxx if I can provide you with any additional information.

Once again, thank you for the interview and for your interest.

Yours sincerely

Steven Tan Kok Seng

Sample Focus Letter to the Hiring Manager


Subject: Thank you for the interview on 11 March 2011 for the position of General Manager

Dear Mr Wong

It was an enjoyable experience meeting up with you and Ms Lim for the interview this morning. I sincerely wish to thank both of you for your invaluable time and the informative session regarding the position, job requirements and key challenges.

In particular, I really appreciate your emphasis and sharing your sentiment on full accountability of the position and the ability of the person to fit with the existing team comprising of founding members. As mentioned, I personally believe that all work differences can be resolved as long as the intent is genuine and for the greater interest and benefits of the company.

I hope I have managed to share my credentials and experience sufficiently yesterday. I would like to express my enthusiasm for this challenging role. Please feel free to let me know if I can provide you with any additional information.

Once again, thank you for the interview. I look forward to hearing from Ms Lim or yourself once a decision is made regarding this position.

Yours sincerely

Steven Tan Kok Seng

You Did Not Get the Job

You did not get hired. If you were a finalist for the job, it meant the employer liked you. It is often not easy to choose between finalists. You were edged out. Suck it up. Do not take it personally. Stay in touch with the employer. There is a good chance that the new hire would not work out with the employer or that another position is open up.

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