18 job interview tips by Penny, our IT team lead


You’ve made a great impression at a job fair. Or perhaps you wrote an exceptional letter of application?

Whatever the reason, you received an invitation for a job interview. Perhaps this is your first interview or maybe you’ve got a few under your belt already. Fact remains that effective pointers are worth their weight in gold.


What makes these job interview tips different


Although the internet has thousands of articles on job applications, few are written for starters. Either they’re incomplete or superficial, or they’re chock-full of things you already know.

That’s why I decided to write my own starters’ guide. A practical guide, because in my capacity as a talent scout for Exellys I conduct lots of job interviews.


About the lay-out


Many companies prefer to start off with telephone interviews before inviting candidates for a face-to-face interview and that is also how the article was conceived. Read all the tips even if you got invited for an interview in person right away because most tips deal with the preparation for the actual interview.


General tip: go through the interview in your head beforehand


Before we get started let me just say this: a job interview is a bit like selling yourself. And what does every good salesman do? He imagines the conversation beforehand. Getting into the head of the interviewer makes for a much more convincing story.

So how do you do that when you’re applying for a job? First of all, you must realise that hiring you is a substantial investment. By the time you are able to pull your weight, your employer has easily invested 40 to 75,000 euros in pay, training and coaching. That’s almost as much as a Tesla.

To a manager, a job application is all about risk management. He or she wants to minimise the risks so he or she is looking for an answer to these four questions:
1. Are you intelligent and communicative? Will you make it on the shop floor?
2. Are you properly motivated?
3. Will you fit the team?
4. How much will you cost me?

Keep in mind what the bottom line is for an employer. Gear your preparation to these questions and you’re guaranteed to make a better impression already.


Tips for a telephone interview


1. Check out the website

You’d be surprised to learn how few candidates visit the company website when preparing for an interview so make sure you do! Try to answer the following questions afterwards:
• What does the company do? What is their core business?
• What does the website say about their corporate culture, values, mission, etc.?
• What jobs do they have on offer? Which of these offers suit(s) you?
• What would I like to ask them about?
• What will they expect from me?
• What do I expect from them?

2. Know what you want

What kind of job would you like? Where do you see your career in the next few years? You should have some thoughts on this.

You’re relatively new to the job market so no one expects you to know exactly what job you’re looking for but that doesn’t mean you can’t think about the direction you’d like your career to take:
• What is important to you? What kind of corporate culture would make you feel at home?
• Are you looking for a technically oriented job in the long run? Or a process-oriented one? Analytical? Organisational?
• Are you primarily a team player or do you like to work on projects by yourself from time to time?
• Do you get bored easily and are you looking for a varied job, or do you prefer to go in depth?
• Have you identified an area you’d like to specialise in?

3. Brush up your language skills in advance

Especially in Belgium, prospective employers like to inquire about your language skills. Often they will briefly put those skills to the test: ‘Ah, so you speak French? On peut continuer en français alors?’. If you speak a foreign language but you don’t get to practise every day, it’s best to warm up with someone else before the interview. You’re French isn’t all that good? Then at least be able to say so in French and point out you are willing to learn.

4. Think about whether or not you are willing to move (or commute)

IT jobs for major companies generally mean you’ll be working at the head office and these are usually situated in or around large cities. If you live in a rural area: are you willing to move or commute? What’s the maximum distance you’re willing to travel every day? Many starters don’t realise how long the commute to work takes in many cases – commuters often spend sixty hours per month in a train or in the car.

Decide whether you are willing to move abroad and think whether you are prepared to travel and how often: one week per month? More? Less?

5. Update your LinkedIn profile

Your LinkedIn profile should be tip top. A profile picture, a well-written summary and details on your education and experience are a bare minimum. Check our article on LinkedIn basics and the tips for the advanced.

6. You should be able to explain what your masters degree dissertation is about in a concise and clear fashion

Re-read your dissertation and practise explaining what it is about. Your explanation should also be clear to non-IT staff. So refresh your memory and test whether you are able to explain the topic in less than a minute. If applicable, do the same for internships.

7. Keep your calendar handy

Does your interviewer think you’re eligible for a job today? If so, he/she may want to schedule a personal interview right away so keep your calendar close to hand.

8. Give Murphy no chance

A job interview is tense enough as it is so don’t tempt fate and avoid technical hiccups:
• Call on a landline if possible.
• Using your mobile anyway? Then check your network coverage.
• Check that your battery is fully charged.

9. Find a quiet spot to make that call

You need to be 100% focused for a job interview so find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Did a company call you at a bad time? Then be upfront about it and ask to reschedule.

10. Enunciate clearly

The way you express yourself is obviously of key importance. Take care not to speak too fast. If you don’t spend a lot of time on the phone it may be a good idea to practise that telephone interview with a friend or family member.


Tips for a personal job interview


Your telephone interview went smoothly and you got invited for a personal interview? Here are some tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

11. Take a thorough look at the company website

Not knowing the company (enough) is always a deal breaker during a job interview. Peruse the company website for at least half an hour and take notes if you come across interesting information. It will help you remember that information for your interview.

12. Read your masters dissertation thoroughly

Prospective employers like to dissect candidates’ masters dissertations. You may be fed up with it already but it’s still a good idea to read it again. Practise explaining what it is about to a layman.

You should also wonder how your dissertation relates to the position you are applying for.

13. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses

This is a real classic! Write down three of your strengths and weaknesses because many companies will ask this question. Jot down some practical examples. Be as honest as possible. This question is not about selling yourself; the main thing is showing you have self-knowledge.

Difficult exercise? That’s the whole idea. Talk to a sibling, a parent or a good friend if necessary.

14. Prepare your own questions

Another classic. Asking questions of your own makes a good impression and you also get to know the company better. Here are some of my personal favourites:
• What will my main tasks and responsibilities be in the first few months? And in the first year?
• What does the team look like?
• What will I be doing in my training period?
• What training opportunities do you offer?
• What is the best way to prepare for the job?
• In your opinion, what makes the difference between a good and an exceptional employee? (They’ll love this one!)

Be sure to write these questions down on a notepad or in a notebook (see tip 17 below). You wouldn’t be the first to be hit by nerves at a job interview ;-)

15. Dress for the occasion

Your student days are over. You’re a professional now so dress accordingly.

Men should wear a suit, possibly with a tie and leather shoes. Women should wear formal trousers or a skirt (not too short) with a jacket and a blouse, and shoes with a heel (but not pumps). Don’t exaggerate your jewellery or cleavage.

The key words are: professional, stylish and authentic. You don’t have anything suitable to wear? Then it’s wise to make that investment now because you’ll need to wear those clothes to work anyway.

16. Print your CV and put it in front of you on the table

While this may sound like a detail, printing your CV and putting it in front of you sends an important signal. This tells your future employer you are proactive and you like to come prepared. Also, it may come in handy if your interviewer didn’t bring your CV.

Do not simply read your CV out loud. When asked to introduce yourself, try do so in a spontaneous manner. Mention the highlights of your academic career, the choices you made and why you made them, important projects, internships, your dissertation and hobbies. This should last around three minutes.

17. Bring a notepad or notebook (and use it)

Nearly all starters are either afraid to take notes during a personal interview or they simply forget. Perhaps they think it makes a less than intelligent impression but the opposite is true. Making the occasional note during an interview is a great way to impress the interviewer. It shows that you’re focused and that you are taking the interview seriously. And most of all: writing down the key information from the interview may prove very useful afterwards!

18. Show your enthusiasm

A job interview can obviously be a tense affair but there is no need to clam up. You are there because you want the job so be sure to show it! Mind you, there’s no need to exaggerate. Even an introverted applicant can make an enthusiastic and eager impression.

If you are asked after the interview if you are still interested, be sure to answer ‘yes, absolutely’. Answer ‘Hmmm, I think so’ and you might as well have stayed at home!


Practice makes perfect


So there you have it. These 18 tips should provide you with enough ammunition for a successful job interview. If you’re the right person for the job you now stand a much better chance of actually getting it.

Just a final remark perhaps: applying for a job is a skill. The more interviews you do, the more you will hone that skill. In any case I would advise you to apply with a number of companies as this will help you discover what kind of job best suits you.


Publication date: 19 June 2017

Questions?

Penny Van Puymbroeck Team Lead Recruitment