Betina: Hello! I’ll be taking the lead on this week’s post. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’ve read our other posts, but quick recap if not: Justine and I are frequent collaborators and former blockmates who are unofficially 3rd Year BS Internship double minor in Orgs and Acads. I like people; Justine, less so. (J: I like Coke, if that helps.)
Earlier this week, I had a few internships interviews and I realized that Justine and I have been so focused on how to make a resume, that we haven’t really talked too much about what happens during the rest of the recruitment process. So we decided to tackle something that 90% of the people I know fear: interviews.
For this particular post we’ll be focusing on how big corporations interview. There’s a difference in interview style and tone between companies that interview hundreds of applicants and companies that interview 5 applicants. We’ll tackle how to handle interviews for start-ups and smaller corporations next week. (J: So like our FB page here to keep updated on when we’ll be posting it!)
I want to preface this by saying that recruitment is my area of expertise. I was trained at ZMG Ward-Howell, a top executive recruitment (aka headhunting*) firm, last summer, then had 5 months to practice these skills in Coca-Cola. I’ve literally screened thousands of resumes and conducted hundreds of interviews (both through the phone and in-person). This is my way of saying that I know what I’m doing and I’ve seen plenty of people mess up and I don’t want that to be you.
*For those who don’t know what a headhunter is – Mila Kunis’ job in the movie Friends With Benefits. (J: for those who are too lazy to look that up as well, Investopedia defined it here.)
Note: For this particular post, I’ll be writing some bits from the recruiter’s perspective, so when I say ‘I’ or ‘we’, I’m referring to the people who will be reading your resumes and interviewing you.
(J: And I will be interjecting with commentary from an interviewee’s perspective. Think of my job here as similar to Chrissy Teigen’s on Lip Sync Battle. Colorful commentator.)
So, here goes: 7 Things to Keep in Mind for Your Next Interview.
Please keep your phone open. It’s impossible for companies to invite you for an interview if you never pick up your phone.
B: I feel like this is so basic. There are literally piles and piles of resumes of good candidates who I wanted to interview for positions but didn’t pick up their phones!! I know this goes against your ‘stranger-danger’ instinct, but you included your phone number on your resume for the express purpose of us being able to contact you! So please don’t make it difficult for us.
Also, we’ll be in an incredibly cranky mood if we call you throughout the day and you only pick up during our 8th call. Not the best foot to start off with your next potential boss.
OH AND PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT REPLY WITH ‘HU DIS PLS?’ Depending on my mood I will literally just not respond to anybody who texts me back like that. I don’t want to hire anybody who from the very beginning is not absolutely professional.
J: I was in FIL14 with Sir Respeto when my cellphone started ringing, thanks to an unknown telephone number. All my friends told me, “Don’t answer, it might be sketchy.” And I wasn’t planning to. But then I realized, sketchy things make for the best stories. And I love telling stories.
I answered the phone, and it turns out to be Citibank offering me a chance to interview for an internship. The rest is history (that you can piece together through our previous parts.) I spent the rest of Fil class outside talking to the recruiter for the pre-interview screening hahaha (sorry Sir Respeto, but thank you as well for wishing me luck!)
When I was at Citibank, I got a call from an unknown number again. And again, I picked up the phone. Turns out it was INKOMPASS telling me I was part of the 100 best applicants and they were extending an invite for me to compete against the other 99 through an on-ground assessment, where a series of interviews and tests will be conducted. Nerve wracking hahaha.
B: I was at INKOMPASS assessment day too and I loved it! There’s a part that’s a little bit like speed dating, but it’s speed interviewing instead with 3-4 Philip Morris employees. That was pretty fun. 🙂
J: Sometimes, the people who end up calling me are the weirdest people like MLM’s. (Heads up for those who aren’t as aware, if their FB profile says Forex Asia, do not trust them. Instead, send them to MOA on payday Friday traffic. The keywords to spot that this is an MLM are “pharmaceutical”, “can’t disclose details over the phone”, “Starbucks”, “Ortigas”, “after work hours”, “amazing opportunity you can’t pass up”.)
Real recruiters will tell you where they are from, what’s their company or the company they are representing, and solid meeting details that involve the daytime and the location, which is usually in Makati.
Be on time.
Show up on time, well dressed, and well-prepared.
B: Do that and you’ve won half the battle. Punctuality is so underrated in this country but it shouldn’t be! Showing up on time is a basic form of respect and showing up late is a terrible first impression to make on your potential boss.
J: I have a uniform for interviews, a blue shirt with a black skirt because I read that blue is indicative of being a team player and black for leadership and seriousness. I’ve also never been late to an interview because my dad insists I leave the house a minimum of 4 hours before the interview to ensure that I won’t get lost. This is why I usually leave the house at 6am for a 10am interview. And why I have a favorite sandwich at Starbucks.
Punctuality is a perfect first impression but don’t spend your time waiting in their lobby because they might be spying on you, spend it at Starbucks instead until 20 minutes before your interview. Then, head to the lobby and be on your best behavior the moment you step out of that elevator.
B: I spent the past week really preparing for my own interviews at my 2 dream companies – I’m talking over a hundred mock interview questions (shout out to Shane Lim for spending 6 hours with me in CBTL asking me interview questions), dozens of index cards, and print-outs of company profiles and values.
I get so much anxiety over being interviewed (even with all my HR experience) that I tend to overcompensate. I’m not saying that you need to go as far as I did, but I am saying that at the very least walk in with some sort of battle plan. At minimum you should know where you are applying, what the company does, what industry and what the department you are applying for does.
J: I’m not nearly as well-prepared for anything as Betina is, because by nature, I’m easygoing (which is the nice way of saying I don’t give a shit) and straightforward so I feel those are my best qualities going into interviews. My best preparation though is coming up with pre-made answers for the 50 most common interview questions.
I’ve internalized my answers for the most basic questions so much so, that if you ask it to me out of the blue, I can recite them from memory with the facial expressions, body language, and demeanor to match. This is a semi-proven fact because last week I was at Mcdo with my friend and she wanted to see how I act in interviews, so she sprung some questions on me. While I had a face full of fries.
I guess I did well because she looked so disheartened afterwards. She ate all my fries.
Know about the company AND the industry you’re applying for.
B: It’s important that you know the basics about the company you’re applying to because it demonstrates interest and preparedness on your part. Same with the industry. I’ve been asked twice this week “Why this company?” and “Why the FMCG industry?” and although I was able to answer fairly well on the fly (it wasn’t on the list of 100+ interview questions I practiced), I know that many many other applicants will probably really mess up on that portion of the interview. Just saying “because it’s a big company” or “because the company has a great reputation” isn’t enough. Many companies are big and many companies have great reputations. If you want a good answer, you’re going to have to dig deeper.
One of my worst experiences as an applicant was getting called for an interview with L’Oreal while I was at the beach with no internet signal!! They were considering me for a hair coloring brand and when they asked me what I knew about the brand literally the only thing I could come up with was “It has to do with hair.” That’s it. My mind blanked and I panicked. Clearly, that was an internship I didn’t end up getting, but it just goes to show that preparation goes a long way. Especially for those who are anxiety-prone like me.
The bigger companies also usually have a recruitment page online that describes the qualities they are looking for when they’re hiring. If you can find a way to frame your experiences to match as many of their ‘ideal candidate’ qualities as possible, that’ll take you far.
J: When Citibank asked me why I was applying to them, I just recited what I had read on their company’s website the night before.
Today, Citibank, N. A. (Philippine Branch) (“Citi Philippines”) is the largest foreign commercial bank in the Philippines in terms of assets, revenues and profitability. [It] s a recognized leader in arranging and providing financial services for the public sector, top-tier Filipino corporates, multinationals, and financial institutions operating in the country. It offers innovative end-to-end cash management solutions, trade finance and services, securities custody and funds services, corporate banking and advisory services, and the most comprehensive and sophisticated range of treasury products in fixed income, currencies, commodities, and derivatives.
– taken from Citibank Philippines’ website’s About Us
Not exactly like what’s written there, but that’s the gist of my answer. They seemed pleased after I recited it, so I assume that that was what they wanted to hear.
Know what department/function you’re applying for.
B: Knowing what department you’re applying to is important and having a demonstrated interest in that function is good because interns who are interested in their function are going to put in more effort than those who hate their department. At the very least have a basic idea of what that department does and be prepared to explain why you’re applying for that role.
“Why Human Resources?” came up during both of my interviews earlier this week. One of my interviewers flat-out said, “I know that HR people always give the same generic answers – because I like people, because I like figuring out how to bring out the best in people, etc. But why do you really want to be in HR?” If I didn’t really love what I do and have a thorough knowledge of the department I was applying to, BS-ing this question might have killed my interview.
Know how to articulate and explain your past experiences to your advantage.
B: You can google the most frequent interview questions. Nowadays, many companies ask situational questions to get a gauge of your past experiences and how you manage things like conflict, group work, setbacks, etc. They’ll ask you to answer questions using your past experience rather than ‘what if’ questions because past experience is a better indicator of future performance.
Bonus points if you can come up with your elevator pitch (pitch yourself in a minute or less) and questions to ask your interviewer.
J: Always prepare a 2 sentence answer for “So, tell me about yourself.”, because that gets the ball rolling, and 2 questions to ask at the end of the interview, because that’s how they’ll remember you by. My favorite question to ask is “What’s the company culture like?” because it gives me an idea of what I’m entering.
Remember as well to internalize every single thing you wrote on your resume. I got to sit in during an interview for Graduate Trainee program at PMFTC, and the girl we were interviewing could not remember the details of her thesis project. She could not tell us how she had optimized the business they were working on, what the end results were, and it took her a minute to remember the name of the business she worked on. This is a huge mistake in itself.
Then I got to ask her a question. All I asked was a clarification on her resume and she looked frantic as I talked. I can’t even remember her answer to the question because it was so convoluted, from her terror of me speaking, I assume. I do look like a child.
For situational questions always answer with STAR (situation-task-action-result) aka CAR (context-action-result) method.
B: This is because the interview forms that recruiters are provided are standardized as much as possible to make our assessments as objective as possible. Providing us some context and the specific contributions you made as an individual to whatever task make it easier for us to judge the scenario. The result is to let us know how the task turned out and if what you did was effective. Sometimes the forms are actually structured so that there are separate boxes for context, action, and result, in which case you’re making our job a lot easier as well.
Pause. Breathe. Don’t rush your answers
B: I’m pretty guilty of not following my own advice on this one, but it’s a tip I picked up from my marketing prof. He said that the number one thing that Ateneans do wrong in interviews is rush to fill the silence even if their thoughts are incomplete and only semi-coherent. It comes off as bullshitty. He’s completely right. I suspect it has something to do with the way Ateneo’s oral exams are structured (especially for Philo) where we have to fill in the silence as much as possible even if we’re not at all sure what on earth we’re talking about.
Don’t feel the need to rush! Take a breath, collect your thoughts, then speak deliberately. Try as much as possible to not use filler words (um, like, uhh).
J: My LS prof said something important to me before my Citibank interview that’s impacted the way I’ve interviewed ever since.
“Silence with a serene face means you’re thinking, which signals to them that this is important enough for you to think through what you’re about to say. Do not be afraid of silence. Be comfortable in it.”
B: I know I just told you to be more deliberate with your words, but it’s also incredibly awkward if you don’t talk enough. Now is not the time to be shy. Generally interviewers are only supposed to hold up 20-30% of the conversation. The rest of it has to be you. So don’t be afraid to elaborate or give multiple examples, as long as it is still relevant to the question.
We are just as terrified of that awkward silence as you are. So please, please avoid answering with one-sentence answers.
J: My normal talking speed is akin to that of a machine gun’s because my thought process is all over the place. One of my mentors at INKOMPASS told me that my speed is a gift when it comes to a pitch or pushing my point, but it’s a curse when I’m being interviewed since it makes me seem nervous even if I’m not. So how you talk is just as important as what you talk about.
When I’m being interviewed, I deliberately enunciate my words slowly, as if to a child, to buy myself some time to think while speaking. I talk in a pensive manner, eyes looking off to the distance to my north-east and a small smile on my lips, to seem like I’m thinking deeply instead of quickly. I also prepare in advance a list of things that are OK to talk about, like how I’m a voracious reader of psychology and business books, and things that are off-limits, like my obsession over Korean reality TV shows.
B: Even if you feel that you’re going a bit off tangent, ask your interviewer if it’s okay to talk a little bit about something they said that caught your attention. I always use this technique to highlight the fact that I’ve done a lot of millennial/Gen-X research on my own and that I’ve read books relevant to HR (business, psychology, social anthropology books, biographies of CEOs, etc.) The questions are supposed to be guides so that we learn about you. The best interviews feel more like conversations than Q&As so the more material you give us, the better.
There is no shame in saying ‘I don’t know’
B: Repeat after me: ‘I don’t know.’ If you truly have no idea, admitting that you don’t know everything is a hundred times more preferable than trying to BS your answer. The wisest people are those who acknowledge their own limitations. (Yes, I know I’m stealing that idea from Socrates – but he made an excellent point.)
When my best friend was being interviewed for scholarship for boarding school, they asked her several current events questions and I think what set her apart was that she wasn’t afraid to be honest about the things she didn’t know. It’s very refreshing to meet someone who readily admits that they don’t know everything.
So if the interviewer starts asking questions about something you’re unfamiliar with, speak up. Say that you’re not sure what they’re referring to, but you’re willing to learn. No shame in that.
J: I said I had no idea how to make macros, but that I was willing to learn. Citibank hired me to do just that. When I asked HR why they did that, they replied that I seemed so well aware that I had no outstanding skills but made up for it with an immense desire to learn that they felt it a waste to let me go.
8: Phone interviews are easier than in-person interviews
B: For many companies, there are two types of interviews: the screening phone interview and the in-person interview. The phone interview should come first and if you don’t pass it, then you won’t get interviewed in person. Phone interviews rely heavily on situational based questions and are more for weeding out poor candidates than selecting the best of the best.
Don’t focus too much about shining on phone interviews, just focus on getting your point across clearly and not messing up. Don’t speak too fast and put everything into STAR or CAR method because the recruiters have forms to fill in as you’re talking, so their focus is split if you’re talking too fast or your answer is all over the place.
J: During the summer, I did a lot of phone interviews for org positions back home at ADMU, and all they had as reference was my answers to a Google Form plus my reputation. I didn’t pass, and I’m OK with that because now I get to do amazing work with Barefoot and Microsoft. But a few weeks ago, a girl who interviewed me messaged me asking how I got all the work that I did. I never seemed like a strong candidate in the Google Form or the phone interview; I seem too easygoing and happy-go-lucky.
What I want you to take away from this is org interviews are nothing like real life interviews. If you excel at org interviews, chances are you’re good at giving the answers people want to hear and you’ve got a great reputation already at school. That reputation needs to translate to actual output for your resume or you’re just wasting your time.
B: While we’re on the subject of org interviews, I didn’t pass AIESEC interview stage and I was already friends with the EB member who interviewed me!! I actually found P&G’s interview easier than AIESEC’s so if you’re worried about not passing org interviews, don’t stress about it.
I think another factor is that orgs tend to look for traits conducive to their projects, which is for the most part events. Internship projects usually aren’t gonna be events, so the skill set that they screen for is different.
Do not panic when something goes wrong.
B: I mentioned earlier that I over-prepared for my interviews earlier this week by taking a lot of notes and doing a ton of research. What I didn’t mention is that I made the very stupid mistake of not triple checking my interview schedules.
You do not know true panic until the jarring realization that you’ve scheduled interviews at both of your dream companies – P&G and Unilever – on the same day at the same time.
After my initial freak-out, I ended up rescheduling Unilever (because I was already in an Uber on the way to P&G) by calling them and profusely apologizing and offering them many alternative times for the rescheduled interview. In my panic I also left my resumes at home. I guess my only advice here is to prepare as much as possible with the expectation that Murphy’s Law will happen at full force.
The only thing I had full control of was my preparation, and it was a huge burden off me to know that even with all the stress surrounding my interview, at the actual interview I was very well prepared for all the questions they threw at me.
Please don’t try to skip over your flaws.
B: You are human. Everyone is. Whenever I ask the question ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ I always roll my eyes at answers like ‘I’m just too much of a perfectionist’ or ‘I’m such a workaholic’. PUHLEEZ. At least attempt at some originality if you’re gonna use the ‘strength disguised as a weakness’ trick. We can see right through that.
The best answer is to tell the truth and (here’s the very important part:) explain what steps you have taken to improve said weakness.
Eg. I’m great at coming up with new ideas, but I’m really bad with follow-through and execution. In an effort to address this weakness, I’ve been taking on more logistical roles that demand constant follow-through and taking an extremely hands-on role with the execution of my latest project (Photoshop For Dummies Workshop — coming soon!)
Hint: If you need help figuring out your strengths and weaknesses, take a personality test. I use MBTI and it’s always on point.
J: I’ll tell you my biggest weakness, and I’ll dissect your biggest weakness for free, if you treat me to a meal hahahaha. One thing I know for sure, my biggest weakness is so disarming that it’s borderline charming to the recruiters because I am 98% sure they have never heard it before. I also think that’s why I’ve never failed an interview. That and my winning personality #sarcasm.
Don’t be insincere.
B: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
Recruiters interview thousands of people. We can tell when you’re faking it.
So just try to be genuine. Prepare well and breathe; you’ll do fine. 🙂
J: My trick is to get into a better state of mind to genuinely give off the vibe that I’m cheerful and not desperate to get this job (even if I actually am). I personally read a humor book via my phone before going in, so no one knows what I’m reading but they do know that I am reading.
I never want to seem desperate to get the job going in because then, I’ll be nervous and scared and worse, untrue to myself. No one wants to hire a poser. No one wants to even be friends with a poser.
We’ve got a bunch more posts coming up including What To Put On Your Resume If You Have No Org Work or Internships and the INKOMPASS FAQ’s! If you’ve got any questions that you feel we haven’t answered yet, or you’ve got suggestions and feedback on how we can run this blog better, let us know here in our Google Form! We love feedback and will probably feature it on our blog too!
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Thanks for reading and hope we answered something useful for you! 🙂