What should I keep in mind before my next interview?

“Hey, how do you prepare for a job interview well so that you can get any job you want?”

Lately, I’ve been focusing a lot on resume questions, and I realized that I haven’t really talked much about what happens during the rest of the job hunting process. So today, I’ll tackle something that 90% of the people I know fear: interviews.

For this particular post, I’ll be focusing on how to mentally prep for interviews at big or traditional corporations. There’s a huge difference in both interview style and tone between companies that interview hundreds of applicants and companies that interview 5 applicants.

Since going through the actual interview prep over a blog post will be difficult, we’re going to through the mindset mental blocks most of my students come with instead.

I’ll tackle how to handle interviews for startups and smaller companies some other day. Drop into the question counter if you think I should prioritize making that guide.

[2018 UPDATE:] I want to preface this by saying that when there’s no 1 perfect way to be interviewed or to prepare for interviews. What I advocate is a specific method on how to prepare your head for interviews. Tens of people have done interview prep with me, and I always tell them the same thing.

You need to get out of your head, and treat this like a conversation.

This is not a monologue, a soliloquy, or your big solo. A job interview is a conversation where both of you are assessing if this is something you want to pursue. Aka it’s a first date.

To be the #1 candidate for any job you want, you need to be the most calm, collected, and competent candidate. Today I’ll share misconceptions most people go into interviews with, and clarifications on all of them. It’s important you go in with a better mindset so you don’t get stuck in your head, and you perform better in the moment.

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. That way you get a peek at how their minds work.

So, here are 7 Things to Keep in Mind for Your Next Interview.

1. Keep your phone with you at all times. And answer every call, especially if it’s from an unknown number.

I know, I know. “Justine, this isn’t about interviews?????” But hear me out. This is the pre-work needed before getting hired by your dream company.

It’s impossible for companies to invite you for an interview if you never pick up your phone. That’s basic logic. If you don’t pick up during the 1st call, chances are you’ll go to the bottom of the pile. Only to be called if nobody else picks up. Not a good place to be either way.

Tons of amazing candidates don’t get called for interviews, because our generation is “text before calling” people. But hiring managers are older than us. And they are busy. They will call, and if you don’t pick up, they will not call again.

Also, I know this goes against our ‘stranger-danger’ instinct. What if it’s a scam or your acquaintance trying to sell you supplements because they joined some pyramid scheme? But when you’re job hunting, you included your phone number on your resume for the express purpose of being contactable anytime anywhere. So make sure you’re reachable and ready at all times.

Oh, and please please please, don’t reply with ‘HU DIS?’ Or with a curse word involved. Always use full sentences and proper grammar when you’re in job hunting mode. No one will text back an unprofessional job hunter.

STORY TIME: Back in 2015, I was in Dr. Respeto’s class, 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. Not an interview. A chance to get an interview to get an internship at Citibank. The rest is history (that you can piece together through our previous parts but spoiler alert, I got it).

I spent the rest of that Filipino class outside talking to the recruiter for the pre-interview screening (sorry Dr. Respeto, but thank you as well for wishing me luck!)

Then, when I was in the middle of my Citibank internship, 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. (It’s a series of interviews and group tests to see who gets the internship.) Nerve wracking as hell, but I’d never have gotten the opportunity if I didn’t pick up the phone all the time.

Protip: How to know if the people who are calling are MLM’s? Ask for their FB account and check their profile. If it says Forex Asia, do not trust them. Instead, send them to MOA on payday Friday traffic.

The keywords to spot 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 an office at Ortigas or Makati or BGC.

Related: Is Interning Hard?

2. Arrive at the location 30 minutes before the interview and chill at Starbucks. Get to their lobby 10 minutes before your interview schedule. Be polite to everyone you meet.

Show up on time, well dressed, and well-prepared, and you’ve won half the battle.

Punctuality is so underrated in the PH but it shouldn’t be! Showing up on time is basic courtesy, and showing up late, even by a few minutes, is a terrible first impression to make on your potential boss.  

While punctuality is the perfect first impression, I vote you don’t spend your time waiting in their lobby because they might be spying on you. Spend it at Starbucks or anywhere else you can loiter around instead, until 10 minutes before your interview. Then, head to the lobby and be on your best behavior the moment you step out of that elevator.

Protip: So that I don’t waste a lot of time before leaving the house for an interview, I created a uniform for interviews with big corporations and one for anywhere else. It’s usually a blue shirt with a black skirt, partly 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. Also because I commute, and you don’t want to use Manila traffic as an excuse as to why you’re an hour late to your interview.

So I usually leave the house at 6am for a 10am interview. And why I have a favorite sandwich at Starbucks. And 3 books in my phone at any given time. (Get any of Mindy Kaling’s books if you want to calm down with a laugh.) If you know you’re not familiar with the area, and you really don’t want to be late, make sacrifices.

3. Prepare! Do NOT wing it!!

This is so basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many people think they’re going to be perfectly okay answering questions from a potential employer. That they don’t need to prep for anything beforehand. Everything’s going to be magically okay.

Spoiler alert: nothing is ever going to be magically okay.

The best interview prepee I’ve worked with spent a week preparing for her interviews at her dream school. I’m talking over 100 mock interview questions laid out with ready answers, dozens of index cards, and print-outs of the people interviewing her, the school’s profiles, and values.

She passed the school with a full scholarship, and they gave her a monthly allowance plus quarterly flights back home here. Because she was prepped enough to ask.

I still get so much anxiety over being interviewed (even with all my experience) that I tend to run through terror scenarios in my head. I’m not saying that you need to be as detailed as my nightmare plans, but I am saying that at the very least, you need to be prepared with some sort of battle plan.

The bare minimum is knowing all about:

  1. the job you’re applying for,
  2. what the company does,
  3. what industry they’re in, and
  4. what role does the department you’re applying for, play in the company’s growth.

I go into that more in depth in this blog post: What do I need to research before going into an interview?

I’m telling you now, that I’m never as well-prepared for anything as I’d like to be, because by nature, I’m easygoing (which is the nice way of saying I don’t care a lot). Plus, I’m 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. Just a basic equation to answering that helps me structure my thoughts and stories when I’m at an interview. Let me know if you want me to share them with you! I should probably make them into a blog post some day.

At this point though, I’ve internalized my answers for the most basic questions so much, that if you ask it to me out of the blue, I can recite them from memory with the matching facial expressions, body language, and demeanor. This is a 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. And made me prep her for her coming interviews.

4. For situational questions, always answer with the STAR (situation-task-action-result) or CAR (context-action-result) method.

Why? Because most recruiters have interview forms to fill out while you talk. They’re standardized as much as possible to make every candidate’s assessment as objective as possible. The template differs per company, but everyone wants to write the same things down. The results of your actions and your thinking process to behind your answers.

Your end goal is to let the recruiter 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 their job easier when you fix your story that way.

Provide some brief context and what were your specific contributions as an individual to whatever the task was makes it easier for recruiters to judge your performance in the scenario your provided. Don’t be afraid to be individualistic in your interview. You are being graded as an individual. The others can’t hear you.

For example, “As a team, we netted 31 sponsors, and I personally signed on 9 of them.”

This story method is especially important if you’re doing a digital interview. Nowadays, some multinationals use an AI interviewer, which is a robot that records, assesses, and then grades your answers immediately. You talk into your laptop screen, which is usually blank. And you have to answer interview questions to yourself.

Robots don’t understand humor or circular stories, they only understand facial recognition and linear stories as of now. So what you say and how you say it becomes more and more important as companies start digitizing their recruiting process.

Related: How to Find an Internship that Fits your Academic Schedule

5. Pause. Breathe. Don’t rush when you answer.

I’m very guilty of not following my own advice on this one. If you’ve ever heard me speak, you know it’s fast. But this advice comes from a marketing prof who’s done a lot of interviews for his company.

He said that the number one thing Ateneans do wrong in interviews is rush to fill the silence, even if their thoughts are incomplete and are only semi-coherent.

“It comes off like you’re spewing bullshit.” were his exact words. He’s completely right.

Maybe it has something to do with the way Ateneo’s oral exams are structured (especially for Philo). Where we have to fill the silence as much as possible, even if we’re unsure what on earth we’re talking about. Or else we’ll fail.

So what I do when I’m being interviewed is 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 a little past from the interviewer, with a small smile on. Makes it seem like I’m thinking deeply instead of quickly.

I also prepare in advance a list of topics that are OK to talk about during an interview, like how I’m always reading psychology and business books, and topics that are off-limits, like my obsession over Korean reality TV shows (completely off-topic, but I’m obsessed with Please Take Care of my Refrigerator).

The advice I give everyone who asks me what to do during an interview:

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). And don’t speak like a robot, you’re a person above all else.

One of my favorite profs said something important to me when I asked for advice before my first ever 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.”

6. There’s no shame in saying ‘I don’t know.’

Repeat after me: ‘I don’t know. But I’ll find out.’

If you truly have no idea about what the recruiter’s talking about, admit it and follow up with how you’re willing to learn more about it. Ask them questions about the topic instead and try to connect it to something you do know.

Admitting that you don’t know is a hundred times more preferable than trying to BS your answer. The wisest people are those who acknowledge their own limitations, and try to work around or with them.

When my friend was being interviewed for a scholarship for graduate school abroad, they asked her several current events questions for their specific country. I think what helped set her apart was that she wasn’t afraid to be honest about the things she didn’t know, and that she followed it up with questions on how she could learn more about it. She asked them about what the situation at hand was, and then connected it to the current events that she did know about.

When I was being interviewed for my first internship, I said that I had no idea how to make macros, but that I was willing to learn. Citibank ended up hiring me to do just that.

When I asked HR why they did that, hire a kid who had no idea what she was doing, they replied that I seemed so self-aware about my skill set. I knew what I didn’t know, but I had this immense desire to learn and contribute, that they felt it a waste to let me go.

It’s always refreshing to meet someone who readily admits that they don’t know everything. And that they’re willing to learn more about it.

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.

Related: What’s 1 thing I can do to improve my resume today?

7. Don’t panic when something inevitably goes wrong.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t prepare as much as I’d like to for my interviews, so of course something I never expect comes up. Murphy’s Law is always at play; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

But the story that best exhibits this happened to my friend. She’s letting me share that the worst mistake she’s ever made,which came about from her not double checking her interview schedules.

In her words:

“You do not know true panic until you realize that you’ve scheduled interviews at both of your dream companies – P&G and Unilever – on the exact same day at the exact 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.

Worse, in my panic, I also left my resumes extra copies 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 things we’ll ever have full control over when faced with an
Awful Terrible Situation are our reactions and our prior preparation. If and when things go awry, all we can do is take comfort that we prepared as best as we could.

And if you didn’t, then there’s nobody to blame but yourself. Take it karma or a sign of God to prepare better next time. That’s what I did when faced with my Awful Terrible Situation lol.

In case you have no idea where you are, welcome to The Border Collective, where any question you’ve got on internships, resumes, or careers in the PH can and will be answered. I’m Justine, founder and writer of all things here.

Interviews is a sub-category of Resource where I share things I’ve learned over the course of going on dozens of interviews, and helping hundreds of people prepare for theirs, so that you guys don’t have to trial and error this stuff like I did.

I know it’s incredibly hard to talk about your life experiences in 3 minutes while making it sound attractive to your dream companies. Trust me, I talk a lot and it’s terrible. Through my writings and my experiences, I hope you learn at least 1 thing that makes your life easier.

This is my way of giving back because I wish that when I was a freshman, a resource like TBC existed to help guide me not to waste  my time on things that don’t work.

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About Justine

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Hope you read something useful, til the next time I write something, bye~

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