What do I need to research before going into an interview?

Hi! I came across your blog recently and I’m so glad I found it before internship hunting season starts! So here’s a little background on me, I am an incoming third year student, and I’m about to look for my first internship.

I don’t know anything and I’m afraid to ask my friends because I’m in a competitive course. I know I procrastinated on researching and searching too much so I’m super behind my friends now. I think if I do ask for help, they’ll give me the jobs they rejected. 

Now I want to enter the job market and I know it will be extra difficult for me this time but I’m determined now. I read a lot of your posts but all of them deal with resumes.

Do you have any interview tips and recommendations? What should I know before I walk into my first interview? Lastly, how can I stand out against all my friends? Thank you! More power to you TBC!

First off, thank you for this really great and honest question. Before anything else, I just want to say that I too felt this weird pressure among my friends back in college, that we were essentially fighting for the same jobs.

And while I was career consulting my batch mates and the younger batches, this same problem came up again and again. Friends felt resentful because 1 wouldn’t share the emails or opportunities she was finding, but would always ask the others to share what they found with her.

It’s like a groupmate who’s always present at every meeting but during evaluation, ya’ll realize she’s done absolutely nothing this whole semester. She just got to ride on all your hard work. She still gets to slap her name on the final work though.

Funny story, 3 of my blockmates complained to me separately about another 1 doing this exact situation to all of them. (Hi guys, if you’re reading this, know that you’re not alone in thinking this about Blockmate. Don’t take personal offense at their actions, like I told you, it’s just Blockmate’s behavior pattern. They’re just a user through and through.)

Secrecy culture is alive and extremely common in competitive circles. It’s not a unique problem to your group of friends or to your school. We’re all pretty selfish, especially when it comes to great opportunities. 

Before telling you what I think you should research before walking into your 1st and every other interview, I don’t want you to continue thinking that secrecy is the way to get ahead.  I’m a big believer that there’s more than enough opportunities for everyone. Sooooo

Share opportunities you can’t take yourself. 

When you have to tell a company you’re rejecting them, ask if you can refer 3 others to interview for your place instead. Pass on to your network all that is in abundance in your own life. Don’t let opportunities go to waste.

I’m always posting on my personal FB about opportunities friends referred to me that I can’t take myself. From openings at Shopee SG to freelance writing for a yet-to-be-published magazine to guesting opportunities on Eagle Broadcasting Corporation, I pass on everything. Please do the same.

It’s actually made my life infinitely better since people share even more opportunities to me now. Be the lightning rod for good things in your network.That way you can attract even better ones.

Anyways, enough sidetracked commentary. Here’s the 3 things I think you need to research before going into an interview.

1. Know about the company AND the industry you’re applying for.

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.

That doesn’t mean you should know what product they launched in 1982. Or that you need to memorize who the VP for Finance is.

It just means that you’ve read their about page. You know what they sell, who they sell it to, and what kind of industry they’re in.

I’ve often been asked “Why this company?” and “Why the FMCG industry?” and although I was able to answer okay, I know that many many many other applicants will probably mess up this portion of their interview. (I say okay, because now that I’m older and I know a bit more, I see the glaring mistakes of the past via my draft answers. Cringe.)

Because truthfully, it’s not something we think about thoroughly. We created shortcut answers for why we want to work here in our heads.

Saying “because it’s a big company” or “because the company has a great reputation” (or worse “your office is near my house”) isn’t enough. Many companies are big and many companies have great reputations. If you’re lucky, many of those companies are 5km from your house. (But you should never mention to a possible employer that you’re only looking at jobs that are near your home. Even if that’s the truth. It compromises you in their eyes.)

If you want to have a standout answer from all the other interviewees, you’re going to have to dig a bit deeper.

Before further explanations, I want to share with you one of the worst experiences I’ve ever heard. Story time!

My friend was called for a pre-interview (where they ask you initial questions over the phone before inviting you in for a real interview) with L’Oreal. While she was at the beach with no signal for both the call and the wifi.

L’Oreal was calling because they were considering her for a hair coloring brand. When they asked what she knew about the brand, literally the only thing she could come up with was “It has to do with hair.”

That’s it.

Her brain blanked, and caused her to panic. The recruiter went silent on the phone, and when she did speak, her replies were along the lines of “We’ll get back to you someday. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Which is probably why my friend never heard from them again, and didn’t end up getting the internship.

Horror stories like that just go to show that a little preparation goes a long way. Especially for those who apply a lot and haven’t heard back yet.

Related: Intern-view: Milbert Capistrano on Oceanagold

So, what do you need to know and by when?

For big international companies (i.e. multinationals):

When you’re about to send out your application, start taking notes of what traits and values they’re looking for in their employees. And also take note of what brands they have and who are their competitors. Plus, what are their competitors’ brands so you don’t mention them when asked “what do you know about Company?”

For big local companies:

When you’ve sent over your application, take notes of what’s their mission, vision statement. Also take note on what’s the latest business news on them, who are their biggest competitor, and what are their products.

For SMEs:

When you’ve sent over your application, take notes on what’s their about page. Also take note on who their clients and partners are, what’s their biggest job been so far, and what’s the latest business news on them.

How do you keep track of all this? I write it down in my phone’s notes for easy access. Make sure you categorize by name of the company for easy search. Extremely useful when you’ve sent out  a million apps and have too much to juggle in your head.

Don’t try to write a whole novel. 5 bullet points will do. All you need are the basics and the talking points.

Bigger companies also usually have a recruitment page online that describes the qualities they’re looking for when they’re hiring. If you can frame your experiences to match as many of their ‘ideal candidate’ qualities as possible, that’ll take you farther than the rest.

Story time: Back in 2015, Citibank asked me why I was applying to them. Truthfully, I had no idea why I was applying to them or what I would do if I was accepted aside from “Citibank is a big company with a great reputation”. This was my 1st ever internship application season. I didn’t have a deep desire to work in the banking industry or even in the finance function.

So, 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

Of course I didn’t recite it word for word, but that’s the gist of my answer. They seemed pleased after I spoke, so I assume that that was what they wanted to hear.

About 2 hours later, I got an internship there and was the first sophomore they ever hired.

I’m not saying that was the only reason I got the internship, but I do think my coming prepared, compared to the other 100+ juniors and seniors there, helped a lot.

Related: I did something dumb in the past, will it haunt my job hunt? – #DearTBC

2. Know what department or function you’re applying for, and why.

Knowing what department you’re applying to seems like a no-brainer because nowadays internships are advertised with their specific department openings. But it’s still important to prepare for the off-chance that it’s a catch-all internship program. Or if you indicated you were open to 2+ departments.

Having a clearly indicated interest in a specific function is excellent because interns who know what they want to do (or at least what they don’t want to do) are going to put in more effort than those who hate their work and department. At the very least, you should be prepared with a basic idea of what that department does and why you’re applying to be a part of that team.

Story time again! One time I was coaching a friend, who applied for HR at 5 FMCG’s and had 3 interviews in 1 week. In her words:

“Why Human Resources?” came up during all 3 of my interviews earlier this week. One of my interviewers flat-out said, “I know that kids who pick HR always give the same generic answers.

Because I like people. Because I like figuring out how to bring out the best in people. Because I want to help others grow into better employees.

But why do you really want to be in HR?”

If Justine hadn’t forced me to understand why I wanted to be in HR, BS-ing this question would have killed all my interviews. Since she practiced her tough love strategies on me, we prepared a spiel on what specifically about HR work did I love doing, and what I was prepared to do to have that experience.

Translation: my friend wanted to do performance management and employee experience. To us, performance management meant assessing people and knowing where their weaknesses are, and how to solve them. Employee experience meant keeping the existing employees engaged, and rolling out new benefits or processes that made their lives easier.

We came to this conclusion from a series of spiraling questions. She enjoyed the post-project evaluations at her org, and instituted a new system where everyone in the team had to rate each other and leave comments as to what they’re already good at and what is there to improve. She also enjoyed heading their training programs and implementing feedback on what they could do better.

After learning all this about her, we figured out what subfunctions of HR dealt with the corporate versions of all that. Then we outlined what she’d say in interviews, particularly on how to highlight her existing experience to match the projects she wanted to do.  

During her interviews, she stated that she was prepared to work on function support and admin, provided that she get to work on or support a project in the subfunctions she was interested in.

One interviewer was impressed that she knew about the different subfunctions, and that she could talk about the kinds of experiences that she had and relate it to the HR work the company was doing.

Another interviewer also commented after she was hired, that my friend stating she wanted to pay her dues first and get operational experience, before going to what she really wanted to do made her stand out. She knew the thankless parts of HR, which most entry level job hunters forget about.

NOTE: You don’t have to do it that way. What we didn’t indicate was that she was gunning for a 9 month internship. When you have < 8 weeks on the job, of course you don’t want to spend too much of it doing operational tasks. You’d have no project management experience by the end of it.

But if you have time, or you can work in both an operational and project-based role, then negotiate for your shot.

Related: Where to Find Jobs in Manila?

3. Know how to frame and explain your past experiences to your advantage.

You can google the most frequent interview questions, and start preparing for interviews based on them. Pick out 5 from every category, and try formulating some answers.

The key here is not to come up with memorized answers, but instead to have a formula prepared.

Nowadays, many companies ask situational questions to gauge 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.

So be prepared with an arsenal of group work and org work stories before walking into an interview. And know how to connect them to whatever the question is. Remember to use STAR. What was the Situation? What was your task? What Action did you take? What was the end Result? 

I tackled this more in depth in my other Category: Interview articles so check it out there!

Ok, but what questions should I memorize my answer for?

  1. Your 2 sentence answer for “So, tell me about yourself”, because that gets the ball rolling.
  2. Your 2 questions to ask at the end of every interview that gets the interviewer to talk a lot. Because you being an attentive listener is how they’ll remember you by.

Everything else isn’t a memorization but more of a familiarization.

If you don’t have a set question to ask, here’s mine. My favorite is “What’s the company culture like day to day? When are the most stressful seasons?” or “I heard the company is like this, and it’s a great place to work, can you confirm it with your stories?” because it gives me an idea of what I’m entering. An interview is all about getting to each other both ways after all.

If the interviewer seems to laugh at what I said, then that’s a warning sign to me. Why would you laugh about this? You’re scaring me. I’m not going to take a job here, and I’ll probably tell my friends about your reaction to my question too.

Related: 6 Habits of a Failproof Pre-Interview Routine

Last words on what else I should research on before walking into an interview?

Remember and review every single thing you wrote on your resume.

Story time: I got to sit in during an interview for PMFTC’s 2016 Graduate Trainee program. And the girl we were interviewing could not remember the details of her thesis project. She had just wrapped up her thesis 3 weeks before this interview.

She could not tell us how she had optimized the business they were working on. Or what the end results were. It took her a minute to remember the name of the business she worked on.

This brain fart was a huge blow for her, the HR pointed out during our debrief.

She said earlier that she was newly done with thesis, so how could she have forgotten all about it so quickly? It made her look scatterbrained which is terrible when you’re applying for operations and supply chain.

Near the end of her interview, I also got to ask her a question. All I asked was a clarification on her resume, a throwaway bullet point that didn’t make sense to me. She looked frightened as I asked.

I can’t even remember her answer to my question because it was so confusing, from her terror of me speaking, I assume. I remember during our debrief that I brought up how she didn’t answer my question, and the HR said it’s another mark against her.

In supply chain, you have to answer a lot of questions under duress and every point is a possible question. Her lack of prep showed that she wasn’t meticulous enough to even be aware of her own actions and answers.

She couldn’t frame her past projects for her job interview, because she couldn’t even remember them. Hence why I’m always drilling into my students the importance of knowing what you wrote, and what is its purpose in your job interview. 

So please. Review what you wrote in your resume the night before an interview, so you know what they’re going to ask you about.

In conclusion, please know what you’re getting into before walking into an interview. It’s almost impossible to wing it in a competitive setting. Everyone’s on their toes and the slightest edge gets you further than the rest. The one who’s taken 30 minutes to prep is probably the one who’ll get the job. At least, that’s what I assume from my own experience of beating out vastly more qualified people for my internships and job.

Good luck to all those heading out for interviews, and if you follow any of my advice, tell me how it goes~

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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If there’s something you want to ask but never knew where to send them to, drop them in The Border Collective’s Google Form or ask.fm. Being a kid myself, I’ve probably gone through the same situations. And at the very least, I can tell you what NOT to do.

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About Justine

And if you want to know more about me, or about TBC, read my bio! You can also reach me at justine@thebordercollective.com Or connect with me over Twitter, IG, and LinkedIn, @justineltchua there.

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

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