Surviving Killer Interviews

Here’s what usually happens at an interview: You enter the room, answer some questions, talk about yourself, smile, and leave. Sounds simple? Unfortunately, that is hardly ever the case.

By Azhar Jalil

Job interviews are an entrenched part of the hiring process and considered the key step for deciding which candidate is best suited for a particular position.

At the same time, however, job interviews are also often highly subjective. Interviewers, being human, are naturally biased and thus discriminatory, whether explicitly or not. Also, interviews are frequently unstructured and therefore rather limited in terms of comparing candidates objectively.

Moreover, traditional face-to-face interviews demand substantial resources from employers but do not always effectively forecast a candidate’s actual working performance.

These factors have caused employers to take up alternative interview methods which are more valuable as predictive tools, so as to better assess potential hires in a more effective and holistic manner.

The Stress Test
One of the well-known spin-offs is the stress interview, where jobseekers are intentionally put in discomfiting situations to test their capacities for handling pressure. Often, they are greeted not by an interviewer but by an “interrogator” who could take the meeting in any of these directions.

Sometimes, interviewers might seem hostile, give cold stares, or lapse into long silences. They might also intentionally keep candidates waiting (even up to an hour) before the interview officially begins.

Interviewees could be asked weird questions that are seemingly unrelated to the job, such as “If you were a can of soup, what flavour would you be?” and “How would you weigh a jumbo jet without using weighing scales?” While not the inventor of such interviews, Microsoft is notorious for presenting candidates with such conundrums.

Another type of stress interview literally places candidates in tricky situations. In one particular interview, the jobseeker was led to a room where he found his interviewer fast asleep. Attempts to wake him and initiate conversation failed miserably until the interviewee – believe it or not – lit a fire.

While you hopefully wouldn’t have to literally ignite your interviewer, you do need to anticipate having to tackle such interviews, especially when applying for positions at organisations with an unconventional work culture and a high-stress, fast-paced environment.

The most crucial step in dealing with such interviews is firstly to recognise that you’re in one. Next, understand that the answer you eventually give isn’t as important as your rationale for your solution.

Take control of the situation by first taking control of yourself. Stay calm, and imagine that you’re simply in a typical work meeting where it’s now your turn to present. Often, it’s best to just be yourself and deal with stress as you normally would in any other work scenario.

If the situation demands, take it to another level by “dominating” the interview. Stand up and walk around, assert your presence as you speak. It’s a risky step to take, but the inherently flexible and unpredictable nature of such interviews gives you the leeway to be slightly unconventional and more proactive. Still, refrain from being rude as it’s simply unprofessional.

The Lunch Crunch
Lunch interviews are usually similar to the run-of-the-mill interview, except that they’re held over lunch. Don’t think the restaurant setting will offer you refuge from a difficult interview though.

Lunch interviews are trickier because besides having to listen intently to the interviewer, respond brilliantly, and remain confident, you now also have to make sure that your tie doesn’t soak up the soup.

More than ever, mind your manners. Even though the interviewer is still more interested in how you formulate your answers, it is just as important to be polite to everyone and aware of your body language. Never talk with your mouth full, do chew with your mouth closed and always thank the waiter.

The choice of meal is of great importance too. Select dishes that are easy to eat, but avoid soupy items that may splatter your shirt or bring on strong breath. Choose food that is similarly priced to that of the interviewer’s and avoid alcohol, even when offered. Tipsy interviewees don’t give good answers, much less impressions.

Of course, don’t be so nervous and engrossed in answering that you forget to eat. At the end of the interview, you don’t have to offer to pay. However, do remember to thank your interviewer for the meal.

Group snoop
To separate the leaders from the followers, employers typically use group interviews that put you and several other candidates together for a discussion. Topics are usually introduced by the recruiter who may also intervene to guide the conversation.

Such situations are naturally stressful because they require you to be extroverted and aggressive, yet polite and diplomatic when pushing your ideas across.

Here is where your opinions matter most, as replies that show depth and critical thinking will be valued over answers that only address superficial issues. Better still if your solution involves relevant industry insights and shows foresight.

If you’re constantly being shut off by another candidate, be flexible enough to react and adjust your stance. However, like the Stress Interview, impoliteness is absolutely frowned upon, especially in a group scenario where resorting to rudeness implies an inadequacy when dealing with difficult people.

Roll with the blows
In short, dealing with any interview begins with preparation. What readiness doesn’t cover then has to be addressed with a combination of nimbleness, wit, off-the-cuff intelligence, and verve.

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