Number. 33 © CDTL 2003
Understanding the Job Interview
Mr Lowe Joo Yong
Human Resource Management Specialist, School of Business

In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on career guidance and counselling programmes in schools and tertiary institutes. This partly demonstrates an awareness and acknowledgement of the importance of such programmes as an integral part of an all-rounded education; it also reflects the increasingly competitive job markets and the demands expected of job seekers. In this article, I shall focus on a few aspects of the job interview that, from my experience as someone who regularly conducts career-related workshops and seminars, NUS students tend to overlook.

What is the job interview all about? Some liken it to a sales presentation—it is for you to sell yourself. Yet others see it as a more mutual communication process whereby both parties find out more about each other. However, in reality, the balance of power is mostly with the organisation, and therefore the onus is still on you to convince the organisation that it will be worthwhile to hire you.

First impressions count, as they always say. Some would even say that the interview is won or lost in the first few seconds—maybe, or maybe not. But there is no doubting the importance of creating that positive first impression. It is ironical that whilst we readily invest a lot on our education and training, very few bother about doing the same on personal grooming. A good grooming course will teach you about good dress sense and deportment. This should help you to project a pleasant and confident image at the interview.

However, that is just the beginning. To effectively present yourself, you need to tell the organisation more about yourself. This seems easy, but it is what most interviewees are unable to do. While many people realise the importance of doing research about the job and the organisation, few realise the need to perform research on oneself. Critically evaluate your own strengths, weaknesses, competencies, personal attributes, etc. Know yourself first, so you can present yourself better at the interview. More importantly, do you see a match between you and the organisation?

The interview is no different from any other forms of human interaction and communication. There are norms and values that one must observe. Being courteous and respectful to the interviewers, keeping calm and composed in the face of adversity, and listening attentively and answering straight to the point, are characteristics highly cherished in an interview. Professional interviewers will have nothing personal against you; therefore if they appear to irritate you, that is probably their way of assessing your personality and your ability to handle situations. Do not fall into their traps and get into a fight with them.

Winning the interview and getting that job is about making yourself stand out from the rest (i.e. ‘product differentiation’ in marketing parlance). Many people are unaware that organisations like to use the last question (i.e. when most interviewers signify the end of the interview by asking, “Do you have any questions for us?”) to differentiate the candidates. So arm yourself with one or two good questions to ask that will set you apart from the rest.

In this article, I have only touched on a few points. Students should consult various career-related resources for more advice and tips on interviews. Always keep an open mind as you listen to others. The job interview is as much an art as a science. Expert opinions do differ. Hence, it is important to apply whatever advice judiciously, taking into consideration the situation factors at the interview itself.


Useful resources within NUS

NUS Office of Student Affairs Career Services. (last accessed: 14 May 2003).

NUS Business School BBA Career Services Office. (last accessed: 14 May 2003).

Other useful references Singapore—Jobs in Singapore, Asia. (last accessed: 14 May 2003).—More Jobs for Singapore. (last accessed: 14 May 2003).

Ryan, Robin. (2000). 60 Seconds & You’re Hired. New York: Penguin Books.

Stein, Marky. (2003). Fearless Interviewing: How to Win the Job by Communicating with Confidence. Singapore: McGraw Hill.

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