7 job interview slipups to avoid

Derek Rodriguez finds out how you can shake off those pre-interview jitters by learning how to answer some commonly asked questions sensibly

1. Tell me about yourself.

Don’t say: I live in Clementi and I have two brothers.

Say for example: I graduated with a first class honours degree in Computer Engineering. During my third year of school, I interned at a multinational technology firm for six months. In my free time, I volunteer at the Red Cross and take part in other charitable activities.

With this question, the ball is in your court. Says Mr Sherfeeq Razal, Chief Business Development Officer, Asia Gold Bell Group, who conducts interview workshops in NTU: “The interviewer wants to find out how you can contribute to his organisation. To begin with, you should summarise your academic background and any work experience that is related to the job that you applied for. You can also mention one of your major achievements and some of your positive interests and hobbies.”

2. Why do you want this job?

Don’t say: I need money and my parents are nagging me to earn my own keep.

Say: Your organisation has a solid reputation and I would be proud to work for a company that is at the forefront of this industry. And from what I have read and heard, the company’s culture supports personal development and rewards hard work.

The interviewers are really asking: “How much do you know about this job?” Mr Loh Pui Wah, Director of NTU’s Career & Attachment Office, suggests: “Demonstrate what you know about the job and the employer, and emphasise the value you will bring to the company, not the benefits you think the company will give you.”

3. What are your strengths?

Don’t say: A strong voice and the power to move people.

Say instead: I can see situations from different perspectives and can communicate to achieve the intended outcomes. In my previous job/internship, I was able to placate an unhappy client and convince him that the company was doing its best to solve the issue.

“This is not the time to be humble,” says Mr Loh. “Identify a few of your key strengths, especially those that are aligned with the requirements of the job scope. If possible, have a real life example of how each strength helped you in a previous work or school situation.”

4. What are your weaknesses?

Don’t say: I sometimes procrastinate. It’s something I’m planning to work on.

Perhaps say: I don’t have any work experience in this field. However, I am open-minded and I am a fast and keen learner. Joining your company will provide me with the right environment to learn how to do this job professionally and to grow with the company.

Says Mr Loh: “This is a two-part question. First, present a real weakness that isn’t obviously staged or untrue, and don’t pick one that will harm your employment opportunity. Then, demonstrate that you have taken steps to overcome the flaw and have shown some improvement, or talk about how this weakness can be turned around.”

5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Don’t say: Right where you are sitting.

Say: I see myself building a career here and growing within the ranks. In five years’ time, I aim for a more senior position in the company that comes with wider management responsibilities.

Interviewers are generally looking for employees that will stay in the company for the mid to long term. Also, if your long-term plan is dependent on your success in the position you are applying for, it will demonstrate that you are motivated to perform. “Answer the question by briefly explaining your desired career path and relating it to the organisation,” advises Mr Razal.

6. What are your hobbies?

Don’t say: I work hard, and I party hard. I’m on the VIP list for most of the best clubs in town.

Say for example: I’m very passionate about cycling and cycle round the island every Sunday morning. I also enjoy reading mystery novels.

Mr Razal says: “Share some healthy hobbies that you practise. Team-based activities are evidence of your ability to build relationships and fitness-related hobbies show health and vitality. Remember to be honest and speak with enthusiasm and with a smile!”

7. Do you have any questions?

Don’t ask: How often do people get increments and do you work long hours here?

Ask for example: What’s a typical work day like and what are the training opportunities?

“This is a chance for you to find out more about the job and the company,” says Mr Razal. “Don’t be afraid to ask what it’s like to work there. Doing so conveys genuine interest and excitement for the job. But don’t ask more than two or three questions – you don’t want to grill your interviewers!”