You may have heard this before and frankly, we agree: going for a job interview is a bit like a less fun first date. Unless you’re a very unusual kind of person who thrives on feeling tested and judged, let’s be honest – a job interview isn’t the most pleasant experience.
The reason we made the comparison with dating is because it can be quite a constructive guide on how to present and handle yourself in an interview. On a first date you want to put the best possible version of yourself forward: you want to subtly sell yourself without making it obvious that you’re subtly selling yourself. You want to appear relaxed, natural, charming, wildly interesting and – above all – the right person and the right fit for the person sitting across the table. This is pretty much what happens at a job interview.
In both scenarios you may feel nervous beforehand because you are essentially placing yourself in a very vulnerable position: opening yourself to judgement and even rejection. Perhaps the only plus a job interview has over a date is that you can do your homework beforehand and try to use your research to give you an edge against the competition.
That’s where we come in.
We can’t help with the selection process and criteria of a potential date, but we can shed some light on the general procedures your potential employer might have in place for recruiting new talent into their companies.
The more information you have, the better prepared you’ll be. Having context around how employers go about finding new candidates will better help you prepare for when you meet them. Obviously, every company (like every date!) is different and they will each have unique nuances in the way they recruit. A lot of companies – especially the larger ones – will have some information on their recruitment process on their website and researching this will give you an advantage against other candidates who didn’t bother to look it up and prepare accordingly.
That being said, there is a general pattern to how employers hunt for talent, and this involves four stages: planning, searching, application/interview process and selection.
This is where the talent centre or human resources (HR) team of a company plans out the roles they need to fill and the number of new candidates they want to hire. They will work with the managers of teams they are hiring for to ensure a clear job description is created to be put out into the market – one that will provide potential hires with an expectation of what will be required of them while also making the company sound like a desirable place to work.
This is also the stage at which budgets for salaries will be decided. In a startup, which may not have a specific department for HR, this exercise will probably run in a less-structured manner by the managers of the teams that need new resources, or it will be outsourced to a recruiter for a fee.
As a list of potential candidates emerge out of all the channels above, the interview process will begin. As you well know, one individual may go through several interviews before they are offered a job. The number of interviews you will go through depends on the company and the role. Google allegedly made potential candidates go through 29 interviews before committing to a job offer! Usually though, the number is more in the realm of three to six interviews.
Think of each interview as the elimination round in any reality competition on TV these days. It’s a way of weeding out those who, for whatever reason, may not be a right fit for the company. It may seem harsh but the more stringent a company is when looking for a quality candidate, the better chance there is that the outcome will be positive both for the company and the new employee.
The company will hire a person that has the right skills and also the right personality and culture fit for the team they will be joining. Having been through an extensive screening process, the successful hire will in turn feel more knowledgeable about what is expected of them and what it will be like when they are hired into their brand new role.
From the perspective of the graduate, the application/interview process will look something like this or a combination of some of the following stages:
Online application: Increasingly, companies are allowing applications to be made via an online portal. You will generally be prompted to upload a CV, cover letter, academic transcript, and proof of residency or citizenship.
Online assessment: If you’ve been successful in stage one, you’ll be directed to an online aptitude assessment. This is generally communicated to you via email so keep an eye on your inbox!
Phone/video interview: Getting to this stage of the game means that you’ve made enough of an impression to warrant the employer getting to know you a little better. You may be asked some follow-up questions about your skills, your interest in the particular role and in working for the company.
Assessment centre: This method of assessing potential candidates en masse is popular with mid to large companies, so much so that we cover it in more detail later in this chapter. In short, this consists of a day or half day held at a particular venue where multiple applicants are given group and individual tasks which simulate a typical work environment and are assessed on their performance throughout the day.
Face to face interview: You may receive a job offer following the assessment centre or you may be asked for one last face to face interview. This will be an opportunity for the employer to ask some final technical and behavioural questions and is also an opportunity for you to ask questions of your own, so come prepared for both!
The ideal scenario is that after all the planning, research, assessments and interviews, there will be standout individuals who are perfect for the roles in question. Companies will rarely extend a job offer unless they get to this stage because the investment (both monetary and in terms of effort going into training and nurturing) an employer makes in a new hire is significant.
Once those individuals are identified and salaries and start dates are agreed upon on both sides, an official job offer will be sent. Once accepted, there will no doubt be at least an internal sigh of relief on both sides!