Monday, July 21, 2008

Guide to an Interview

Hi readers,

My apologies for the absence as I have not been well lately. I have however been using that time productively by preparing you this little 'Guide to an Interview'.

INTERVIEW!!! To most people, going through this process is their worst nightmare. In order to excel, many will dedicate their time and effort endlessly in order to cross this hurdle. While you often spend your precious time in preparing and practising to impress the interviewers, they on the other end sure hope that YOU are the right person for the job. They are under pressure to fill the position so that they can get back to their own work. Therefore you are in a greater position of strength than you think. Remember my previous post on 'ATTITUDE'? Concentrate on what you have to offer in the way of qualifications and experience instead of feeling intimidated.

An interviewer has 3 aims:
  1. To learn if you are the right person for the job
  2. To assess your potential for promotion
  3. To decide whether you will fit into the company environment
The key to a successful job interview is in preparation.

Be prepared: For the types of interview questions you will be asked
Be prepared: To ask questions yourself
Be prepared: To research the company
Be prepared: To look the part
Be prepared: To turn up on time

Job interview FAQ's you may be asked;
Q - How would you describe yourself?
A - You should describe attributes that will enhance your suitability for the position. Have some ready in advance.
Q - What are your long-term goals?
A - These should be career orientated. Make sure you have goals to discuss.
Q - Why did you leave your last job?
A - This could be for more responsibility; a better opportunity; increased income. NEVER give negative remarks about your previous employer. He could be the interviewers golfing partner.
Q - Why do you want this job?
A - Your answer should be: more responsibility or better opportunity or similar. Not: because it is closer to home or conveniences.
Q - What are your strengths?
A - You should highlight accomplishments and experiences that relate to the position for which you are applying. Also, give examples of situations where your strengths have been demonstrated.
Q - What are your weaknesses?
A - This should not be a list of deficiencies. Do not mention anything that could make the interviewer question your ability to do the job, for example, “I am always late for everything”. Instead, discuss a weakness that could also be a strength such as “I am a workaholic!”.

More Examples of Good Interview Questions;
  • Tell me a little bit about yourself?
  • Describe your current / most recent position?
  • What made you want to make this change?
  • What do you most enjoy doing in your current /most recent position?
  • Describe your future ambitions?
  • How would you describe yourself?

Good interview questions for YOU to ask
Asking questions at interview has a number of positive effects:
  • It helps you find out more about the company and the position
  • It can be used to divert the interviewer away from a subject you may wish to avoid
  • It can help build a rapport with the interviewer
  • It demonstrates an interest in the job and the company
The questions must be about the position and the company. Avoid questions about salary, benefits and facilities until after you have been offered the job. You should already have researched the company and it’s products and services. Your questions should demonstrate knowledge of the company’s history, successes and problems. If the interviewer is a representative of the HR department the questions should relate to the company and be general. Specific questions relating to the position should be kept for the hiring manager who will have a more detailed knowledge.

Example questions relating to the position;
  • What are the main responsibilities of the job?
  • What are the most difficult aspects of the job?
  • How did the vacancy arise?
  • What is the career path relating to this position?
  • How will my work be assessed?
Example questions relating to the company;
  • What is the company hoping to achieve in the next 12 months?
  • What new products are the company planning to introduce in the future?
  • Are any major changes planned for the department/company?
  • Who are your biggest competitors?

Where to find company information

  • Information relating to companies, financial data's, industries and business trends are available in business magazines which are often published on the World Wide Web. It also allows you to view Annual Reports relating to specific companies.
  • Companies often have their own web site
  • Newspapers – search on-line press reports including archived articles
  • Local library
Interview Tips - Presentation

Obviously you should be clean and smart in appearance but you should also dress appropriately for the position. Do refer my previous post on 'Dress for Interview'.

Interview Tips - Travel
  • Arrive 15 minutes early
  • Make sure you have the correct address and know how you will get there: Parking? Public transport access?
  • Look for the place a day ahead and do a dummy run if you are not sure
  • Make sure you carry your mobile phone with the interviewers telephone number so that you can ring ahead if circumstances beyond your control are making you late
  • Be polite to everyone you speak as the Security Guard could be the Managing Director’s uncle!
  • Have a copy of your CV with you

  • You should show interest in all aspects of the job and the company especially if shown around the premises
  • Do your homework on the company and the nature of its business
  • Take care on how you dress for the interview. First impressions still count!
Some of the main influences on the interviewer are:
  • Your experience in other employment or life situations
  • Your personal presentation
  • How your personality comes across in the interview
  • Your background and references
  • Your enthusiasm for both the job and the organisation
  • Relevant qualifications for the position

I hope these tips serve you good on your quest. Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail!

All the best!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Are cover letters really necessary?

I was thrown a question recently by a friend asking me if I needed him to write a cover letter to be accompanied with his resume to be forwarded to a potential employer. My answer, as you would have guessed, was a YES! Then he asked me what he should mention in it. It was then when I thought I should write on the importance of cover letters here.

Writing a cover letter often seem like a daunting task. In Malaysia, writing cover letters are not practiced widely as minimal importance is given for introduction. However, if you take it one step at a time, by following some guidelines, you will soon be an expert at writing letters to send with your resume.

A cover letter typically accompanies each resume you send out. Your cover letter may make the difference between obtaining a job interview and having your resume ignored so it makes good sense to devote the necessary time and effort in writing effective cover letters.

A cover letter should complement, not duplicate your resume. Its purpose is to interpret earliest the data-oriented, factual resume and add a personal touch. A cover letter is often your written contact with a potential employer, creating a critical first impression.

There are three general types of cover letters:

  1. The application letter which responds to a known job opening
  2. The prospecting letter which inquires about possible positions
  3. The networking letter which requests information and assistance in your job search (or contacts as known widely by Malaysians)

Your cover letter should be designed specifically for each purpose outlined above as well as for each position you seek. Do not design a form letter and send it to every potential employer (you know what you do with junk mail!).

Effective cover letters explain the reasons for your interest in a specific organization identifying your most relevant skills or experiences (remember that relevance here is determined by the employer). You, on the other hand, should express a high level of interest and knowledge about the position.

Next, you may wonder what you should include, how to format your cover letter, and ways to follow up with the prospective employer.

To be effective, your cover letter should follow the basic format of a typical business letter and should address three general issues:

  1. First Paragraph - Why are you writing?
  2. Middle Paragraphs - What do you have to offer?
  3. Concluding Paragraph - How will you follow-up?

Why Are You Writing?

In some cases, you may have been referred to a potential employer by a friend or an acquaintance. Be sure to mention this mutual contact by name, up front, since it is likely to encourage your reader to keep reading. If you are writing in response to a job posting, indicate where you have learned of the position and the title of the position. Most importantly, express your enthusiasm and the likely match between your credentials (or talent, in my words) and the qualifications. If you are writing a prospecting letter, a letter in which you inquire about possible job openings - state your specific job objective (or talent as I prefer to address it). Since this type of letter is unsolicited – as without a referral, it is even more important to capture the reader’s attention. If you are writing a networking letter to approach an individual for information, make your request clear.

What Do You Have To Offer?

In responding to an advertisement, refer specifically to the qualifications listed and illustrate how your particular abilities and experiences relate to the position you are applying. In a prospecting letter express your potential to fulfill the employer's needs rather than focus on what the employer can offer you. You can do this by giving evidence that you have researched the organization thoroughly and that you possess skills used within that organization. Emphasize your achievements and problem-solving skills. Show how your education and work skills are relevant to the position you are applying.

How Will You Follow Up?

Close by repeating or reiterating your interest in the job and letting the employer know how they can reach you and include your phone number and email address. Ask directly for an interview opportunity and indicate that you will follow-up with a telephone call to set up an appointment at a mutually convenient time. Be sure to make the call within the time frame mentioned. In some cases, an employer may only provide you with a general email address and not state a phone number which denies you from this follow-up. Unless in this case, make your best effort to reach the organization. At the very least, you should confirm that your materials have been received and that your application is complete. If you are applying from outside the employer’s geographic area, you may want to indicate if you will be in town during a certain time frame (this makes it easier for the employer to agree to meet with you if you live in Penang, Ipoh, JB or anywhere else and the opening is in KL, for instance, or vice-versa).

For sample letters, try to google, as many examples are available online but do make use of the guidelines I have provided to maximize your prospecting opportunity.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dress For Interview

Hi Readers,

Today I will be writing about the way you should look when you go for an interview. Many people will say,'Duh!!.. of course I know what to wear for an interview!', but really, how many of us really understand the dress code?

While the college campus may be the perfect forum in which to exhibit your flair for the latest in fashion style, the interview is not the place to do so. With very few unusual exceptions, sandals and sweatshirts are out. Business suits are still in. A necktie is still a fact of life in interviewing.

Even though many companies have relaxed the internal company dress code, interviews still follow the conservative standard. Don't buck the trend. Unfortunately, most college grads are woefully underprepared with proper interview dress. They feel they can "get by" with what is already in their wardrobe. Usually not. Dress for the world outside college is quite different from the campus scene. Remember that stylish is not conservative. You should be doing the talking, not your clothes. This is not to say that you need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Go for quality over quantity. One or two well-chosen business suits will serve you all the way to the first day on the job and beyond. Then, when you are making some money (and have a chance to see what the standard "uniform" is for the company), you can begin to shop for some worthy clothes.

For now, no one will fault you for wearing the same sharp outfit each time you interview. If you desire some variety within a limited budget, you might consider varying your shirt/blouse/tie/accessories(in minimal) as a simple way to change your look without over-spending.

For those of you who need a quick review of the basics, follow these guidelines for successful interview dress:

Men and Women

  • Conservative two-piece business suit (solid dark blue or grey is best)
  • Conservative long-sleeved shirt/blouse (white is best, pastel is next best)
  • Clean, polished conservative shoes
  • Well-groomed hairstyle
  • Clean, trimmed fingernails
  • Minimal cologne or perfume
  • Empty pockets--no bulges or tinkling coins
  • No gum, candy or cigarettes
  • Light briefcase or portfolio case
  • No visible body piercing (nose rings, eyebrow rings, etc.)


  • Necktie should be silk with a conservative pattern (preferably not more than 3 colours)
  • Dark office shoes (black is best, brown acceptable)
  • Dark socks (black is best)
  • Get a haircut; short hair always fares best in interviews
  • No beards (unless you are interviewing for a job as a lumberjack!) Neatly trimmed goatee is fine
  • Mustaches, if you must, make sure it is neat and trimmed
  • Rings; 1 would do (that is if you are a ring person or need to wear them i.e; engagement, wedding, etc.)
  • No earrings (if you normally wear one, take it out)


  • Always wear a suit with a jacket; no dresses
  • Shoes with conservative heels
  • Conservative hosiery at or near skin color (and no runs or patterns!)
  • No purses, small or large; carry a light briefcase or a portfolio case instead
  • If you wear nail polish (not required), use clear or a conservative color
  • Minimal use of makeup (it should not be too noticeable)
  • No more than one ring on each hand
  • One set of earrings only

If you are still not sure how to dress for the interview, call them and ask! That's right--call the employer but this is one time when you do not want to call the Hiring Manager--instead, ask to be put through to Human Resources and say:"I have an interview with _____ in the _____ department for a position as an _____. Could you please tell me what would be appropriate dress for this interview?" Sure, you run the risk of someone in HR thinking your fashion knowledge is as good as ground zero, but that's a lot better than having the Hiring Manager distracted by inappropriate interview dress. While many work environments in KL or anywhere in the city have shifted to business casual as the work standard, business suits are still the interview standard. When in doubt, it is almost always better to go on the side of conservatism.

One final note on interview dress: while it goes without saying that your interview clothes should be neat and clean, very few interviewees give the same time and attention to their shoes. I am aware of at least myself as a Corporate Recruiter who forms first impressions based solely on shoes. Reason being that I subjectively judge that those who pay attention to details like their shoes are also likely to be diligent in their work life. It is not enough to be clean, pressed, and ironed. Make sure your shoes are conservative, clean, and polished.