12 min read

The basic rules of the interview

What should you say at the interview? What should you ask about? How should you behave? What details do recruiters pay attention to? Are there rules for an ideal interview? Practical advice to future IT specialists is given by a recruiter with experience, HR Director of Planner 5D, Iryna Bashan.

Iryna Bashan, HR Director of Planner 5D

Introduction

— How should you behave in an interview? How can you handle tricky questions? How do you present yourself in the best light? All these questions, of course, are asked by everyone who is looking for a job. I love the interview format and I conduct them with everyone who gets a job in our company. And believe me, lively and sincere candidates (of any qualification) are much more interesting than excellent candidates who have learned all the tips and applied them instead of demonstrating their own personality when searching for a job.

Therefore, in this article, we will discuss recommendations that will help you stay true to yourself while avoiding typical mistakes in your interviews.

How to prepare for an interview

— Your first interview on the way to finding a new job is never perfect. You can talk endlessly about how to write a resume and rehearse self-presentation and the answers to popular questions in front of a mirror, but there is nothing more effective and memorable than the real experience of actually passing interviews.

The best preparation for an interview is another real interview. At the level of physiology, a person experiences stress when they find themself in an unfamiliar situation. A surge of cortisol (stress hormone) occurs in the brain, which can cause a person to:

  • "fall into a stupor" — freeze, forget words, stop breathing normally, sweat, turn pale, and experience impaired thinking; or
  • "be activated" — present themself more vividly than usual, more accurately capture what others want from them, and find that their speech flows smoothly. This reaction manifests itself in a surge of positive energy.

To prevent a surge of cortisol from disrupting your employment plans, give yourself the opportunity to get used to the interview situation. After just a few attempts, you will intuitively understand the plot and the sequence of what is happening. The interview situation itself will cause less stress, which means that you will be able to behave more naturally and confidently. This will enable you to more beneficially present your experience, succinctly answer questions, and ask your own more purposefully. Therefore, it is worth going through some first interviews for the sake of training and only afterward arranging a meeting with the company that is most interesting to you.

What will the interviewer evaluate and pay attention to

— For an employer, a successful interview means that a specialist has been found who is suitable based on their:

  • professional competencies (will be able to successfully perform specific tasks);
  • motivation (what they want now and what they aspire to);
  • soft skills and communication style (how these correspondence to the company's culture); and
  • organizational issues (location, time zone, documents, salary, taxes, etc.)

The hiring company always needs to quickly understand how a new specialist will fit into the environment and conditions that have already developed within the team. Your task, then, is to convey your competencies, motivation, and expectations in a way that is compelling and demonstrates that you are the right person for the position.

Good news for juniors: there are a number of companies that build their business model around novice specialists. Usually, these are large organizations where a substantial number of simple tasks accumulate that are too expensive to address using senior-level talent.

From the company perspective, it is easier to grow a specialist internally than to find a fully relevant one on the market. So, pay attention to companies that have established a process of transferring experience from seniors to juniors (using mentoring or internal courses). To simplify your search even more, then look for an opportunity to get into the team with the master team lead: they and their “eco-friendly” team will lay the foundation for a successful professional trajectory within that company. The accepted advantage of a worthy candidate without work experience is their willingness to accept the established company charter.

— Let's figure out what the employer will pay attention to when they interview a specialist expecting growth, not current skills. If there is no work experience yet or it is insufficient, a lot of attention will be paid to the following:

  • how the candidate thinks and makes decisions in a new situation;
  • how much the junior candidate is capable of self-study; and
  • whether the candidate is organized and how they manage their working time.

Your self-presentation should direct the attention of the interviewers to the strong aspects of your story and motivation. One of the key tasks of self-presentation is to stand out from a number of other candidates. Start with an introduction (first and last name), and an interesting association or a joke. In the former CIS countries, such an introduction is rare, so it definitely helps you to be remembered. In Europe, the use of the full name and surname is very common. Remember the famous James Bond line:

— What's your name?

— Bond. James Bond.

To my subjective taste, a good self-presentation includes concise and relevant information about the:

  • past: why did you choose your profession, how did you advance/what have you done to advance;
  • present: how do you choose between companies, countries, and responsibilities now; and
  • future: highlight your professional aspirations.

Avoid a long backstory about how you wrote code beginning in school, learned a foreign language, or painted flowers on wallpaper. These are digressions that do not bring you closer to your goal.

A few tips on how to pass a job interview

— Imagine that we have Instagram Reels for 3 minutes to make an impression. Go straight to the most meaningful and concise presentations of key information. The formulations that you believe work for you can also be mentioned in your resume. Avoid clichés: ready to work 24/7, sociable and motivated, responsible, and executive. This just takes up time in your self-presentation that can be better used to provide impactful information.

When switching between industries, for example, from traditional business to IT, it is worth pointing out similar work responsibilities. Suppose an accountant changes their profession to a designer or developer. In this case, interesting stories include things such as how you: set up accounting automation in your current/former company, found and reported a bug in the code, wrote a simple utility with an additional function, or synthesized the data from two systems. Mentioning such personal initiatives will show the interviewer your passion and enthusiasm to develop independently in a new field.

Stories about actions you took make a greater impression than stories about your motivation or completed courses. An example of actions can also include: a practical experiment or research that gave you a specific answer to a question and advanced your plans, participation in a socially significant project where you practiced your knowledge after training, helping a professional friend who gave you feedback on the result, etc. It is important to reveal your interest in the profession not by word, but by deed.

What else will help you stand out? Today, almost everyone has some short description of themselves on social networks. It consists of short definitions, most often indicated by a hashtag (#). For example, Recruiter & Professional Cat-lover, gastroenterologist, and Dancing Queen. These modern hashtags easily adapt to the description of your professional personality and can also stimulate informal small-talk. Social networks have long helped interviewers to evaluate a candidate as quickly as possible, and you can calibrate the appropriate degree of humor and permissiveness for an interview in a couple of "coaching" interviews.

Frequently asked interview questions

— When there is not much relevant experience behind you, interviewers look at your demonstrated desire for self-development and self-organization. Interviewers usually want to assess how you study, how you learn new information, what you read, who you subscribe to, and which opinion leaders you follow. You can be asked any kind of question about your approach. Therefore, be fully prepared in advance. Watch YouTube on the topic of your profession, listen to podcasts, and go to a meetup or conference. Your "burning eyes" will tell the interviewers that you have committed to the business at a deep level and are ready to work.

When people ask you about the future (what you would like to do/how do you want to grow), stay in touch with reality. Beginners or students often have idealized conceptions of work responsibilities. As a result, their answers about what they want or are ready to do daily may be divorced from real life. Tasks for junior specialists are usually simple ones that fill your time. Therefore, talk about specific tasks that you are ready to work with every day, or about the initial stages of the process. Honestly determine for yourself before an interview what you are ready to do in your future job, and what you are not. When you decide on your boundaries in advance, your answers will sound clearer and more confident.

Of course, it's great when a young specialist broadcasts ambitions and long-term goals, and thinks big, but it's important not to "fly into space." Remain connected to reality and remember that your value at the entrance to the profession is in your willingness to adopt the employer's needs and expertise.

Be a team player. Juniors are successfully developed in a team when they are executive and thinking. Performance value is demonstrated by how the future employee brings the matter to its conclusion and meets the deadlines. Thinking means, among other things, the ability to ask relevant substantive questions. And by that, I mean not questions that can be Googled or asked by AI. It is better to prepare interview stories using the STAR method (you describe the situation, task, actions, and result).

After a few success or failure stories have been told (by and large, there is no difference between the two, since only the learned experience and conclusions drawn are important), the interlocutors will understand how you act to achieve goals. Managers and leads mentally try on your behavioral models for cases in their work environment. If your strategies are clear to the people on the other side of the table, then you have already made an impression. The good news is that even if you are not hired by this particular company, you are likely to be recommended to a friendly team or project.

It is best to end the interview on an upbeat and optimistic note. This may mean asking interesting questions about: the company's product, work tasks, expectations for this role, the team, and the possibility of obtaining knowledge from senior colleagues. To do this effectively, it is best to read the company's website in advance, link the manager of the department you are interviewing for, Google articles about the company, and find something that is interesting to you personally. Questions about processing, benefits package, and salary revision may result in hesitation among the interviewers. After all, applicants ask first about what they care about most, and the best motivation for a junior is to develop in the profession.

Life hacks for preparing for an interview

— Before the interview, you can develop a portrait of the company using social networks. Many IT companies maintain product blogs or corporate accounts that reflect the lives of employees. Of course, everyone's cultural code is very different, but there are some trends, and focusing on these will make it easier for you to integrate into your new environment.

For purposes of this discussion, there are large companies (more than 300-500 employees), which I will call "corporations," and small ones, with 20 or more employees, which I will call “companies.”

What do you need to know about the big players? They have been on the market for a long time, and their business is stable and reliable. This means that their processes have been worked out on a large number of employees. Corporations usually get onto various lists of the "Best Employer" sort, they are in plain sight, their vacancies are always on bulletin boards. Interviews are usually very clear and structured. Accordingly, a few tips for candidates who go for an interview in a corporation:

  • Comply with the terms proposed by the representative of the corporation: agree to the proposed interview time, provide additional information, and patiently go through all stages of the interview. Since corporations are prominent and most often have a strong HR brand in the market, the competition for such positions is higher. In practice, the recruiter needs to quickly process all applicants and give detailed comments. The more hashtags about your experience align with their expectations for the role, the better your chances.
  • Polite restraint, modesty, reasonableness, argumentation, and consistency in decision-making are valued in communication. It is better to start with a focus on "you" (the corporation) and switch to "I" after you are offered a position. Observe all the rules of politeness and tact not only in personal communication, but also in correspondence with recruiters.
  • Don't be late. In extreme cases, you need to warn about any change in your availability at least 1 hour in advance. When the hiring process is strictly regulated in the corporation, a certain amount of time is reserved for each candidate. Shifts, unpredictable cancellations of interviews, or changes in conditions are interpreted negatively. But if communication with you is easy, that will be a plus.
  • Choose clothing in neutral colors. Your image should support, not distract from, your professionalism.

Corporations provide an excellent base for new professionals and usually have great resources for internal employee training. In return, they expect employees to follow the rules of restraint and gradual professional growth. A lot depends on the team that the newcomer joins, so be sure to clarify at the interview who in the team you will work with, on which project.

Small companies are my personal love. Let's focus on some of their features:

  • In many cases, business processes are still being formed, as the company is looking for the best ways to achieve results. This dynamic can affect your responsibilities, the team, the atmosphere, and — as a result — the experience that you have during your work. Responsibilities may change. You may interview with certain people, but end up working with others. The project or business of the company may change several times in just a couple of years. All of these changes can teach you a lot, which will be a plus for responsible and resourceful employees.
  • The smaller the company, the less formal the hiring process and communication with new candidates will be. You will not read much about such companies on job sites. Vacancies may be published in Telegram or other non-traditional sites, or even completely inaccessible to those outside the company. Most of the information will be told to you in person. Therefore, prepare to be interested in everything.
  • The timing is less strict, so it is usually no problem to shift the interview in less than half an hour, to ask for extra time, or even invite the person you like to lunch. The processes are not debugged — you may be invited to one interview, but in fact you will have two. Surrender to the flow of events and take the initiative, especially if you catch positive vibrations from the team.
  • The company may give a slower answer after your interview, communication may not be as predictable as in a corporation. If something like this happens, take matters graciously into your own hands and politely specify further steps and deadlines.
  • The cultural code can be more pronounced and less muted than in corporations. In this case, your individual characteristics, humor, hobbies, and appearance will be greeted more warmly. In communication, you will likely find that openness, curiosity, companionship, involvement in a common cause, and willingness to help a colleague are valued.
  • It is better to ask for feedback about small companies from former employees — you can find them on social networks.

Interview passed — what's next?

— So, the interview is over, they said goodbye to you and promised to return with an answer. If you are concerned about the response time, then it is quite normal to clarify the time frame (you can text after the meeting). There are many examples of letters on the Internet that can be used to thank the interviewer for their time and clarify the nuances. It is definitely not worth calling or writing earlier than the designated response period, since the feedback period is governed by internal factors of the employer.

A useful move would be to request feedback after the interview has been completed. This will serve to remind the interviewers of you and offer you another opportunity to emphasize your respect and appreciation for the expertise of the interviewers. If you reach out in this way, you may be lucky to receive some personal insights, get recommendations on the development of some skills, or perhaps you will even be recommended to a friendly company.

If the response from the employer did not come in the promised time interval, we can assume that you are not the chosen candidate. Nevertheless, it is worth thanking the interviewers for their time. Now, almost all businesses use specialized software to hire candidates. It is very likely that polite follow-up means that your profile in their internal system will be highlighted, so you will leave a good impression. In practice, recruiters (at large corporations in particular) return to candidates after some time. Also, it is possible that the situation in the company may change in a month, and candidates with good reviews in the internal database will be on the list of those to be contacted about the position.

— And finally, it is important that you like the company — in terms of the processes, the proposed conditions, and the communication with the team. If you are at the very beginning of your professional path or in the process of becoming an IT professional, then choose a company based on the tasks you will be doing, because it is much more pleasant to work when you like what you do. The main thing is that your work sparks a genuine interest inside you.

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