I was scheduled for an interview somewhere in Lagos last month. It was both a defence of a national competition and an interview to choose winners and employees. I had asked several people on what to expect and the likely questions that may be asked there. It eventually paid of, as I was called as part of the final three. I have decided to share the knowledge and insight gained on this issue. After being called up from a number of applicants, (or finalists if it were a competition), the odds are that you may be favoured. The interview (oral defense) is what makes or breaks you. If you are positive and in charge during an interview, the panel is most likely to recommend you. If you are polished and courteous during an oral defence, you will gain the respect the panel, and they will be more likely to support you. If you have good presentation skills, your audience is much more likely to take you seriously. So if you are afraid of public speaking, practice with a good coach to prepare for a positive experience. The golden rule for success at your oral interview is confidence and practice. This kind of practice will quickly improve your presentation skills. Here are some quick advice;
§ Know your audience. Try to talk to people within the organization AHEAD OF TIME. It is much easier to prepare yourself ahead of time about the concerns of the organization rather than respond blankly. Find out from other people about the kinds of concerns each of panel members might ask about (or the aspect/job description they might be interested in). If this is not possible, find out about the concerns of the HR and their inclinations and personalities.
§ Re-read your essay/thesis. If you are preparing or an essay or thesis defense, make any minor corrections. Anticipate the sections of your essay/ thesis that may raise questions from your panel. Jot down any question or concerns/suggestions about the organization (your thesis/essay) that you can ask the panel at the interview. It may be your saving grace-for me it was!
§ Be able to describe your thesis work (or talk about yourself) in 2 minutes. For essay/ thesis defenders, the tendency here for the interviewee here is to get into too much technical detail and hence spend too much time ( practice is key!). The interviewer, however, will not be able to remember, or even understand, most of the technical details, so it’s wise to leave the nitty-gritty details out. Instead, be prepared to mention what is so great about your work and what you learned from it, if it is about yourself, talk in the light of your strengths and abilities.
§ Arrange a “mock interview,” with your friends playing the role of your committee members. Practice giving a presentation from notes or prepared text so that you can read confidently and make eye contact. After your presentation, your friends should ask questions about your thesis so you get used to responding in a professional and mature manner.
§ Plan in advance what you will wear. Be mindful of your physical appearance. If a picture is a thousand words, your appearance determines their disposition towards you. Don’t let your carriage be paralyzed. Try to relax and take charge of the situation.
§ Get a good night’s sleep the night before. It no use getting there early, but looking like you got a red eye, from being bashed the day before. Consider yourself against other relaxed people, and you will look like a nervous wreck!
§ Arrive early and have everything you need. It’s an “away” match, so you’ve got to arrive to get familiar with the location, surroundings and the other applicants, if it will be a group interview. Imagine you getting to an interview complaining of hold up, because you left home late. You are making a big statement as a potential employee-you might win the lateness awards for keeps!
§ Remember: It’s your thesis, and the defense is your last chance to get appreciated/ appointed about your application and your writing. So, plan the defense (as best you can) to meet the needs and interests of your examiners/organization.
§ Make eye contact and connect with your audience. Avoid nervous habits. It tells the panel you are confident of yourself, and can handle pressure. You stand a greater chance, than when you project a shy, timid and laid back attitude.
§ Take a moment to compose your responses. Clarify the question if necessary, and answer the questions directly. Don’t wander. Playing smart is annoying.
§ Listen attentively to your interviewer’s questions. It sounds silly, but is an important point: many people get so nervous they forget to pay careful attention to what they are being asked. If you aren’t sure you understood the question, try rephrasing it and asking your examiners if that is what they meant.
§ Avoid talking too much. Your interviewer’s will want a chance to respond to your thoughts or ask new questions; if you don’t give them the chance to do this, they will get annoyed
§ Avoid being put on the defensive. If one of your examiners criticizes you, think carefully about how his or her perspective might have merit. This is not the time for attempts at intellectual redemption, nor is this the time to try to effect monumental changes in your interviewer’s intellectual stance.
§ Don’t be afraid to correct mistakes before anyone pounces on them. It depicts composure and projects a strong personality.
§ Reframe negative questions before responding. Deflect emotionally laden questions.
§ Stand up for yourself but in a positive way. But never with your committee.
§ Never lie (if caught, you are finished!).
§ Admit It When You Don’t Know Something. Some people intentionally ask questions to throw potential employees off balance. In these situations, examiners generally hope that the applicant will demonstrate how to handle circumstances. Just consider the question carefully and provide an idea of how you could begin to answer it. You aren’t expected to have all the answers. It is usually a mistake to pretend to know something that you do not, because chances are that the interviewer will follow up with questions regarding that exact topic. If the candidate cannot answer these follow-up questions, it tells the interviewer either that the candidate does not know his/her stuff, or the candidate lied about knowing the topic/area. Either way, it is a big turn-off.
§ Be Energetic. Every organization needs people who are energetic and passionate about what they believe in and who they are. Imagine for yourself: Would you rather have someone who is always on the go or someone who looks sleepy and needs encouragement all the time? In addition, if a person does not show much energy during the interview, the interviewer will think, “if this person cannot get excited about an interview, how is he or she ever going to be excited about the job?”.
There is one area where being energetic really pays off: Many interviewers start with the question, “Tell me about yourself.” If you cannot enthusiastically talk about yourself for at least five minutes or so, the interviewer will wonder if you’ll be interested in your future job for much longer.
§ Sample questions
o Tell me about yourself.
o Why are you interested in this organization?
o In one sentence, what is the main point, claim, or argument of your thesis?
o Any questions/ or suggestion for the organization?
o Specific questions about the content, argument, and audience of your thesis:
· Why did you rely on x as opposed to y?
· Why did you decide to omit x?
· How did bringing together these two different principles help or limit your investigation?
· Please clarify what you meant by this statement on page 32 …
· Finally, be ready for anything. Your interviewers, being people with flaws, sometimes act in a petty or unfair manner. The questions they ask might have nothing to do with what you wrote in your application; they also could be completely outside the scope of what you anticipated. If members of your committee do not get along well with each other, the tension between them might filter down to you. If your examiners don’t agree with each other, you can become an unwilling pawn in their own intellectual struggles. Avoid traps intelligently.
All the best!!!!