In supporting the efforts of job search clients, I believe that it is a good practice to do a post-mortem after each interview session.

Identify areas that you have done well in, and those that you could do differently at the next session.

Responses to commonly asked questions

Here are a couple of key areas that you should be focusing on in preparing yourself to be an effective interviewee:

“Tell me about your career history.”

Being prepared is not about writing down your answers and trying to regurgitate them during the interview.

You should never do this for two simple reasons — first, you will come across as too rehearsed, and second, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to remember word-for-word all that you have prepared for.

Instead, write down in bullet-point form the key points that you feel are important for you to highlight.

One good example would be your response to the question: ”Tell me about your career history.”

Do not take 20 minutes or more to share everything that you have done.

Instead, highlight only those experiences that are pertinent to the job you are applying for.

If you are applying to be a business development director, do not elaborate on your experience doing something else totally irrelevant from business development work.

The cardinal rule is: “Sell what the interviewer wants to buy, do not sell what you have to sell.” There is a huge difference.

The interview is a two-way process, so you should also go prepared to ask good questions when prompted to.

Avoid the taboo ones on salary and working hours, which you should talk about only if initiated by the interviewer.

Generally speaking, there are four areas you can focus on for your four to six good questions to ask: the job, the company, the department and your immediate boss.

Another rule of thumb is to ask “open-ended” questions.

“What are your strengths?”

Again, apply the rule of highlighting those strengths that are relevant to the job you are being interviewed for.

Hence, if you are selling yourself as a super sales professional, do not play up your strong financial management skills.

It is usually easy to talk about your strengths, but to beat your competitors, arm yourself with stories to tell.

I always say that you must go to interview sessions with an imaginary bag from which you pull out the right stories or examples to share when you are highlighting your strengths.

To reinforce your strength in strategic thinking, for example, share an experience when this skill was effectively used.

To be another level up in delivering your point home, tell your story in this sequence:

  • Situation: What was the scenario when you had to utilise this strength of yours?
  • Action: What did you do?
  • Result: What was the outcome of what you did?

This is the punchline that should send the message home: “This example demonstrates my strong strategic thinking capability…”

“What are your areas for further development?”

This one is usually challenging. Here’s what you have to do:

Identify one that is not serious enough for the interviewer to terminate the interview immediately, for example: “When I get upset, I start shouting and hitting my colleagues.”

Instead, go for one that is not too serious an issue.

For example, you could say: “I tend to say ‘yes’ to my colleagues’ request for assistance, and find that I sometimes end up stretching myself too much…”

This is one of my favourites — provided it is not too far from the truth — because your “weakness” can also be perceived as a plus point.

The interviewer notes that you are helpful to others, and that you are a team player.

Your mental state

I have coached job seekers who tell me this before an interview: “I will just go and do all that I can. But I don’t think I will get this job.”

I never fail to get upset when I hear this, and my response to these people is: “Well, if you feel this way, then maybe you should not go and waste everybody’s time, including your own.”

If you are not mentally positive and upbeat about going for interviews with the intent to secure a job offer, why bother?

Begin with the end in mind. If you want the job, tell yourself you will get it.

Or, at least, say this: “I have a better than good chance of securing this one.”

Positive thinking has a stronger chance of begetting positive outcomes.

The packaging matters

Being successful in interviews is not just about research (about the hiring company), preparing your responses to commonly asked questions and being mentally positive.

It is also about the image. The rule of thumb is to look the part.

If you are going for a sales manager’s role, make sure you look like one.

Areas to pay attention to are your clothes, hairstyle, accessories and colour sense.

Trawl the Internet or read the career sections of lifestyle magazines for advice on what is appropriate to wear or tips on how to look your best.

Article by Paul Heng, a career coach with NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. For more information, call (65) 6323-6626 or visit and