Get Set For Success: The Comprehensive Guide To Your First Job Interview

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Students spend thousands of hours attending classes, writing assessments and acquiring the relevant skills for their chosen profession before graduation – yet when it comes to their first crucial job interview, it’s often the case that graduates do themselves a disservice by not spending enough time, energy and focus on preparing.

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Being a student will be some of the best, but also the most challenging years of a young person’s life. Thousands of hours will be spent attending classes, writing assessments, and embedding the required skills for their earmarked profession before graduation.

Unfortunately, when it comes to preparing for that first crucial interview which could potentially launch their career, not enough time, energy, and focus is spent on preparing.

Graduates do themselves a disservice in not setting themselves up for success when all it would take, in comparison to their years of study, is a relatively limited amount of time and energy.

Moving from being a graduate to landing your first position is not the time to drop the ball – this is the metaphorical last stretch which should see you sustain your effort, to ensure your candidacy stands out in a crowded job market,” says Dr Bronwyn Le Ann Batchelor, Head of Faculty: Law at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private higher education provider.

She says the job-seeking phase can be both exciting and daunting at the same time, especially in South Africa where around 30 percent of the country’s labour force is unemployed.

“The imperative to set yourself apart is that much higher. The first step on this journey involves facing the challenge of the job interview. Your first interview can set you apart from other job seekers and set the tone for your entire career, thus making it essential to approach it with thorough preparation and confidence,” Dr Batchelor says.

She says there are simple - but key - strategies available to help set yourself up for success as you prepare for that all-important first interview.

These include Researching the employer, Researching the role, Preparing, and practising your introduction, anticipating common interview questions, highlighting achievements, Rehearsing, and Preparing questions for the interviewer.

Before stepping into the interview room, it's crucial to understand the company you're interviewing with.

"Keep in mind that they will have numerous candidates vying for the same position, and that the candidate who shows they already understand the company will stand a much better chance.

Fit and qualifications are important, but you want to tick as many favourable boxes as possible. Doing your research will immediately elevate you above those candidates who did not.”

The Role

In addition to understanding the company, you must demonstrate that you understand the role, what will be expected of you, and how you will align with the requirements.

Thoroughly analyse the job description or advertisement, whatever is available to you. Understand the key responsibilities, required skills, and qualifications.

Consider how your skills and experiences match the job requirements and be ready to articulate this alignment during the interview. This preparation will allow you to demonstrate your genuine interest in the role and convince the interviewer that you are the right fit,” says Dr Batchelor.

Know What You Are Going To Say & Look The Part

First impressions are not always accurate, but they can instantly make a difference, whether positive or negative.

Construct a succinct and compelling introduction of yourself that highlights your relevant skills and experience. Keep it short, focused, and engaging. This pitch will likely be one of the first things you share in the interview and can leave a lasting impression – make it count.

Dress professionally in attire that aligns with the company's culture and the position you are applying for. Pay attention to grooming, and ensure your overall presentation reflects your respect for the opportunity.

That does not mean that you need to splurge on new outfits – rather ensure that you make the best of what is available to you and put your best foot forward on the day.

The Interview

It is easy to research common interview questions, and the approach that should be taken with them. Do not, however, provide generic answers. Align your own candidacy with those questions that will always arise during the interview.

Doing thorough prep beforehand will reduce stress and anxiety and help you be more confident and articulate during the interview. Also remember to prepare a list of your key accomplishments and how they demonstrate your skills, character, and qualifications for the position.

A great approach for structuring responses is the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). This allows you to provide concrete examples of how you have successfully handled challenges in the past. Take the time to prepare these examples.

Even if you have not been previously formally employed you will have examples from challenges or successes that you faced in your studies, ad hoc work, volunteerism, or personal life that can highlight your character, skills and qualifications that align with the position available.

Practise, Practise, Practise

Enlist the help of a friend or family member to conduct a mock interview. Good higher education institutions may even have career centres or support services that can assist. If so, grab the opportunity!

Practise answering questions, refine your body language, and request constructive feedback. This simulated experience can significantly reduce anxiety, boost your confidence, and help identify areas for improvement. During the mock interview, you can also practise the questions you will be asking the interviewer.

Dr Batchelor says that just as one’s success in their studies is not dependent on luck, interview success is not dependent on a fluke either.

“Interviewing requires preparation and strategic planning. With the right preparation, you can significantly improve your chances of success,” she says.

Suggested Article:

Youth unemployment

Learnerships are a huge part of the transition between being a student and an employee. Thus, when the opportunity presents itself in the form of an interview, it is just as important to be fully prepared to ensure that you secure a learnership. 

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