How to ace that interview

Stay confident, avoid smart retorts and brush up on subject knowledge.

5 Dec 2021
Barbara Best
Reading time
≈5 minutes
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“Tell us something about yourself” might sound like the simplest question asked in an interview, but 90% interviewees falter at this opener, says Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Media, a mobile and digital media venture based in Delhi, and co-author of You’re Hired! The book has been co-authored by Carol, Goyal’s 19-year-old daughter. This is Goyal’s second book after The Dum Dum Bullet, a book on marketing. “There are no right answers and no wrong answers at a job interview—all that counts is how well you know the company that you are applying to and how you suit the profile,” says Mumbai-based Goyal.

With sample job interviews across sectors such as aviation, advertising, media and corporate firms, the book follows up each with detailed pointers on the mistakes made and points scored. Edited excerpts from an email interview with Goyal:

Why did you decide to write the book?

Carol was appearing for her first interview. She was nervous and apprehensive. There was no real reference material of quality available either on the Net or at book stores. Even coaching classes did not meet necessary requirements. The few who did offer coaching, were very basic and lacked cutting-edge perspective. Carol and I worked on a lot of material, went through lots of data and perspectives. When Carol sailed through her interview and was going to get rid of the accumulated material, we thought it could be put to good use for kids like Carol. Hence was born the idea for this book.

Psychologically, how should a candidate prepare himself for an interview?

We think the simplest starting point for an interview is “Know Thyself”. So all preparation for the interview needs to be based on a reality self-check. You cannot afford to be either over-confident, or a nervous wreck. Start with the résumé. Check for spelling errors. Highlight achievements. One big achievement on your CV is better than a dozen insignificant ones. Avoid mentioning banal stuff like “love reading, writing and making friends”—sounds really dumb. Most importantly, practise (after writing and rewriting) the answer to the starting question at most interviews, “Tell us something about yourself.” Don’t forget to read the company Website. Make relevant notes. Read newspapers for current affairs. Sports and movies often come up during the interview, so have a viewpoint (“I loved Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar because…” or “Granted M.S. Dhoni is a cool captain, but…”). If you are appearing for a domain expertise job (engineer, software professional), please brush up on your subject knowledge.

How are video CVs different from traditional CVs and when must they be used by a candidate? What are the pros and cons of sending a video CV?

Video CVs are still not very common. Best done for jobs that have a creative element to them and should only be done with a lot of pre-planning, attention to script, camera work, lighting and visual elements, including music. This is a tough task, to say the least. Though, we have seen some simple video-cam efforts which shine with honesty and sincerity. Do it only if you are willing to run the extra mile. A better format is a well-done PowerPoint CV or even better, one done on Prezi (a cloud-based presentation software). It can be peppered with interesting visuals, highlights as well as headlines that support achievements and embellish qualifications.

What is the best response if you are provoked by an interviewer?

Smile. Don’t get rattled or hassled. Don’t get aggressive. Just back off. Avoid smart-alecky answers or wise retorts or personal remarks at all costs.

What makes for a “hot” CV?

Achievements. Success. Demonstrated superiority as a candidate. An IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) or an IIM-A (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad) shines on a CV. If you have worked at Hindustan Unilever Ltd or Citibank or similar…it works wonders. If you were India No.4 in table tennis, irrespective of the job on offer, you are hot on the CV. If you attempted to reach the top of Mount Everest but fell short by a 1,000ft, you are interesting as a candidate. Gritty. Adventurous. If you went to the finals of MTV Roadies or Indian Idol, you are good to meet…. In short, a “hot” CV is nothing but a stand-out candidate.

Do personal life stories of strength and grit make for great interviews?

They sure do. But they should not sound either like bragging, or at the other extreme, as tear jerkers. Personal stories told with confidence, balanced in narration and content, can work wonders.

How should one approach a hostile and arrogant interviewer?

Stay confident and in control. Reply to questions without getting pressured. You are here to interview for a job, not change the world. So don’t hassle yourself. The interviewer may deliberately be trying to stress you.

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