The year ahead looks difficult enough – it is forecast to be one of the most economically taxing we have had for a long time. With growth estimated at 0.7% you can expect the job market to be tightening up.
When it comes to changing jobs it’s probably inadvisable to move unless you have something lined up. It is not the time to go into something that might work out – you don’t want to find yourself jobless in 6 months because you made the wrong choice. Do your homework properly or stay put!
However, if you suspect that you are on a retrenchment list get your CV out immediately. Do not wait. It is much harder to find a position if you are not working than if you are going to interviews whilst gainfully employed.
When it comes to job hunting, you can get everything else right but if you mess up the interview, you will lose out.
So here are a couple of pointers that could make all the difference.
- Prepare for the interview. The interview is a face-to-face process to assess your presence and your ability to handle yourself. It is essentially a sales presentation – you are the product so sell yourself! This means that you should always put your best foot forward. Never minimize yourself.
- If there is anything interesting in your personal life, put it in your CV under Personal Interests and Hobbies. This could result in some interest from the interviewer and give you a chance to talk about something that you really enjoy. (For example, competitive sport participation, charitable work or an interesting hobby). This lightens the atmosphere and gives you an opportunity to relax a little. (Watching videos/sport and reading novels do not qualify!).
- Check on the dress code of the company. Call reception and ask before hand. Is it tie and jacket or jeans and T-Shirt? Being over/under dressed is your failure in attention to detail.
- Read up about the company on the internet so that you have a basic understanding of its products and reach. Look at the published financial statements and see if you can identify any of the business risks – do they carry large amounts of stock, are fixed assets material, do they import etc? You might want to think about how IFRS would apply.
- Be prepared to answer questions like:
– What are your strengths and weaknesses?
– What was your greatest achievement in your last job?
– What would your employer say was your best quality?
– What would they say irritated them most about you?
– Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Always take a few copies of your CV to the interview. It makes you look professional and practical.
- Never underestimate the competency of the interviewer. You may find yourself faced with a young person who may appear to know little about CA’s. Usually they know exactly what they are looking for. Ignoring this could make you look arrogant and self-serving.
- Shake hands with a gentle firmness. A strong handshake could be offensive and a limp one disconcerting. Take the middle road.
- Look at each person in the eyes and smile. This starts the connection process. If you look away you give a shifty and distrustful impression.
- Sit with your back straight with one arm on the desk and leaning forward. This makes you look bright and interested. Sprawling out leisurely could make you look laid back and flippant.
- If you feel yourself getting anxious, breathe deeply two or three times. This settles the cortisol in the system and gets the serotonin flowing again. Take a sip of water.
- Time is of the essence – people, especially executives, are under extreme time pressure.Get to the point quickly and don’t ramble on.
- Always assume that the interviewer has not read your CV properly (usually the case with executives – not so much with HR). When asked “So tell me about yourself”always start with your qualifications. Don’t give too much detail. For example “I’m a CA(SA) MBA”. Give the institutions that you qualified at if they are strong. Otherwise let the interviewer ask – don’t volunteer. Never mention academic failures unless you are asked. You’re a CA – that’s good enough! If you had a bit of a bumpy ride getting there, you don’t need to advertise it.
- Get straight into your work historystarting with your current position and moving backwards. Begin with your status on the organizational chart and the number of your direct reports.
- Focus on your management skills. Task-driven stuff is not as valuable as supervision and management. If you don’t have any direct reports, focus on your ability to work effectively with stakeholders. This increases your executive presence. If you are coming out of the auditing profession remember that,even as a supervisor, you probably ran teams of professional staff, were accountable for deadlines, dealt with the client at CFO level and interacted with your firm’s up-line (partner, manager or director). These are all important bits of information that define your management abilities and maturity. Putting it across confidently will give you a big advantage.
- Avoid talking negatively about previous bosses or colleagues. It could create the impression that you are a difficult person or you are covering up something. If you had been retrenched from your previous job rather say you took a package. It sounds better and is not a lie – it’s putting your best foot forward and will make you feel better about yourself.
- Never lie!
- Always show yourself in the best possible light – let the interviewer assess you rather than you assessing yourself. A good example of this is, when you are asked about whether you have worked on a particular computer package, instead of saying ‘no’, rather say “When it comes to financial systems I know what I’m looking for (balance sheet, income statement, by division by company and consolidated, variance to budget, month by month,year on year) . In my experience I have worked on a number of different computer packages and they are all very similar – they usually have user friendly menus designed for the average employee to find their way around the system easily. Accordingly, as a CA, I can get my head around any system quite quickly. It is the systems around the computer that are important”.
- Stress your character traits. In a recent survey senior executives were asked what the most important attribute was for an executive. Most respondents voted good character traits above all else. Examples of these are attention to detail , meeting deadlines, reliability, trustworthiness, loyalty, etc. These can be highlighted by pointing out how these attributes were apparent in your previous job. This gives the interviewer some ammunition when approaching your previous boss for references.
- Your body language is a dead bust – it can contradict what you are saying. Some of the things to avoid are folding your arms, slouching or sagging facial features. All these indicate that you lack confidence. This will worry the interviewer. Be aware of yourself at all times!
- You could be asked if you have any questions about the job or the company. Be ready to ask a few intelligent ones. This highlights your astuteness and maturity.
- Get a time-line on when you can expect to get feedback from the interviewer. Again this reflects sharpness and an assertive disposition.
- Never forget that, as a CA, you have the best all-round business qualification. If you stand solidly behind this, you will always come across well.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW:
- Wait for the time-line to pass before making any further contact. Executives are busy and it requires some focused time for them to go through all the CV’s and decide who gets on the shortlist. Don’t get despondent. Be patient. Do not nag!
Do not rely on just one job interview even if you feel that it went well. There is a lot of competition out there. Go on as many interviews as you can.