Going for a job interview

12 May 2005
Going for a job interview

A job interview can be a horrible, stressful, awkward experience. Most people dread them and just want to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible. But it needn't be that way. The job interview is your chance to show people who you are and what you're capable of and should be seen as the last furlong in a long race to a new job.

It helps if you spend a good amount of time preparing for the interview. Don't just leave it until the night before either. Being prepared will contribute bucketloads to boosting your confidence and making you feel relaxed. Below are a few things to consider.

Research the company

Finding out about the company beforehand might sound a bit obvious, but you'd be surprised how often prospective employees turn up without knowing anything about where they want to work.

Start with the hard facts. Do an internet search. CatererSearch has a large archive of articles, mainly taken from Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, that date back to 1994. This is extremely useful for finding out when companies were last in the news, what their annual reports say and what their future plans are. Also check out our Companies section for profiles of the key companies in the industry. Find out how big the company is. What brands does it own? How much money does it make? Are there any well-known industry figures associated with it? Has there been a takeover? Perhaps it has announced plans to open new sites or close old ones.

The kinds of facts that this research can provide you with are ammunition in the interview. They will show you have done your homework and that you are genuinely interested in the company and the industry.

Sampling the business

Once you have done general research, it's time to go out and see the business for yourself. The beauty of the hospitality industry is that its function is to serve the public. That includes you. Go and sample your prospective place of work as a customer, or at least sample one of its outlets. Note what the service is like, how well the property is kept, what the uniforms are like. Is there anything you're particularly impressed with? Maybe there's something you'd do totally differently.

Visiting the company will also help you plan your journey. You'll find out how to get there, how long it takes to get there and what the building looks like.

If it's a hotel or a restaurant, try calling them and seeing how they deal with customers. How easy is it to make or cancel a reservation? Ask about menus and prices as if you were a customer and see how much or little they know. Do the same with the company's website. Can you make or cancel a reservation? Do they have menus and prices on there? What would you do differently?

Questions they might ask you

There are obviously an infinite number of questions you could be asked in an interview, and there will always be some interviewers who will pride themselves on asking awkward questions to catch out the unsuspecting interviewee. However, with a bit of forethought you can probably come up with a few general questions that have a high probability of being asked and prepare answers for them. For example:

  • What do you know about our company?
  • Can you tell us about the job you have now?
  • What makes you want to leave?
  • Why do you want this job in particular?
  • What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Do you work well in a team?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

There are also industry-specific questions that might pop up depending on the job you're applying for. For example:

  • Do you belong to any organisations or associations?
  • What experience have you had with training staff?
  • Do you manage a budget? How well do you keep to it?
  • How do you deal with an unsatisfied customer?
  • How have you directly contributed to the revenue in your current business?

Questions for them

During the interview you will probably be asked if you have any questions. The questions you ask say a lot about you. They show that you have researched the company and that you have a genuine interest in the job and what it entails. Plan in advance a list of intelligent questions, such as:

  • Why is the job vacant? Is the company expanding?
  • What kind of team would I have?
  • Would I be responsible for a budget? How much?
  • How is performance measured?
  • What would be the most challenging part of the job?
  • What are the company's future plans? Restructure? Refurbishment?

Clothes and appearance

What you wear says a lot about you. A job interview, however, is a time for your experience, skills and qualifications to speak for you, not your clothes. Wear something conservative, smart and clean whatever the establishment. You should dress just as smartly for an interview at a fast-food joint as you would for a Park Lane hotel.

When choosing clothes, consider your journey. There's no point wearing a really smart suit if you have to take a six-hour train journey to get there and you arrive crumpled and creased. Is there a way you could travel in casual clothes and get changed somewhere before you arrive for the interview?

It sounds obvious, but wash your hair and trim your nails. Women shouldn't wear too much make-up or jewellery and men should probably wear neither if they can help it.

On the day

Take a copy of your CV with you and any notes you have made for your preparation, so that you can read them on the bus or train or in a coffee-shop round the corner of the company's building. Take the company's phone number and your mobile phone with you just in case you get held up unexpectedly. It's best, though, to give yourself extra time in case there are leaves on the line or traffic jams to hold you up.

Make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes early and ask to use the bathroom so you can check yourself out you don't want to have cornflakes stuck in your teeth or wind-swept hair. Know the name of the person you are meeting. You don't want to make a fool of yourself having only just walked in the door.

If you've travelled quite a way to reach your interview, you may be staying in a hotel, maybe even the one you're trying to get the job in. Remember that your interviewer will probably monitor anything you put on your bill. You may order water all the way through a meal with them but then chalk up 10 pints in the bar afterwards when you're on your own. Not good. Paying in cash isn't much better, as the staff who serve you might report back to the ever-watchful interviewer. Take some good mental notes about your stay, especially if it's in the hotel you hope to work in. Good and bad points could be valuable nuggets of information to bring up if you get called back for a second interview.

After it's all over

Once you've shaken hands and walked away, it's tempting to just sit and wait to see what happens. However, if you think the interview went really well, send off a quick note to say thanks within a couple of days. Don't be too gushing but say how much you enjoyed the chance to see their business. Say that you look forward to hearing from them and that if they need any more information they can contact you.

The job interview need only be a harrowing experience if you let it. Prepare yourself well, know what you're going to say and look the part. If you do all those things, your confidence will be so high that half the battle will be won before you even step through the door.

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