I recall way back after my Ordinary National Diploma Program at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, I was getting ready for an interview for a part-time teaching position. I had gone through a few interviews before and considered myself “not terrible” at them. I could flip a switch and showcase my most competent, cheery, go-getter self while also authentically integrating phrases like, “I’m a team player,” and “I love a challenge!” into the dialogue. These were all the textbooks stuffs we all learnt about then. I had a “How To” interview book one of my mentors in the Polytechnic gave me years back that I’d meticulously studied and memorized, so I felt confident about answering most questions.
However, as far as etiquette went, I wasn’t so sure. I had never engaged in any “real” interview sessions. I worked as an on-call substitute GCE/JAMB tutor and the only interview question I was asked by the Tutorial Center, was, how many other centers have you tutored and you will get a test class to confirm your competence.
This particular interview was a little bit more buttoned-up, and so I was nervous. I based all my interview knowledge on formal interviews I’d seen in movies and TV — which were always dramatized, so I wasn’t sure who or what to trust. This was in 1997, so times have changed (and some of these “myths” probably had some or a lot of truth to them back then, to be honest). But it’s what I believed.
After about five years of having experience hiring people during interviews with HR Colleagues in my workplace (and going through numerous interviews myself), I can attest that most of these (in most workplace cultures in Nigeria to say at least) aren’t true — anymore.
1.Everyone will read your cover letter.
Confession: I have never really read a cover letter back when I had the opportunity to hire people. I’d maybe scan it, but I never based my decision to bring a person in or call them up for a phone interview based on a cover letter. A few recruiters I’ve spoken to have told me they just don’t have enough time in the day to read stacks of cover letters and get through their accompanying resumes. It’s overkill! That said: If a company requires a cover letter when applying for a job, definitely put some time into it before you submit it. But also? Don’t sweat about it too much (just please make sure you change the company and position name in the body of the letter, and at least tweak it slightly so it looks somewhat personalized).
2.The best answer to “What’s your major weakness?” is “I have a hard time delegating.”
This was my go-to answer for the longest time because I read that you should say that in that interview book I told you about earlier. Hiring managers don’t want to hear about your real-life “hiccups”, but being a little truthful can help, too. And everyone knows everyone makes mistakes at work. Think about a time when you really did drop the ball and explain how you turned the situation around using your amazing, analytical toolkit. Use words like “proactive” and “ownership.” Don’t turn this question into making yourself look perfect, because, by this point, most recruiters and hiring managers see through that.
3.The hiring manager is totally prepared for this interview.
In fast-paced environments, many hiring managers are forwarded resumes an hour before the interview. They might check the candidate’s LinkedIn, but sometimes, most of them just don’t have the time to fully prepare. I recall some instances in interview sessions, Of course, I was as present as possible during the interview (I never wanted to be disrespectful of anyone’s time), but some managers might even seem checked out. (Which, TBH, is a red flag anyway.) Just don’t always assume the person interviewing you is as diligent about that process as you are — and that can even help take some of the pressure off. They’re human, just like you.
4.You should mail a hand-written “thank you” letter after your interview.
Some may push back against this and argue that this kind of personalization and thoughtfulness is key to getting the job, but I have never written or sent out a physical “thank you” letter, nor have I ever received one. I do think it’s important to send an email a day or two after the meeting thanking the recruiter or hiring manager for their time. That simply shows you’re a nice person who’s excited about the job opportunity and are aware this person (or people) did take time away from their day to chat with you.
5.You’ll get the job if you’re the most qualified candidate.
Unfortunately, so many things beyond your control go into the hiring process, so try not to feel ashamed, angry, or disappointed if you didn’t get the job even though your resume is killer and everyone seemed to love you during your interview. Nepotism, office politics, and other factors weigh in the process, so just think about it this way: You gave it your best shot, you sent a friendly “thank you” email two days later, and the rest is up to the universe. Better yet? You just gave yourself more interview experience, so that your next interview will be even more of a success.
6.You must wear Fancy Person clothing to get taken seriously.
RIP to all the itchy pencil skirts ladies have bought at top notch stores or the T.M. Lewin Shirts guys have ironed for hours to ensure its in good shape for interviews. I guess interview uniforms are a generational thing. Probably even a decade ago, you were maybe expected to show up in a skirt, slacks, or suit and tie (and in some industries, this is still the case!). But if the recruiter doesn’t specify what the workplace attire is, do a little Instagram- and Google-sleuthing to find out what employees wear to the office and level up just a tiny bit more. Even if everyone wears hoodies and leggings, you’ll maybe want to wear a nice pair of jeans, flats, and a comfortable button-up shirt. What usually matters is that you look put-together and that you tried.
7.Trick questions will be asked to purposely trip you up.
One of my mentees told me about how she was asked some bizarre questions to vet her personality. Allegedly a top International IT Firm in Lagos with Headquarters in the USA, asked candidates, “If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?” And to that, I would say, “Why are you assuming all pizza delivery people are men? Also, I was a pizza delivery person in high school, and I can speak with authority that you don’t need f…… scissors. Next question.” So, whatever, I probably wouldn’t get a job at the organization.
Mostly though? This doesn’t happen. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to waste time. They certainly aren’t huddled up brainstorming weird, brain-twisters to spring on candidates. Hiring managers especially are probably just as nervous as you are, and they probably just want to get back to work. You’ll most likely get asked questions that reveal aspects about your personality, like “If a fellow employee dropped the ball on a major assignment you two were working on, what would you do?”