Have you heard about the lady who wore her little red cocktail dress to her job interview? She wasn’t hired. Or the man who wouldn’t stop checking his emails while engaging with the interviewer? He wasn’t hired either.
According to Pallavi Anand, Director at executive recruitment firm Robert Half Hong Kong, most people know how to behave during a job interview. But sometimes it can be difficult to remember niggling details.
In an e-mail interview with CFO Innovation, she provided some dos and don’ts to think about before, during and after a job interview for all levels of finance professionals in Asia.
A well written résumé and cover letter will help you stand out from the crowd and gives you a chance to make personal contact. This applies without exception to all senior finance professionals, and those in junior posts as well.
Anand advises against using technical words or jargon that are likely to be understandable and relevant only to your previous employer. Don’t overemphasize skills and abilities that are not relevant to the position you are applying for. And check to make sure there are no typographical errors or grammatical mistakes.
In Asia, it is a common practice to include your picture with the résumé, but your credentials are more important. If you want to include a picture, avoid sending holiday photos or similar non-professional settings. It might affect the prospective employer’s perception of you as a professional.
Items to include in a résumé and cover letter:
- Additional professional qualifications or current studies that provide interviewers some idea of future potential
- Both professional and personal achievements demonstrating how you have added value to an organization
- Important and relevant skills or attributes showcasing how you fit the role. For example, for an open CFO position, you should include concrete fiscal achievements
- Foreign language skills, especially English and Mandarin
Items to leave out in a résumé and cover letter:
- Race, nationality and political views
- Mundane interests
- Superfluous details about marital status, children, religion affiliation
- Present salary details
- References (Indicate instead that references are available on request)
- Excessive list of unrelated skills, qualifications and personal interests, etc.
What to Wear
Candidates for finance posts are expected to be well dressed and well groomed – the financial environment requires a polished professional appearance. But the dress code for a job interview can differ in various countries.
In Hong Kong, says Anand, a male finance candidate usually wears a dark suit with white or blue shirt and tie in plain color. But in Singapore, where the weather is hot and humid basically all year round, it is usually okay to wear a collared shirt and trousers (not jeans) to interviews.
There is a more unanimous dress code for women across Asia – either a dark suit
or tailored separates. Singapore is no exception.
A general rule is that the more senior position you apply for, the more conservative the attire. For ladies, short skirts, plunging neckline and that little red dress are definitely a no-no.
It is not only the dress code that is important; your behavior during a job interview will be closely observed as well.
Don’t interrupt the interviewer, use negative language to describe past career history, and criticize former employers, bosses or colleagues. This will make you look disloyal.
Be sure to not volunteer your weaknesses, but be ready to discuss what may be perceived as shortcomings when the interviewer brings them up, preferably by mentioning a past weakness and how you resolved it.
Many senior professionals think they should always be contactable. Some may even feel getting calls during the interview makes them appear important. So they may glance at emails or even accept phone calls during a job interview.
According to Anand, these candidates tend not to progress further. If you have to bring your cell phone to the interview, turn it off completely or put it on silent mode.
If the job interview is over the phone, candidates tend to think they can get away with things like chewing gum, eating or taking the call in a loud environment. This is never the case, says Anand.
Be prepared, make sure you are in an environment where you will not be disturbed and pay attention. Even body language is important, even though the interviewer cannot see you – your body language is often reflected in the tone and resonance of your voice. “Being focused, enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the conversation would actually give a better impression [as transmitted] over the phone,” she says.
No Stupid Questions?
Although it has been said that there is no such thing as a stupid question, some questions are still clearly better than others. Anand provides examples of two unusual and surprising questions she has encountered:
“Can you tell me how people working in this office were selected for those positions?”
“Why should I stay and work an eight-hour day when I can get everything done in six hours?”
Below are some more questions you should avoid asking:
“What does your company do?” These kinds of questions demonstrate that you have not done proper research beforehand and imply that you are not interested in the position.
“When can I take time off for vacation?” Asking for time off before getting hired suggests that you are not going to be a fully committed employee.
“Can I do this job from home?” If this is a telecommuting job, the job description would have stated it. Asking to work from home suggests that you don’t like working with others, don’t work well under direct supervision, or have a difficult schedule to work around.
“What is the salary for this position?” You can state your expected salary in the cover letter, but it is best not to discuss compensation until you are offered a position.
After the Interview
After the job interview, Anand suggests that you think about these four steps:
Send a thank-you note. If the company is a traditional firm, a written follow-up note may be more appropriate. But if it is a more dot com company, email is fine.
Break through the silence. If the interviewer didn’t get back to you by the time they said they would, you can drop a note to follow up. Remember to mention that you enjoyed the conversation and then ask where they are in the process.
Go into recovery mode. If you think you didn’t make the best impression, the follow-up is an opportunity to recover. For example, provide the interviewer with additional resources, documentation of your abilities or even get referees to send notes on your behalf.
Bounce back from rejection. If you receive unfavorable news from the interviewer, respond by firstly thank the person for letting you know. Then ask if the interviewer would be willing to provide feedback that you can use for future interviews. Although the likely answer is no, your interest in wanting to improve strikes a positive note.
To wrap things up, increase your chances of getting hired by avoiding these three common mistakes:
- Typos, misspellings and grammatical errors on the résumé and in email communications. These can lower your chance of getting hired.
- Running late for an interview. This may sound obvious and simple enough, but sometimes things out of your control can get in your way. Aim to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. Plan out your route to the office the night before.
- Not knowing enough about the company. You should read the newspapers and business publications, and tap members of your network for insights.
About the Author
Ida Mattsson is Online Editor at CFO Innovation.