Always fearful of interviews and feel like you are not ready no matter how much preparation you have done? 

That’s normal! At some point in our life, we will always feel nervous because passing interviews give us the ticket to pursue something that we want, be it holding a leadership position, entering your dream course, or getting involved in orientation or volunteering projects. 

As a student myself, when approaching my first few interviews for leadership positions, scholarships and awards, I was constantly nervous and sometimes, it may make me really awkward and underperform. Missing out on an opportunity due to underperformance in an interview can really make one upset because if not for fear, one might have been able to do well in it. However, as I sat for more interviews to run for positions, join projects or attain awards, I became more confident and I got more used to the structure of interviews. 

However, after attending many interviews, and hosting interviews, I started to realise what interviewers are looking out for in candidates, and how to impress them. Here are some findings that I have gleaned through my years of interview experience.

  1. Prepare beforehand
    You will definitely hear some friends saying that there is no need to prepare for interviews since you will not be able to know the questions asked beforehand. However, there are some standard questions that will most likely come out. For example, Why should we accept you? Why do you want to join this volunteer project/ activity/ course? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why should we not accept you? Try to look for sample interview questions online and practise speaking in front of your friends or in front of a mirror. This will help you feel more prepared and less nervous during the interview. Some preparation is much better than no preparation at all!
  2. Always be on time
    As cliche as it may sound, punctuality is really important. If you are late and did not update the interviewers in advance with a proper reason, the interviewers’ first impression of you may likely drop. It is possible to impress them again but as much as possible, try not to do anything that puts you in a bad light. By showing up late, it may suggest that you aren’t actually keen on doing well for the interview, getting that position/scholarship/award/course, etc. If you find it difficult to be on time, try reporting at least 15 minutes earlier.
  3. Be presentable
    Like I mentioned before, first impressions matter a lot. By dressing up appropriately, you also show the interviewers that you are genuinely interested and that you are putting in the effort.
  4. Be confident and smile
    It is normal to feel queasy during an interview, especially when it is very important to you. However, try not to show it or let it affect your performance. To help yourself calm down and look composed, try to maintain a smile during your interview. Besides helping you look confident, it also makes you look more approachable and friendly to work with.
  5. Show that you are interested
    Whether it is an interview in real life or online, it is quite easy to tell if someone is interested in the subject or not. When in a real-life interview, maintain a good posture and sit up straight. Refrain from crossing your arms as it may make you seem protective and hard to approach. When in an online interview, a good posture is important as well, but try to inch your body slightly forward to the camera. It will make it a lot more obvious that you are engaged in the interview.
  6. Back up your opinions with your past experiences
    When answering open-ended questions, try to include examples in your responses. It will help to make your answers sound more legitimate and it also gives you the opportunity to show that you have had similar experiences and you have learnt from them.
  7. Be concise
    It’s human to feel the need to cram all your opinions and experiences in response, but do not ramble on and on about a certain experience or opinion because it may be annoying to some interviewers. Always highlight the main point that you are trying to convey and omit unnecessary or small details that do not add much value to your performance.
  8. Treat it like a conversation
    Believe it or not, when you feel nervous, the interviewers are able to feel the tension. Try to push aside the stress and view the interview as a conversation. Of course, do not use colloquial language, and stay respectful. Use gestures, nod when they are talking and feel free to ask them questions if you have any! Feel free to laugh openly if an interviewer cracks a joke. Trust me, if you treat it like a conversation, the interviewers will be able to feel it, and they will also feel at ease too.
  9. For people attending group interviews
    Over the years, some interviews have been shifting to a group format, because it provides the perfect opportunity to test candidates’ teamwork, group dynamics and confidence. When you and your group are tasked with a problem to discuss, take the initiative to lead discussions. If there is someone who is more vocal than you, don’t give up! You should try to stay engaged and share your opinions actively. Refrain from fighting with someone over leading the discussion as it will reflect badly on you, even if you did not initiate the conflict. If there are any candidates in your group who are more introverted and are not as participative, try to politely ask for their opinions. This shows that you are inclusive and maybe a plus point for you. As always, respect everyone’s opinions, even if you disagree with them. If you want to express your disagreement, you can start by acknowledging where the other party is coming from, share what you like about the opinion and then share about what you disagree with. This will make you seem less aggressive and will also highlight to the interviewers that you are open to conflicting views.

With that, all the best for your upcoming interviews! Remember to take deep breaths before your interview starts, and always remember to stay respectful and polite. 

*This article is written by Gabrielle Lee of GapYearSG, who interned for Learners’ Lodge, MOE Special Education Division and Duke-NUS Medical School.