“Just be yourself.”
“Never discuss salary.”
Sound familiar? With so much interview advice out there, it can be hard to know which tips to follow and which to ignore – particularly when it comes to those applicable to the not-for-profit sector, and ethical jobs more broadly.
With thanks to Amy Gallo from HBR, here are five common interview tips you might hear – and exactly why they’re wrong:
1. Always wear a suit
While it might sound like pretty failsafe advice, many organisations are increasingly casual with their dress expectations – particularly in the not-for-profit sector.
And that means turning up in a suit to a workplace where even the CEO wears jeans and a t-shirt can send a message that you haven’t done your research, or even that you’re the wrong cultural fit.
“I think the interview dress code has relaxed a bit over the years, particularly if you’re going for a non-management role,” she says.
Instead, aim to dress a little smarter than whatever people generally wear to work in that organisation – Google them, check out their website and look at Facebook photos for clues.
And if that doesn’t yield any ideas, don’t be afraid to just call the receptionist and ask!
2. Be your authentic self
It’s hard to argue with the fact that job interviews are a performance, and you need to give the audience what they want. That makes “be yourself” or “be authentic” somewhat impractical advice – but it doesn’t mean you should ever lie, be inauthentic or misleading either, says Brooke Alexander.
“If you go into an interview pretending to be someone you’re not, you may wind up with a job that’s for someone you’re not!” she says.
Rather, you need to able to tell a story that matches what the organisation is looking for. So to figure out what the hiring manager wants for the role you’re applying for, brainstorm the questions you might be asked, write thorough responses and know broadly what you’re going to say – without memorising it word-for-word.
And because you make your most lasting impression within the first 90 seconds of meeting someone, don’t imagine you can just be who you are. Whether you’re feeling nervous or tired or worried or scattered, you need to appear confident. A warm greeting, a firm handshake and some friendly small talk before the interview can go a long way.
3. They’re not just interviewing you – you’re interviewing them, too
While this is true on one level – in that part of an interview is for you to decide if you want the job – in reality, job interviews are totally one-sided. One side has almost all the power, and the other side is probably scared to death.
So while it’s still good to be curious about the organisation your potential colleagues, be aware that you’re being judged for every single thing you say and do – in a way that your interviewers are not.
That doesn’t mean it’s not okay to portray yourself as “in demand” in certain circumstances. But you need to be able to back that up – for instance by mentioning that you’re interviewing for other roles – as long as you are!
That’s why it’s probably safer to focus on what you can offer the organisation, and why you’re passionate about working with them.
4. When asked about your greatest weakness, give them a strength
How many times do you think hiring managers have heard candidates say they are ‘too much of a perfectionist’ or ‘too passionate’ in response to a question about their biggest weakness?
The answer: many, many times. And the impression you’re likely giving is that you lack self-awareness, or worse – that you’re disingenuous.
Instead, acknowledge that you – like every other person on earth – have weaknesses, but show that you’re aware of them, and frame them by the efforts you’re putting in to fix them.
“There’s no shame in knowing a genuine weakness and sharing the steps you’re taking to address it,” Launch Housing’s Brooke Alexander advises.
For example, if you’re not as confident as you’d like, you could say you’re working on this by putting your hand up for presentations – and have even joined a local chapter of Toastmasters – in a bid to overcome it.
A caveat? If the weakness is a key responsibility of the position for which you’re interviewing, probably better to choose another weakness to highlight.
5. Don’t ask about salary until you’ve been offered the job
There is an element of truth to this one – showing too much interest in remuneration too early might imply that you’re not terribly motivated by the organisation or mission – which is a key concern for pretty much all ethical employers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask about it at all while being interviewed.
Bringing up the matter of money when you have a bit of leverage – that is, when the employer has decided you’re the best candidate and made you an offer – might make the most sense. But Brooke Alexander says there’s nothing wrong with asking for the salary range during an interview.
“There’s no point wasting either party’s time if the salary on offer is going to be deal-breaker,” Brooke Alexander suggests.
In this case, asking about salary at the very end of the interview shouldn’t raise any eyebrows at most NFPs.
And if you’re asked about what your own salary expectations for the role are, have a short, professional answer ready, something non-committal like “my requirements are negotiable”.
If you’re pressed to disclose, you can answer without disadvantaging yourself by preparing to say something like, “I’ve seen a few jobs like this with a salary level of around . . . “.
Interviews can be tough and stressful for everyone involved. But until a better process for hiring staff is invented, you can help your cause by preparing well, filtering out outdated or plain unhelpful advice and doing your best to shine on the day.
What’s your best interview advice? Please share in the comments below!