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  • Joe Lipscombe

Ace Your Interviews: Four Ways To Be A Better Job Candidate

I’m painting with a broad stroke here, and I apologize, but the majority of job interviews I conduct here in Dubai and the UAE are average to bad. Caveat: I am well aware that companies, recruitment agencies, interviewers, and interview techniques are never perfect- they’re not off the hook, they’re just not the subject of this article… at least not today.

Now, I don’t have 30 years’ worth of experience in leadership, and I haven’t hired the best talent in and around the market, although a number of my people are absolute superstars. However, in the past two years, I’ve been aggressively interviewing candidates for multiple roles, from multiple locations, and of multiple nationalities.

For context, this wave of candidates is the result of my enterprise’s new global strategy, ambitious local restructuring, exciting new clients, and future investments- not because we’ve hacked away at our existing talent. Throughout this process, I’ve seen plenty of new and intriguing traits and characteristics, as well as a number of commonalities and consistencies- one of which being that they’re all fairly odd.

Interviewing job candidates in Dubai, and the UAE, in general, can be quite a unique experience. Some candidates aren’t looking for a job long-term, since it’s a fairly transient city, and some don’t see themselves in the market for more than 24 months so that rules out the classic “where do you see yourself in five years?” conversation or the “what are the opportunities for long-term growth here?” conversation. Others aren’t aware of the cultural nuances and needs of the market, and some -let’s be frank- don’t really need the job at all.

There is a strong and healthy jobs market in the GCC, one which, although it fluctuates and can often be flimsy, offers plenty of exciting opportunities for skilled individuals, particularly in comparison to some Western markets. The generation of rewarding careers, in a culturally fascinating, fast-paced part of the world is what makes it so attractive to millions- and I’m humbled to say I’ve lived out the best days of my career to date in this market, but sadly, ease of opportunity sometimes breeds lethargy.

Secondly, motivations are varied. Taking myself as an example, I am a British expat, graduate of a British institution, straight into a competitive and ruthless jobs market in the media industry, where most acceptable paying jobs come with large transportation bills, and queues and queues of people outside the door waiting for you to fail. For reference, there were around 75,000 media (and related studies) graduates coming into the jobs market the year I graduated.

Not securing a degree-related job within the first 12 months of your career is common, and so you then become one of 150,000 job seekers in your field, and so on. As a working-class citizen, this experience makes my motivations obvious. To fight for the job you want, to work hard to keep the wolves from the door, and to keep your place in the starting line-up. I am not suggesting I’m good at any of these things; merely that they’re the motivations behind my attempts.

These motivations don’t translate to everyone else; they’re distinct to certain cultures and backgrounds. And so, discovering what motivates someone, why they’re sitting in front of you, and what they’re trying to achieve becomes that little bit tougher. And, sadly for the interviewer, it’s not as simple as asking the question. Quite often I find candidates in this market aren’t sure how to answer the motivation question at all. Some are just void of any obvious motivation whatsoever.

This brings me to questions.

I was always taught to come to the interview prepared with at least three questions for your interviewer. To ask all those you meet en-route to your interview room what they do at the company, how long they’ve been there, what the culture is like, and so on. This shows interest, a desire to learn, natural curiosity, immediate investment in others, and so on.

The majority of my candidates never ask a single question. Sometimes I prompt them twice: “Nothing? You sure?” I might say. Now, this frustration might just be my ego quivering, but would you not like to at least know why I joined the company? What the culture is like? The best part of my week? Anything!?

That neatly leads me to knowledge.

Again, I stress, this isn’t about me or the company I represent, but that your understanding of the organization you’re interviewing for sets the most basic example. When I ask people why they want to work for us, I get the most fascinating responses.

“I was actually approached by you…”

“My friend works here…”

And even: “I live just a few buildings down.”

The other question I ask is, “What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve seen from our company?” For this, I receive the same answer over and over and over and over again. Some campaign rolled out five years ago for an ex-client. Now, that piece of work was brilliant (I wasn’t involved, which is probably why), but it’s the obvious one, and that, at least to me, shows a lack of knowledge or interest. So, I ask for another… Blank faces. Always. And I promise you, we have produced at least two good pieces of work in the last five years.

The final frustration I am often left with is at the painful absence of opinion on the industry. I work in creative branding and corporate reputation. As an industry, it’s vast, full of questionable characters, highly competitive, conflicted, and always exciting. I find it impossible not to have an opinion. Yet, I’m consistently proven wrong on that front.

There are streams of factors for these interview glitches. Culture, academic background, the fact they’re having to sit opposite me, necessity, long-term planning, and so on. I don’t know where to attribute blame if I felt so inclined. I’ve worked with multiple educational bodies in the region and they’re normally competent. Regardless, I believe in a select few universal interview tips that must be considered standard.

Here’s a primer:

1. Have a strong reason for being there You don’t need to tick all boxes, but choose at least one line of reasoning, and stick to it. It hints at an underlying motivation, and once an interviewer can sense some motivation, it’s far easier to relate to the candidate and understand what they’re looking for.

2. Ask questions- to everyone Not because you need to make people feel good by showing interest, but because curiosity, interest, eagerness for knowledge, and natural communications skills are vital in almost every role.

3. Be well researched Speak to people, read blogs, scour the web, don’t just recite the top line of the “About Us” section from the website.

4. Have a point of view It doesn’t need to align with that of the interviewer, but it shows that you think, have your ear to the ground, and are confident enough to construct your own perspective.

Bonus: Put your phones away I’m a stickler for phones in meetings, one-to-ones, and almost any other group scenario, but I often lose that battle. Yet, for interviews, I will forever hold my ground. I find it utterly shocking that not only do candidates more often than not keep their phones on the table or beside them on the sofa when being interviewed, but frequently check it throughout. I’m dull, but I keep my interviews short enough to warrant 100% attention.

I’m passionate about these factors, not simply because they make you a better candidate, but because they make it easier for the company to make the right decision, which has a huge impact on the candidate, company, costs, time, culture, and confidence. And perhaps best of all, it only works to your advantage in the long run. Good luck!

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