“I’m sorry; we’ve decided to go with someone else. We’ll be sure to keep your resume on file for a year in case something else comes up.“
I’ve been to plenty of job interviews. I’ve applied to more places than I can count since I finished my undergrad and interviewed at more places than I can remember. I definitely did not land every job I interviewed for. No matter how great or horrific my interviews went though, I learned something from them. I’ve also interviewed my fair share of people and talked to other managers in the process about what we’re looking for and what we’re not. These are simply some of my thoughts, based on my experience as both an interviewer and an interviewee. I hope that my advice will help you find something that you love, make you successful, and allow our ummah (community) to prosper insha’Allah (God willing).
1. Make Istikharah Before the Interview
You can pray istikharah (prayer for guidance) after the interview as well, but doing it before accomplishes several things. One, it gives you comfort that the outcome is from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). You remember that your potential employer is not your provider. Two, it calms you down. You realize that if it is good for you, you will get it, and if not, you won’t. So don’t sweat it! Just make du`a’ (supplication) for whatever is best.
2. Top 5 Things I Want Them to Know About Me
Come up with a list of 5 things about yourself that would make them want to hire you. This can be some big accomplishment you have had, something you studied on the side, a problem you solved, or an example of teamwork or leadership. Work those 5 things into the interview wherever you can. Make sure you do not walk away from the interview wishing that they knew something about you that you just didn’t get a chance to say. There will be opportunities to work them in, so don’t let them pass by.
3. Smart Points
Come up with a list of 5 “smart points”. These are intelligent things that you can say about your field (your area of expertise and the field that you are interviewing for). These are points that will make the interviewer realize that you have background in that area and probably have a solid understanding in your field as well. Know them well; practice them in front of a mirror if you need to. Make sure that you are able to use them during the interview. Unlike the list of things that you want them to know about you, not all smart points have to be used if they don’t seem appropriate. After seeing your resume, there are many cases in which the employer is no longer wondering whether or not you are familiar with the subject. Instead, they just want to know that you’re a good match for the company. You’ll know this when they stay clear from the technical/field related questions. If they do this, do not press it too much, and don’t try to direct the interview in the direction that you want. If not, make sure you insert your smart points wherever possible.
4. Have Questions for Them
Ask questions throughout the interview if appropriate. In addition, have at least two or three questions ready at the end of the interview. They will ask you if you have any questions for them. Never say no. You can even use the opportunity to find out more about the interviewer. Make them sell you the company! The interview goes both ways. Come up with your questions ahead of time. You can even write them down, bring them with you, and read them right off the paper if you need to (but they must be very good if you do). Some sample questions could be:
- What is the biggest challenge you think I would face with this position?
- Why do you feel that I may be a good match for this position? (Again, have them sell the company/position to you)
- Describe a typical day for me if I were to take this position.
- What is your favorite part about your job?
- What is the single most important skill you think I will need for this position?
5. Review Typical Interview Questions
A lot of the interview questions that are asked are somewhat standard. Be ready to answer them. They can be found online and may be repeated throughout your different interviews. There are many questions that you can be sure you will be asked: why do you want this job, tell us about yourself, what is your greatest strength, what is your greatest weakness, etc. And by the way, when they ask for your greatest weakness, do not say that you’re too hard of a worker or something obnoxious like that. You’ll read tips online that will tell you to think of your strength and manipulate it to sound as if that’s your weakness so they think you’re amazing. When people answer me like this, I don’t think, “Wow, this person is really that great.” Instead, I think, “Wow, this person doesn’t even know in what areas they can improve.”
6. Know About the Company
Before you go, read up about the company. Know what they do, their goals, their achievements, their culture. Be prepared to display your knowledge of the company during the interview. This goes a long way in showing that you are really interested in them, and that you’re not just hoping to land any job that comes along.
7. Dress for Success
This is obvious and goes without saying. Dress professionally. Get a haircut if you need one. Shower, smell nice (guys), and make sure your shoes are nice and clean. Sisters, do not sacrifice your Islamic morals for the interview. Wear your hijab right and be modest. You’re not going to win a job by sliding your hijab back a few inches. Also, if you need to, you can carry your cell phone in your pocket, but make sure the ringer is off. I’ve had an interview take a turn for the worse because the person I was interviewing forgot to turn his ringer off, and a very strange ring-tone went off which gave us a completely different impression of the professional person we thought we were interviewing. Don’t take the chance.
8. Islamic Etiquette
Before you go, determine if you will shake hands with the opposite gender. Regardless of your decision, be both confident and polite. Have a general idea of how you will respond if you will not shake their hand. A short, concise, answer should do the trick. Also, consider that you may be put in a position where they want to interview you behind a closed door, with no windows into the room, with one person from the opposite gender (khalwa). You can politely ask that the door be left slightly open.
9. Bring Copies of Your Resume
There isn’t much you need to bring to your interview: some copies of your resume (five should be enough unless you know you need more), a pen, and something to write on. Don’t come in with more than that. Don’t bring your own drink or cup of coffee, snacks, or anything additional. It can be a turn-off.
10. Be On Time
Be on time or else you pretty much automatically don’t get the job. This is the professional world. 9:30 means 9:30. Not 9:33. Also, don’t try to impress them by showing up 45 minutes early. When someone shows up half an hour early, I don’t think that the person is punctual. Instead, I think that that person has no respect for my time. I’m at work, I have things to do, I have other meetings, and a schedule. When someone shows up half an hour early, I have to drop what I’m doing and rearrange my entire day because of it. Get there a half an hour early– but sit in the car, go over your smart points and the things you want them to know about you. Make some du`a’. Just don’t check in with the receptionist (or interviewer) until 5 minutes prior to your interview time.
11. Answer Questions Thoroughly
Do not give one word, yes and no answers. Answer thoroughly. They are asking questions hoping to hold a conversation with you. Whenever possible, tell them a story about yourself – tell them heroic stories of great things you’ve done on the job or a project. They’ll be sure to remember you if you do. Tell them about a problem you solved or method that you improved at your last job or school project. Answer questions completely and enthusiastically. Show them that you can hold a conversation. Use the STAR method when answering questions – Situation (setting the scene), Task (specifics of what’s required), Action (what you did), Result (what happened). Answering in a results-oriented way is critical. You can find some good examples online by doing a Google search on the STAR Method.
12. Be Light-Hearted
Part of the interview process is the employer finding out if you would be a good match for the company. They want someone who is personable, can get along with other employees, and is good for the overall culture. You have those few short hours to prove that you’re that person. It’s OK to crack a joke or laugh at something. Allow your good Muslim character to show.
13. The Muslim Constraints
Of course you will have to take a long break for Jummah (Friday) Prayer. You will need to slip out for 5 minutes to pray Duhr and Asr. You’re going to get the bathroom sink wet once or twice a day making wudu (ablution). Your schedule may need to change slightly during Ramadan. However, there is absolutely no reason you need to mention any of that right off the bat. Most of these will not affect anything at work any more than someone slipping out for a cigarette a couple times a day. The only thing probably worth mentioning is your slightly longer lunch break on Fridays for Jummah Prayer. And don’t even mention that until they make you an offer. And don’t make it a bigger deal than it is.
14. Be Confident in Yourself
Again, this goes with the tip of knowing that Allah (swt) is your provider. This employer is not your provider. So know that they need you just as much as you need them. Be humble, but confident, just like the character of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him). Don’t wait for approval in the interviewer’s face because it may not come. Speak clearly, don’t say anything negative (no matter how horrible your last boss was), don’t be nervous, and sit up straight. We once did not make someone an offer because of the way he disrespectfully slouched throughout the entire interview. We decided that he was not someone that we could put in front of our clients.
15. Express Interest
No matter how the interview goes, do not show that you may not be interested in the position. After the interview, follow up with an email thanking them for the opportunity to interview with them and learn about their company. Only after they actually make you an offer should you give some thought about whether or not it’s something you want. Don’t make an early decision that you might regret.