How to Pass the Job interview in Kenya

A typical interview in Kenya consists of four main stages:

  • The opening or introduction
  • The interviewer’s questions session
  • The interviewee’s questions session
  • The end or closing

Assuming that our typical interview lasts for thirty  minutes, each of the above stages could last for a period of time as shown in the discussion below:

1. The Opening 

This lasts for between one and five minutes from the moment you enter the interview room. During this period, the interviewer welcomes you and asks general questions about yourself. This is also when he will introduce the rest of the panel to you.

Besides trying to make you feel at ease, the interviewer will be evaluating you on the lines of maturity of character, self–confidence, level of enthusiasm in the job, as well as on your communication skills. This is also the time when he will ask for your original certificates and other testimonials that you might have carried along. Most likely he will have, on the table, a file containing the cover letter and CV that you sent when applying for the job.

A common question used by the head of the interview panel to open this section is: “Kindly tell us something about yourself.” 

Responses given to this seemingly simple question usually range from absurd to hilarious. When handling this kind of question, however, consider the interviewer’s motive. He will be judging you on among other things, the level of preparedness when making presentations, communication skills, maturity of character, and level of self-confidence. Most of these aspects on test relate to your own personality, but you can impress the interviewer with a well thought out response such as this:

“My name is Jane Okundi, a Nursing Psychologist by profession. I hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Moi University, and a Diploma in Nursing from the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC). 

I have 15 years of professional experience working as a Nursing Psychologist at various hospitals. This includes, among others: Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Thika Level 5 Hospital, and I am currently serving in a similar capacity at Nairobi Women’s Hospital. 

I am however attending this interview because I wish to take my career to the next level by working with you”.

A response such as the one above shows that the interviewee is aware of the context within which the interviewer is asking for personal details. While it’s common for respondents to start with when and where they were born, religion and other details that bear little relevance to the context within which the question was asked, Jane goes directly to what she knows will interest the interviewer the most: professional qualifications and experience. 

In the last paragraph of Jane’s response above, she shows that she has high regard for the interviewer’s organisation by stating: “I wish to take my career to the next level by working with you”. That’s an expression of confidence in the organisation, something that the interviewer would hardly ignore.

2. The Interviewer’s Questions

This is the second and often the longest of all sessions, taking anything from five to fifteen minutes. Questions in this section focus on the following core areas: 

  • your achievements
  • professional experience  
  • specialized skills
  • potential for career growth

Here, the interviewer wants to see how your performance in these areas qualifies you for the job for which you are interviewing. In order to maximize your chances of getting the job, you need to prepare yourself for this section in two ways:

  1. By thoroughly understanding the needs that the employer wants to be fulfilled, as well as the skills required for the job.
  2. By understanding your self-worth: the expertise you are selling to the company.

By understanding the specific needs that the employer intends to fulfill, you can tailor your presentation to meet those needs. In other words, you will know where you need to kick the ball in order to score. 

Assessing your self-worth in terms of skills, knowledge, and achievements can be tricky for some people, mainly due to their tendency to either exaggerate or underrate themselves. However,  you can achieve some degree of objectivity by outlining, on a piece of paper, all your areas of training, key achievements and skills, and how they relate to the job at hand. 

Once again, bear in mind that with every question that the interviewer asks, he wants you to open up and say more. For example, when he asks you: “Can you briefly tell us something about your previous job?”

You can start by briefly giving its title, and then proceeding to describe what your major responsibilities were, and concluding by giving an outstanding achievement that you had. Such a response could go as follows:

“My previous job was a graphics designer working with Mawazo publishers. I was responsible for the design of covers and illustrations in most of the publications that were done by the company for the four years that I worked there. Besides, I won the prize for designing the company’s new logo, which  captures the company’s emphasis on customer satisfaction.”

The above response contains three cardinal ingredients: 

Job title:  Graphics designer with Mawazo publishers. 

Responsibilities: Designing of covers and other illustrations for the books published by the company.

Achievements: Won the prize for designing the company’s new logo.

Some interviewers are experts at asking the kind of questions that you would least expect. These are aimed at assessing how well you react to surprises or crises. Such qquestions mightalso be used to gauge your analytical skills and power of decision making. For instance, you might be asked: “If you were to choose between being a cheetah and an ostrich, which one would you rather be and why?”

At first you might wonder why a cheetah or an ostrich of all wild animals? But in order to answer this satisfactorily, you need to know something beyond the basic fact that both are fast runners. You need to know that while the cheetah runs straight towards its target, an ostrich runs round and round in circles.

There are many other factors that you could consider when forming your response to such general knowledge questions. Nevertheless, ensure that whatever you say relates to your personal traits, abilities and skills, and how they relate to the job at hand.

As a winding up point, do not exaggerate your achievements, neither should you present forged documents as these can be verified later and to your disadvantage. 

3. Interviewee’s Questions

After the interviewer is through with his queries, a time comes for you to ask any questions you may wish to. This brief session lasts for approximately five minutes. Ideally, ask only two or three intelligent questions regarding the company and the job, such as the following:

  • What are some of the major challenges that I am likely to face while working with you?
  • What is the company’s policy as far as promotions are concerned?
  • How will the company evaluate my performance on the job?
  • What incentives exist to motivate the company’s staff?
  • Does the company have any form of orientation or training for new employees?
  • How does the company work in order to beat its competitors in the market?

Quoting Your Preferred Salary

If there are more rounds of interviews expected, the question of salary may be discussed at an advanced stage if you qualify. But if there is only a single interview from which the best candidate will be picked, you can inquire about the pay package if the interviewer doesn’t bring up the issue. Money matters are not only important, but sensitive too, and how you intend to handle this question should be guided by a number of factors that you’re supposed to have researched in advance. These include:

a) The company’s own salary package and allowances for your type of job and level of experience. Different employers give different amounts of salary and benefit packages for similar job positions and qualifications. A proper understanding of your prospective employer’s package or starting salary for new employees at your level of entry can help you to come up with a realistic salary quotation.

b) If the position for which you’re interviewing did not previously exist in the company, you can use this to support your salary quotation. You know the employer requires someone who is competent enough to establish, say,  a new department, and this might bring about roles and duties that were not previously envisaged in your job description.

c) If you are fresh from college and you have no previous work experience, asking for a high salary at this point might prove detrimental. You certainly need a place where you can start working immediately and gain experience, after which you will climb to your dream position and earn your dream salary. Until then, show the willingness to start where the corporate ladder starts for you.

d) If the company is interested in you chiefly because of your outstanding performance at your previous station, then they must be ready to pay you better than your previous employer. In this case, quote a figure that is higher than your previous salary, but one that from your research you know is within an affordable range for the organisation. Making yourself too expensive or too cheap can discourage some employers from taking you.

e) The terms of employment, whether casual, temporary, part-time, contract or permanent can also determine your salary quotation. For most casual jobs, for instance, the company sets a fixed rate of pay per day depending on the nature of work and level of skill required. This is usually due to the abundant supply of labour and limited availability of job opportunities in the market.

f) In case you are seeking a job after losing a previous one, your financial obligations such as family upkeep and health care can dictate what you would consider as an acceptable amount of pay. Depending on your luck, you could find yourself interviewing for a position paying a higher salary or the vice versa.

In all this, the aim should be to enable you and the employer work out a remuneration package that is fair for the two of you. If you do not succeed in getting the exact amount you initially hoped for, you can agree on a salary review to come after you have settled on the job.

Other questions that you could ask regarding salary include deductions such as Income Tax, contributions to retirement benefits schemes and health insurance, as well as any other deductions as they may apply to you.

In ending your questions session, make the interviewer open up and tell you something about him or herself. By revealing something personal and positive, the two of you take the first step towards establishing a bond of mutual understanding. This also shows that you have a genuine concern for others, which creates a good impression of you. You can achieve this by posing a question such as: “What do you like most about your job?”

4. Closing

Gradually, discussions will move towards a natural end. This is the closing session and lasts for about five minutes or less. Some of the signals that usher in this phase include: the interviewer glancing at the wall clock, handing back to you your original documents, closing the file, or when he asks his colleagues for their final remarks.

It’s okay to inquire at this point how long you should wait for the interviewer’s response and whether there will be more rounds of interviews. As you close, stand up relaxed and composed, give the interviewers a firm handshake, and once again thank them for spending their time with you. Smile and create the best final impression of yourself as you leave the interview room whether you like what transpired during the session or not.

About the Author

John Wanjora, a career coach, is the Best CV Writer in Kenya and does his magic at CVs By John - www.cvsbyjohn.com. He is also the author of Getting Your Dream Job, Kenya's best selling title on CV, Cover Letter Writing, and Preparing for job interviews.

Do you need his professional assistance in preparing for your upcoming job interview? Don't lose the opportunity when help is only a phone call away. Talk to him on (+254) 720 079413 to book a live session.

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