Interviewer: “So do you have any questions about our company or the position?”
Muslim: “I need off every Friday from 1pm to 3pm. Is there a room I can pray in a couple of times a day? Also sometimes I need to wash my feet in the sink, is that ok? Which restroom should I use? Do you have lotas? Can I borrow the watering jug?”
Interviewer: “Thanks, we’ll be in touch….”
Let’s face it, we are special. We are the strange ones. How do we manage to land that nice job in the corporate world without assimilating and changing our names from Muhammads to Moes and Tariqs to Terrys?
So you have a spiffy new resume, you have been applying to every job you can find online, and you finally get the initial phone call. You get through the preliminaries and now you are set to go interview in person. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Before getting to the interview, it is essential to have a good resume to help land the interview. Without going into too much details, the most important resume tips can be summarized as such,
- Aesthetically pleasing (don’t use pre-made Word templates)
- Grammatically correct.
- Put accomplishments instead of duties. “Brought GUI application for high dollar accounts to satisfactory completion” sounds a whole lot better than “Write code in C++.” Things like “Caught accounting oversights to help recover $200,000 in lost revenue” sounds a whole lot better than “Accounting and bookeeping.”
- Don’t sell yourself short. Your experience is used to gauge your ability to adapt and learn skills, not necessarily replicate the work you do at one job in another.
- Use buzzwords as much as possible – search job openings online and see the words that are in the title headings and use them. Even though you might not officially be a “project manager”, this doesn’t mean that you haven’t ‘managed projects’ – so include the buzzword.
- Don’t lie. This should go without saying for a Muslim.
Now, getting to the interview.
Looks count. “‘Beauty is on the inside’ is just something ugly people say to feel better about themselves” – that is not exactly true, but don’t bank on your internal beauty when interviewing for a job. It is naive to think you can live in a materialistic society and then not be judged on your looks.
Get yourself a nice suit. Wear something conservative. A black suit or dark gray suit should do fine. Don’t wear a loud colored shirt or a loud tie. Make sure your suit is tailored properly and actually fits. If you are 5’6 and 150 pounds, don’t borrow your brothers suit who is 5’9, 200. Spend the extra 20 bucks and make sure it fits right.
Make sure your beard is well groomed. I do not mean that it has to be short. A beard can be short, and still look scraggly or “jungly” for all the desis out there. It can be long, and still look well maintained (Tableeghi brothers have this down). It is important, and it’s the Sunnah, to be neat. This is a direct reflection of your personal hygiene. Anyone who has worked in an IT office knows how people respond to the pungent curry smell that is known to emanate from the break room microwaves at lunch time – when you walk in with a big beard, you have been branded with this type of stigma, so make sure hygiene/smell is not an issue.
Speaking of smell, make sure to put on a nice dab of good cologne. Do not put on your favorite attar oil, or your imitation 3 dollar vial of “CK ONE” – it doesn’t smell that nice, and it’s a bit too heavy for this type of environment.
First impressions count, so make it a good one. I didn’t want to focus too much on appearance, but Muslim men do have style issues. Please see the Muslim Man’s Guide to Style for more information.
This is the general stuff you will find everywhere online. Read up about the company. Check out their ‘about’ page and understand their business. Make sure you are familiar with the job description of the position applied for.
It’s important to be familiar with the economic sector the company is in, and who their main competitors are. Have a list of questions ready to ask about the company and the position.
Get a nice briefcase ready for your interview. Keep a couple of copies of your resume. Pack relevant print outs of salary information if needed. Also make sure to keep a personal print out with the following information:
- List of places you have worked for at least the last 10 years, including company name, address, and your supervisor’s name and number.
- List of 3 references (preferrably previous managers) along with their phone numbers.
- Your starting and ending salary for every position you have held before.
The above information is often required on almost any standard job application, so make sure you have it ready to go.
When you get to the interview, prepare to make small talk. Often times your interview will not start right away and you will be talking to the receptionist, or the interviewer may be waiting on another team member to come before starting the interview. I have been asked all types of questions from “How far do you live from here and how was the traffic coming in?” to “What are you favorite books?” or “What is your favorite TV show?” and other such questions. This is probably not the time to tell them that you’re currently engrossed in an advanced textbook on Usul al-Fiqh, or that TV is haram and they need to fear Allah.
I often try to mention the name of a secular book I’m currently reading, or one I finished recently. In regards to TV and other such questions, I try to bring it back to sports. Even when music is brought up, I simply mention that when I am not a big fan of the radio, and that when I do listen to it, it is usually ESPN radio. Sports is the ultimate ice breaker in small talk, especially in the workplace.
The Actual Interview
*Regarding shaking hands read this article for advice.
Being at the actual interview means they’re already somewhat confident of your abilities. The main thing that most look for at this stage is how well you fit in with the people already there. I had a job interview where they told me they had just finished a big office video game and pizza party, and asked me if I liked having fun.
Make sure you are personable. Be confident in your answers and your abilities. If they ask you how you feel about something you do not know – as we are taught Islamically – do not be afraid to say you don’t know. Just make sure to follow it up by saying that you have been in similar situations before, and you are a quick learner and can easily adapt to situations.
Don’t make jokes in your interviews. I have learned this one the hard way. I was once asked about dealing with pressure situations, and I mentioned experience in a hospital dealing with demanding nurses (except I was a bit sarcastic about it) only to have one of the interviewers cut me off with, “I’m a nurse” (ouch). Another time I was asked about how good I was in documenting something, and I mentioned dealing with outsourcing and communicating with “people who can barely speak English” only to realize that there was a semi-FOB in the interviewing team. So make sure to be tactful and polite. You can always show off your sense of humor later.
Be prepared to talk about yourself and your experience. Rehearse it if you need to. Also be prepared for the ‘canned’ questions like “where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?”, and “what is your dream job?”, etc. Have a good answer for questions like “What would your manager say is your greatest weakness?” or “What would team mates say is your greatest weakness?” and ones similar to that. The answer is not as important as how you project yourself. They are seeing how well spoken you are, how your attitude is, and checking things like making sure you are not arrogant.
Have good questions prepared when they ask you if you have any questions. Ask what the day to day environment is like, and what the challenges are. Ask them what they enjoy most about the company they work for. The best question though, is to always inquire about what educational opportunities are available, and express interest in pursuing industry standard certifications. This shows them that you are interested in growing with the company, and that you are taking initiative to find ways of improving even before starting. Make sure you are serious though, and follow through with those opportunities when they come up.
Make sure to show that you are someone that is easy to get along with, a hard worker, and a quick learner. When you walk in, especially if you ‘look’ Muslim, you need to take into account stereotypes people will have. Break them. I have found that simply acting professionally and sounding articulate (it is not hard to sound more articulate than the average Joe Schmo) can go a long way.
Some companies adopt a behavior based interview, read this article for more tips on handling those questions as they are tougher than the general interviews.
Know your worth ahead of time. Check out market (salary.com) values for your position with your level of experience and education. Don’t be timid to ask for your fair rate. Always say you are negotiable and open to market value, but also be prepared with an actual number (or range rather) as well. If the salary is not all there, negotiate other things. Everything is up for grabs. I have interviewed with companies where even the vacation time was negotiable as I was coming from a company that had a better time off program. If they can’t go up a certain amount of dollars, try asking for a signing bonus. Negotiate things like working from home for a day a week or something like that if it is feasible.
After the Interview
Make sure to send a thank you email to whomever interviewed you, or arranged the interview, and let them know you thought the interview was positive. If you felt otherwise, it is important to go ahead and let them know it is not what you are expecting, and you would like to withdraw consideration, but thank them for their time. These are basic etiquettes.
I have found that after the interview and when you are starting or being extended an offer is the best time to bring up your Muslim needs. The best way to talk about Juma is explain that you have a religious obligation every Friday from 1pm-3pm, and that you are free to work early/late or on another day to make up the time. Don’t come across with a sense of entitlement. They are working around their schedule to let you attend Juma, so make sure to return the favor and be flexible in making up the time. Another quick tip that I utilize is, block out your calendar with a recurring appointment as “Off Campus” – I have found that this has gone a long way in keeping people from scheduling meetings with me at this time.
In regards to daily prayers and things like that, the approach I found that worked best was to simply ask my team lead where there is an empty meeting room I could pray in. I don’t feel this is something you need to work out before getting the job, it can easily be done afterwards.
Also make sure to have some tact in the workplace. I have heard stories of Muslims who are surgical techs, residents, etc., doing things like foot-in-the-sink in the O.R. rooms. Come on.. :)
Before taking any job, make Istikharah :)