The Muslim’s Guide to a Successful Job Interview


By Ehab Hassan

“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.

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31 Comments

  1. Khajija says:

    Great tips!1 Marshallah….

  2. Sanaa says:

    JazakAllah Khayr! This is super helpful!

  3. Wow says:

    subhan ALLAH! this came at the perfect time and it was so specific, practical and supportive of the professional Muslim identity. Jazak Allahu khayran!

  4. Ayesha says:

    Could you give me some examples of the smart points and the 5 things I want them to know about me? It seemed a little vague. Thank you. Jazakullah for sharing this, very helpful.

  5. serendipity says:

    Salam
    My dad taught me as a child that whenever I was to face an examiner (now, as an adult, the examiner is an interviewer for a job!) in school exams, to recite Hazrat Moosa’s dua:”My Lord! Open up for me my heart. And ease for me my task. And untie the knot of my tongue. That they may understand my speech.” (20:25-28)
    I have been doing this along with the istikhara for interviews and I always feel comfortable with the outcome whenever I sign a new job contract. Alhumdolillah!

    • Fatima Musaibli says:

      Asalaam Alaykum, I just wanted to know if you read that ayat before you went to the interview or in your prayer?

  6. Yasmin says:

    Jazakallah khair for these much needed tips!

  7. Saher says:

    This is so useful. Thank you. May Allah reward you.

  8. I think those are great advice jazak Allah kheir. I have personally conducted interviews and from experience, I can also connect to the following additional tips:

    1- Make sure the resume is concise, very articulate, and no more than 2 pages, unless you’re a doctor and have to list your papers or research. Also make sure it lists the skills they’re looking for, if applicable.

    2- Be ready to talk about EVERYTHING you have listed on your resume. For every skill, every job, every success/achievement listed, be prepared to give examples and stories around it. A good tip to prepare well is to write down those stories in advance at home, so this way they are fresh in your memory during the interview.

    3- What’s your drive? You should understand what drives you, and be able to talk passionately and articulately about that. If it seems like you don’t care, have no passion, or are just looking for another paycheck, the hiring manager will pass. He or she needs someone who loves what they do and will thrive on helping the company succeed.

    Today’s economy is very tough and the job market is extremely competitive. It is true that all this is Rizk from Allah swt, however we have to also do our part and be well prepared.

  9. fatima says:

    thanks

  10. Gull says:

    Alhamdulilah good examples of what works in the real world.

    1.be honest as you could e asked tough q’s to confirm you are telling truth.this could put u under pressure.

    2.good subject/ background knowledge is key to progression of organisation. Employer could ask what attributes/benefits you can bring to the company even if your not applying for a sales post. ( sell me this pen) give at least three reasons.

    3. keep clear head and sense of humour where applicable.

    Finally put trust with Allah.

  11. Ehab says:

    JazakAllahu khairun for the feedback. I pray that people can benefit iA. Sr. Ayesha, as far as the five things I want them to know about me, here are some examples (a couple of which I used in the past):
    -As a manager, I was able to increase funding from our client by X amount by taking initiative in these areas
    -Our client gives a quarterly evaluation and after I started in the group I was able to help raise the ratings in categories A, B, and C and here’s how.
    -There was once a conflict between two employees and this is what I did to help resolve it.
    -On my last evaluation my manager gave me a high score in such and such a category for my work on such and such project.
    -I was on a group project and one person conflicted with the group on many issues. In order to ensure a great final product, this is what I did.

    I know these examples aren’t necessarily relevant to you but it’s to help get you thinking.

    It’s basically anything that would sound too weird to put on your resume but you’d be pretty proud if it was.

    I hope this helps! May Allah grant you a successful future.

  12. Zain says:

    MashaAllah, very beneficial article, may Allah make it an on going sadaqah for you.

    The only critique that I can say is that I do not understand why one would make istikharah before going to an interview. Istikharah is to be done for a decision one has to make but they are not completely sure about. They narrow down their choices and decide upon what they think is right, then make istikharah asking Allah to bless that decision if it is best for them, and if it is not take them to something better by his decree.

    If one does istikharah when they receive a job offer as to whether or not to take the job I understand, but I do not understand why one would do istikharah when going to an interview. Perhaps what was intended was making dua’ to Allah to bless them in this matter?

    I think this goes back to a misunderstanding of what istikharah is to be used for. Sh.Abdul-Nasir Jangda does a very good job talking about and correcting the perception in this lecture:
    http://muslimmatters.org/2012/01/13/abdul-nasir-jangda-istikharah-how-to-and-why-2/
    However, if I am not understanding the application of it here though someone please correct me.

    All in all, amazing article mashaAllah and I will definitely use those tips if I get the chance.

    BarakAllahu feekum

    • Muslimah says:

      As salaam alaykum.

      It isn’t very common, but sometimes it does happen that one may be offered a position then and there at the interview. When that happens, and you can never know ahead of time, a response must be also made on the spot.

      In this event, you won’t have time to go and pray after you are offered the job and before you give an answer.

  13. Suzy Ismail says:

    As-salamu Alaikum,

    Thanks for sharing this article. As the author of the book: “9 to 5: Muslims in the Western Workplace” (Amana, 2011), I agree that how we comport ourselves at work is a really important topic that we should address. JAK again for sharing your thoughts.

    was-salam,
    Suzy

  14. Abdul Shakur says:

    Assalamu alaykum,

    Jazak’Allah kher for the post. However I have one concern which was not addressed in your post – the lowering of the gaze when it is the opposite sex.

    “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts). That is purer for them. Verily, Allaah is All‑Aware of what they do”[al-Noor 24:30 – interpretation of the meaning]

    And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said in a saheeh hadeeth: “Avert your gaze.” (Narrated by Ahmad, 18715; Muslim, 2159.

    How should one behave if we are to adhere to this ruling? Should we simply explain it in the beginning that we are not allowed to shake their hands or look at them for religious purposes before the interview actually commences?

    Jazak’Allah kher.

    Wassalam,

    Abdul Shakur

    • Muslimah says:

      Among white Americans, refusing to look the other person in the eye at least occasionally is usually interpreted as a sign of dishonesty, not modesty. In Western culture, there is little that is more rude than refusing to shake someone’s hand after they have extended it to you in greeting.

      Given those realities, if I go to an interview and decline to shake anyone’s hand (unless I can *honestly* say I have a cold or the flu), and then spend the interview talking to my own shoes, I think I’m not going to get that job, no matter how I explain it.

      You can, with practice, look either at the point between the other person’s eyes, or just over their shoulder, and it seems as if you are looking at them in the eye. But practice, otherwise it looks really creepy.

      I don’t know what to suggest about the hand-shaking. God knows best.

      • MsOsmosis1 says:

        I do not necessarily agree with that statement. Yes refusing to shake someones hand can be taken in an offensive manner by the person who has been rejected, but if you clearly mention that you do not shake hands (in my case with men) then most will understand. I do not see why we should be ashamed of this fact. If you let your personality shine people who may have started the interview of awkwardly/ or have been offended by the rejection, can be won round. And can eventualy offer you the job I believe it shows strength of character and this can be something interviewers want or look for depending on the job type.

        That’s just my opinion. Please forgive me if I have offended anyone and as always Allah (SWT) knows best.

        • m says:

          For shaking hands, one way someone suggested is to say, ” Oh, I can’t shake hands with the opposite gender. Please don’t be offended/I hope you won’t be offended it ‘s nothing personal, it’s a religious matter.” or something like that. instead of saying “I’m sorry” because we shouldn’t have to apologize for practicing our religion.

          One thing I have found is if you are confident, show genuine interest in the position and go in with a good attitude, and have a good resume to back you up–basically if you are a good candidate for the position, the employer will not turn you away because of hijab or not being able to shake hands. at the end of the day (most of the time) it’s about who can get the job done well.

  15. Fatima says:

    This really eased my nerves and I wish everyone out there all the success! May Allah guide us to the straight path…Ameen…

  16. Alex says:

    Salaam
    Between driving to the masjid and back(and seeing as there is only one in my area it depends on how far a workplace is from it), the Khutbah and the prayer itself that would be the minimum of one hour, in all probability a bit more(perhaps an hour and 15 minutes). Even allowing an extended lunch break, from one hour to say one and a half hours, that is hardly leaving any time to actually eat. Especially in my case as I have difficulty swalling a lot of food due to a medical condition and it can take me quite a while to eat without trying to choke myself.
    I am young and I just got certified as a Nurse Aide. Because this is not an office job that can only be worked on a 9-5 Monday-Friday schedule I believe what I shall do is when it comes to the prospective employer inquiring what hours I can work(many do this), I will make it clear(but politely) that I cannot work on Fridays. The problem I am having is that I feel this conflicts with your advice of not mentioning the Islamic requirements(cont’d in reply

  17. Nusaybah says:

    Assalamu Alaikum, I have my second interview tomorrow with the same employer. I am soo nervous I can’t even think straight. Lol. I’m going to be meeting some clients aswell and they have asked me to take in a notebook and ask as many questions as I can. The thing is I don’t know anything about the business, when the manager introduced his business to me I wasn’t paying attention, I never thought I’d get through. Mainly because I’m a Hijabi and I also wear Burqa so I don’t know what to do… Help me please!

  18. Mashallah they are wannafull ideas.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    Masha’Allah, Shukran for these tips, I am going for an interview today. It will only be my second interview and I am very nervous. These tips are very helpful.

  20. Zenith says:

    JazakAllah…one of the best articles I have read on interviews..MashAllah..It’s precise..I came on this site looking for du’a for my interview today but instead found a brilliant article on interview prep with an islamic POV..keep it up brother..ure doing a great job..AlahmduLillah..

  21. Balqis says:

    Jazak’Allah. I pray all these work for me on Monday, & I hope for a success in shaa Allah

  22. sagar says:

    JazakAllah khair for awesome information about interview :)

  23. shazia says:

    may allah bless you.. thanks alot for the helpful tips..

  24. Rafia says:

    As-salaamu alaykum. Jazakallah khayran for this very helpful and practical article and comments. I believe Allah guided me to this website -alhamdulillah.

    I am nervousness about an interview for a senior position in another organisation on Friday. It’s not that I don’t know what to do or expect – I’m a Chartered HR manager and have coached others to be successful at interviews and I have regularly interviewed candidates, but it’s different when you are at the other side of the table! Moreso because I haven’t had an interview for some years.

    Here are some other points to give you that extra edge:

    1. In your answers, extend the STAR approach to STARR – Situation, Action/s, Tasks, Results and Reflection. Use ‘reflection’ to describe what you learnt and you could use or improve it in future. It is positive way to demonstrate your continuous professional development (CPD.)

    2. Use key behaviour and action words – there are lots of lists on the internet. It is useful to say why or how you took the actions you did. It will also highlight your thought process or pragmatic approach.

    3. If you are looking to change change employer or career path, emphasis your positive behaviours and transferable skills.

    Above all be modest – it is part our beautiful Deen.

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