Preparing for the Interview
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Employment interviewing is simply a focused, goal-oriented exchange of information between two people. Impressive resumes and cover letters will get you employment interviews; however, the interview itself will typically be the most important aspect of the employment process.
In its most basic form, the employment interview is an opportunity for applicants and employers to mutually evaluate the fit between the applicant's qualifications and the position being offered.
Objectives of the Interview
- to expand on information contained in your resume
- to supply information that is not contained in your resume (personality, oral communication skills, general style, etc.)
- to enable you to gain additional information about the organization and the position you are considering
- to provide an opportunity for both parties to discuss the possibility of employment
The success of the interviewing process depends upon how well you present your unique qualifications. Merely to show up at an interview, hoping that your resume or application will do all the talking for you, is not enough. You must be an active participant in the exchange of questions, answers, and impressions.
Types of Interviews
The screening interview is usually rather general and is relatively short (30-45 minutes). For example, when employers recruit on a college campus, they use screening interviews to decide which of the many candidates are best qualified to meet the organization's needs. These candidates are then invited to the employer's office or plant for a second interview, the selection interview.
The selection interview, a longer, more thorough interview, is designed to identify the most qualified candidate for the position. A selection interview will include meetings with several people from the organization and may last for several hours, part of which may be during breakfast or lunch.
What Employers Are Seeking
What are employers looking for in candidates? Not always what you may think. In a recent study, these are the qualities employers listed as most important:
- * oral and written communication skills
- * motivation
- * leadership
- * maturity
- * enthusiasm
- * punctuality
- * appearance
From an employer's perspective, hiring you is a risk. By relating specific experiences and accomplishments, you must show them that you will fit their organization and contribute to its purposes. Ultimately, the decision to hire you reflects the employer's opinion as to whether you can and will do the job.
Doing Your Homework
Thorough preparation for your interview is essential. Most candidates interviewing for a given position will have the basic qualifications necessary to do that job. However, it is typically the candidate who does the best job of presenting him/herself who gets the job offer. Basic interview preparation should include:
Knowing Yourself. Are your interests consistent with the general career area and the specific job? Do your skills correspond to this position? Is this position compatible with your values?
Knowing the Organization. Knowledge of the organization, its products or services, structure, locations, and needs is essential. Be especially conscientious about reading and understanding the organization's "recruiting literature". At times it will be difficult to get much information about an employer. The next best thing is to be knowledgeable of the industry and the organization's competitors. Thorough preparation will strengthen your self-confidence and will demonstrate sincere interest in the job.
Clearly Defining Your Goals Before the Interview.
Employers look favorably upon candidates who have specific and well-defined career goals. Many job seekers mistakenly believe that the more general they are about what they want to do, the better their chance of getting a job. Such is not the case. Focus as clearly as possible on your job objective. A clear objective can indicate how well you will fit into a company, as well as demonstrate your maturity. An "I'll do anything" attitude shows enthusiasm but may also be perceived as desperate.
You must be able to communicate information effectively to the employer. Strive to become as articulate and natural in your interview presentation as possible. There will probably be plenty of rough edges at first, but you'll almost surely find that your interviewing skills will improve quickly with practice. Remember, you want your responses to sound intelligent and natural, NOT rehearsed and artificial. Know your best job-related qualities and supporting examples; allow them to come together as the questions are asked. You may also choose to do a videotaped practice interview at the Center for Career Services. You will need to make an appointment in advance. Most students find it extremely useful in honing their interview skills. As an alternative, have someone ask you several of the sample interview questions included in this guide, and tape record your responses. Play back the tape and evaluate your answers.
First Impressions and Interviewing Basics
What to Wear. Present a professional image. The rule of thumb is wear the best outfit you would wear during a typical day at that job. If you aren't sure, it is better to show up overdressed than underdressed, but if you have questions ask a counselor at the Center for Career Services for some advice.
Be Punctual. Never be late for an interview. Try to arrive early enough to allow time to check your appearance and collect your thoughts. If you arrive very early, however, do not introduce yourself to the interviewer or receptionist more than ten minutes before the scheduled time of the interview. If for some reason you will be late, call ahead.
Introductions. Greet your interviewer with a smile, a firm handshake and direct eye contact. Be sure to note your interviewer's name and use it during the interview.
What to Bring. Always carry extra copies of your resume to the interview. In addition, you may want to bring along a copy of your transcript. If appropriate, as in the case of advertising, art, fashion design, or education, bring a portfolio containing sample illustrations of your work. You may also want to bring a copy of your list of references. Place all these things into a professional portfolio that also contains a pen and paper for jotting down important reminders and names of the people you meet. ONLY GIVE MATERIAL TO EMPLOYERS WHEN IT IS REQUESTED.
Responding to Questions
The majority of the interview time is typically devoted to the employer asking questions. Try to discern what the employer is really asking you. What are the underlying questions? For example, if an employer asks what qualities you think are important for someone in the position you are applying for, he or she wants to know whether you have given thoughtful consideration to the skills and abilities necessary to succeed within the organization. Your objectives are to put your candidacy in the best possible light and to alleviate any reservations the employer may have about your suitability for employment. Be yourself and focus on your positive qualities.
If there are periods in your past that are difficult to explain, do not dwell on them. Respond to your interviewer's questions honestly, indicating what you have learned from your mistakes. Take responsibility for past actions, and DO NOT blame others. If something in your past is indicative of poor judgment, try to give examples of recent things you have done that indicate good judgment.
Remember to answer questions by focusing on experiences, accomplishments, and skills you have that relate to the specific job for which you are interviewing. Do not be so general in your responses that the interviewer learns very little about you. An interview is not the time for shyness and modesty. Tell the interviewer about yourself; if you don't, no one will.
Sample Interview Questions
Although no single interviewer will ask you all the questions that follow, this listing is designed to give you an idea of the types of questions you can expect. As you read the list, consider what your responses would be, AND what the interviewer would think of them. (Use the work sheet.) Try to detect what the interviewer is really asking you before you respond. Avoid the pitfall of rushing into an answer without thinking first. The questions in bold are those that you are most likely to hear.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your major strengths/weaknesses?
- Why should I hire you over other candidates?
- How do you handle pressure?
- What have you done to show initiative and innovation?
- What leadership roles have you had?
- What have been your most satisfying and most disappointing experiences?
- Why did you decide to interview with us?
- Why are your grades low? Do they reflect your ability?
- What do you know about our organization?
- What interests you about this specific position?
- What qualifications do you have that makes you feel you would be successful?
- What have you learned from some of the jobs you have held?
- What is not on your resume that you would like to tell me?
- What have you read recently?
- Define "management".
- In what school activities have you participated? Why?
- If you were starting college all over again, what would you do differently?
- What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
- What do you REALLY want to do in life?
- Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
- What major problems have you encountered and how did you deal with them?
- What criteria are you using to evaluate the organization for which you hope to work?
- What other employers are you interviewing with?
- What types of positions are you considering?
- What would be your ideal job?
- Why did you select your particular major?
- If there was one thing that you could change about your past, what would it be?
In addition to these questions, applicants for teaching positions are encouraged to review a special listing of sample questions often asked of teaching candidates. This listing is available upon request in the career library in the Center for Career Services.
FYI - Questions asked during an interview are intended for the potential employer to determine whether or not your skills and abilities may be beneficial to the organization. Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, marital status, disability, etc. Therefore, interviewers are not permitted to ask questions about such subjects prior to making an offer of employment if the information is irrelevant to your ability to perform the job. Once you accept the offer, however, issues such as number of dependents, date of birth, disabilities, etc. become necessary information for medical and retirement benefits, accommodations for disabilities, etc. Though such inappropriate preemployment inquiries are rare, check with CCS if you have have questions about an interviewer's actions. Detailed information about appropriate preemployment inquiries is available in the Center for Career Services.
Increasingly, organizations are using the behavioral interviewing approach to identify the best candidate. Behavioral interviewing is based on the idea that a person's past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior in similar situations. Instead of asking the very open ended questions listed above, the interviewer asks questions like:
- Give me an example of a time when you were a leader.
- Tell me about a problem you had to solve at your last job and how you solved it.
- Explain how you proposed implementing a new procedure to your supervisor.
If the interviewer had asked how you would describe yourself and you said you were a leader, a problem solver and a good communicator, these behavioral questions will give you the opportunity to back up those statements.
The answers to these questions become statements filled with details allowing the interviewer to picture you in action and to feel more confident about your abilities.
To give a thorough response, think of a STAR.
Describe the Situation or Task to introduce the topic and to let the interviewer know why an action took place. Next, describe the Action steps you took in that situation. As this is the most important part of your response be specific and thorough (but avoid petty details). Then conclude with the Result. The interviewer is most interested in your actions, so positive or negative results are not really the issue--your behavior in that situation is.1
Even if an interviewer asks the traditional questions, you can and should answer in a behavioral style to demonstrate your abilities more clearly.
Interviewers expect candidates to ask pertinent questions during the interview. You will be evaluated not only on your responses to the interviewer's questions, but also on the quality of the questions you pose to the interviewer. Here are some suggestions.
- What qualities are you looking for in your new hires?
- Could you describe a typical first-year assignment?
- Could you tell me about your initial and future training programs?
- What are some of the typical career paths followed by others who have been in this position?
- What would be a realistic time frame for advancement?
- How is an employee evaluated and promoted?
- What are the most challenging aspects of this position?
- What is the overall structure of the department where the position is located?
- How often can I expect to relocate during the initial years of employment with your company?
- What are the company's plans for future growth?
- Is it company policy to promote from within?
- What industry-wide trends are likely to affect your company?
- How would you describe your corporation's personality and management style?
- How is the work environment affected by the company's management style?
- Why did you join and stay with the firm?
- What do you like about working for your company? What don't you like?
Most important, ask questions that are relevant to the position you are applying for. Always avoid asking questions on information that is adequately covered in the company's recruitment literature. To do so will make you seem ill-prepared.
Concluding the Interview
Most interviewers will conclude the interview by indicating when you can expect to receive further word on your status as an applicant. However, if the interviewer does not volunteer this information, be sure to ask. This will help you follow-up within a reasonable time frame. Be certain that you have the interviewer's full name, title, address, and phone number before you leave. This information is essential to the follow-up process.
The Issue of Salary
The topic of salary will probably come up in your selection interviews. As part of your pre-interview research, examine the sources found at the Center for Career Services such as: The Occupational Outlook Handbook, the National Association of Colleges and Employers Salary Survey, The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries, plus DISCOVER (a computer-based career guidance system). There will be sufficient time to negotiate salary after the employment offer has been made, so try to avoid bringing up the issue in preliminary interviews. See the Salary Negotiations guide at the Center for Career Services.
After the Interview
It is wise to send a thank you letter to your interviewer after the interview for three reasons. First, it will show that you are courteous, and sincerely interested in the position. Second, it will help to keep your name fresh in the interviewer's mind. Third, it provides an opportunity for you to restate your qualifications or to mention something you may have forgotten to say during the interview. Your thank you can be in the form of a business letter or hand-written on a professional quality note card. Mail your letter within 48 hours of the interview so that the interviewer receives it within a week of your meeting. If you would like to see a copy of a thank you letter, inquire at the Center for Career Services.
It is appropriate to call the interviewer if you haven't received a response within the time period they indicated you would hear about your candidacy.
Evaluating Your Interviews
Learn from your mistakes. You will develop new skills in the entire process of interviewing. Beyond being well-prepared, don't underestimate the importance of being enthusiastic. Be confident, and remember to highlight your qualifications and potential.
- Learn about the organization.
- Have a specific job or jobs in mind.
- Review your qualifications for the job.
- Prepare answers to broad questions about yourself.
- Review your resume.
- Practice an interview with a career counselor, relative or friend.
- Arrive before the scheduled time of your interview.
- Be well groomed.
- Dress appropriately.
- Do not chew gum or smoke.
- Do not bring a friend.
- Answer each question concisely.
- Respond promptly.
- Use good manners. Learn the name of your interviewer and shake hands as you meet.
- Use proper English and avoid slang.
- Be cooperative and enthusiastic.
- Ask questions about the position and the organization.
- Thank the interviewer, and follow up with a letter.
1 Taken from Behavioral Interviewing. Presentation made at ECEN Conference by Charles Norris, Assistant Manager, Employee Resources, Pfizer Inc., October 1993.
2 From The Occupational Outlook Handbook, compiled by The United States Department of Labor. 1992-93 Edition.