Interviewing For Success
Creating a positive impression during an employment interview is essential if you hope to receive a job offer. As a candidate, you should know that most employers’ goals are to find candidates who are capable of succeeding in the position, “fitting in” with the organization and its culture, and possessing a positive outlook and demeanor.
This guide identifies types of interviews, how to prepare for interviews, and sample questions. Interviewing comes more easily for some people than for others. But everyone can become an effective interviewer if they know how to prepare and what to expect.
Types of InterviewsScreening Interview
This “classic” format is usually one-on-one with you and a human resources staff person. The HR representative or manager asks you about your background and skills, and you reply to her/his questions and “sell” yourself. This is often the format used for the first step of a screening process and is relatively brief (1/2 - 1 hour). It is often the type of interview available on campus or at a job fair. If all goes well, you’ll be invited for a longer follow-up interview, usually at the employer’s offices.
On-Site Job Interview
An interview that takes place at the employer’s work site can take many forms. It frequently includes meeting(s) with a representative from HR and a hiring manager from the department for which you may work. Other personnel may also be included—co-workers, other managers, a vice-president, etc. Some organizations might schedule a group interview where you meet with two to five people simultaneously. The on-site interview(s) may last many hours. These interviews include common interview questions, and may also be conducted in a behavioral interview format. It is not uncommon for a successful candidate to be invited back for two or three additional interviews. These interviews will typically be done with more senior members of the organization and will be more in-depth.
Behavioral Interviews are a common method of interviewing by many employers. In behavioral interviews, the applicant is asked situational questions. For example, “Tell me about a time when you…” or “Give me an example of….” The successful applicant will provide examples and clear explanations about what she did and the successful outcome. The employer is trying to find out not what you would do in a hypothetical situation, but rather, what you have done. Strive to give specific examples of what you have done in the past. Avoid answers that contain phrases like “Usually I…” or “I would probably….”
Answering Behavior-Based Questions:
Use the STAR method: To successfully structure your answer to a behavior-based question, make sure you include each of the following elements: Situation, Task, Action, Results. For example, if you are asked to describe a situation in which you had to work as a member of a team, your answer might include the following elements:
Situation: I was taking a biology class last semester….
Task: I had to work with a group to put together a presentation on our experiment….
Action: We agreed upon which items to include and divided up responsibilities…
Results: We received an ‘A’ on the project and classmates expressed enthusiasm for our presentation….
This is not a job interview! This interview is for individuals who are looking for information about a career or organization, and is generally conducted prior to job interviews. If you want to learn about what a job is like and develop an understanding of the typical responsibilities and tasks, you can contact someone already in that career field. Then set up a time to visit with the person for 30 to 40 minutes, and ask prepared questions to help you to decide if it is a type of career or position you wish to pursue. After the informational interview, you should always send a thank you. Further information about informational interviewing is available in the Career Development Office.
Preparation is the Key:
Many job seekers go to interviews unprepared and unsure of what to expect. Preparation is vital to help you conduct a successful interview and to help you feel self-confident.
Research the company! You do not need to know everything about an organization, but you must know the basics. These basics include: what the organization does, how large it is, where it is located and if it has more than one operation in different locations, what is its philosophy, what is its financial status, and how long it has been in business, to name a few. This information is easily accessed through the organization’s website, and in various library reference materials. Employers develop a very negative opinion of candidates who have not done their homework.
Know the job requirements. By reading the job announcement, reviewing a job description and/or talking with the employer, you will know what experience and skills the employer wants. Review your work, volunteer, and academic background to identify experiences where you have developed and displayed these skills and abilities. Be ready to share examples. You can share this information when asked, “Tell me about yourself,” “What makes you qualified for this position,” “Why should we hire you” and other similar open-ended questions.
Be ready to ask questions. An interview is a two-way process, and employers expect you to ask questions and be actively involved. Expect that there will be time at the end of the interview for you to ask questions, and never leave an interview without asking something. Prepare some general questions prior to the interview: To whom will I report, and how will my work be evaluated? What are the key challenges facing the person in this position? What is a typical day like in this position? In what new directions do you expect this organization to grow in the next few years?
Practice for the interview. By anticipating types of questions and practicing your responses, you will be better prepared to articulate your skills and strengths during an interview. Practice your nonverbal behavior including extending a firm handshake, maintaining good eye contact, and smiling. Ask a friend, a professional colleague, the Career Development staff or a professor to help you practice and to give you clear, honest feedback about your answers and your nonverbal behavior. Make an appointment for a mock interview or interview coaching with the Career Development Office. Even though it can feel awkward, practicing in front of mirror can also help you “see yourself” and the image you project.
Have your outfit ready. What you wear to an interview is key to that positive impression you want to portray to an employer. In almost all cases, “business formal” will be appropriate for professional positions. For women that means a suit or professional dress; neutral or coordinated hose; low-heeled, professional, polished shoes; and no flashy jewelry, bright eye shadow or perfume. You don’t need to break the bank to find professional clothing. Shop sales and second-hand stores for great deals.
Know where to go. Find out exactly where the interview will be, when to be there and, if needed, where parking is available. Ask for directions from the organization contact who sets up the interview and check a map so you can be relaxed about where to go. You may even want to drive to the location of the interview a few days beforehand so you know exactly where to go and how long it takes to get there. Plan for traffic, and arrive a few minutes early. Take those extra few minutes to visit the restroom, take a few deep breaths, and relax.
Day of theInterview
Arrive a little early. If you are late for an interview, most employers will assume you are not responsible and not very interested in the position. DON’T BE LATE! When you arrive and during initial introductions, expect to make small talk—be ready to briefly discuss the weather or current news.
Greet everyone with a firm handshake and a smile. Remember to maintain good eye contact throughout the interview. In group interviews, make eye contact with each interviewer when responding to questions.
Behave professionally ad courteously. Some candidates leave a negative impression without meaning to by acting too familiar, talking too much, or being too casual. You don’t want to be seen as unprofessional or impolite.
Share success stories. When talking about what you have done, include examples of projects, programs, work or classroom situations where you demonstrated the skills the employer is seeking. Don’t forget to include the successes of your work—a promotion, positive feedback, an
accepted project, etc.
Don’t bring up the “S” word! Salary and benefits are often high on the list of what candidates want to know, but protocol dictates that this is usually brought up by the interviewer. Salary should not be discussed in an initial screening interview. Research prior to the interview what an appropriate salary range is for this position. Salary information can be obtained through the Career Development website, in resource books in the library, and by talking to professionals in the field. If you are asked what salary expectation you have, you may politely respond, “I would prefer to discuss salary when a job offer is made.”
Consider bringing a portfolio. Portfolios are especially important in a teaching job search. A portfolio includes samples of your work, a resume, letters of recommendation and more. The portfolio can be used to show an employer that you possess the skills you say you have. The Career Development Office has a great handout about putting together a portfolio. You may also want to consider creating an electronic portfolio. Offer the employer the opportunity to view your portfolio. Some employers will welcome this opportunity, while others may be too busy to look at it. Don’t be disappointed if the employer doesn’t view your portfolio—putting it together is a helpful exercise in itself.
Ask for business cards. Many candidates forget to ask for business cards and then are unsure of whom to send thank you letters. Asking for a business card is common practice in the professional world. By possessing business cards, you have the correct spelling of individual names, titles and addresses which you will need for writing follow-up letters and making phone calls.
ASK FOR THE JOB! Students often feel awkward telling the employer that they are excited about the position and hope to be hired. They are afraid they will appear too eager or arrogant. However, you need to let the employer know that you are excited about the opportunity. If you want the position, tell the employer that you hope you will be chosen. It demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm. At the end of the interview, you may wish to make a statement like the following: “After learning more about your company during our interview today, I wish to restate my interest and enthusiasm for the position.”
After the Interview
1. Send a Thank You letter. Each letter should reiterate your interest in the specific position and organization, and express your appreciation for the interview. See the sample letter at the end of this guide.
2. Follow-up with a phone call. A few days after the interview, if you have not heard from the employer, you should call to check on the status of your candidacy, and express your continuing interest and enthusiasm. Employers expect to receive follow-up calls from candidates.
What Are They Looking For?
There are some basic types of questions for which you should prepare before your interview. These general interview questions can be sorted into the following themes:
• Open-ended questions (Tell me about yourself. What are your strengths?)
• Future plans (What do you hope to be doing in 5 years? What are your career goals?)
• Strengths and weaknesses (What are you good at? What are your weaknesses?)
• Career/job/organization related (Why are you interested in this position? What do you know about the organization?)
• Behavioral (Explain and describe how you would handle this situation... Tell me of a time when...)
The following examples are typical types of interview questions with suggestions about how to answer them:
“Tell me about yourself.” This is generally an opening question to help develop rapport and begin the process. Be ready to talk briefly about yourself, your background, and your strengths and skills that make you qualified for the position. Be careful not to digress into too much personal history or irrelevant information.
“Why are you interested in this position?” Talk about what responsibilities and components of the job are attractive, and how you have developed the skills to meet the requirements of the job.
“What makes you qualified for this position?” Articulate your skills with examples of situations where you demonstrated the abilities they seek and the successes you have had. Examples are key to doing this effectively—“For my senior biology research project, I developed a hypothesis, tested the theory and found that it would have an impact on future related projects. I received an ‘A’ for the project and it was submitted to a national college competition, and it may help to foster new research.”
“What background (from work, internships, volunteer or the classroom) do you have that would help you in this position or field?” Present examples of your experiences and articulate how they demonstrate the skills they are seeking. For example if you were interviewing for a job in marketing, you might say, “As an intern I contacted 200 customers by phone and collected data for a survey to evaluate how the new company brochure displayed the products and articulated their value to our customers.”
“What are your weaknesses?” Be ready to share an example of something that is not a terrible problem, but rather something that you have been working to improve. For example, “I have received feedback that I need to be more assertive when working on projects and to ask more questions. I have been doing that for the last few months in my internships and feel more comfortable requesting information and assistance.” An example here can be very helpful, but avoid sharing very negative examples—being late for work, conflict with coworkers, etc. Also resist the urge to go with a pat answer, such as, “I’m just such a perfectionist….” Interviewers have heard this one a million times, and it can give the impression that you’re either not very reflective, or that your opinion of yourself is a little too high.
“Tell me about a time when you had to do multiple assignments with limited time and how you accomplished them?” This is an example of a behavioral question. Think about what skills and attributes the employer wants to see in a successful candidate. Can you prioritize? Do you meet deadlines? Can you work with other people and solicit help? Your research on what skills the employer is looking for will help you to prepare for these questions. Don’t forget to use the STAR method to structure your answer.
“How would a supervisor (professor, colleague, friend) describe you?” Before the interview, create a list of positive work attributes that describe you. Examples of positive attributes are: dependable, team player, good communicator, accurate, analytical, possessing a good sense of humor. Knowing the job will help you know what positive work related attributes to share.
“What are your goals?” Respond with goals related to the work and company. For example, “I hope to begin in this position, demonstrate my abilities and do quality work. I plan to learn as much as I can in the position, and eventually qualify for positions with even more responsibility.” Longer-term goals may include continuing your education and planning for management positions.
“What areas in school or work have been the greatest challenge to you?” Think of times when a difficult college assignment, or a big project at work or an internship was due, and how you successfully accomplished the task. Successes might include, an ‘A’ on the assignment, increased customer satisfaction, or meeting an important deadline that was vital to a department.
“Why do you want to work here?” Articulate clearly what is attractive to you about the organization and the position. Do not focus on salary or benefits.
“What motivates you in a work situation?” Review what experiences you have had that have been energizing or exciting in the past. These skills are what you hope to find in your new position, such as public speaking,being creative, problem solving, working with teams of people to solve problems, working with technology, etc.
“Why did you leave (or plan to leave) your past (present) employer?” There are many legitimate reasons to leave a position or company. You may have had a lack of promotional opportunities or you were looking for new challenges. Never speak badly of a present or previous employer—even if your boss was awful or the company didn’t treat you fairly. If you complain about a previous employer, the recruiter with whom you are interviewing will see you as a complainer and a potential problem employee.