Congratulations! You’ve made it to the next round – the interview! Your résumé has done its job and you sparked someone’s interest. Now it’s time to seal the deal and get that job offer. But first, you have to make it through the interview. With a few guidelines and a few steps taken on your part, you can reduce your stress before and during the interview and present your best face.
Interviews have been around a long time. They are a method employers use to determine whether or not a candidate would be a good fit for the company. They are also used to whittle down the applicant pool. Your résumé took you to the top of the potential pile, the interview will continue to cull out the applicant pile. Companies are doing different things with interviews now – panel interviews (where you’re in same room with a number of other applicants) to board exams (where the all interview applicants are asked the same questions from a board of interviewers) to one-on-one interviews. Dependent upon the size of the company, the size of the applicant pool and the time constraints the company is working in will determine the type of interview you participate in. No matter the difference, the goal of the interview is the same – to determine suitability of an individual to the company’s culture. Preparation is key – the better prepared you are, the less nervous you will be.
The key to a successful interview preparation. Do not expect to walk in to an interview and just “wing it”. First thing you will want to do is research. You should’ve conducted some research when you applied for the position – if you did, you need to expand on that research. If you didn’t – you’ll need to do some catch-up and start at the beginning. You will research the internet presence of the company: Do they have a web site? What sort of information is available from the web site? Do they take orders over their web site? How easy is it to navigate? What is the company philosophy and their mission statement? What is their target market? Are they consumer based (providing services to consumers) or business based (providing services to other businesses)? Is the company local, national, or international? Are they a corporate branch or are they a “mom and pop”? Are they a franchisee? Next, you’ll need to know the job you’re applying for. What is the job title? Where does it fit within the company? How will your skills enhance the job? What do you bring to the table that will uniquely benefit the company? It is important that you know the particular skills that are not only listed in the job posting but beneficial to the company as a whole that you have. It is also important that you address perceived deficiencies that may be alarming to the interviewer. For example, they are a Widget Producer and ship their widgets worldwide. They prefer that the person selected for the position have 5 years widget production and you don’t have this. However, you have 7 years of gadget production. While widgets and gadgets are very different, the essence of their production is the same – your skills will easily transfer from gadgets to widgets with very little effort. Knowing your strengths and possible weaknesses before going in to the interview will aid you in the ability to truthfully answer any questions that may be asked. Researching the company, researching the job and finding your fit will show the interviewer your initiative and ability to evaluate and analyze not only your needs but the company’s as well.
Review typical interview questionsNow that you have your research done on the company you’re interviewing with, it’s time to prepare for the interview. There’s a multitude of websites that list a multitude of interview type questions on the web. I “googled” ‘interview questions’ and came up with pages and pages questions, answers and tips. Here are a few that I have found are typical in interviews today:What do you know about our company? This is a question designed to see if you even know anything about the company. The answer should not be a long, in-depth answer about its strengths or weaknesses or your assessment of its effectiveness. When answering this question, focus on the three Ws: Where it operates, What it does (its product or service) and Why it exists (what need is it filling within the community). Short and sweet, incorporating the company’s mission statement and summarizing its goals would be an excellent answer.What motivates you to do a good job? Whatever you do, do NOT be glib with your response. Don’t try to make it in to a joke (“Ha ha, not much, ha ha, just kidding) or relegate it to money (“The paycheck”). Focus on more altruistic reasons like personal satisfaction, need to engage, etc.Tell me about a problem and how you solved it. When an interviewer asks this question, they are looking for your critical thinking and reasoning ability. When answering questions of this type that call for a cause and effect relationship, remember SAR:Situation (what was the situation)Action (what action did you take)Result (what was the result of the action you took). Further introspection on your answer would be good as well. Commenting on whether or not it was the right action, what you would do differently (if anything) and the differences between the actual result and the intended result.What is your biggest weakness/strength? Weaknesses: Do not claim to have any weaknesses. This is false and you know it and the interviewer knows it. The interviewer is using this to assess your training needs, if you’re going to need training to “catch up”, if you’ve got an ego that won’t work with his/her team and how well you can utilize thought and experience to identify areas that might need improvement. Give this question serious consideration and come up with a thoughtful response that exhibits your critical thinking skills. Try to avoid the cliché responses such as: “I’m a perfectionist”, “I don’t quit until the job is done”, etc. When you’re thinking of the response, keep the SAR method in mind – What is a weakness, how you can (or are) work on it to improve, and what would be the intended result of improvement.Strengths: Do not use your weakness as strength, either. When you think of your strengths, think about the skills you have and how they would fit in with the company. Knowing that you have the ability to assess situations quickly and effectively is well and good but unless you back it with an example, it won’t make any difference. Make the statement and then support it with an example from your past work – using the SAR method is an excellent way to ensure your supporting your statement with fact.What was your greatest accomplishment/failure and what did you learn from it?Same thing here, the interviewer is looking for your ability to critically analyze your past actions. Utilize SAR here as well.You have one minute to convince me you are the ideal candidate for the job – begin. This is also known as the “Elevator Speech”. Prepare your elevator speech Originally a sales pitch intended to bring a captive audience wanting more (you have from the time the doors of the elevator close to the time they open again), it is highly effective in answering the “Tell me about yourself” question that interviewers love and interviewees fear. When an interviewer asks you to speak about yourself, he or she is not anxious to hear your life story – your siblings, your education, your parents, your pets, your hobbies – but rather is looking to see if you can succinctly relay your life’s accomplishments specific to the company. In short, the interviewer is seeing if your history matches the company’s present to advance it to the future. An elevator speech is a short description of where you’ve been, what skills you’ve accumulated and how you can use those skills to help the company meet its goals (King, n.d.). Prepare your questions At the end of an interview, you more than likely will be asked if you have any questions. Do not waste this opportunity to show the interviewer that you have been actively engaged in the process, that you know what the company is about and that you would be a good fit. The interview is not just for the company, it is for the individual as well. You want to make sure that the job will be a good fit for you as well and this is your opportunity to ask. Do Ask: What a typical work day is like Areas of responsibility Chain of command What the next step in the hiring process is Typical assignments and the turnaround for them Why the person in the position left (promotion from within? Good thing – shows opportunity for advancement) Do NOT Ask: About the salary (unless the subject has been breached by the interviewer) About benefits About time offFocus your questions on the company, what will be expected of you, how you will report and who you would answer to. The interviewer is expecting you to ask questions. Don’t pass it up.
Do:Dodress appropriately: Know the dress code for the office and step it up. It may be a construction or oil company but that doesn’t mean you show up in jeans and sneakers, even if the interviewer is wearing them. General rule of thumb – dress for the interview one degree up from the everyday dress code. So if it’s jeans, wear slacks; if it’s casual business – put on a tie. Take yourself seriously and you will be taken seriously.Do know where you’re going: So you think you know where the interview is but you’re not quite sure. That just spells disaster. Take a dry run the day before of your route. Drive it, ride the bus – however you’re going to get to the interview the day of, use that method to do your dry run. Allow enough time for traffic, public transportation, lost keys, nerves, etc.Do arrive no more than 15 minutes early: So the bus puts you in front of the office an hour before your appointment? Go find some coffee and go over your notes. Do not check in for your interview more than 15 minutes early – why? Anything earlier than 15 minutes shows a lack of respect for the company’s time. They set the appointment time for a reason – be respectful of it.Do maintain a friendly rapport with front office staff: Oftentimes the front office staff will be consulted at the conclusion of an interview – they will report on your timeliness, your friendliness, your respect and what you did with yourself while waiting (if you were friendly to others in the waiting area, did you play video games, or were you focused on the here and now). Don’t ruin your chances before you even interview!Do review your notes while waiting: If you need to, this is an excellent opportunity to go over your elevator speech, details about the company and any other information you want to keep fresh. However, if this will serve to make you nervous, don’t do it! Sit and breathe and try to relax.Do make eye contact and smile: Personality is important. Don’t be a dull lump sitting in the waiting area, show your character through your eye contact and smiling. Smiling will not only show confidence to others but will relax you as well. Don’t: Arrive late (arriving on time is late); forget to bring extra copies of your résumé (don’t assume they will make copies for you or that your résumé even made it from HR to the interview); forget to turn off your cell phone – don’t silence it or turn it to vibrate, TURN IT OFF. You can survive for an hour without your cell phone; don’t ignore the front office staff or others in the waiting area – you can bet that the front office staff will be reporting back on your behavior; don’t fidget – it’s distracting and only serves to rile you up even more.
The secret to dressing for the interview is to do the best with what you’ve got. Always make sure your clothes are clean, in good repair and without wrinkles. If you’ve got a tie, wear it if you determine it would be appropriate. Women – use natural make-up and light (or none) perfume. Men – should be clean shaven with light (or none) cologne.With the allergies people have these days, it is best that you refrain from any perfume or cologne.
Give the information asked for: avoid “diarrhea of the mouth”. Many people will talk themselves out of a job just by rambling. Answer the question and stop – give no more than is being asked and no less.Maintain eye contact with the interviewer. If you have more than one person interviewing, share eye contact with them all. Don’t pick the one you think is in charge – you’re probably wrong and will insult the others.Try to keep your fidgeting down to a minimum. Don’t play with your hair, pick at a fingernail or anything else that can be distracting. You want the interviewer to focus on what you’re saying, not what you’re doing. If you absolutely have to move something, place your hands in your lap and move your thumbs while keeping the rest of your body still. A certain amount of hand gesture and movement is expected but get rid of anything that might be a distraction to you and the interviewer – a pen, a piece of paper, etc.Talk briefly about any negative situation and how you have learned from it. Address how you have made the situation into a positive learning event. Acknowledge it, take responsibility for it and move on. Please know what position you’re applying for! Nothing more embarrassing then having to ask the interviewer what you’re there for!Know what the company does – the history of it, its current status and how it hopes to grow. This is discovered in the research stage of preparing for the interview.Do not introduce potential red flags at the beginning or end of your interview. The beginning is where you’re making the positive impression and the end is where you leave them with that impression. If you must bring it up (and you have control as to where it is brought up), bring it up in the middle. Briefly describe the situation, acknowledge your error, take responsibility for your actions and the consequences of it and try to turn it into a positive point in your growth. And then move on!Be brief and positive to any question and do not bad mouth your former employer or its employees.Ask questions when the situation calls for it. Ask for clarification if you’re not sure what the interviewer is asking. Develop your own questions about the position and the company and don’t be afraid to ask them.Do not lie – you will be found out and most interviewers are adept at telling when something is just “not quite right”.
The interviewer has asked all of his or her questions and has given you the opportunity to ask yours now. Use this opportunity to get some answers of your own. Remember, the interview is a two-way street. While the interviewer is trying to determine your fit for the company, you need to be objective and determine whether or not it is a fit for you. Asking questions will help you come up with the answer of whether or not it is a place you want to work. Don’t be silent when it comes to this part of the interview – speak up. Let the interviewer know that you are an intelligent person trying to make sure it is the right fit for you as well. As tempting as it would be, however, do NOT bring up the issue of money (in any form) in your questions. Salary and benefits are negotiating points once a job offer is in hand. You will have more wiggle room at negotiations if you wait for the job offer. If you bring up the issue of salary at an initial interview, you can low-ball yourself with a real low salary or knock yourself out of any consideration if your salary goal is out of their line of sight. If the subject of salary and benefits is brought up during your interview, reply with a vague, but thoughtful, response such as, “I would be happy to discuss salary and benefits upon receipt of a firm job offer. Is this something you would like to discuss now?” The interviewer will more than likely quickly back-peddle and return the questions to more interview-ish types. The following are some typical questions you can ask (please feel free to come up with your own):What is a typical work week like?What is the chain of command?Can you give me an example of a typical project?How quickly are you hoping to fill the position?When can I expect to hear back?
Congratulations! You made it through the interview! You’re not done yet, however. As soon as you get home, write a hand-written thank you note to the interviewer for their time. Briefly sum up the interview and its highlights. Thank the individual for their time and reiterate that you’re looking forward to the next step in the hiring process. Sign it and mail it.
The Interview and You
What not to do What to doAnd how to do it
Tools you will needfor this workshop: Pen or Pencil A pad of paper, spiral notebook, 3 ring binder or journal of some sort – your Job Search JournalThe purpose of the Job Search Journal is to have one placewhere all your job search tools are located. This will makeit easier for you to develop your résumé, prepare forinterviews and keep track of your job searching efforts.
The Dawn of the Interview (Armstrong and Miller, 2009) Click here to view on the web
Company & Position Research Research the Company Internet presence Company philosophy Target market Details about the company you’re applying to Local, Corporate, Franchise Know the job you’re applying for Job title Where does it fit How do you fit within the company Know your strengths & weaknesses in relation to the position
Interview Preparation Review typical interview questions What do you know about our company? What motivates you to do a good job? Tell me about a problem and how you solved it. What is your biggest weakness/strength? What was your greatest accomplishment/failure and what did you learn from it? You have one minute to convince me you’re the best candidate – begin. Prepare your “elevator speech” – the 30-90 second response to “Tell me about yourself”. The elevator speech is a succinct way to impart your most desirable skills Don’t go into your life history, instead focus on the unique skills you have that will benefit the company
ReflectionTake a few moments and write down threequestions that might be the hardest for youto answer in your Job Search Journal.Highlight or put stars by them. These willbe the first questions you work on for your interview.These questions may be from the list on the previousslide or from your own research.
It’s Interview Day!Do Don’t Dress Appropriately Arrive late Know where you’re going Forget to bring extra copies of Arrive no more than 15 your résumé minutes early Forget to turn off your cell Maintain a friendly rapport phone with front office staff Ignore front office staff or Review your notes while others waiting Fidget Make eye contact and smile
(Howcast.com, 2008)Click here to view on the web
What to do in an interview Give the information asked Know what the company for – no more, no less does Maintain eye contact Do not introduce potential Don’t fidget “red flags” at the beginning Talk briefly about what you or end of your interview have learned from your Do not bad mouth a mistakes if asked – former employer or acknowledge and take company responsibility Turn negatives into Know what position you’re positives applying for Be brief and positive Ask for clarification when Do ask questions needed Do not lie
Journal Time!Prepare your Elevator speech. Pick out three of your most importantattributes and highlight them in a 60 second response to “Tell meabout yourself”.Remember, this is not set in stone – merely a stepping off point to getyou thinking.
It’s your turn now…When the interviewer is done asking his questions, you will be given an opportunity to ask your own. Use this opportunity to get some answers of your own. An interview is a 2-way street in which both parties are determining their “fit”. Do not walk out of there without asking at least two thoughtful questions such as: What is a typical work week like? What is the chain of command? Can you give me an example of a typical project? How quickly are you hoping to fill the position? When can I expect to hear back? Do NOT ask about salary or benefits – this is not the time
Follow Up• When you get home, write a hand-written thank you note to theinterviewer• Sum up the highlights from the interview• Reaffirm your interest in the position and the unique skills youwill bring to the company• Thank the interviewer for their time• Let them know that you are looking forward to the next step inthe process• Mail your thank you letter via the Postal Service - thispersonalization will put you ahead of those who may email or notsend a letter at all
Use your Journal to:• Answer three tough interview questions that you may be asked• List your major accomplishments• Develop your Elevator Speech• Write down interview dates, who you spoke with, how you felt during and after• Keep all pertinent information together, in one place• Anything that will help you prepare for your job search
ReferencesArmstrong, A., & Miller, B. (Creators). BBC (Poster) (2009, November 16). The origins of job interviews. [Video].Carpenter, D. (n.d.). Dressing for the interview. [Cartoon]. Retrieved from www.cartoonstock.com. Search id: dcr0197.Huhman, H. (2011, January 7). Picking clothes for an interview. Come Recommended. [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://comerecommended.com.Khall. (Poster). Howcast.com. (Editor).(2008, February 28). How to ace a job interview. [Video]. Retrieved from http://howcast.com/videos/2055-How-To- Ace-a-Job-Interview.King, C. (n.d.). How to craft an effective elevator speech. Powerful Presentations. Retrieved from http://www/creativekeys.net.