Secrets to Interviewing Success
If you “build the resume employers want” chances are good that you’ll be invited to interview with the company or organization that you’ve tailored it to. If you are, you’ll need to make sure that you present yourself as effectively in person as you did on paper (or online). By learning more about what an interview entails, practicing your answers to commonly asked question, and planning for the interview overall, you will gain the skills and confidence necessary to impress an employer and, ultimately, receive a job offer. Here is some practical advice on what to do before, during, and after an interview to increase your likelihood of getting the job you want.
The purpose of an interview is for you and an employer to get acquainted, learn about one another, and explore the possibility of working together. If you are seriously interested in a career with a particular company, you must know as much about the employer and industry as possible. Preparing for a job interview requires you to do some homework. You can research the company and industry via the company’s Web site and the Internet in general, your campus career center, business directories in your local library, and industry and trade journals. You also should ask the employer to send you company information and a complete job description for the position.
As you research the company, be sure to note the following:
- Names and job titles of key contacts
- Whether the company is privately or publicly owned
- Products and/or services the company offers
- Year of incorporation
- Number of employees
- Principal locations and subsidiaries
- Types of customers
- Key competitors
- Sales and profit trends
- Possible future ventures
Incorporating your knowledge of the company into the interview will impress the employer. Your awareness of any challenges the compnay faces or needs that it has will confirm your interest in working there.
You can never be sure what you will be asked during an interview, but certain questions are likely to arise (See “Interview Q&A” section). Anticipate these questions and rehearse your responses to them in advance. Start by jotting down key concepts to include in your responses. Next, think through the responses in your head, then say them out loud in front of a mirror. You may also want to practice them with a friend, or better yet participate in a “mock interview.” Mock interviewing is when you sit down and talk with someone from business and industry or a staff member from your career center and pretend you are actually in an interview situation. Trained professionals can provide you with valuable feedback regarding your performance. It is also helpful to videotape the mock interview session so you can see yourself in action, and so the mock interviewer can point our your interviewing strengths and weaknesses.
When preparing your responses to possible interview questions, avoid giving vague or unsubstantiated answers. Always use specific examples, comparisons and/or descriptions to support your answer. For example, if a recruiter asks “What is your greatest strength?” say something on the order of “I’m extremely detailed oriented” and elaborate by adding, “In my last job, I reorganized the entire bookkeeping system.” Through your response, you should present yourself as someone who will be committed to the organization and its goals, who will work hard to succeed, and who will fit into the company. Emphasize your enthusiasm, capability, flexibility, confidence, resourcefulness, and strong work ethic in both your words and your mannerisms. Practice being positive and confident.
Now that you've practiced and prepared yourself for the interview, you can effectively market yourself. This is accomplished both verbally and nonverbally. First off, don't be late for the interview! Map out or drive the route the day before your interview if you are unfamiliar with the location of the company. Your attire and behavior needs to be impeccable and professional. Your choice of outfit should be industry appropriate. A general rule is to dress according to how your supervisor would dress for a formal meeting at the organization. When you arrive, introduce yourself to the receptionist and give the name of the person with whom you are interviewing. When the interviewer comes out to greet you, offer a firm handshake. After you are escorted to the interview room, stand until offered a seat.
In addition to your attire and greeting, the interviewer will be assessing you in the following behaviors:
- Did you make appropriate eye contact?
- Did you remember and correctly pronounce her/his name?
- Did you hold you materials in your left hand so you could easily shake with your right?
- Did you talk easily or were you overly formal and reserved?
- Did you seem enthusiastic?
Studies have demonstrated that successful candidates are those who find a balance between listening and speaking. Those who talk too much or too little do not get hired. According to Richard Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, the reason for this is that if you talk too much about yourself, you come across as someone who would ignore the needs of the organization. Conversely, if you talk too little, you may seem like you are tying to hide something about your background. It is important to find a balance.
An effective technique to keep the interview conversational is to use the "reversal." This is when you attached a related question on the end of one of your answers. For example, if you are asked, "What is the greatest contribution you can see yourself making in this position?," give your answer then ask, "How does this correlate with what you are looking for in a candidate?"
Other questions you can raise in the interview include:
- Would you describe an average day on the job?
- What is the history of this position? Why is it vacant?
- What aspects of the job would you like to see improved?
- What are the key challenges and/or problems facing the person in this position?
- Is there room for professional growth and upward mobility?
- How would you describe the ideal candidate?
- When, how and by whom would I be evaluated? What are the performance criteria?
- With whom would I be working? Who would be my supervisor? Who would I supervise?
- What is the department's environment/culture like?
- What is the next step in the hiring process? Will there be additional interviews?
- When will you make the hiring decision? May I call you? When is a good time?
Remember, the intent of the interview for both you and the employer is to determine if you are a good fit for the company. Following the interview, write down your assessment of the process. Include the basics such as the name and title of the person with whom you interviewed, details of the job, ways you could improve your performance in the interview, and the next stop in the hiring process. Additionally, take the opportunity to reflect on your reactions to the experience, try to determine if the job is right for you. Did the job description match your interests and abilities? Did the employees seem enthusiastic about their work? Did you like the management style? Did this seem like a good place to work? Did the organization's culture and values match yours?
The keys to a successful interview are knowledge and confidence, which come from preparation and practice. Know the company, the industry and, of course, yourself. This will help you and the employer determine if you are the right person for the job and if the job is right for you.