Job Interview Advice
Preparation is the key to a successful interview.
Thinking about the kind of information the employer is likely to seek will help you prepare. Basically, there are four questions the recruiter wants answered:
- What job does the candidate want?
- Can the person do the job?
- Will the person do the job?
- Will the person be compatible with the existing team?
1. What job does the candidate want?
The worst possible answer to this question is “I’m willing to do anything.” Employers are looking to hire someone who WANTS to do the job they are interviewing for. They are not looking for someone who applied because there happened to be an opening. You must be able to explain what interests you about the job and WHY. This means you have to do your research first.
Information about the organization can be obtained by talking with the contact person scheduling your interview and researching via the Internet. Obviously, company websites are a good place to start, but there are many business databases to assist you in conducting your pre-interview research. Visit your local library’s database category or request assistance from the Reference Desk Assistants to find appropriate databases to assist you in your search for organization coverage. You will be able to find out a range of information depending on how much business this organization does and how long they have been in existence.
Questions to ask in your research:
- Ask about the interview process.
- Ask for a written job description. This will be very helpful when trying to identify specific skills on which to focus.
- Ask an employee of the company if you have a contact, or an employee in a similar type of position what personality traits and skills are most useful for this type of position.
- Who are the organization’s clients?
- What products or services are offered to its customers?
- What is management’s philosophy (this may be online via mission/vision statements).
- What are the goals of the organization. How do they evaluate their success?
- Will the skills you enjoy using the most get used on a regular basis?
For more information regarding using the Internet to research companies, or job-hunting on the Internet, see Richard Bolles’ book, Employer Research Guide, Job-Hunting on the Internet.
2. Can the person do the job?
Preparing for the interview requires that you assess your interests and skills and how they fit with the position for which you are interviewing. Take time to identify skills you have and would enjoy using, as well as those you would rather not use in a job setting. If you need assistance with this, conduct a self assessment with a career counselor.
Make a list of pertinent functions of the job and the skills needed to get the job done. Then make a list of your experiences and how you have developed and strengthened your skills. Doing this exercise will help you articulate your experiences to an interviewer. You will also have a list of examples ready to support your assertions.
One of the best ways to prove your ability to perform is to give examples of past achievements. A simple story describing the situation and what you accomplished (the outcome) is often adequate. If you can then translate the achievement into a potential benefit for the interviewer’s organization this is even better.
When I worked with XYZ Consulting I noticed that we weren’t winning a high proportion of the projects we were bidding for in a service area. I decided we needed to learn more about how our competitors were bidding so I developed and implemented a strategy to study our competitors. From this I was able to identify ways to strengthen our project proposals which resulted in a 45% increase in our revenue from this area in the following 12 months. What this means to your organization is that I have the initiative and commercial awareness to see and do what is needed to improve your bottom line.
All employers are looking for communication skills, honesty/integrity, interpersonal skills, motivation and initiative, a strong work ethic, and teamwork skills. They also want someone who can get along with their supervisor and coworkers. If you are not sure what skills to stress, stress these! Make sure to have examples ready to demonstrate these key skills.
3. Will the person do the job?
Probably 90% of the candidates a recruiter meets could do the job for which they are applying, but most employers are not looking for employees to just do the job; they want employees who will excel. To that end, a recruiter will try to determine what the candidate’s leadership and performance have been in the recent past so that reasonable estimations can be made for your potential performance in the position you are interviewing for. Therefore, you need to give clear examples of what you have recently done that was “beyond the normal call of duty.”
4. Will the person be compatible with the existing team?
In today’s workplace, it is critical that people work well together and have respect for their fellow employees. If other factors are equal, your personal skills – or lack thereof – can tip the scales in either direction. You need to demonstrate as many positive attributes as possible, including your ability to work well with people.
Communicate the following attitudes in your interview:
- You are willing to work. Give examples of your productivity on past jobs.
- You are committed to learning. Demonstrate this through examples of learning experiences.
- You are flexible. Employers want employees who can adjust, work well with others and fit into a new environment without complaints or special requests.
- You expect to make a contribution. Emphasize what you can do for the company.
- You work well with others. Give past examples of your role when working with a team.
Job Interview Tips and Advice:
- Plan your appearance. Dress a step above what the best employee for that job would wear.
- Bring extra copies of your resume as well as a list of references.
- Bring a portfolio of work samples if appropriate.
- Communcate positive non-verbal signals (smile, posture, eye-contact).
- When answering any interview question, take your time! Silence in an interview is OK if you need to think before you respond to a question.
- Be prepared to expand on any item on your resume involving your work experience, education, volunteer activities, etc.
- Handle difficult questions. Give direct, honest answers and take your time. If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated or clarified.
- Prepare for behavior-based interviews. They consist of very specific questions about past behavior, which are typically followed up with more probing questions. Questions will begin with phrases like: “Tell me about a time when…”, “Give me a specific example of…”, or “Describe a situation where…”To prepare for behavioral questions:Review the position qualifications and characteristics typically desired of a person in that type of position. Identify specific examples from your past experience that illustrate the skills or attributes. You might also want to identify at least three accomplishments of which you are proud in general. You should have examples such as teamwork, initiative, problem solving, using analytical skills, overcoming an obstacle, leadership, and going above and beyond what was expected.Answer behavioral questions with the S.T.A.R. method:
Situation—describe the situation in detail while being concise and straightforward
Task—detail what your task or obstacle was (even in a group setting)
Action—detail what your actions were to complete the task or overcome the obstacle
Result—detail what the result of your action was and the outcome of the situation
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview.
- Communicate your interest in the position and ask what the next steps in the interview process will be.
- Send thank you emails/notes to the interview person or panel with whom you interviewed within 24 hours of the interview.
Sample Job Interview Questions
- Tell me about yourself.
This question gets asked at nearly every interview. You may want to mention the highlights of your education, your experience (especially as it relates to the job you are applying for), and your career goals (they should be in-line with what the company has to offer). You might tell them why you are interested in this position/company. You might tell them why they should hire you. Your answer should be about 1 minute. Do not reiterate your resume.
- Why did you leave your last position OR why are you leaving your current position?
- What salary are you looking for OR how much are you making currently?
- Why do you want this job OR what interests you about working for us?
Your answer should reflect research. Talk about something you discovered that will stand out to the interviewer. Not just their training program, but the company’s values. The interviewer wants to know that you respect their organization.
- Why should I hire you?
You should have an understanding of the job you are interviewing for and the type of candidate the employer is looking for (their strengths, skills, personality, etc.) Identify several themes about yourself that fit what the employer is looking for. Then think of examples that demonstrate those themes.
- What is the most significant contribution you made to the company during your last job?
Tell a story about an accomplishment that added value to the company, demonstrating skills that show initiative or resilience. Tell the interviewer about the options and the outcome of your work.
- What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Be honest. You’ll show credibility and integrity. While mistakes aren’t rewarded, those who make mistakes aren’t shot either. Sometimes making a mistake can show that you’ve pushed yourself to the limit. Be careful, however, to concentrate your answer on describing what you learned from you mistake. Your example should demonstrate your ability to confront and resolve a difficult situation in a responsible manner.
- Is there anything you were afraid I was going to ask you about today?
Most importantly, keep your cool. Many people blurt out the question that they didn’t want asked – and raise new questions in the Interviewer’s mind. You should already have thought about the worst question you could possibly face, and you should have an answer ready.
- Tell me about the positive and negative aspects of your last job.
You should say you liked your last job, even if you didn’t. That goes for former managers as well. Negatives should be kept as neutral as possible. Make sure that the negative aspect of your past job would not be present in this job. For example, don’t say that the company you used to work for was “too small” if the company you are interviewing with is also small.
- Are you looking at other employers? Do you have any offers?
Of course you are looking at other employers. You want to make the most informed decision you can, so you have to explore all of your options. You do not need to imply that you have other job offers if you do not.
- What experience would you like to gain here?
Stress what you have to offer the company more than what the company can offer you.
- Describe your ideal work environment/job.
Try to be sure that the answer you offer closely correlates with the environment/job at the company you’re interviewing with. If it does not, the interviewer may wonder if you will be satisfied or happy with the position.
- What do you know about our company?
You want to show that you’ve done your homework. You want to sound smart, professional, and serious enough about the job to have taken the time to do an Internet search and asked around about the company. You should always take the time to do this kind of preparation for an interview, but you’d be surprised at how many people fail to take the time. Lack of preparation is a common complaint among Interviewers, and if you are prepared, you will stand out among your competitors. State how what you have learned about the organization relates to your career goals.
- What is your greatest weakness?
Choose something that is not critical to the job you are interviewing for or something the employer already knows based on your resume (i.e., lack of industry experience). Be honest. Discuss a real weakness and how you overcame it.
- What skills do you want to learn or improve?
Choose skills that are required for the job you are interviewing for, but make sure you don’t sound as if you have no other skills. You might talk about your skill at market research, using an example, and then discuss how you would like to strengthen that skill.
- If you are hired, how long will you stay with this company?
Definitely do not tell them you plan on leaving after two years. Focus on the positive aspects of the job. For example, “As long as the work is challenging and I have the opportunity to learn and advance, I would see no reason to leave.” Make sure there is opportunity to advance before you use this answer.
- How do you work under pressure?
Walk the middle ground here. You don’t want to sound like pressure is the only thing that will get you to do your work, but you don’t want to sound like you can’t tolerate stress, pressure or deadlines either.
- What is your greatest strength?
You know what you are good at, so be proud of it. Choose a talent that would benefit the job you are interviewing for. Many strengths, such as efficiency, would be valuable in any job
- What role do you tend to play in groups?
There are four types of roles people tend to play in groups: the leader, the creative idea generator, the completer-finisher, and the analyzer/interpreter. All of these roles are equally important, and the best groups contain at least one member from each category.
Sample Behavioral Interview Questions
The more you know about a particular job, the easier it will be to identify the critical job skills, and therefore, anticipate questions the interviewer might ask. Notice that your answer to one question may easily answer several different questions. That is OK – you don’t have to have a unique answer for each and every question. In a typical 30 minute interview, you will answer 7 – 10 questions, and not all of them will be behavioral.
Here are some common behavioral questions:
- Tell me about a difficult decision you have made.
- Tell me about an obstacle you overcame.
- Tell me about a time you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with.
- Tell me about a time you went above and beyond what was expected.
- Tell me about a situation you wish you had handled differently.
- Think of the last team you were a member of. What would your team members say you did well? What would they say you could improve upon?
- Tell me about a time a teammate didn’t do their fair share of work. What did you do? What was the result? (Remember to tell the interview what YOU did, not what the team did).
- Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership. Initiative.
- Tell me about a time you had to deal with a crisis.
- Tell me about a time you had trouble with a boss or coworker (or team member).
- Tell me about a time you had too much on your plate. How did you handle it?
- Tell me about an accomplishment you are proud of and why.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you sold someone on an idea or concept. How did you proceed? What was the result?
- Describe the system you use for keeping track of multiple projects. How do you track your progress so that you can meet deadlines? How do you stay focused?
- Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline. What things did you fail to do? What were the repercussions? What did you learn?
- Describe a specific goal you set for yourself and how you went about meeting it. What factors led to your success in meeting your goals?
Questions for the Interviewer
You need to have some questions prepared for when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?” Otherwise you will be perceived as uninterested. Your questions don’t have to be “profound” – they can be very simple. You don’t need to have 20 questions, 3 to 5 will do. Here are some questions worth asking:
- What would be my primary responsibilities?
- What would I be expected to accomplish in the first six months on the job? In the first year?
- What are some of the department’s ongoing and anticipated special projects?
- How much contact or exposure does the department staff have with management?
- Describe your ideal candidate.
- Describe a typical day.
- What do you like best/least about working for this department/company?
- Can you describe a typical workday in the department?
- What are the possibilities for professional growth and promotion?
- How much interaction do you have with superiors, colleagues, and customers?
- How long have you been with the company? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Job Interview Coaching & Mock Interviews
Job interview advice and preparation is available through our career counselors. Your career counselor can conduct a mock interview with you and provide feedback to help you shine. Practice, practice, practice is what will help you stand out from others in the interview process. Remember, the employer is only interviewing candidates whose resume indicates they can do the job. Our career coaches can practice questions with you and give you feedback and help you identify specific accomplishments to highlight in the interview process.
Click here to schedule an appointment with a career counselor for interview preparation for your next job or graduate school interview.
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