Career Library Interviewing Resources
TYPES OF INTERVIEWS Screening/Directed: very common. Used as the first step in an interview process. It is often structured and rather impersonal. The interviewer usually has a checklist of specific questions that must be asked of everyone interviewed. Some are timed and extremely fast-paced. The interviewer will often make notations about your responses while you are answering. Your challenge is to show that you meet or exceed the minimum qualifications. Your goal is to secure a personal, face-to-face interview with the hiring manager.
Telephone/computer: phone and interactive computer interviews are becoming more popular as businesses seek to reduce costs and people are applying for positions that require relocation. These are screening interviews in which employers can “meet” you without spending a great deal of money on air fare and hotels. By using the phone or a computer, they are able to narrow down their selections and then invite you to their site for further interviews if you are among their top choices for the position. Because of the lack of direct contact, it is especially important to use excellent communication skills such as listening, enunciating, and clarifying.
Non-directed: loosely structured, open dialogue. The questions are more broad and general, usually open-ended, and give you a chance to elaborate and gain some control of the interview. It is an excellent format for bringing out your personality. It is also common for interviewers to use a non-directed opening question as an ice-breaker, and then to follow with more structured, criterion-based questions.
Stress: candidate is treated in a somewhat brutal way, sometimes with long periods of silence, harsh challenges to your opinions, brusqueness, and other attitudes or behaviors intended to produce discomfort. This extreme is rather rare, but the approach is used to some degree and for some parts of many interviews.
On-campus: conducted on your turf or neutral territory (as in the SD Business, Industry, and Government Job Fair), in an office, conference room, hallway, or gymnasium. All types of questions and situations can be expected. These are generally screening interviews lasting from 20 to 30 minutes.
On-site: conducted at the place of business, generally with expenses paid by the employer (be sure you know who is paying before you agree to attend). Usually, these interviews are more directed and require more depth of knowledge on your part. You probably have already been screened and this is a follow-up. Be prepared to meet with groups of people, to tour the facility, to have lunch or dinner, perhaps to stay over. In some instances, you may be asked to give a formal presentation. Because it is common to meet with several different people, it is good to have 3 examples of each work skill so that you do not run out of material if asked the same or similar questions.
Lunch/Dinner: lunch may be somewhat relaxed, but you need to stay alert. Beware getting caught up in idle chatter. Sometimes employers do this just to see what happens when you relax. You do need to be genuine and somewhat open, but remember that you are being judged. NEVER joke; if alcohol is served, be sure you have only one drink or none at all; do not smoke. Dinner can be similar, but more formal. Be familiar with good dining etiquette and always let the host make the first move.
Behavioral: interviewer is looking for answers that reflect and illustrate how you actually behaved in certain types of situations. These are not theoretical, but real. Companies are using this type of interview more and more. Although this requires careful preparation, it often yields the best results and provides you with good responses for any type of question. Every work situation is researched to determine the skills needed to succeed. Then the questions are composed to elicit that type of response. To do well, you should recall dozens of experiences and practice sharing them in vivid, yet concise language. You need to give enough detail to provide a mental picture of the situation (S), then explain the problem or obstacle (O), what action you took (A), and what resulted (R). One example of a question might be, “Tell me about a time when you responded well to a high-stress situation.” If you practice this technique, you will improve your chances of SOARing through the interview.
Informational: a low-key interview in which you are seeking information about a given occupation rather than seeking a job. It is part of what we call “networking.” It is both fun and informative. You initiate the contact by asking for a brief appointment or meeting, letting the individual know what you want. If they agree, you dress appropriately, show up on time, and have your questions prepared. Often, the individual will talk so freely that your questions are not even formally used, but are answered as the conversation progresses. Be sure not to overstay your time, show impeccable manners, and thank the person as you leave. If done over the phone, be sure to smile as you speak. In both cases, be sure to send a thank you note within two days. You may need to ask how to spell the person’s name, or ask the receptionist.
Interviewing is a two-way street. You are checking out the potential employer as much as they are checking you. You both have decisions to make. Therefore, you need to research the function and financial strength of the employer, prepare to ask questions of the employer, note the atmosphere and working conditions, and find out whether or not these are people with whom you will be compatible.
Know Yourself. Be able to articulate your skills, personality traits, and work values (what’s important to you on the job). What amount and type of supervision do you prefer? What is your style? What strengths do you bring to a team? With what kind of people do you enjoy working?
Prepare Answers to Anticipated Questions. See the list of sample questions. Practice out loud, then schedule a mock interview.
Know What Skills Employers Are Seeking. A recent survey of employers listed the following traits, in order of importance: oral communication, interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, analytic skills, flexibility, leadership, written communication, proficiency in the field of study, and computer skills. Note that proficiency is 8th on the list! This should be encouraging to every student who has well-developed communication and interpersonal skills, which definitely includes liberal arts majors. Everyone gains proficiency after being hired, often in structured training programs.
Be prepared to give anecdotes that illustrate your information management skills (sorting, compiling, ranking, applying information, synthesizing, understanding and using principles, and evaluating), design and planning skills (identifying alternatives, setting goals, following through, managing time, predicting trends and patterns, accommodating multiple demands), research and investigation skills (using a variety of sources, applying a variety of methods to test data, identifying problems and needs, designing experiments, locating appropriate sources of information, and formulating questions to clarifying problems), communication skills ( listening, paraphrasing, writing in a variety of forms, speaking effectively, and using media to present ideas), human relations and interpersonal skills (working well in a group, delegating, interacting effectively, expressing feelings, understanding feelings of others, teaching, and working under pressure), critical thinking skills (determining pertinent issues in decision making and problem solving, identifying general principles relevant to data and experiences, defining parameters, and reasoning to a conclusion), management and administration skills (analyzing tasks, locating resources to solve problems, delegating responsibility, motivating and leading, and organizing resources to achieve goals), valuing skills (assessing actions for long-term effects, deciding for maximum individual and collective good, and appreciating art, literature, science, or technology in society), and personal/career development skills (learning from experience, transferring skills from one area to another, assessing your strengths and weaknesses, accepting responsibility for your own actions, and marketing yourself to employers).
Research the Prospective Employer. Know their product or service, what positions exist and the skills and responsibilities for each, competitors, markets, climate or culture, traditions, financial status. Where are they located and is relocation necessary? What attracts you to this job? This employer? Start with an annual report and read the letter to the shareholders. Look up a web page. Search for newspaper or trade journal articles. TALK TO PEOPLE who do or did work there. Talk to people in similar jobs.
Dress Appropriately. This is not as simple as it seems. When in doubt, dress more professionally, not more casually. You stand a better chance when over-prepared than arriving and looking shabby or immature. Attend to the details rather than the cost. You can look professional without spending a bundle. Be sure to clean and polish your shoes, press your suit and shirt, have your hair trimmed, etc. Avoid aromas, flashy jewelry, cute or trendy attire, hair in your face, bright colors, excessive make-up/nail polish, textured or colored hosiery (women), short skirts. Women, wearing pants is still considered risky in many interviews, even if perfectly OK on the job. Realize that you are playing a game, the rules are elusive, and it is neither fair nor logical. Learn to work within the system now if you plan to get ahead. One rule of thumb regarding appearance is to look professional, not sexy.
Fields such as banking, finance, and accounting are generally the most conservative, expecting a navy blue suit, plain shirt, silk tie, and traditional business shoes. Women’s blouses should also be plain and white or nearly white, conservative. You should blend in with the rest of the “sea of blue,” as we in the career office used to joke on interview days. Other fields can also follow these rules for office and sales jobs in general. However, the traditions are less restrictive in fields such as design and art. Teaching falls somewhere in the middle, usually expecting a dark suit or conservative, plain dress and jacket. Once hired, you will quickly learn what the employer expects for day-to-day dress.
For additional information and second opinions, use these links:
Arrive Early for the Interview. 15 minutes will usually allow for traffic problems, parking, and locating the office. Many people do a dry run a day or so in advance at the same time of day if they are unfamiliar with the city or area. If you arrive too early, don’t sit in the waiting area, looking nervous! Instead, linger out of site, off premises. Arrive 5-10 minutes early, introduce yourself to the receptionist, and smile.
Show Respect to Secretaries, Receptionists, and Others. Secretaries are often consulted in hiring decisions! In addition, they also offer their opinions even if not asked. Just be sure you make a good impression.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Be prepared to shake hands. Not everyone will offer their hand, but many will. Stand, smile, make eye contact, and get a pleasantly firm grip, thumb to thumb.
Sit in the correct chair. A good host will let you know where you should sit. Sometimes it is obvious, with only two chairs in the room. It is often safe to sit in a chair nearest to the interviewer, unless instructed otherwise. Sit up straight, with your feet on the floor, perhaps crossed at the ankle if you wish. You want to look attentive, but reasonably relaxed.
Expect an opening question. This might be rather casual talk to break the ice and help you relax. Use some judgment and do not reveal things the interviewer should not know. It is always safe to talk about yourself in relation to your career goals and experiences. Even if a question calls for a yes or no answer, do not stop with that. Always give an example or more in-depth information.
Articulate a goal related to this employer. Even if you are open to a variety of jobs, treat each interview as one spot to fill. Employers expect you to have an identifiable short-term goal and perhaps a longer-term goal. For example, one person might have a short-term goal of securing a management trainee position with a large corporation, with the longer goal of working toward a district manager position. Another person might state a goal of an entry-level marketing position that builds on creativity, teamwork, and retail experience, with a longer-term goal of marketing management. What you want to avoid is seeming not to know what you want, or not having enough knowledge to be able to state what you want in typical business language.
Use the interviewer’s name. Most interviewers will be comfortable with Mr. or Ms. If not, they will often be wearing a name tag, knit shirt, and khakis as they interview for Home Depot, AT&T, BMW, or some other company with a casual uniform and work atmosphere. If they specify using a first name, do so; however, be more formal when in doubt.
Expect some nervousness. Excessive nervousness should be dealt with by good preparation. That means you need to practice before you interview with your dream employer! This is a skill that you can improve.
Be aware of your body language. First impressions are very powerful. Use good posture, a smile, appropriate energy, and non-verbal communication. Use a recorded mock interview to become aware of nervous habits that you can eliminate. As you gain skill, your gestures and tone of voice will become more natural. Just be sure you smile.
Do not smoke or chew gum. Turn off your cellular phone or pager.
Listen carefully. You need to understand the question to give a good answer. If unclear, ask for clarification. Most answers should be specific rather than theoretical or general.
Trick questions may be used. One that throws a lot of candidates is “What are your weaknesses?” or “What is the question you hoped I would not ask?” These are opportunities to make or break you. Think before you speak! For weaknesses, be realistic but do not reveal things that can be used against you (failure to meet deadlines, late for appointments, etc.). Select a weakness that is real for you and that you are working to improve, such as formal public speaking, finding time for recreational reading, eating healthy, or some other thing that will be helpful. Always try to present your weakness as a potential asset—attention to your health, for example. In the case of the second question, don’t blurt out something revealing like “I was afraid you’d ask if I’d ever been arrested.” Instead, try something general like asking about some aspect of the company’s operations that you were unable to research effectively.
Occasionally, you will be asked that nightmarish question that throws you for a loop. You should be prepared to discuss this touchy subject in a tactful and positive manner. Often, it means simply acknowledging a negative fact (being fired, failing a course, serving time, etc.) without defensiveness or excuses and then moving forward to show how you are now a better person, having learned invaluable lessons from your mistake. Never blame someone else for your circumstances.
Silence can be your friend. Small pauses are natural and probably shorter than you think. Some questions might require a moment to recall, organize, or consider alternatives. It might even be helpful to say, “I need to think about that for a moment.” Then you can begin speaking, stating that you are offering your tentative response and may need more information or input to be fully confident of your answer. You can even state your assumptions so the interviewer knows what factors you have considered in that short silence.
Build confidence. You need to appear confident in yourself and your ability, but not cocky or arrogant. Willingness and eagerness to learn are close relatives to confidence, so they are good qualities to mention to reinforce your candidacy. Voice quality and tone, speed of speech, facial and other gestures (smile), and other non-verbal qualities help to emphasize your confidence in your ability to do the job.
Be appropriately enthusiastic. No one wants to hire people who look like deadbeats. If you can’t show a little excitement now, you probably won’t later, either. If you are not enthusiastic, maybe this is not the place for you.
Be honest. That does not mean brutal honesty or absolute transparency. It does mean you do not pad or overstate your abilities or experiences, and you are not overly modest about your abilities. It means being consistent (not contradicting yourself) and using candor and sincerity. Be yourself in a polite manner. That way, the employer will see the real you and will know what to expect if you are hired. You want them to hire the real you, so their expectations can be met.
Be specific in your answers. Give examples that include details for each example: when, where, who, what situation, what challenge or problem, how handled, and results. SPEAK NO EVIL. Always speak positively of others and other employers. Do not blame or complain.
Wait for the employer to bring up salary. This is done either routinely as part of information giving, or later when you are a finalist. You can learn what an average salary would be by doing your own research and networking. If asked for a salary, be prepared to give a range that is reasonable, such as $27,000 to $30,000 for a banking position if that is normal for that company, in that location. Check in Career Development & Placement for the latest $alary $urvey. If asked for a salary history or salary requirement, try to avoid a direct answer. College students can legitimately say that they have only had part-time or temporary positions, and are flexible in regard to salary. However, you still need to know what is fair for this job, in this location, with this company. You also need to know cost of living comparisons and your needs (car payment, student loan payment, housing, insurance, etc.). Some employers have a set amount that is always paid to new hires, regardless of experience; others will negotiate.
Interviewers vary. Most do a great job and are skilled professionals. However, a few are less skilled than you might wish. Some will ramble or dominate the time. Some will ask illegal or irrelevant questions. In many such cases, you can actually take control if you are prepared. Find a way to get a word in and back up with some of your assets. Give the kinds of information you would expect the interviewer to want. Talk about the company/agency, so it is obvious that you are prepared. This can be quite effective.
Illegal questions sometimes get asked. These are questions that could be used to discriminate, and they ask for age, marital status, religion, disabilities, dependents, or other such things that have nothing to do with your ability to do the job. If it happens, try not to be defensive in language, tone, or posture. You need to make a choice of whether or not you answer it, and how you will respond. Sometimes, people choose to answer directly, knowing that their answer will not harm them. Some people turn the table a little and inquire as to the purpose of the question. Some find a way to decline to answer, and do so in a respectful way. Occasionally, such a question is simply a mistake made by an inexperienced interviewer. Other times, it is meant to put you on the spot.
Before leaving, be sure you know the interviewer’s name, title, address, and phone. Have correct spellings. If you ask the receptionist for this information, be sure you smile and say thanks.
After leaving, take time to jot down a few notes. Include your good answers, your points that need to be strengthened, what you learned, what your reactions were, etc. This is a good help for your next interview or for a follow-up interview with the same company. Even if you were disappointed with yourself or the company, do not be negative. Instead, note how you can improve next time.
Send a thank you note to the interviewer within 48 hours. Use stationery or note cards that are plain and professional. This can be a short note to simply thank for the opportunity to interview. You may have a reason to add an important point you think is vital to your candidacy.
EMPLOYER RESEARCH ITEMS
Name of the company or organization.
Age of the company or organization.
Products or services offered.
Current problems or challenges.
Locations of plants, offices, or stores.
Major activity of the company.
Description of the position for which you are applying.
Major duties and responsibilities of the position.
Minimum requirements for the position.
Preferred qualities and skills.
Deadline for application and starting date.
Salary range or estimate of what you think is appropriate.
Your related experience and training.
Your indirectly related experience.
Community or school activities that may relate to the position.
Training offered to new employees.
Typical entry level positions in various departments.
Career track for advancement.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Employer web sites, often the company name.com or agency name.org
Search engines may generate a list to help locate appropriate sites
University or public library
Directories are usually helpful
Lexus/Nexus for full-text articles
Wall Street Journal or other newspaper business sections
Career Development and Placement—Resource Library, 217 Student Center
School of Business Career Center web site (sbcc.northern.edu)
Chamber of Commerce
Public Relations or Personnel (Human Resources) Department of the company, asking for printed information
Networking: talking with friends or family who may work for or know someone who works for the company
NEGATIVE EVALUATION FACTORS
Poor personal appearance.
Overbearing, aggressive, conceited, know-it-all, or superiority complex.
Inability to express oneself clearly, poor diction, poor grammar.
Lack of planning for one's career, without purpose or goals.
Lack of interest and enthusiasm, passive, indifferent.
Lack of confidence and poise, excessive nervousness, ill at ease.
Failure to participate in campus activities.
Overemphasis on money, interest only in best dollar amount.
Poor scholastic record, just got by.
Unwilling to start at the bottom, expects too much too soon.
Makes excuses, evasive, hedges on unfavorable factors in record.
Lack of tact.
Lack of maturity.
Lack of courtesy, ill mannered.
Condemnation of past employers or supervisors.
Marked dislike for school work.
Lack of vitality, lazy.
Failure to look interviewer in the eyes.
Limp, disinterested handshake.
Unhappy married life.
Friction with parents or roommates.
Sloppy application form or résumé.
Merely shopping around.
Wants job for only a short time.
Little sense of humor.
Lack of knowledge of field or specialization.
Parents make decisions for you.
No interest in company or industry.
Too much emphasis on who you know.
Unwillingness to go where company sends you.
Low moral or ethical standards.
Intolerant, strong prejudices.
Poor handling of personal finances (some companies do credit checks on finalists).
No interest in community activities.
Inability to take criticism.
Lack of appreciation of the value of experience.
Late to interview without solid reason.
Never heard of company.
Failure to express appreciation for interviewer’s time (ill-mannered).
Asks no questions about the job or company.
Indefinite responses to questions.
TURNING YOUR WEAKNESSES INTO STRENGTHS
You are not an obvious leader. Most jobs require teamwork, with people who are able to accept guidance and carry out assignments. The fact that you are a capable follower is a strength.
You are young. All careers begin with young people. You have the energy and enthusiasm that accompanies youth.
You are inexperienced. Newcomers often have an open mind, are flexible and don’t need to “unlearn” habits formed on another job. Much of your knowledge must be picked up on the job anyway.
You are applying for your first full-time job. There are no preconceived ideas about your work role. You are prepared to learn what to do and to work within the employer’s guidelines.
You have not taken any courses related to the work. Most jobs require a general educational background and your education provides the basics to which you will add the technical knowledge required for specific positions. You have learned to learn, and you enjoy it.
You are shy. People who are shy tend to listen carefully and to perform well because they can follow directions well.
You don’t have very good grades. Perhaps school was only a part of your life and much of your learning took place during extracurricular activities, on paid and volunteer jobs, and through community organizations. Actually, achievements in these kinds of activities may be a better predictor of success on the job than grades. It is possible that you had to adjust to college life and to develop a time management strategy that worked for you. Many students can claim a very respectable GPA during the last three years of college.
You have a disability. A job is particularly important to you. Presumably, the duties will be within your abilities. You want the job and are determined to do well at it, both for your sake and the employer’s. You do not need to bring up a disability at all unless you have a job offer and you will need accommodations. If you need to consult about this, call Career Development & Placement or Disability Services for an appointment.
You have children and may have to leave work right on time. There are few jobs as complex as raising children. You have had to learn to handle many different kinds of things efficiently. You know how to work hard, to establish priorities, and to meet deadlines. You may also be highly motivated.
You were fired from a previous job. Don’t blame your employer or another employee, at least not in the interview. If the subject comes up, emphasize what you learned from the experience to make you a stronger person, better worker, etc.