After creating your resume, cover letter and completing applications, the interview is your time to show the interviewer your personality and sell your skills. An employer’s goal during an interview is to find a candidate that will be a good “fit” within their organization. This means you need to explain how your personality and beliefs make you a good fit for the position in addition to your education and experiences.
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- Interview time
- Interviewer’s name and title
- Parking suggestions
- Interview format (see section below)
Research the company and have a solid understanding of the position you are interviewing for. To begin, look at the company’s website. Look over the sections that explain more about their company, products and services, and click on additional links that may provide deeper insight into their company culture (blog, social media links, etc.). You can also research companies on LinkedIn.com, Glassdoor.com and ReferenceUSA.com.
Practice answering common interview questions, as well as more specific questions you may be asked related to the position. You can use the position description as your guide. Prepare questions to ask the interviewer that reflect your knowledge of the position and company. You can find common interview questions at the end of this handout.
Upon arriving at the interview location, remember these tips:
- Check in 10 minutes early, but no more than 15 minutes early.
- Bring extra copies of your materials in a padfolio.
- Greet the receptionist politely.
- Provide a firm handshake coupled with a smile and good eye contact.
For many professional positions the expectation is a suit will be worn, even if the everyday dress is casual. If unsure, you may want to evaluate the dress code of the organization and dress above that level.
- Less is more: Limit fragrances, jewelry, make-up, loud or distracting clothing.
- Dress above what the job requires.
- Hair and nails should be well groomed.
- Prepare an outfit well in advance. If tailoring or pressing is needed, it can take up to a week or more.
- Mints are appropriate to freshen breath prior to an interview; never chew gum.
The structure of an interview will depend on the interviewer. It is common for interviewers to have a set list of questions, however, the interviewer may choose to take a more casual approach. Because you will not know which format your interview will be, preparing answers to possible questions will assist you in either situation.
- Structured interviews tend to follow a set list of questions and procedures for each interview.
- Unstructured interviews tend to be more casual and conversational.
There are a variety of interview formats you may experience during the interview process. Those listed below may be at the beginning of the process (also known as a screening interview) or during the middle or final stages of the interview.
- One-on-One Interviews: Hiring manager and interviewee.
- Group Interviews: Several candidates interview as a group.
- Panel Interviews: A hiring panel (usually five or six people) interviews the candidate simultaneously.
- Series Interviews: Consists of a series of two+ interviews with different people or groups throughout the day.
- Phone Interviews: Over the phone (many times this is treated as a screening interview).
- Skype/Webcam Interviews: Skype or over the internet.
Finally, ask each interviewer for his/her business card, shake each individual’s hand, and thank them for their time. You will use the information on business cards to send thank you notes to each interviewer.
- Format: This may be a hard copy note sent in the mail or an email. The format you send may be determined by the interview timeline. If your interviewer set up interview logistics by email, they may prefer an email. If the timeline for hiring is a week or more out, you may be able to send a hard copy thank you note. Please note: if you have poor handwriting, you may want to consider sending an email or typed hard copy note.
- Who to send to: A thank you note should be sent to every person who interviewed you. This is why it is important to get a business card from each individual. If a large panel interviewed you during a long day of interviews, you may have been unable to get all of the names/business cards. If this happens, simply send a note to the main contact and ask for it to be passed to the whole group.
- What to include: Thank the interviewer for the opportunity to interview. Restate skills/experiences you believe make you the most qualified candidate, and add anything you may not have been able to talk about. If you connected with the interviewer on any topic, feel free to mention this. Finally, send anything additional the employer may have asked you to send after the interview (credentials, references, etc.).
- Know the exact time and location of the interview
- Arrive 10 minutes early
- Treat others you meet with courtesy as he/she may have an impact on the hiring decision
- Offer a firm handshake
- Listen! Though you may be extremely nervous, this is a very important piece of the interview.
- Have confidence!
- Restate your interest in the position upon leaving
- Be energetic, enthusiastic, positive, and ensure you show your personality
- Fidget in your seat, click pens, crack fingers
- Be negative or cynical
- Lie or ramble in your answers
- Demonstrate a lack of interest or a narrow point of view
- Speak negatively of past supervisors or coworkers
- Leave without saying thank you
S – Situation
T – Task
A – Action
R – Result
Example: Tell me about a time you set a goal and were successful in achieving it.
- Situation: As a student programmer in our student life office, I was responsible for creating a student training timeline and my goal was to execute the event under budget.
- Task: We had over 30 student organization leaders attending the three day training. I was tasked with scheduling sessions, collaborating with other team members to create and fill training sessions, order food, and more.
- Action: After creating the training schedule, I began calculating costs of food, travel, materials and additional fees, and realized I would be a bit over budget. I spoke with my supervisors and sought advice for how to cut expenses.
- Result: After consulting with my supervisors, I was able to utilize their suggestions and additional resources to find more affordable options for food and materials, cutting my budget by $200, resulting in the training coming in under budget. The support of my staff was invaluable and taught me that open communication with my team helps elevate a project, as well as meet specific goals.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Tell me something I wouldn’t know from your resume.
- Why did you leave your last job?
- What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
- What are your short/long-term goals?
- Why are you interested in our company? What do you know about the company? How does this fit into your overall career goals?
- How would your peers/subordinates/supervisor describe you?
- Why should we hire you? What makes you unique in comparison to other candidates?
- How do you manage/resolve conflict?
- Tell me about your most difficult decision.
- Tell me how you handled an ethical dilemma.
- How would you describe your leadership style? What kinds of leadership roles have you held? Describe your biggest leadership challenge.
- How do you motivate team members? How do you cope with change?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to develop leaders under you.
- Tell me about a situation or position where you took extra initiative and assumed responsibilities that were beyond your written or understood job description.
Difficult to Answer “Negative” Questions
- What did you like least about your last position?
- How have you successfully worked with difficult people? Describe the kind of individuals who are difficult for you to work with.
- Tell me about a time when you tried to accomplish something and were unsuccessful. What actions did you take? What were the results?
- Tell me about a time you failed and the impact it had on you.
- Describe the most challenging customer service experience you’ve had and how you handled it.
Interpersonal / Communication / Teamwork
- What role do you typically play on a team?
- What kinds of people do you like to work with?
- Tell me about a time when you were faced with conflicting priorities. How did you determine the top priority?
- Describe a project you accomplished as part of a team or work group. What was your role and what were your specific contributions to the project’s success?
- Tell me about a presentation you had to give. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- What are the three most important things to you in a new position?
- What values drive you in your professional career?
- How do you personally define success?
- What has been your toughest professional challenge?
- What professional experience has been most valuable to you?
Creativity and Innovation
- Tell me about a time when you were creative in solving a problem.
- Describe a time when you were able to come up with new ideas that were key to the success of an activity or project.
- Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a problem with no rules or guidelines in place.
- Tell me about a time when you felt you went beyond the call of duty in helping a client or customer.
- Tell me about a situation in which you were proud of the way you handled a customer problem. Tell me specifically what you did to achieve a positive result.
Salary (Please see the Salary Negotiation handout for more information)
- What has been your salary history?
- What are your salary requirements?
- What is your religious affiliation?
- Are you pregnant?
- What is your political affiliation?
- What is your race, color or ethnicity?
- How old are you?
- Are you disabled?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children or plan to?
- Are you in debt?
- Do you socially drink or smoke
Three Ways to Answer Illegal Interview Questions
From Todd Anten (originally published on Yahoo Hot Jobs)
Most interviewers are not out to discriminate against job applicants. Many of the illegal questions that interviewers ask are unintentional — in fact, if you tactfully point out the question is illegal, the interviewer will likely realize his or her gaffe and immediately retract the question.
The challenge for you is to figure out what to say while you’re sitting in that chair, faced with an illegal question. You have three basic options:
- Just answer the question. If you don’t mind providing the information and you don’t want to make waves, you can respond to the question and move on to the next one. Keep in mind, however, that you should only answer the question if you truly are comfortable providing the information — it could come back to haunt you.
- Refuse to answer the question. Inform the interviewer that the question doesn’t seem to be legal or relevant to the specific requirements of the job. Be forewarned, though, that such a direct response should really be saved for questions that are offensive or deeply troubling.
- Don’t answer the question, but answer the intent behind the question. This is usually the best option, since it allows you to provide a tactful answer without sacrificing your rights. To answer the intent behind the question, try to figure out what the interviewer REALLY wants to know. For example, if the interviewer asks if you are a U.S. citizen (which is an illegal question), a smart answer would be, “If you mean to ask if I am legally authorized to work for you, the answer is yes.” In cases like these, it’s best to rephrase the question into a legal one and then answer it. This displays flexibility and composure — strong job skills.
- To whom does the position report? May I meet my supervisor?
- Describe the organization’s structure. How would you describe the culture of the office/organization?
- How does this position interact with other departments?
- What are the next steps in the hiring process?
- What is it like to work here? What do you like about working here?
- Describe your job/role here. What do you enjoy most about your job? Least?
- Describe how work gets done here. As a team? As independent contributors?
- How are decisions made?
- How will this position influence you? Your group/department?
- How would you describe the organization culture?
- How long have you been with the company?
- Please describe a typical day on the job.
- What are upcoming projects/tasks that you will be working on?
- In what direction is the business moving?
- What opportunities exist for professional growth and development?
- Can you explain the performance review process, or how I would be evaluated?
- What makes your organization different from your competitors?
- Describe the typical first year assignments for this position.
- What, specifically, are you looking for in the candidate you hire for this position?
- What personal qualities, skills, or experience would help someone do well in this position?
- What do you see as the greatest challenge in this position?
- How would you describe your management/leadership style?
- What are your 60/90/120 day goals for this position?
- What is your vision for this department/division?
- How does this position interact with other departments?
- How can I be most successful in this role?
- What is the next step in the hiring process?