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The Interview

Interviewing Tips

Interviewing is both art and science. To be most successful, one must understand the process, prepare for known situations, and anticipate the next move.

An interview is much like a final examination. You are not prepared for this experience unless you have anticipated the questions. If you know the questions, you can prepare the appropriate responses. Listed below are typical interview questions. Write out responses for these questions. Written responses will force you to organize your thoughts and allow you to critique your replies.

Interview Questions

Interview questions are divided into two groups: Behavioral and Traditional.

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral Interview Questions always seek to identify your past experiences. To determine which questions to ask, the recruiter first identifies those skills and abilities needed to successfully perform the job for which you are applying. The philosophy behind this type of interview is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. This has become a very popular and widely used interview style. Expect more and more recruiters to use this type of interview.

To prepare for a behavioral interview, evaluate the position. List the skills and abilities needed for the job. Select the five most important. Then think of three examples that show how you have used those skills or abilities well. At the same time, think of one example when you didn't use that skill well. Take time to determine what you learned about yourself from that negative experience. Well-trained recruiters will look for what they call 'contrary evidence' to create a balanced picture of a candidate.

Recruiters who use this style are trained to be patient. Even though these are difficult questions, they will wait until you have given an answer before they move on to another question. It's O.K. to take a few moments to think before answering. If you are not prepared, the silence before your answer can seem like an eternity. If you anticipate the questions, there will be less silent time.

Listed below are sample questions which are frequently asked in behavioral interviews. After evaluating the position for which you are applying, attempt to create your own behavioral questions based on these ideas.

Sample Behavioral Interview Questions

  • Give me an example of a time when you have had to deal with a difficult student, professor, customer or neighbor. What happened? What did you do?
  • When you have a multitude of things to do, how do you set your schedule?
  • Tell me about something that you have done that was creative.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision that you were proud of.
  • Give me an example of an important goal you set and explain how you achieved it.
  • Describe a time when you had to roll with the punches.
  • Tell me about a job/task that was boring. How did you deal with it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you found a clever way of motivating a friend/student/employee.
  • Tell me about a major obstacle that you encountered in your last job/class and how you handled it.
  • Give me an example of a miscommunication with a professor/student/friend. How did you solve it?
  • Tell me about a time when a change of policy or a changed decision made your work difficult. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to communicate unpleasant information to a friend/employee/professor. What happened?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to make a decision without consulting your boss. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision when you had too little information to easily arrive at a decision. What happened?
  • What type of things make you angry? How have you dealt with them?
  • You have explained that you are decisive and able to cope with most situations. Now tell me about a time when you had a problem you couldn't solve.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to change procedures to solve a problem. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a decision when no policy existed to cover the situation. Explain.

Traditional Interview Questions

Recruiters who are not yet using the behavioral interview process use the traditional style. Generally, the recruiter will ask about your educational background, past work experience, extra-curricular activities, and outside interests and activities.

It would be wise to review the sample questions below and write out your responses to these questions.

Sample Traditional Interview Questions

  • What are your long-range (5, 10, 15 years) and short-range (1-4 years) goals and objectives? When and why did you establish these and how are you preparing to achieve them?
  • How do you plan to achieve your career goals?
  • What rewards do you expect in your career?
  • What do you expect to be earning in five years?
  • Why did you choose your career?
  • Which is more important to you: money or type of job?
  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How do you think a friend or professor would describe you?
  • What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
  • How has your education prepared you for a career?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • What qualifications do you have that will make you successful in your job?
  • How do you determine or evaluate success?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in an employment situation like ours?
  • What contributions can you make to our operation?
  • What qualities should a successful manager possess?
  • What relationship should exist between a supervisor and subordinate?
  • What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
  • Describe your most rewarding educational experience.
  • If you were hiring someone for this position, what qualities would you look for?
  • Why did you select your college or university?
  • What led you to choose your field of major study?
  • What college subjects did you like best? Why? What college subjects did you like least? Why?
  • If you could do so, how would you plan your academic study differently? Why?
  • What changes would you make in your college or university? Why?
  • Do you have plans for continued study? An advanced degree?
  • Do you think that your grades are a good indication of your academic achievement?
  • What have you learned from participation in extra-curricular activities?
  • In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
  • How do you work under pressure?
  • In what part-time or summer jobs have you been most interested? Why?
  • How would you describe the ideal job for you following graduation?
  • Why did you decide to seek a position with us?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
  • What size company are you looking for? Why?
  • What criteria are you using to evaluate the employer for whom you hope to work?
  • Do you have a geographical preference? Why?
  • Will you relocate? Does relocation bother you?
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • Are you willing to spend at least six months as a trainee?
  • Why do think you might like to live in the community in which our office is located?
  • What major problem have you encountered and how did you deal with it?
  • What have you learned from your mistakes?

NOTE: For major or industry specific interview questions do a web search for the position you are seeking followed by interview questions (ie. graphic design interview questions)

Questions to ask the employer

During the interview it is common for the recruiter to ask if you have any questions. You must be prepared to ask questions. Always go to the interview with at least five questions. When you have no questions to ask, you appear to have little interest in the position or the employer. The list below may give you some ideas of questions to ask.

Sample Questions for Employers

  • What are the opportunities for personal growth?
  • What is the realistic time frame for advancement?
  • How is an employee evaluated and promoted?
  • How long do people usually spend in this position?
  • Describe the typical first-year on the job.
  • What training programs are available?
  • What are the challenging facets of the job?
  • What are the company's plans for future growth?
  • How has this company fared during the most recent recession?
  • What makes your firm different from its competitors?
  • What are the company's strengths and weaknesses?
  • How would you describe your company's personality and management style?
  • Is it company policy to promote from within? Have your top managers come from within?
  • What kind of career opportunities are currently available for persons with my degree and skill levels?
  • Describe the work environment.
  • What is the structure of the department in which I would be working?
  • Why do you enjoy working for your firm?
  • What qualities are you looking for in your new hires?
  • What characteristics do successful people have at your company?
  • How would you describe the professional environment or the company's culture?

Phone Interview Tips

Being prepared for a phone interview takes organization. Remember that your single objective of the phone interview is to sell yourself and your skills so you are invited for a face-to-face interview. During the phone interview, the company representative has only ears with which to judge you.

  • Keep your resume, company information, calendar, pen and paper by the phone.
  • Find a secluded space to take the call in.  Be somewhere you feel comfortable in without distractions - like coworkers, tv, radio, food or being in the car.
  • Use a landline if possible, if not, make sure you are somewhere that gets excellent reception so the interviewer can clearly hear and understand you.
  • Get a callback number right away so that you have it, should you need it later.
  • Make sure you allow enough time for the interview so you are not rushed and so the interviewer does not feel rushed.
  • Should an emergency arise, explain the situation and ask to reschedule instead of missing the call or trying to do it all.

The Interview

Generally, the company representative will contact you to schedule your phone interview. However, take a surprise call in stride. If you receive a call and you are unprepared, be calm. Sound positive, friendly, and collected: "Thank you for calling, Mr. Smith. Would you wait just a minute while I close the door?" Put the phone down, take three deep breaths to slow your heart down, pull out the appropriate company information and your resume, put a smile on your face (it improves the tone of your voice), and pick up the phone again. Now you are in control of yourself and the situation. Please note that interviewers do not always call from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so you may be getting a call early in the morning or late evening. Always be prepared! Your voicemail must have a professional message in case the interviewer has to leave a message. If your recording has crude, rude or suggestive comments on it, this immediately portrays a negative image to the hiring officials.

You should always refer to the interviewer by his or her surname until invited to do otherwise.

Allow the company representative to do most of the talking and to ask most (but not all) of the questions. Keep up your end of the conversation - this is, after all, a sales presentation, so be sure to ask a few questions of your own that will reveal you as an intelligent person and provide you the opportunity to promote your candidacy. For example, ask what immediate projects the department is involved in, or the biggest challenges that are being tackled. When the interviewer answers your question, you will either have a clear picture of how to sell yourself, or you will ask a follow-up question for clarification. For example: "What specific skills and personality traits do you think are necessary for a person to succeed with those challenges?"

Beware of giving yes/no answers. They give no real information about your abilities.
Be factual in your answers. Brief, yet thorough. Give examples referring to your educational, work or volunteer experiences.

Speak directly into the phone. Keep the mouthpiece about one inch from your mouth. Speak clearly and slowly. Your enthusiasm/energy must reflect through your voice. Do not smoke, eat, or chew gum while on the phone.

Take notes. They will be invaluable to you in preparing for the face-to-face meeting.

The company representative may talk about the corporation, and from the company information in front of you, you will also know facts about the company. A little flattery goes a long way - admiring the company's achievements is, in fact, admiring the interviewer. Likewise, if any areas of common interest arise, comment on them, and agree with the interviewer when possible.

Prepare a few work-related questions. For example, "What exactly will be the major responsibilities in this position?" or "What will be my first assignment?" While you are getting the explanation, wait for a pause so that you can tell the interviewer your appropriate skills: "Would it be of value if I described my experience in the area of office management?" or "Then my experience in word processing should be a great help to you" or "I recently completed an accounting project just like that."

In the phone interview, professionals recommend that you do not ask about salary, or benefits and vacation time. This information will be discussed in a later interview.

Closing the Interview

The phone interview has come to an end when you are asked whether you have any questions. Ask any more questions that will improve your understanding of the employment requirements.

If you have not already been asked or invited to meet the interviewer, now is the time to ask about the next step in the interview process or ask for a face-to-face interview. You can choose a subtle or direct approach. "I am interested in learning more about this opportunity. What is the next step for interviewing and when do you expect to make a decision on second interviews?"

A more direct statement could be "The position sounds like a very interesting opportunity, Ms. Smith, and an environment where I could definitely make a contribution. When can we get together to further discuss employment?"

If you are uncertain about the spelling and pronunciation of the interviewer's name, you should ask for the correct spelling and pronunciation. This shows your concern for the small but important items in employment--it will be noticed. After the interview, follow up with a thank you letter.

Positions are often difficult to evaluate properly over the phone. Even if the position does not sound "ideal", you should still interview to learn more about the opportunity. You will gain networking experience, practice and the job may look better when you have more facts. You might even discover a more suitable opening in another department within the company when you go to the face-to-face interview.

Recruiter Evaluation

Many recruiters use a candidate evaluation system with categories similar to the ones shown below. Candidates for positions should always attempt to make positive impressions. Read the information within each area and attempt to create the best possible impression by tailoring your interview style to highlight these special areas.

Recruiter Evaluation Topics

  • Appearance: Grooming, posture, dress, behavior, manners and neatness.
  • Preparation: Knowledge of company and positions.  Prepare relevant and pertinent questions.
  • Verbal skills: Delivery and animation, presentation of ideas, grammar and vocabulary.
  • Direction: Well-defined goals, confidence in abilities, realistic and practical.
  • Maturity: Responsible, self-reliant and decisive.
  • Sincerity: Genuine, wholesome attitude, honest and sincere.
  • Personality: Enthusiastic, motivated and assertive.  Be true to yourself.
  • Qualifications/course work: Academic preparation, work experience and a good match for position.
  • Overall evaluation: Long-range potential, drive, ambition, ability and qualifications.

So, you have read all these helpful tips. You have studied the questions and written your answers. Here's one final reminder... 

15 Ways to Blow an Interview

  • Know little or nothing about the employer.
  • Have a negative attitude.
  • Have poor communication skills.
  • Use rambling answers that don't address the question.
  • Display inappropriate behavior (e.g., smoking, chewing gum, tapping your foot).
  • Fail to make eye contact.
  • Fail to ask questions.
  • Dress inappropriately.
  • Be passive; don't sell yourself.
  • Show up late to the interview.
  • Lack proper career planning; have ill-defined goals and purposes.
  • Appear bored with the organization or the industry.
  • Show no enthusiasm and be indifferent.
  • Be overbearing, over aggressive or conceited.
  • Be interested only in the best dollar offer.