Career Development Center

The Art of Successful Interviewing

Preparation and Practice: The Keys to Success

Job interviews can be intimidating experiences for anyone – from the entry-level worker to the high-level executive. To be a top contender for a position you must interview well. Although this may seem a daunting challenge, just remember, as with most aspects of life, everyone gets better with practice.

Here are some suggestions to help you prepare to present yourself to an employer in the best possible way.

Assess Your Skils and Experiences

  • Focus on 3 to 4 areas where your skills are the strongest. Knowing these will help you tell your interviewer why they should hire you.
  • Practice describing your special talents and skills.
  • Examine your work and education background. Look for skills and experiences that match the job description.

Create a :ost of Personal Experiences to Relate

Employers want real examples of how you behave and perform professionally. Tell them a short story.

  • Identify examples that illustrate where and how you have performed well using your skills and background, and relate them to the job for which you are applying.

Practice Relating Those Experiences Aloud

The STAR method is a helpful way to organize your thoughts and communicate clearly.

S: Explain the Situation
T: Describe your role or Task
A: The Action you took
R: The Results of your action

  • Include what you learned or what you might do differently in the future.
  • Avoid memorized answers. No one wants to listen to a scripted message.

Organizing your thoughts ahead of time and practicing them aloud will help you to feel more confident and communicate clearly in the interview. Be able to describe your useful skills in common terms in case your interviewer is not an expert in the field.

Situation: When I worked at the state library, many of the books were not filed correctly.
Task: I was in charge of shelving books on three floors.
Action: I designed and proposed a new employee training method to my boss. I then presented the new method to the library assistants at the next staff meeting and everyone contributed ideas for the new training on shelving.
Result: After that meeting, there were fewer misplaced books, and customers asked fewer questions about finding missing books.

Participate in Mock Interviews

  • Practice the interview process to improve your communication skills and overcome nervousness and anxiety.

Mock interviews are practice interviews conducted by the career advisors or by actual career professionals who volunteer their time during a class or a special event to assist students to gain experience in the art of interviewing. They help new job seekers get a feel for the interviewing process. It is also an opportunity to verbalize how your background, skills and abilities fit the job.

Behavior-Based Interviews

Behavioral-based interviews and questions have become standard practice. In these interviews recruiters and employers ask for detailed descriptions on how you handled yourself in certain tasks and situations. The premise is that past behavior predicts future performance.

Themes for These Types of Questions Include:

  • Disagreements and conflicts with coworkers
  • Innovative solutions to problems
  • Qualities of a team leader and qualities of a team member
  • Meeting or failing to meet deadlines
  • Responding to criticism from a superior, co-worker or classmate
  • Persuading someone to accept your idea or concept
  • Seeing a problem as an opportunity
  • Adapting to a wide variety of people, situations, and/or environments

First Impressions

First impressions are lasting ones. Often they are made even before the interview starts, during the application process.

  • Voice messages may be the employer’s first impression of you.
  • The message on your answering machine or voice messaging should be courteous and professional.
  • Inform everyone who may answer the telephone that employment calls may come at any time. If you feel your roommates or members of your household are unreliable, list a message or cell phone number. Be sure to manage your cell phone calls appropriately.
  • Any time you interact with a potential employer or anyone on their staff, imagine that they are evaluating you.
  • Be respectful in the way you dress and the way you act.
  • Be positive, upbeat and professional when corresponding in person, by mail, phone or e-mail.
  • The person answering your questions or taking your application may be the CEO sitting in for the receptionist on a break. You never know!

Dress Professionally for the Position

  • Research the industry expectations regarding attire. This could be simply walking through the lobby of the workplace to observe how employees dress.
  • Being dressed a little more formally than those who are interviewing you is OK. It shows respect for them, the position and the company.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before. Your physical appearance will be at its best when you are alert and rested.
  • Avoid perfumes and colognes. You never know, your interviewer may be allergic to these.
  • See “Attire to get hired”

Plan Ahead to be On Time

  • Map your route to the interview site.
  • Know where to park and how to enter building.
  • Plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early.

Politely Introduce Yourself to the Receptionist

  • Introduce yourself to the receptionist. State the purpose of your visit and the interviewer’s name.
  • Thank the receptionist for assistance.
  • The receptionist is one of the first employees of the company you will meet. While receptionists may not make hiring decisions, they will certainly mention their impressions to the interviewer.

Greet the Interviewer Cordially

  • Greet your interviewer using Mr., Ms. or Mrs.
  • Shake their hand.
  • Tell the interviewer your name.
  • Wait to be offered a seat before sitting.
  • Relax yourself to appear friendly and be memorable.

Expect Small Talk

  • Engage in the conversation, be responsive and take initiative.
  • Do not worry if the conversation catches you off guard. The interviewer may be testing you to see how you react under pressure. Try to relax and respond naturally.

Many interviewers will begin the interview with casual conversation. This is a prelude to the interview where they examine your responses for qualities the company seeks.

The Interview

Your goal in an interview is to show and tell your best qualities to the interviewer. The interviewer‘s goal is to evaluate you on different criteria than just skill.

Points to Include in the Interview

  • How you fit the job qualifications
  • Why you want the job
  • Why you want to work for the organization
  • What you can contribute to the employer
  • What you have learned about yourself and your work

More Tips

  • Relate your background and accomplishments to the employer’s needs.
  • Do not talk about what was wrong with past jobs or past employers.
  • Be sincere, positive and honest with your answers.
  • Have your resume and/or portfolio with you in a professional-looking folder.
  • Avoid mentioning financial concerns or personal problems.

How Will You be Evaluated?

Once the official part of an interview begins, interviewers will carefully listen and evaluate your responses. In addition to your knowledge about the job and interaction styles, they may look for the following qualities.

  • How well do you understand the job and meet its qualifications?
  • What skills do you use when interacting with others?
  • How mentally alert and responsible are you?
  • Can you draw proper inferences and conclusions during the course of the interview?
  • Do you demonstrate a degree of intellectual depth when communicating, or does your thinking lack depth?
  • Have you used good judgment and common sense regarding your life planning up to this point?
  • What is your capacity for problem solving?
  • How well do you respond to stress and pressure?

Refrain from Reciting Memorized Answers

  • Present yourself as interested and naturally enthusiastic about the job, not rehearsed and flat.
  • From your prior research, you should know how your skills, values and interests fit the position and the organization.
  • Provide concise answers (which you should have formulated through practice)

Maintain Proper Body Language

  • Sit up straight and look alert.
  • Avoid fidgeting.
  • Smile when appropriate.
  • Maintain eye contact when being asked questions.
  • Be aware of your tone of voice. Keep it energetic and avoid monotone answers.

Body language says more about people than their words. Match your body language to the impression you want to make.

Be Prepared to Ask Questions

  • Prepare 3 to 5 questions ahead of time.
  • Ask about the duties of the job early so you can target your answers to the position.
  • Pay attention to an employer’s body language and watch how they react to your questions.
  • Some employers may start the interview by asking whether you have any questions. Others will tell you that they have set aside time at the end for questions. Others might be comfortable with you asking questions throughout the interview.

If the Interview is not Going Smoothly, Don't Panic

  • Some interviewers might test you to see how you handle stress.
  • Stay positive.
  • Ask your interviewer to repeat anything you do not understand so you can gather your thoughts.

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes questions are asked simply to see how you react.

  • Pause briefly.
  • Consider the question.
  • Give a natural response.

During the interview, you may be asked some unusual questions. Surprise questions could range from, “Tell me a joke” to “What time period would you have liked to have lived in?” These are not the kind of questions you can prepare for in advance, but your reaction and response will be evaluated by the employer.

The Closing

Concluding the interview.

  • Remain enthusiastic and courteous.
  • Ask questions.
  • Prepare questions ahead of time to help you decide if the position is suitable for you.
  • Leave the interviewer(s) with three things that you would like them to remember about you.

This is also an opportunity to give additional information about your background that you think is important to the position and that was not covered in the interview.

Questions to Consider Asking at the Close of the Interview

  • What do you want the person in this position to accomplish within the first three months?
  • Are there are any important skills needed for the job that have not been covered in the interview?
  • What is the time frame for making the hiring decision?

Questions to Avoid

  • What is the starting salary?
  • What are the vacation plans, company benefits or other perks of the job?

Wait for the interviewer to introduce these subjects. The best time to talk about salary is after you have been offered the job. You are then in a much better position to negotiate.

The Conclusion of the Interview

  • This is usually indicated when the interviewer stands up.
  • Shake hands and thank him/her for considering you.
  • During the interview or shortly after, write down the name(s) of the interviewer(s) so you won’t forget.

Follow Up

  • Thank your interviewer for their time before leaving.
  • Send a thank you note via e-mail or hand deliver within two days.

The goal of an interview is to leave a positive impression. Remind the interviewer of your interest, but avoid being annoying.