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Interview Preparation
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By Cheryl Pence Wolf, Beta Chapter, University of Florida; 2010-11 CSI Leadership Fellow

Preparing for an interview can be exciting and nerve-wracking. You are one step closer to the job; however you still must show that you are the best fit for the position. In preparing for the interview, consider some important factors:

  • Attitude. Research has shown that attitude is one of the most important factors that influences an employer’s hiring decision. So be genuine and sincere, demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm, talk positively and optimistically, project your confidence without being cocky, and do the necessary research about the position and/or career field you plan to enter. Remember that you are always "on” so even when the formal interview is over, the informal conversations before or afterward, may be used to judge your ability to fit into the organization.

  • Image and Appearance. It is important to dress for success during an interview. A good rule of thumb is to wear attire that matches or is a slight step above the organizations dress code. Do your research to find out what the employer is looking for and cover tattoos, piercings, etc… if necessary.

  • Communication. Verbal communication includes using professional language & focusing your conversation on how YOU fit the job. Avoid using informal language (e.g., like, you know, etc…) and be concise and honest in your responses. NEVER lie even if you are embarrassed or uncomfortable about answering a question. Emphasize your strengths and focus on the positives; don’t discuss personal, domestic or financial problems. Your nonverbal communication is also important, so smile, make eye contact, relax, avoid fidgeting, display good posture, and limit any negative expressions or bad habits.

  • Job Qualifications. Surprisingly qualifications are not as important during an interview. If you were invited for an interview, the employer most likely feels that you are qualified for the position based on your resume. To best highlight your qualifications, develop and practice a 60-second commercial where you introduce yourself, describe your experience, and explain how you are a good fit for their position. Do not forget to include your indirect or transferable skills obtained through other experiences.

Interview Do’s

  • Arrive 10 min early and bring an extra copy of your resume
  • Address the receptionist warmly
  • Give a firm handshake and be confident
  • Establish positive rapport and be yourself
  • Understand how you handle stress & set yourself up for success
  • Stay focused on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you
  • Talk about yourself in reference to them
  • Use specific examples to emphasize your strengths
  • Balance speaking & listening

Interview Don’ts

  • Criticize yourself
  • Speak negatively about former employers
  • Try to be funny or entertaining
  • Bring anyone with you
  • Sit down until invited to do so
  • Touch the interviewers stuff
  • Bring up salary until after they have extended a job offer
  • Smoke, chew gum, or order alcohol (if at a meal)

Telephone Interviews

Companies are choosing to conduct preliminary interviews more often via telephone to save money. Because appearance and nonverbal communication is limited during a telephone call, the importance of attitude and verbal communication increases. Therefore smile and stay focused when on the phone call with the employer; do not fall into the trap of checking email or doing anything that could be distracting. Act as if you are in the room with them during the entire interview.

Questions from the Interviewer

It is hard to predict which questions you will be asked, however you can review potential questions and prepare answers ahead of time. Sometimes the general ones are the hardest to answer so always direct your answer towards how it helps them evaluate you for the position. For example: "Tell me about yourself” is often challenging in that people either ramble on with too much personal information, or they feel stuck and do not know what to say. The interviewer is not interested in where you grew up or how many dogs you have. They would like to know how you fit their position. This is a great place to deliver your 60-second commercial about describe how you fit their open position.

Below are some sample questions an interviewer might ask:

Warm-up questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What made you apply for this position?
  • What do you know about our organization/career field?
  • What do you want to get out of your experience with us?

Work history

  • What special aspects of your work experience have prepared you for this job?
  • Everyone has strengths & weaknesses as workers. What are yours?
  • Can you describe for me one or two of your most important accomplishments?
  • What are some of the things on your job you feel you have done particularly well or in which you have achieved the greatest success? Why do you feel this way?
  • Do you feel you work more effectively on a one to one basis or in a group situation?
  • What kind of people do you find it most difficult to work with? Why?
  • In your previous job what kind of pressures did you encounter?
  • What has been the highest pressure situation you have been under in recent years? How did you cope with it?
  • What would you say is the most important thing you are looking for in a job?
  • What are some things you liked/disliked about your last job?
  • How did your supervisor on your most recent job evaluate your job performance?
  • If I were to ask your most recent employer about your performance, what would he/she say?
  • How would you describe your basic leadership style? Give specific examples of how you practice this?

Career goals

  • What is your long-term employment or career objective?
  • What kind of job do you see yourself holding five years from now?
  • What do you feel you need to develop in terms of skill & knowledge in order to be ready for that opportunity?
  • How does this job fit in with your overall career goals?
  • What would you most like to accomplish if you had this job?
  • What might make you leave this job?

Professional/community service

  • To what organizations do you belong?
  • Tell me specifically what you do in the civic activities in which you participate.

Self-development

  • What has been the most important person or event in your own self development?
  • How are you helping your subordinates develop themselves?
  • How much of your education did you earn?
  • What kind of books & other publications do you read?
  • How do you keep up with the newest advancements in your field?

Describing Example Situations

Oftentimes, you will be asked to give a specific example to illustrate your responses to questions. In developing an example from your prior work experience, use the STAR technique:

  • Situation – what situation did you face?
  • Task – what was the task assigned/assumed?
  • Action – what action did you take to correct the situation?
  • Result – what was the end result?

For example, if you were asked about how procrastination has been an issue for you, you would want to be honest about a situation and how you corrected the situation for a positive result. In this case, you might say "in the past, I waited to finish projects until the deadline. Just before one important project was due, I was injured in an automobile accident and I was unable to complete it on time. I learned that procrastination is not beneficial and therefore I made a commitment to myself and my team that I would get a final draft of the project in at least two days early. Since then I have finished all of my projects on time or early.” The STAR technique gives you structure to briefly describe the problem and the resolution.

Managing illegal questions

Legal questions are related to the job you are seeking (e.g., experience, education). Illegal topics include age, race, children, marital status, sexual orientation, religious preferences, personal characteristics, disabilities and health. While the interviewer may not be trained in employment law, they should be aware of what questions to avoid. However if you are asked illegal questions, you may choose to answer the question, refuse to answer the question, or examine the intent of the question and respond to that. For example, an employer may ask about your family. It may be simply a conversation starter or it may be intended to help them understand your willingness to work longer hours. You might answer the question and suggest that your family will not affect your job performance, or if you are uncomfortable answering the question, you may clarify their intent of the question (i.e., "It seems like you are asking about my family because you are concerned that it may impact my ability to work on weekends. Is that the case?”).

Questions for the Interviewer

Many times when the employer is finished asking questions, they will offer you an opportunity to ask them a few questions. You are encouraged to have a few questions ready to show that you are interested in learning more about the organization or position. These should be questions that cannot be found easily through your research. Some sample questions include the following:

  • What are you looking for in an employee of this organization?
  • Please describe the training and evaluation process.
  • How will my responsibilities be prioritized?
  • What are the opportunities for career advancement?
  • How does your organization measure success?
  • What is the work atmosphere like at your company?

Closing

As the interview comes to a close, take the opportunity to expand on any "missed items” and restate or summarize your qualifications if necessary. Ask if there is anything else you can provide, such as references, background information or work samples and reemphasize your interest in the position. Inquire about the decision timeline (i.e., "when do you expect to make a decision?”) and clarify the next step in the interview process (i.e., "should I call your office in a few days or shall I wait for you to contact me?”). Find out how to contact them and whether they will accept calls to check the status of your application and then thank them for their time and exit gracefully- last impressions count!

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