An interview is a meeting between an employer and an applicant to discuss
a job. While job interviewing for most people may not seem to "come naturally",
there is much that can be done in advance to increase your effectiveness
as a candidate. Some individuals believe that just being themselves is
sufficient for successful job interviewing. However, you are participating
in a highly competitive selection process. You need to know how to effectively
sell yourself, communicate your skills and experience, and to portray
your personality as one that will fit in with the culture of the organization.
Being properly prepared and informed about the interviewing process can
help you positively focus your energies on what needs to be done and help
you find the right job.
To obtain information about the job and the organization.
To determine whether the job is suitable for you and whether you want
To communicate important information about yourself.
To favorably impress the employer.
Goals of the Interviewer:
To promote the organization and attract the best possible candidate.
To gather information about the candidate.
To assess how well the candidate's qualifications match the job requirements.
To determine whether the candidate will fit in with the organization
and the staff.
FOR THE INTERVIEW
1. RESEARCH THE ORGANIZATION
Find out some basic information about the organization before you go for
the interview. You will be in a better position to ask intelligent questions
and you will impress the interviewer with your initiative and your knowledge
of the organization. (For information on how to conduct research please
ask for the Research handout at the Career Resource Center.)
2. RESEARCH THE JOB
Employers often list more qualifications in the job posting than can realistically
be met by most potential candidates. Frequently, this is done as a pre-screening
device in order to reduce the number of applicants for the position by
setting up artificial barriers. You should not allow this to discourage
you or prevent you from pursuing the position .
Just as you are looking for the ideal job, employers are looking for the
ideal employee. Analyze the job description and match your experiences,
skills, interests, and abilities to the job. You may find that some of
the qualifications are less essential than others. Emphasize your strong
points to minimize the effect of possible limited experience.
Talk with people who have worked in similar positions in that organization
or in other companies. Read about the specific job category in the career
literature. As a result of your research, you will have gained information
about the nature of the job, the level of education and/or training necessary,
future potential, and other pertinent details.
3. PREPARE AND ANTICIPATE QUESTIONS
Anticipate questions that may be asked of you in an interview. Prepare
answers beforehand to some of the more difficult or sensitive questions.
(See "Handling Difficult Questions".) This does not mean memorizing responses
or writing a script. It does mean planning the points you want to make.
Also, prepare questions you would like to ask the employer. For example,
"How do you evaluate job performance?"
4. PRACTICE GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS
It is important that you be friendly and use good communication skills
during the interview. Practice with a friend, with a career counselor,
or by videotaping a mock interview. Work on the following communication
presenting yourself in a positive and confident manner
offering a firm handshake
speaking clearly and effectively
listening attentively and maintaining eye contact
avoiding the use of unnecessary verbal and non-verbal distractions
5. DRESS APPROPRIATELY
Dress professionally for the interview. Remember that you don't get a
second chance to make a first impression. Your appearance should be neat
and clean, pressed and polished. Conservative business attire is appropriate
for most settings.
6. BE PUNCTUAL Be on time for the interview. Plan to arrive about fifteen minutes
early. Check in with the interviewer or the secretary about five to ten
minutes prior to your scheduled appointment. Use your waiting time to
check your appearance, review the questions and answers you prepared,
and read any company literature that may be on display. Take advantage
of this time to get a feel for the work environment by observing the surroundings
and interactions among staff.
Regardless of the style of the interviewer, the interview will progress
through four basic stages: the introduction, sharing general information,
narrowing the focus, and the closing.
Introduction -- begins with small
talk initiated by the interviewer. The interviewer may ask a few casual
questions or make some general remarks. The purpose is to put you at ease,
establish rapport, and find a comfortable level of communication.
Sharing general information -- starts
when the interviewer shifts from small talk to general information about
you, the organization, and the position. You may be asked to review your
background, interests, and goals. The interviewer will discuss the organization
and its goals. This will test your listening and speaking skills as well
as give you additional information on which to base intelligent questions.
Narrowing the focus -- occurs when
the interviewer begins concentrating on the job and how you might fit
in. You have the opportunity to expand upon your skills and to demonstrate
how they apply to the job requirements. Your efforts in researching the
job and the organization will pay off at this point.
happens when the interviewer begins summarizing what has been said
and clarifying certain aspects of the interview. It is crucial that you
express your interest in the position at this time. It is also important
that you review the points you've made especially about how you are uniquely
qualified for the position. If you have relevant skills or experience
that you have not yet shared, do it now. The employer will probably explain
how and when the next contact will be made and may end with, "Do
you have any other questions?". Try to save at least one of your
questions for the end so that you wrap-up the interview on a positive
note, leaving an enthusiastic impression.
BASED ON PURPOSE
SCREENING INTERVIEW -- used to quickly and
efficiently eliminate unqualified or overpriced candidates. Conducted
by professional interviewers, recruiters, or personnel representatives
seeking information regarding educational and experiential background
using a highly structured question and answer format.
SELECTION INTERVIEW -- used after some type
of screening process. Usually conducted by a professional practitioner
who will be the candidate's supervisor. It is generally less formal and
less structured than the screening interview. Questions tend to be open-ended
with subsequent questions based upon candidate's responses to previous
BASED ON FORMAT
ONE ON ONE -- usual interview procedure. Screening and selection interviews
usually include one interviewer and one candidate. At times, a second
company representative may join in or candidate may have a series of interviews
that involve several meetings with different people within the organization,
one at a time.
SEARCH COMMITTEE OR BOARD INTERVIEW -- group
consists of many interviewers and one candidate. Used by business and
industry for selection of high level corporate officers. Typical of a
selection committee search in higher education.
GROUP INTERVIEW -- group consists of many
candidates and one or more interviewers. Frequently used as a screening
procedure by smaller companies and by graduate and professional schools.
Used to assess leadership skills and ability to work in groups.
BASED ON STYLE
QUESTION AND ANSWER OR DIRECTED INTERVIEW
-- highly structured; interviewer comes prepared with list of questions.
Used by recruiters and professional interviewers to seek facts. Generally
is format for screening interviews.
OPEN-ENDED OR NON DIRECTIVE INTERVIEW --
generally informal and less structured. Used by professional practitioners
to assess candidate's skills, experience, and personality attributes.
This is the usual format for selection interviews.
STRESS INTERVIEW -- staged to determine how
candidate will perform under stress. It may be typified by long periods
of silence, challenges to candidate's opinions, or a series of interruptions.
What questions do you dread being asked in an interview? Some of the
more commonly asked dreaded questions include: "What are your strengths
and weaknesses?", "Where do you see yourself in five years?", "Why should
I hire you?", and "Why do you want to work here?". When you think about
it, they are all legitimate questions. You may not have done sufficient
soul searching or strategizing to handle them well, but each presents
you with an opportunity to sell yourself.
It is helpful to look first at why they ask the questions and then to
strategize a response.
"What are your strengths and weaknesses?" The employer may be assessing
how well you know yourself and how honest and open you are. You have an
opportunity to showcase your strengths and also to reveal a not too serious
weakness. It is best if you demonstrate how you are working to improve
your stated weakness. For example, you might say, "My computer experience
is somewhat limited. However, I recently took a week long training program
on using the MAC and I'm looking forward to building on the skills I learned."
"Where do you see yourself in five years?" They want to know if
you are ambitious. If you find it hard to look five years out, try this:
"Five years seems like a long time. I can see myself as a programmer analyst
in two years. Five years from now, I might be a software developer or
a systems analyst. I won't know which direction I want to take until I've
been in the field for awhile."
"Why should I hire you?" Here's where they find out how well you
understand their needs and how confident you are of your qualifications
for the position. How about a response like this one? "I think you should
hire me because I have the skills you need in this marketing support position.
My technical skills exactly match the requirements as I've been using
your software in my Co-op job. And my interpersonal skills are strong
as a result of my student government experience."
"Why do you want to work here?" Thisis where the employer
finds out howmuchyou know about their organization. You
want to convey your interest in contributing to their mission or in being
part of an important project they've been awarded. For example: "I've
read about your contract to develop tax accounting software for the federal
government and I want to be part of the action..."
Then there are those questions that you hope no one asks but they inevitably
do -- important questions that demand a well-prepared response from you.
For example, if your resume doesn't show continuous employment, you
should expect to be asked for an explanation. What positive results came
out of your decision not to work? An upbeat way to explain might be, "That's
correct, I did not work in 1998. I was nearing the end of my degree program
at Northeastern. I realized that if I attended school full time I could
complete my bachelor's degree in one year, rather than working and taking
three years to finish. I feel I made the right decision: when I went back
to work, I was offered a salary considerably higher than my previous earnings."
Perhaps you were laid off last year, so you dread being asked why
you left your last job. You want to frame your explanation in a way that
dispels any shame or guilt you may be harboring. "I was one of 180 people
laid off last September when XYZ Corporation went through a major downsizing."
What if you were fired for some reason? This can be very worrisome
to the job seeker. "To be honest with you, I just didn't fit into the
organization. Finally, my supervisor and I decided it was best for me
to leave. While this was a devastating experience, I feel I'm ready to
These examples show honest, straight forward responses that will be acceptable
to an employer. The important thing is for you to come to terms with the
issue, see the positive side, and demonstrate that you are eager to move
on in your career.