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. You need to know how to interview strategically.
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.
Goals of the Interview
Goals of the candidate (you):
- To obtain information about the job and the organization.
- To determine whether the job is suitable for you and whether you want it.
- 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.
Preparation for the Interview
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.
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.
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. 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:
- Why is this position open?
- How often has it been filled in the past five years? What were the main reasons?
- What would you like done differently by the next person who fills this position?
- What are some of the objectives you would like to see accomplished in this job?
- What is most pressing? What would you like to have done in the next 3 months?
- What are some of the long term objectives you would like to see completed?
- What are some of the more difficult problems one would have to face in this position?
- How do you think these could best be handled?
- What type of support does this position receive in terms of people, finances etc.?
- What freedom would I have in determining my own work objectives, deadlines, and methods of measurement?
- What advancement opportunities are available for the person who is successful in this position, and within what time frame?
- In what ways has this organization been most successful in terms of products and services over the years?
- What significant changes do you foresee in the near future?
- How is one evaluated in this position?
- What accounts for success within the company?
These questions are presented only as interviewing guidelines. They are meant to help you prepare for the interview. Some questions may or may not be appropriate for your interviewing situation.
By practicing your responses to some of these questions, hopefully you will not be taken off guard if asked one of them. Most importantly, relax, go with the flow, and before you know it, you’ll be in your next job.
The Stages of the Interview
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.
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.
Types of Interviews
Based on Purpose
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.
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 questions.
Based on Format
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
Structure 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.
Structure 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.
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.
Handling Difficult Questions
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?” This is where the employer finds out how much you 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 1988. 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 begin again.”
These examples show honest, straightforward 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.
Salary Negotiations & Responding
to the Job Offer
Salary negotiations often make candidates uncomfortable, and rightfully so, as this is one of the trickiest parts of interviewing. A few suggestions on how to manage this topic may eliminate some of the discomfort.
First of all, if the topic comes up too early in the interviewing process, it is advisable to postpone the discussion. For example, you could say, “I would be happy to discuss my salary requirements, but I feel I need to know more about the position first. Could you tell me about..” The idea here is to buy some time. The more you know about the job, the better you will be able to pinpoint what it is worth in today’s market.
Secondly, if you are in the final round of interviewing and you are asked about your salary expectations, it is appropriate to clarify, “Are you prepared to make me an offer?” Try to get the interviewer to commit to you as the preferred candidate. Your negotiating position will be greatly enhanced if you establish that you are their first choice.
Finally, there comes a time when the negotiation can’t be delayed any longer. Ideally, you know a lot about the position and how it compares in the market because you’ve done your homework, and you are the front running candidate. You are still likely to do better in the process if you aren’t the first one to name a figure. You may be able to ask what they have in mind or what they have budgeted. If they tell you, for example, that the position is rated at $32,000 to $36,000, you can then say why you think you deserve to receive the higher end of the scale, based on your knowledge and experience.
With these suggestions, we hope you will feel comfortable in negotiating a salary that reflects both the market and your worth as a professional.
Quick Interviewing Tips
Do a little homework! Research the company and the position if possible, as well as the people you will meet with at the interview. Review your work experiences. Be ready to support past career accomplishments with specific information targeted toward the companies needs. Have your facts ready!
Once you have finished studying, begin role playing (rehearsing). Use the general questions provided below in the Interview Preparation Area. Write down answers if it helps to make your presentation more concise. Try to keep your answers to the information your new employer will want to know.
Maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Show you want the job with your interest.
In particular, always avoid negative comments about past employers.
Listen and adapt! Be sensitive to the style of the interviewer. Pay attention to those details of dress, office furniture, and general decor which will afford helpful clues to assist you in tailoring your presentation.
Try to relate your answers to the interviewer and his or her company. Focus on achievements relevant to the position.
Encourage the interviewer to share information about his or her company, and demonstrate your interest.