We’ve already discussed how it can help to think of the interview as an important conversation—one that, as with any conversation, you want to find pleasant and interesting and to leave you with a good feeling. But because this conversation is especially important, the information that’s exchanged is critical to its success. What do you want them to know about you? What do you need to know about them? What interview technique do you need to particularly pay attention to? How do you want to manage the close of the interview? What steps will follow in the hiring process?
Except for the professional interviewer, most of us find interviewing stressful and anxiety-provoking. Developing a strategy before you begin interviewing will help you relieve some stress and anxiety. One particular strategy that has worked for many and may work for you is interviewing by objective. Before you interview, write down three to five goals you would like to achieve for that interview. They may be technique goals: smile a little more, have a firmer handshake, be sure to ask about the next stage in the interview process before leaving. They may be content-oriented goals: find out about the company’s current challenges and opportunities; be sure to speak of your recent research, writing experiences, or foreign travel. Whatever your goals, jot down a few of them as goals for each interview.
Most people find that in trying to achieve these few goals, their interviewing technique becomes more organized and focused. After the interview, the most common question friends and family ask is “How did it go?” With this technique, you have an indication of whether you met your goals for the meeting, not just some vague idea of how it went. Chances are, if you accomplished what you wanted to, it improved the quality of the entire interview. As you continue to interview, you will want to revise your goals to continue improving your interview skills.
Now, add to the concept of the significant conversation the idea of a beginning, a middle, and a closing and you will have two thoughts that will give your interview a distinctive character. Be sure to make your introduction warm and cordial. Say your full name (and if it’s a difficult-to-pronounce name, help the interviewer to pronounce it) and make certain you know your interviewer’s name and how to pronounce it. Most interviews begin with some “soft talk” about the weather, chat about the candidate’s trip to the interview site, or national events. This is done as a courtesy to relax both you and the interviewer, to get you talking, and to generally try to defuse the atmosphere of excessive tension. Try to be yourself, engage in the conversation, and don’t try to second-guess the interviewer. This is simply what it appears to be—casual conversation.
Once you and the interviewer move on to exchange more serious information in the middle part of the interview, the two most important concerns become your ability to handle challenging questions and your success at asking meaningful ones. Interviewer questions will probably fall into one of three categories: personal assessment and career direction, academic assessment, and knowledge of the employer. Here are a few examples of questions in each category:
Personal Assessment and Career Direction
- What motivates you to put forth your best effort?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful in this career?
- What led you to choose your major?
- What subjects did you like best and least? Why?
- How has your college experience prepared you for this career?
Knowledge of the Employer
- What do you think it takes to be successful in an organization like ours?
- In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our organization?
- Why did you choose to seek a position with this organization?
The interviewer wants a response to each question but is also gauging your enthusiasm, preparedness, and willingness to communicate. In each response you should provide some information about yourself that can be related to the employer’s needs. A common mistake is to give too much information. Answer each question completely, but be careful not to run on too long with extensive details or examples.
Questions About Underdeveloped Skills
Most employers interview people who have met some minimum criteria of education and experience. They interview candidates to see who they are, to learn what kind of personality they exhibit, and to get some sense of how they might fit into the existing organization. It may be that you are asked about skills the employer hopes to find and that you have not documented. Maybe it’s statistical process control, experience with a specific simulation software tool, or knowledge of program controls strategies.
To questions about skills and experiences you don’t have, answer honestly and forthrightly and try to offer some additional information about skills you do have. For example, perhaps the employer is disappointed you have no lean
production experience. An honest answer may be as follows:
No, unfortunately, I do understand lean principles. I attended a short course on the subject during my internship with Smith Manufacturing and did an independent study with Professor Jones on Toyota’s production methodology. I think I could get up on the learning curve quickly.
The employer hears an honest admission of lack of experience but is reassured by some specific skill details that do relate to grant writing and a confident manner that suggests enthusiasm and interest in a challenge.
For many students, questions about their possible contribution to an employer’s organization can prove challenging. Because your education has probably not included specific training for a job, you need to review your academic record and select capabilities you have developed in your major that an employer can appreciate. For example, perhaps you read well and can analyze and condense what you’ve read into smaller, more focused pieces. That could be valuable. Or maybe you did some serious research and you know you have valuable investigative skills. Your public speaking might be highly developed and you might use visual aids appropriately and effectively. Or maybe your skill at correspondence, memos, and messages is effective. Whatever it is, you must take it out of the academic context and put it into a new, employer-friendly context so your interviewer can best judge how you could help the organization.
Exhibiting knowledge of the organization will, without a doubt, show the interviewer that you are interested enough in the available position to have done some legwork in preparation for the interview. Remember, it is not necessary to know every detail of the organization’s history but rather to have a general knowledge about why it is in business and how the industry is faring.
Sometime during the interview, generally after the midway point, you’ll be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. Your questions will tell the employer much about your attitude and your desire to understand the organization’s expectations so you can compare them to your own strengths. The following are just a few questions you might want to ask:
- What is the communication style of the organization? (meetings, memos, and so forth)
- What would a typical day in this position be like for me?
- What have been some of the interesting challenges and opportunities your organization has recently faced?
Most interviews draw to a natural closing point, so be careful not to prolong the discussion. At a signal from the interviewer, wind up your presentation, express your appreciation for the opportunity, and be sure to ask what
the next stage in the process will be. When can you expect to hear from them? Will they be conducting second-tier interviews? If you are interested and haven’t heard, would they mind a phone call? Be sure to collect a business
card with the name and phone number of your interviewer. On your way out, you might have an opportunity to pick up organizational literature you haven’t seen before.
With the right preparation—a thorough self-assessment, professional clothing, and employer information—you’ll be able to set and achieve the goals you have established for the interview process.