The combination of the perfect resume and winning cover letter should result in a number of interview opportunities. Too often job hunters put all their efforts into getting the interview and forget about preparing for the interview. Preparation is as important for an effective interview as it is for the winning cover letter.
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An interview should be a conversation between two people who are trying to learn more about each other. You have as much responsibility for the success of this meeting as the interviewer. A successful interview on campus will result in an invitation for a second interview at the employer’s site. A successful initial interview you arranged at the employer’s site could result in an immediate offer.
- Personal appearance does count. No interviewer will object to neat, clean, tidy, and conservative. Think about the corporate culture and how much client contact the position will entail. Shine your shoes. See Dressing for the Interview
- Plan to arrive early for your interview. If you are interviewing on campus, check the schedule for the interviewer’s name. If there are multiple schedules be sure you are looking at the right one. Arrive 10 minutes early and put the initial wait to good use to review your notes about the employer, and review the plan you have designed for the interview.
- Review your resume and ask yourself questions about the items you have included. Think about why you elected to join a group and your contribution to it. Can you talk about a time when you defined a problem, how you planned the solution, what obstacles you encountered, and the outcome? If you do the homework on your resume, it should be easy to tell the whole story in an interview. Be sure to have a few stories or vignettes to illustrate your points during an interview. Good stories always leave good impressions and make you a memorable candidate. Also, have a list of items you want to be sure to touch on during the interview. At the end of the day, if you’ve hit everything on your list, you’ll know that you did the best that you could.
- The interview format will vary from a structured, direct interview, in which the interviewer has a list of prepared questions, to an indirect interview in which the interviewer sits back and lets the conversation follow its own course. In the latter instance, you may have to take charge to ensure that your strengths are discussed.
- Do not be passive and do not answer questions in monosyllables. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know” or “I hadn’t thought about the question in that way.” Always try to tell a story which includes why you chose a course or activity and your contribution to the group. Emphasize the positive viewpoint and never apologize for your major. You have learned to think, to communicate, to analyze problems, and pose solutions. Talk about any special knowledge you have gained from your course work and other activities or summer experiences.
- Behavior-based or situation interviews are used when the interviewer is trying to find out how you react in prescribed situations. The interviewer knows what characteristics are important in that unique work environment and wants to determine your potential for success. The interviewer will outline situations similar to those you might face on the job, and your answers will be compared to those shown by successful employees. The premise is that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. The interviewer may give you a situation and ask what you would do. Use the pronoun “I” to emphasize what you did. The interviewer usually starts these questions with, “Tell me about a time when you…” or “What would you do if . . .?” or “If you have a group project and one member of the team is not contributing, what would you do?” These situation examples usually come from items on your resume.
- Case interviews are usually used by management consulting firms. The purpose is to give you an opportunity to think out loud about interesting problems and how you would solve them. Frequently, there is not one right or wrong answer. The case is often somewhat vague, and you should start out by asking pertinent questions that will narrow the field. Usually, you will not have shown any knowledge of the case problem on your resume. Your resources are your analytical and problem solving skills. There is an entire literature on how to prepare for a case interview. Particularly good guides are those within our Wetfeet Career Library and a book entitled Case in Point. It is worthwhile attending one of a number of case interview workshops sponsored by the ’68 Center for Career Exploration.
- An interviewer should not ask you questions that are not job related. Legislation exists to discourage discrimination making it illegal to ask about age; social, religious or political preferences; national origin; ethnic background; sexual orientation; or arrest record. If you are asked a difficult and possibly illegal question, try to avoid a direct answer. Be sure to mention any possibly illegal questions to one of the ’68 Center for Career Exploration staff immediately after your interview.
- Ask questions at the end! Do not ask questions which are answered in the recruiting material; however, you may ask for a more complete explanation of some statement contained in the publication. Your questions should reflect an understanding of the industry or organization. Before you ask your first question, you may want to mention points that weren’t covered in the interview. “Yes, I do have some questions, but first I would like to talk about…”
- Salary is usually not discussed until the on-site interview or when an offer is made. If the interviewer does ask you, you can respond with a question about the salary range for that job or suggest that salary is only one of the factors you will consider when making the decision about which offer to accept.
- Before you leave the interview, be sure you understand the next step in the process. The interviewer will tell you when you might expect to hear from the employer, if the second interview will be on the telephone, or if you will be asked to provide additional information. Do not ask the interviewer how well you did – you will probably know, and such a question puts the interviewer in a very awkward position.
- Always send a thank-you letter if the interview was at the employer’s location. The question of whether or not to send a thank-you after an on-campus interview is debatable. However, if you have a reason for writing, do so within 24 hours of the interview and an e-mail to a recruiter is usually acceptable.