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.
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.
The resources at the Career Center will provide much of the information and direction you need or a successful interview. If you do not feel comfortable about interviewing, attend a workshop and make an appointment to talk to your career counselor. You may decide at that point that it would be advantageous to arrange a mock interview.
There are as many different interview styles as there are interviewers. However, the interviewer is trying to find reasons to ask you to join the organization, and it is your responsibility to make sure the interviewer understands your unique qualifications. If you have been invited to interview, the recruiter has found items on your resume and in the cover letter that are of interest to that organization. If you are properly prepared for each conversation, you will reinforce all the positive impressions.
A recent survey of recruiters shows that students were often weak in three areas: (1) students had not researched the company and so gave weak answers to questions about the company, industry trends, and possible career paths; (2) students did not ask pertinent questions; and (3) students lacked the communication skills to effectively market themselves. Be enthusiastic and don’t be afraid to “toot your own horn.” Be confident, yet not cocky.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ask questions and talk through your line of reasoning. The process you go through is more important than the correct answer. The interviewer will help you, so listen carefully to the interviewer’s responses. Remember, consultants solve problems, and the interviewer just wants to know how creative you are in gathering information and how analytical you are in applying what you know. Contrary to popular opinion, these interviews are dialogues.
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 Career Center.
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.
Interviewers want to know how you make decisions, why you picked Williams, your major, or certain activities; how you think and the analysis you follow to solve problems; how you perform in certain situations; or how you deal with frustration.
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 Career Center staff immediately after your interview.
The interviewer will usually leave time at the end for you to ask questions. 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.
Just remember… the acronym for a successful interview is HELP.
Homework – Do careful homework on the employing organization and on your resume. Know why you included each item on the resume and be ready to discuss its special significance.
Enthusiasm – For you and for the organization.
Listen – Listen to the entire question before you formulate your answer. Good questions are phrased as “Tell me about…, What was your contribution to.. .?, How would you react if . . . ?, Why did you.. .?”
Plan – Be sure you cover everything in your pre-interview strategic plan.
If you can answer all the suggested interview questions, you should have every interview under control.
If you think you may have trouble with any of the questions or are not sure about your answers, see a career counselor before your first interview. Don’t practice on the interviewer.