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No matter how well-qualified you are; no matter how certain you are that you can do the job you're aiming for, you still have an important task in front of you. That task is to convince the employer that you have what it takes to satisfy the demands of the job. That's where the interview comes into play.

In this section, various questions concerning the interview process will be examined. Each interview you have will be different, so it is impossible to tell you exactly what to expect. Below is an overview of the interview process to aid you in your efforts in presenting yourself to prospective employers in the best possible light.

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Structure of the Screening Interview
Sizing Up An Employer
Where Do I Find Information About A Company?
Questions To Ask Employers
Common Reasons for Rejection
After the Interview
Common Questions & Answers
Summary

Structure Of The Screening Interview

The screening interview is arranged so that the greatest exchange of information can take place in the least amount of time. Most screening interviews last approximately thirty minutes and consist of three distinct parts:

1. Introduction - Ice-breaking part of the interview. During this time, the interviewer will seek to establish rapport with you and try to put you at ease. Remember, your evaluation as a candidate begins the moment you enter the room, and this first conversation is important. Your appearance should convey good grooming and professionalism, and your handshake should show self-confidence and enthusiasm. As a rule, you should not be seated until you are invited to do so. For all of the interview, the key rule is to follow the lead of the interviewer.

2. Body - Major portion of the interview, also known as the information exchange. In a thirty minute interview, this exchange usually lasts twenty minutes. During this time, the interviewer will be asking you questions, observing your non-verbal behavior, and evaluating you and your skills.

The interviewer is really seeking answers to just a few basic questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • Do you know what you want?
  • Do you know what you can do?
  • Are you realistic about the work world?
  • What are you really like?
  • Will you fit in with the company?
  • Are you a hard worker?
  • How can I use you?
  • How will you benefit this company?
  • What makes you stand out above the other applicants?
  • Why should I hire you?
During this part of the interview, it is important that you not only emphasize your skills, but that you give evidence of these. For example: If you have a research skill, point out how you have used this in your education or how you have achieved something special with this skill. Also, attempt to illustrate how that skill might benefit the company.

Other factors that interviewers look for include:
  • Career goals
  • Sincerity
  • Scholastic effort
  • Honesty
  • Interview preparation
  • Trustworthiness
  • Ambition
  • Positive attitude
Another popular type of interview is behavioral interviews. It is designed to eliminate "pat" answers that are commonly given during traditional interviews. 
Panel interviews are also increasingly popular.  You need to prepare for all possible interview situations.

The interviewer will try to determine your qualifications and how these match particular job openings. Be prepared to discuss specifics about the organization. These include job responsibilities, operations, and policies. Know your immediate and long-range career goals and be able to communicate them in an organized fashion. Be prepared to discuss geographic preference and mobility.

3. Closing - The last part of the interview is referred to as the closing. This is very much like the close of a sales presentation. Exit from the interview as soon as the interviewer indicates closure, but only after expressing, if you are, interest in the job. The interviewer will never know of your interest unless you express it. Before leaving the interview, be certain you understand what the next step will be. Will the interviewer contact you, and, if so, when? It is permissible to ask, "When may I expect to hear from you?"

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Sizing Up An Employer

An important part of the job search process is to explore your interests, skills, and values. It's just as important to evaluate organizations that might offer you career opportunities. This is true for two reasons.

1. Learning about an organization in advance can be the key to a successful interview. If you don't know the basic facts about an employer, much interview time might be taken up asking questions you could have easily answered in advance. 


Failure to do your homework before an interview--to read as much as you can about the company or organization--can quickly turn off recruiters.
They may wonder about your interest if you didn't bother to learn even the most basic information.
 

2. The effect your first job can have on the rest of your career--and life. A good choice can play an important role in leading to professional success and personal happiness. A bad choice can have the opposite results.

The following is a list of key facts you should learn about any company or organization in which you're interested.

  • How large is the organization?
  • How long has the organization been in business?
  • What are its products and/or services?
  • Does it have a good reputation?
  • Does it have regional or branch locations that could offer you
    your geographical preference?
  • What is the employer's organizational structure like? Does it offer opportunity to grow and advance, or does it seem likely you might wind up in a dead-end job?
  • What kind of future seems to be in store for the organization? Is the outlook good for growth? Your starting salary may seem all-important now, but it's what comes later that really counts.
  • Does the employer have good "character"? People make an organization what it is. Pick a group of people you can be proud to call your associates; a group that is dynamic, responsive, and responsible. This is probably the most important single item to evaluate.

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Where Do I Find Information About a Company?

  • CAREER SERVICES
  • TWU Library. The librarians in the general reference area can help you find pertinent information on a company from a number of sources:
    1. Annual Reports
    2. Business Directories (Standard & Poor, Dun & Bradstreet)
    3. Business Periodical Indexes
    4. Newspaper Indexes
    5. Industry Directories and Journals
    6. The Internet - computer lab and help available in Career Services
  • Yellow Pages in telephone directories
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Contact the organization directly and ask for whatever literature or sales brochures they may be willing to provide.
  • If possible, ask current employees about the company and the position.

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Questions To Ask Employers

As the interview draws to a close, the interviewer will usually ask if you have any questions. Being prepared ahead of time for this opportunity will further impress the interviewer.

Your questions should show a sincere interest in this particular employer, an awareness of the employer's needs, and an indication of how you can fulfill those needs. What is a good question? In general, good questions are those which are concrete but not so basic that they lead the interviewer to assume that you have not researched the company. Ask the most important questions first as the employer might be on a tight time schedule. The lesser questions can be dealt with in the follow-up interview.

An inappropriate question in the first interview is one that deals with salary or fringe benefits. Remember, this is a screening interview. Both you and the interviewer are trying to determine if there is any interest. If there is, and a follow-up interview does take place, there will be ample time to discuss salary and fringe benefits.

meetingThe questions you ask might cover the following areas:

  • The employer's management philosophy
  • The nature of the training program and supervision given in the early years of employment
  • Procedure for annual reviews
  • Opportunities within the company after a few years of service
  • The average age of a first level supervisor
  • The strengths of the individual formerly in this position
  • Amount of travel involved

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Common Reasons For Rejection

If you get a letter of rejection, it may be a good idea to turn that letter into a learning tool. Consider the following reasons given by 739 corporate recruiters surveyed by Michigan State University for rejecting candidates and decide if any of them fit you for that particular interview.

  • Unrealistic expectations of first job: won't accept entry level position,
    entry level pay
  • Lack of enthusiasm, commitment, interest in job
  • Attitude of "What can you do for me?"; conceited; rude
  • Late; ill-prepared for interview; no research on organization;
    asks poor questions
  • Lack of planning for career - no purpose or goals
  • Education or previous work experience has no relevance to job being sought
  • Poor explanation for low grades, and/or bad references; makes excuses;
    fails to take responsibility for actions
  • No previous leadership experience or positions of responsibility
  • Poor nonverbal skills; inability to communicate clearly;
    shy, lack of self- confidence
  • Poor personal appearance
  • Negative attitude regarding previous employers and/or professors

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After The Interview

  • Send a typed thank you letter immediately after the interview. It can be a very brief letter simply expressing your appreciation for the recruiter's time. You may also want to mention something that stands out in your mind about the interview and re-express your interest in the position.
  • If you get invited to a second interview, the employer is obviously very interested in you. The follow-up interview will give both you and the company a greater opportunity to explore your mutual compatibility.
  • The second interview will be conducted in much the same manner as your screening interview; however, you will undoubtedly meet more people, and the length of time spent with each will be longer. During this interview, the employer will expect you to be more conversant about your experience, your goals, your activities, your skills, and how all of these will make you a contributing member to a team of employees.
  • Plan to spend most of one day with the employer. Though the time spent will differ by employer, you can expect your day to begin at approximately 9:30 a.m. and end by approximately 3:30 p.m. Remember, this will be a stressful time, so you should prepare yourself by getting proper rest beforehand.
  • If all goes well during the interview, you may receive an offer of employment prior to leaving; however, this is not always the case as the offer may not be made until a few days or weeks after the interview. Don't be alarmed if you leave not knowing whether you have an offer.
  • After the interview, sit and record your observations. Doing this will assist you should you need to ask the employer additional questions. Also, this will help you compare one employer with another if you are in a position to choose from two or more offers.
  • You should also write a thank-you letter expressing appreciation for the follow-up interview and emphasizing your interest in the position. If you are very interested in the opportunity, send a thank-you letter to everyone who spent time with you that day. This courtesy may be the little extra thing needed to cause you to stand out from among all the applicants.

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Common Questions & Answers

What should I bring to the interview?

  • You may want to bring a simple portfolio (folder) or notebook with extra resumes. Bringing stacks of class projects and completed homework assignments to show the recruiter is generally not recommended.
  • If you carry a briefcase, do not carry a purse also.

What if I'm asked about... dreaded subject (i.e. bad grade, got fired...)?

  • First of all, if you perceive something about yourself to be a negative point, don't bring up that subject. If the recruiter brings up the dreaded subject, try to be casual about your response and answer directly and honestly.
  • Whatever the issue is, if you act like it's a big problem, the recruiter will be more likely to hold it as a strike against you. Try not to make excuses for the problem or blame others.
  • Instead, address the recruiter's concern, take responsibility, say what you learned from the experience, and move on to the next question.

What about salary negotiation?

  • Before your interview, research current salaries to obtain a realistic range for this type of position. One source to check is the National Association of Colleges and Employer's quarterly salary survey.
  • Be prepared to give a range if the interviewer asks, but don't expect to get into nitty-gritty salary negotiations in the on-campus interview. However, salary discussions are likely to become more involved in a follow-up interview.
  • It would be a good idea as you prepare for that interview to find one of the general job search books in the Career Services library and read the section on negotiations.

What if I'm asked an illegal question?

  • If you honestly believe that a question has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, it is appropriate to decline giving an answer.
  • For example, if you are asked if you have plans to have children, you could say, "Right now, I am excited (interested, preparing) to being (continue) my career in...... or another response might be "I'll be happy to answer that if you can clarify how my family plans relate to being an accountant at your firm."

What if I can't think of an answer right away?

  • It's O.K. to pause for a few seconds to think of a good answer. Blurting out an immediate answer simply to be saying something is not a good idea.
  • Giving a question a few seconds of careful thought before responding can demonstrate effective communication skills.

How should I sit?

  • It is important to pay attention to your posture, but that doesn't mean you have to sit up straight like a toy soldier. Try to relax a bit, but don't slouch.
  • Leaning forward slightly may help to nonverbally communicate interest and enthusiasm.
  • Keep your feet on the floor and your lower back against the back of the chair. Remember that you are communicating by body language as well as orally.

How firm should my handshake be?

  • Try not to get too worried about this. You needn't strive for some optimal pressure application. Just greet the recruiter with a smile. When his or her hand is extended toward you, reach out, grasp the hand firmly, give it two or three shakes, and move on to the next task.

Can I reveal my sense of humor?

  • A sense of humor is almost always considered a positive quality. The thing to be aware of, however, is that what may be hysterical to you, could be "lame" or offensive to the person interviewing you.
  • Don't be afraid to smile and reveal your lighter side, but be careful to avoid anything that may be considered controversial or "off-color" to others.

Can I move my hands?

  • It is O.K. to express yourself with your hands, but don't go crazy and fling your arms all over the room.
  • When you practice interviewing with someone else, ask him or her if your hand movements or any other quirks were distracting. If so, remember in the interview to be aware of your gestures and keep them under control as best you can.

Can I take notes?

  • Generally speaking, it is not advisable to take notes during an interview. It is acceptable to jot down a name or other simple fact, but too much writing will slow the interview dramatically.

How should I address the recruiter?

  • It is best to refer to the recruiter as Mr.________ or Ms.________. They will tell you if they want you to call them by their first name.

What if I'm asked about my weaknesses?

  • Don't be alarmed. There is a way to answer this question without sinking your own ship. Try to think of something that you truly do consider to be a weakness, but make sure that it's also something you've been taking steps to overcome.
  • For example, you may say that you haven't had much experience supervising others, but that you've recently taken on a volunteer position as an industry captain for the American Heart Association which involves coordinating and supervising the efforts of a number of block captains.
  • This type of example demonstrates that while you have weaknesses like anyone else, you've identified them and are making progress toward eliminating them. One final tip on the weakness question: avoid using the trite expressions "workaholic, perfectionist, and overachiever." These expressions are overused and the recruiters are bored stiff with the same old lines.

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Summary

Interviewing is an extremely important part of the job search process. By preparing more diligently than the other applicants, being able to give evidence of your potential, and clearly communicating that you have what it takes to do the job, your odds of finding an excellent entry-level position will be greatly increased.

Doing your homework before an interview is not easy, but it is worth it. Think of the years of hard work you've put into your education preparing for this moment. Doesn't it make sense to put just a bit more time and effort into this crucial stage of your career development?

woman with briefcase celebratingRemember...Preparation is the key to a successful interview!

Other things to consider:

  • Relax and be yourself
  • Know how you are unique
  • Know how you can help the company
  • Be honest
  • Be positive
  • Be confident
  • Be enthusiastic
  • Practice, Practice, Practice

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page last updated 8/22/2014 4:55 PM