What you’ll learn to do: Discuss effective interview strategies and prepare for common interview questions
Landing a job isn’t as easy as applying for one, plain and simple. In the end, you’ve only got one shot with a prospective employer before they more on to more qualified applicants, so do everything you can to show that you’re the person they need. This module will help you:
- Break down the interview process, and show you how to prepare for the steps within
- Apply helpful tips and prepare answers to practice questions so you are comfortable highlighting your core skills and experience during an interview
- Describe effective strategies to prepare for an interview
- Differentiate between types of interview situations and identify appropriate interview techniques for each
- Discuss various question types common in interviews
Preparing For a Job Interview
If your résumé and cover letter have served their purposes well, you will be invited to participate in an interview with the company or organization you’re interested in. Congratulations! It’s an exciting opportunity, and your prospects for employment are very strong if you put in the time to be well prepared.
In this section we look at how to get ready for an interview, what types of interviews you might need to engage in, and what kinds of questions you might be asked.
Preparing Effectively for a Job Interview
Review the Job Description
When you prepare for an interview, your first step will be to carefully read and reread the job posting or job description. This will help you develop a clearer idea of how you meet the skills and attributes the company seeks.
Research the Company or Organization
Researching the company will give you a wider view of what the company is looking for and how well you might fit in. Your prospective employer may ask you what you know about the company. Being prepared to answer this question shows that you took time and effort to prepare for the interview and that you have a genuine interest in the organization. It shows good care and good planning—soft skills you will surely need on the job.
Practice Answering Common Questions
Most interviewees find that practicing the interview in advance with a family member, a friend, or a colleague eases possible nerves during the actual interview. It also creates greater confidence when you walk through the interview door. In the “Interview Questions” section below, you’ll learn more about specific questions you will likely be asked and corresponding strategies for answering them.
Plan to Dress Appropriately
Interviewees are generally most properly dressed for an interview in business attire, with the goal of looking highly professional in the eyes of the interviewer. In the article “Here’s What ‘Business Casual’ Really Means” by Jacquelyn Smith, learn exactly what is meant by “business casual,” and see the specific types of attire appropriate for men and women.
Plan to bring your résumé, cover letter, and a list of references to the interview. You may also want to bring a portfolio of representative work. Leave behind coffee, chewing gum, and any other items that could be distractions.
Above all, interviewees should be confident and “courageous.” By doing so you make a strong first impression. As the saying goes, “There is never a second chance to make a first impression.”
In the Interview
Once you are in the interview, there is that rush of adrenaline that comes with the desire to excel and land the next interview—or better yet the job itself. Perhaps the simplest trick in the interview is to quickly wonder, “Why did they ask that question?” There’s a purpose behind each question asked—that person wants to know how you can do this new job. You quickly have to demonstrate that you have what it takes.
There are all kinds of memorable names for interview techniques. STAR is one such technique that quickly helps you present the stories of your career in a way to demonstrate skills to the interviewer. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Activity, Result. This is a way showcase your skills in under two minutes by setting the context of when you exercised a skill, describing what was required of you, what you did, and how the situation concluded. Here is a nice summary with examples from the article “Using the Star technique to shine at job interviews: a how-to guide” by Michael Higgins.
Interview Types and Techniques
Every interview you participate in will be unique. The people you meet with, the interview setting, and the questions you’ll be asked will all be different from interview to interview.
The various factors that characterize any given interview can contribute to the sense of adventure and excitement you feel. But it’s also normal to feel a little nervous about what lies ahead. With so many unknowns, how can you plan to “nail the interview” no matter what comes up?
A good strategy for planning is to anticipate the type of interview you may find yourself in. There are common formats for job interviews, described in detail below. By knowing a bit more about each type and being aware of techniques that work for each, you can plan to be on your game no matter what form your interview takes.
Using your LinkedIn, GlassDoor, or Zip Recruiter account and other web searches, you can sometimes learn more about the company you will be interviewing with. That may help you plan for the types of interviews listed below. Most of these prepare for a series of interviews, which is more common than a single interview followed by an offer.
Screening interviews might best be characterized as “weeding-out” interviews. They ordinarily take place over the phone or in another low-stakes environment in which the interviewer has maximum control over the amount of time the interview takes. Screening interviews are generally short because they glean only basic information about you. If you are scheduled to participate in a screening interview, you might safely assume that you have some competition for the job and that the company is using this strategy to whittle down the applicant pool. With this kind of interview, your goal is to win a face-to-face interview. For this first shot, though, prepare well and challenge yourself to shine. Try to stand out from the competition and be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.
This is where studying the job ad or other reference may be the most helpful. That starting point has many specific words describing the opportunity. Work to use those words in your interview and think about the experiences you have that use those concepts. For example, if you were a “supervisor” and the ad talks about a “manager,” be sure to describe how many people you “managed” rather than how many people you “supervised.”
Phone or Web Conference Interviews
If you are geographically separated from your prospective employer, you may be invited to participate in a phone interview or online interview instead of meeting face-to-face. Technology, of course, is a good way to bridge distances. The fact that you’re not there in person doesn’t make it any less important to be fully prepared. In fact, you may wish to be all the more “on your toes” to compensate for the distance barrier. Make sure your equipment (phone, computer, Internet connection, etc.) is fully charged and works. If you’re at home for the interview, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free. If the meeting is online, make sure your video background is pleasing and neutral, like a wall hanging or even a white wall. (See Module 9: Communicating Through Technology for more on video calls.)
If you are not familiar with web conferences, be sure to do a mock run with a friend first to trouble shoot any issues. This helps you become comfortable with the controls and camera settings. It has been known to happen that candidates dress well for the camera but forget about the laundry hanging in the background. Test volume as well so that you do not waste valuable time on the call saying “can you hear me?” People want to see your face more than your toes, so understand where that distance is. Position your camera in a place you will naturally look, which is right over the screen that the interviewer is seen on.
The majority of job interviews are conducted in this format—just you and a single interviewer—likely with the manager you would report to and work with. The one-on-one format gives you both a chance to see how well you connect and how well your talents, skills, and personalities mesh. You can expect to be asked questions like “Why would you be good for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.” Many interviewees prefer the one-on-one format because it allows them to spend in-depth time with the interviewer, and they feel it is easier to build rapport face to face. As always, be very courteous and professional. Have a portfolio of your best work at the ready.
These interviews begin with an entry to the room and a handshake. Practice yours, since a handshake is often the first impression you make.
An efficient format for meeting a candidate is a panel interview in which perhaps four to five coworkers meet at the same time with a single interviewee. The coworkers comprise the “search committee” or “search panel,” which may consist of different company representatives such as human resources, management, and staff. One advantage of this format for the committee is that meeting together gives them a common experience to reflect on afterward. In a panel interview, listen carefully to questions from each panelist, and try to connect fully with each questioner. Be sure to write down names and titles, so you can send individual thank-you notes after the interview.
If you have created personal business cards, this is the time to hand each interviewer one. Hand them out yourself rather than slinging them across the table. Be sure to make eye contact.
Serial interviews are a combination of one-on-one meetings with a group of interviewers, typically conducted as a series of meetings staggered throughout the day. Ordinarily this type of interview is for higher-level jobs, for which it’s important to meet at length with major stakeholders. If your interview process is designed this way, you will need to be ultra-prepared as you will be answering many in-depth questions. Stay alert.
In some higher-level positions, candidates are taken to lunch or dinner, especially if this is a second interview (a “call back” interview). If this is you, count yourself lucky and be on your best behavior, because even if the lunch meeting is unstructured and informal, it’s still an official interview. Do not order an alcoholic beverage, and use your best table manners. You are not expected to pay or even to offer to pay. But, as always, you must send a thank-you note.
Many candidates worry about the right food to order. Think of the meal interview as more of an interview and less of a meal. Order a moderately priced item that is not likely to be difficult to eat. Then plan to focus on engaging with the other person more than digging in.
Group interviews are comprised of several interviewees and perhaps only one or two interviewers who may make a presentation to the assembled group. This format allows an organization to quickly pre-screen candidates. It also gives candidates a chance to quickly learn about the company. As with all interview formats, you are being observed. How do you behave with your group? Do you assume a leadership role? Are you quiet but attentive? What kind of personality is the company looking for? A group interview may reveal this.
For most job candidates, the burning question is “What will I be asked?” There’s no way to anticipate every single question that may arise during an interview. It’s possible that, no matter how well prepared you are, you may get a question you just didn’t expect. But that’s okay. Do as much preparation as you can—which will build your confidence—and trust that the answers will come.
As you respond to the questions, try to remind yourself, that this is not so much “about you” as about the interviewer finding the right fit for this opening. The questions are establishing whether your skills and experiences will meet the needs of this company. That is where your research comes in. You can work to explain your background relative to this new environment. If the interviewer says, “Tell me about you,” that is not a cue to start with your earliest memory. Instead, focus on the specific knowledge and skills you possess as related to what you know about this position.
The simplest place to start is to have a list of about four to six examples of workplace actions that you are proud of. Think of times you excelled. Then think about how this same story might fit several situations. One story might show initiative, leading others, decision making, and more. With these stories in mind, when a question comes, pull out the best fit and reword it to match the specific question. Try creating that list now, then use the question banks below to see what fits and what other situations you might need to have mentally ready.
There is no substitute for going through as many questions as you can prior to the interview. As you practice on your own, do not just read these questions and think. Do sit in front of a mirror and answer the questions fully. This is the practice that will set you up for adapting to various interview situations.
To help you reach that point of sureness and confidence, take time to review common interview questions. Think about your answers. Make notes if that helps. Then conduct a practice interview with a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Speak your answers out loud. Below is a list of resources that contain common interview questions and good explanations/answers you might want to adopt.
If you can use the databases below to find questions to practice with, record yourself. Then watch the recording and score each response against the STAR technique discussed earlier. From these databases, look at the broad categories of questions so that you may prepare some responses and examples for each category. Some categories may be:
|Goodwill, Greetings and Get Acquainted||Tell me about yourself.||No more than two minutes. List the highlights of your resume with a brief example, if possible.|
|Gauging Your Interest||Why are you interested in this position?||Make this position tops on your interest list, without ever alluding to any other search. Avoid sounding like this might be any other than a first choice (For example,”When I happened to see your ad” makes the job posting sound trivial to you.)|
|Your Experience and Accomplishments||How has your education prepared you for this position?||Be confident. Everyone knows you have not done this job yet, but you must sound like you are ready for this job. Avoid the natural hesitation you may feel (“I think I’ll be great” versus “With these skills, I can…”)|
|The Future||What would you most like to accomplish if you get this position?||There’s no need to over promise or worry, but do demonstrate you have a plan for this job or for life versus just hoping things will work out. Offer some realistic career goals based on some practical skill or education you have.|
|Challenging||What type of people do you have no patience for?||We all have weaknesses. Being aware of them is a great skill. Turning them to our advantage is even better. “While I get along well with most people, those who complain rather than try to find a solution can be hard on my patience.”|
|Situational||If you were aware a co-worker was falsifying data, what would you do?||The employer probably wants to see how you handle difficulties on your own and what logical process you may use to solve problems. Remember to focus on the company’s outcome and expense while not compromising your own standards.|
|Behavioral||Describe a time you worked as part of a team.||While all interview responses work well with the STAR technique, this is the type of question best suited to it.|
Why Should We Hire You
From the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business Career Management Office, here is a video featuring representatives from recruiting companies offering advice for answering the question “Why should we hire you?” As you watch, make mental notes about how you would answer the question in an interview for a job you really want.
In closing, we suggest reading the essay “It’s Like Online Dating,” by Jackie Vetrano. In this essay, the writer compares job hunting—including résumé creation and cover-letter writing—to online dating. In this last section, she concludes with a look at the job interview and compares it to a first date.