Successful interviews start long before you ever shake hands with your potential future employer. Nothing is more impressive to an interviewer than a candidate who is well composed and well informed, so as soon as you have scheduled an interview, start preparing. Utilize the Web, local libraries, even the company’s very own marketing materials and annual reports; an interviewer will not expect you to know the intimate details of their business, but you should have a good grasp of the basics (i.e. a little company history, their line of products/services, etc.). After you have reviewed the company’s background, make sure you know your own background at least as well as you know theirs. As strange as it might sound, it is a good idea to study your own credentials; it will behoove you to demonstrate how past experience can benefit their company. By predicting what questions will be asked and having already considered replies, you will sound articulate and well prepared.
Some typical things an interviewer might ask you include:
- Tell me about yourself/ What are your hobbies?
- What are your strengths/ What are your weaknesses?
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
- Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years? / What are your goals?
- Why did you choose your particular major/ career choice?
- How do you deal with pressure?
- Do you work well with a team?
- What can you bring to this company?
- What is the most challenging thing you have ever done?
- Give an example of:
- An idea you had, and what you did with it
- A project you worked on similar to the position here
- A problem you had, and how you dealt with it
- A position of leadership you have had
- The most personally rewarding job you have had
Once you feel you are sufficiently prepared to field any questions, you should write a few questions of your own regarding the company or the position. The only other bit of preparation you have now is selecting your attire. In general, it is better to be more conservative than bold. You probably will not know ahead of time what the dress code is for this particular company, plus it is best if you are remembered for what you said, rather than what you wore.
Always plan on being early for an interview – you never know what sort of transit problems you might have, be it traffic, an accident, or a train running late. At the start of the actual interview, be sure to have a firm handshake, and expect a little small talk. Don’t feel uncomfortable about discussing things not related to the business at hand. This will help break the ice, and give the interviewer a better idea of how you interact with other people socially. Eye contact is an important thing to keep in mind from the time you introduce yourself to the moment you leave; maintaining eye contact carries with it a sense of sincerity, and honesty is a value that any employer looks for in his workers.
You will likely make a better impression if you go into the interview with the correct state of mind. While you are competing with other candidates for the position, you have not entered a contest. Interviews are opportunities for companies and candidates to become more acquainted, and, as such, storytelling is a key part of the interviewing process. Only with real-life examples of your skills can you present yourself as more than the two-dimensional character a resume makes you out to be, so keep the illustrations interesting, but relatively short. During the course of the interview, try to be a good judge of your examiner’s personality. This way you can use positive body language and tailor yo responses to be more like what you believe the interviewer wants to hear, though it is certainly not recommended that you fabricate anything. Remember, honesty is key. Most interviewers have gone through this process enough times to realize when someone is not entirely on the level.
Do not be intimidated by difficult questions, or let the interviewer coerce you into saying something you would rather not. He or she may inquire about your personal feelings toward your last employer, which dispositions you tend to conflict with, or what your weaknesses are. The important thing is to be as courteous as possible when you reply. Never berate a former co-worker or boss. Tell them you are an amicable person who generally does not get into squabbles at work. And do not sell yourself short; if an interviewer really wants to know what your weaknesses are, give them something you can put a positive spin on (i.e., taking your work too seriously, being a perfectionist, needing to see projects through to their completion).
There are several different types of interviews that an employer may conduct (behavioral, case, personal, or situational), and often elements of each are incorporated into a single session. You can increase the chances of having a successful interview by identifying what kind of question you are being asked and responding appropriately.
Your storytelling skills come into play when asked a behavioral question. Here you will need to demonstrate how past experiences have contributed to your character, and in the process reveal some attribute of yourself that the employer is looking for. For example, you might be asked to describe how you have used your teamwork abilities to meet a challenge.
Instead of relying on past circumstances, a case interview looks ahead with hypothetical questions. How would you react in a given situation? What steps would you take to achieve your desired result? An employer is not likely to have a predetermined answer he/she would like to hear in this case, but rather is hoping to learn about your decision making process.
True to its name, in this situation an interviewer is just trying to learn more about the “real” you, rather than the “professional” you. It may involve questions about what you are looking for in a career, but will more likely focus on your hobbies and interests. By nature, a personal interview is not so rigid, so think of it as a casual conversation with an old classmate.
Like a case interview, the purpose is to discover your potential; it is less relating past experience and more role-playing. If you were applying for a sales position, this might involve the interviewer acting as a customer and you attempting to sell them some product. The pressure to perform on the spot cannot be any greater, but the interviewer is just as aware as you are of the fact you could not possibly prepare for this. If you do not become too bewildered, and are able to show even a hint of your ability, then consider the interview a successful one.
At the end of the interview, make sure you have had an opportunity to ask all the questions you wanted to, and ask whether the interviewer has covered everything they needed to. If you are genuinely interested in a job, tell them so, and reassure the interviewer that you look forward to hearing from them. The session should conclude with another firm handshake, but your job-seeking efforts are not quite finished. Follow up the interview with a phone call or letter thanking them for the opportunity. This will reinforce the idea that you are interested, confirm what a good-natured person you are, and keep your name in front of the decision-makers.
If you can communicate your ideas concisely and distinctly, convey your ability to succeed in a work environment with leadership, teamwork, and problem solving skills, display your enthusiasm for the position and the company, and convince them you are a motivated individual, you will be celebrating your new employment in no time.