Successful Interviewing

What you need to know
Interview questions
Be prepared to tell stories
What employers are looking for
Tips for the interview
Accepting the position
Dressing for success
Interview checklist

Finding a job is a process that takes time, commitment, and a lot of practice. A good interview is a significant part of the job search process. The interview is a short, intense period of time that demands preparation. Success in the interview is directly related to the preparation that has been completed. To be adequately prepared for the interview, you should know the following things.

Know Yourself

It has been said that there is really only one question asked in an interview -- “Who are you?”  
Every other question the interviewer asks will be geared towards finding additional pieces to the puzzle of “Who are you?”

To answer this question you will need to take a thorough inventory of your life experiences. The information you collect about yourself will enable you to develop succinct and articulate answers to the questions you are likely to encounter in an interview.

Develop a good understanding of your education, experience, skills, interests, values, and abilities.
Be able to translate your goals and abilities and show how they would be an asset to the organization with which you are interviewing. Try listing your features under the following headings:

• strongest skills
• greatest areas of knowledge
• strongest parts of your personality
• things you do best
• skills you should develop to do better in your career

Career and Employment Services (CES) has many resources to help you assess yourself in these areas including personal career advising, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Strong Interest Inventory and results from the Career matchmaker on Stop by Howarth 101 to learn more about these self-assessment tools.

Know the organization to which you are applying
Find out everything you can about the employer before the interview. Know the organization’s products, training programs, history and current status. You can learn this information by talking to people in the field or organization (you can access alumni through the ASK Network on our website), calling the organization to request information (annual reports, brochures, public relations materials), and by conducting research in the library. Visit CES for information about researching companies.

Know the position for which you are applying
You should know the key competencies required for the position. Ideally, you gather this information from the job description before you apply, and use it to write a targeted cover letter and resume. Being familiar with the requirements of the position will allow you to highlight your particular strengths as they relate to the position. For example, if you know that one of your duties will be to give oral presentations, you will be sure to articulate your experience and ability in that area. 

Now that you have analyzed your skills and strengths and you have researched the organization and position to which you are applying, you are ready to practice interviewing. Practice is a vital component of preparing for the interview. Make an appointment for a mock interview with a career advisor. During the mock interview, you will be asked some common interview questions and given suggestions about how to answer them. Another way to practice is by using a tape recorder to record your answers, or by writing out your answers to sample interview questions. Here are some to get you started:

Tell me about yourself
This is often the most feared question of interviewees. However, if you are prepared, it gives you the opportunity to showcase your knowledge and skills related to the position, and to highlight your reasons for applying to the organization. You will want to prepare a brief (60-90) second speech in response to this question. Make sure to include these three things: your education, experience related to the position, and your interest in the position.

What experience do you have that prepares you for this position?
Express your past experiences and interests that directly relate to this job. Even if you are a recent college graduate with little practical experience, you can strengthen your qualifications by mentioning special projects you worked on for pertinent part-time or volunteer positions, or related coursework. End your response by emphasizing your enthusiasm for and interest in the position.

What are your strengths?
Prepare to discuss your strength areas and demonstrate how you know these are strengths and how they will help you succeed in the position at the organization. Examples from your experience are effective (“I developed strong organizational skills in my position as an administrative assistant for the Student Development Office…”). Use every opportunity to show your skills and strengths through examples that verify or “prove” your assertions.

What is your greatest weakness?
This can be a tricky question to answer. If you sit and ponder for several seconds and finally say, “I really can’t think of anything,” the interviewer will more than likely be amused rather than irritated. We all have weaknesses. In answering this question, don’t discuss a weakness that the interviewer might expect to hamper job performance. Instead, discuss a growth area for you, something that you have to work harder at or which can be overcome with time and practice. Be honest, but make sure to talk about the steps you are taking to work on your weakness. For instance, if you tend to take on too many tasks, follow that up by indicating that you are working on that problem by learning when to delegate.

Why should we hire you for this position?
This is usually the final question asked.  At this point, reiterate the points you have made throughout the interview and stress the strongest benefits you have to offer. Finish by stating how much you would appreciate the opportunity to work for the organization.

Be Prepared to Tell Stories
Competency-based interviews are more common today – expect to be asked questions that require you to describe specific examples from your experiences. Your past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior, and the employer will learn far more about you from asking about your competencies through your experiences.

Most often described as behavioral interview questions, they usually start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe a situation where…”, and require a detailed response. The following suggestions will help you respond to these types of questions.

Before the interview:

  • Anticipate the kinds of questions that might be asked – the job description will give you a clear idea of the skills needed to do the job. Prepare examples that demonstrate your skills or qualities they’ve asked for.

During the interview:

  • Take a moment to organize your thoughts. The questions can be long. You may need to clarify the question and then give yourself a moment to think of an appropriate example.
  • Tell a good story. This involves using a structure to keep yourself from rambling. The S.T.A.R. method is the most common method:
    • S – describe the situation.
    • T – describe the task that was to be accomplished.
    • A – describe YOUR actions to get the task accomplished (avoid using “we”).
    • R – describe the positive result. When responding to a negative question, describe what you learned from the experience.

Choose stories that showcase your skills or demonstrate additional skills. These questions can be an opportunity to show the employer your depth of skills.

Sample Questions:
Behavioral questions are often prefaced with “Tell me about a time when…” and the expected response is a story about one specific incident:

  • Tell me about a time when you faced a crisis in your life or job and how you responded or recovered from it. 
  • Tell me about a time when you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
  • Describe a time when you had to overcome stress.
  • Tell me about a time when you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
  • Describe a failure that occurred in your job and how you overcame it.
  • Tell me about the most difficult decision you’ve had to make in the last year.

More Interview Questions
Below are some other questions you might encounter in an interview. Books with additional interview questions are available at the CES Career Resource Library (Howarth 101) and provide tips about how to craft your responses.

  • Describe the most difficult assignment you have tackled.
  • What are your short-term goals? Long term goals?
  • If I didn’t know anything about this organization, what could you tell me?
  • What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
  • Why do you think you can be successful in this position?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Why did you choose your college major?
  • Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
  • How has your college experience prepared you for a career?
  • What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?

Questions you can ask
You will nearly always be given an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview; always have several prepared. Asking questions conveys to the interviewer that you are intelligent, enthusiastic, and interested in the position. This is not the time to ask questions about salary and benefits, or the types of questions to which you could easily find the answers on the organization’s website. Hold salary and benefit questions until after you receive an offer and you are negotiating the details. Below are some sample questions you could ask.

  • What are some of the greatest challenges I would face in this position?
  • What type of training and ongoing professional development programs do you have?
  • How is this department organized? To whom would I report?
  • What do you like best/least about working here?
  • What is the atmosphere like in the office?

Interview Questions for Educators
Below are some questions educators may be asked in an interview. For additional questions and suggestions on how to handle them, come pick up a free copy of the AAEE Job Search Handbook for Educators. Then schedule an appointment for a mock interview with a career counselor.

  • What would you do if a student were not learning a concept?
  • How do you/will you provide for individual differences within your classroom?
  • What influenced you to choose teaching as a career?
  • What is your philosophy of education?
  • Are parent/teacher conferences important? Why or why not?
  • What do you know about our school district?
  • Describe an ideal classroom.
  • What would you do with a student who refused to do the work you assigned?
  • What is the greatest attribute you can bring to a classroom of students?

Sample Questions for You to Ask

  • How active is your parent-teacher organization?
  • What staff development opportunities does your district offer?
  • Do teachers participate in curriculum review and change?
  • Does the district have a statement of educational philosophy or mission?

What Employers Are Looking For
The interviewer will be evaluating you against criteria that have been established for the position. These are not usually as concrete as they might appear. Personal qualities can be more important than specific skills. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers frequently seek the following traits in candidates:

  • Communications Skills (listening, verbal, written): The skill mentioned most often is the ability to listen, write, and speak effectively. Successful communication is critical in business.
  • Dedication/Hard-Working/Work Ethic/Tenacity: Employers seek employees who love what they do and who will keep at it until they solve the problem and get the job done.
  • Teamwork: Because so many jobs involve working in multiple work-groups, employers want team members with the ability to work with others in a professional manner while striving towards a common goal.
  • Initiative: While teamwork is always mentioned as an important skill, so is the ability to work independently, with minimal supervision.
  • Interpersonal Skills: The ability to relate to your co-workers, inspire others to participate, and mitigate conflict with co-workers is essential given the amount of time spent at work each day.
  • Problem-Solving/Reasoning/Creativity: Employers expect employees to find solutions to problems by applying creativity, reasoning, and past experiences to a given situation.
  • Analytical/Research Skills: The ability to assess a situation, seek multiple perspectives, gather more information if necessary, and identify key issues that need to be addressed.
  • Planning/Organizing: Deals with your ability to design, plan, organize, and implement projects and tasks within an allotted timeframe. Also involves goal-setting.
  • Flexibility/Adaptability/Managing Multiple Priorities: The ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities, and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments.
  • Computer/Technical Literacy: Almost all jobs now require some basic understanding of computer hardware and software, especially word processing, spreadsheets, and email.
  • Leadership/Management Skills: While there is some debate about whether leadership is something people are born with, these skills deal with your ability to take charge and manage your co-workers.
  • Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness: There is possibly no bigger issue in the workplace than diversity, and job-seekers must demonstrate a sensitivity and awareness to other people and cultures. If you’ve studied abroad, highlight how the experience contributed to this competency.

Adapted from and NACE Job link 2008-2009

Tips for Handling the Interview
1. Be on time (a few minutes early).
2. Dress professionally. When in doubt, dress on the conservative side.
3. Practice a firm handshake.
4. Be alert. Sit up straight.
5. Maintain appropriate eye contact.
6. Smile, relax, and be yourself.
7. Speak distinctly, and be complete, but don’t ramble.
8. Use specific examples to illustrate your answers when possible.
9. Emphasize the positive aspects of your experience.
10. Express your enthusiasm and interest in the job. Be specific about areas that sound particularly exciting.
11. Always come prepared with several questions to ask at the end.
12. Thank the interviewer for their time at the end. Ask when they will be making a decision.
13. Send a thank you note within 24-48 hours.

Accepting the Position
Congratulations! Your hard work and practice paid off and you have received a job offer.

Unless this is the only job you applied for, you may need to consider whether or not to actually accept it.  This is especially important if you have more than one job offer to choose from. Ask the caller if you can give them your answer within two or three days and then ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is the organization’s vision of the future consistent with your own?
  • Are you comfortable with the position and what it would require of you?
  • Does it seem like an organization you could work for?
  • Are the salary and benefits agreeable to you?

You must answer these questions before you accept. If you feel there are still questions that need to be answered before you accept the position, do not be afraid to ask. It will be better for all parties concerned if you ask them now. It would be detrimental to your reputation in the professional community (and it is a surprisingly small world) to accept an offer from organization A, continue interviewing with other firms and then accept an offer from organization B. So before accepting, think it over. Once you have accepted an offer, notify any other companies with which you have been dealing.

Dressing for Success
Tight clothes, nose rings and tattoos still aren't acceptable as part of professional appearance. Experts say that for most interview situations "dressing for success" still means presenting a traditionally acceptable appearance. Of course there are always exceptions, but if in doubt, conservative attire is your best choice.

"If you want to have eight earrings and have your tongue pierced, that's fine," says one recruiter. "But you're showing you don't know how to play the game, or don't respect the process. What impression do you really want to make? If it's so important to you, go ahead and dress like you normally do, but realize that you may not get the job."

Never confuse an interview with a social event. Don't dress for a party or a date.

Think noticeable, not distracting. Avoid flashy jewelry or accessories that might cause an interviewer to think more about your appearance than your skills.

...Dress like you want the job, not as though you already have it.

Visit the CES Guide to Professional Style for more information.

Interview Checklist

__ Research the company and the job

__ Do a self-assessment of your skills, knowledge, goals, and accomplishments.

__ Assess the value you bring and practice communicating it. (NAB)
Need: What does the employer need or want?
Action: How have I demonstrated this skill?
Benefit: What was the positive result?

__ Prepare the questions you will ask.

__ Dress professionally. (Check grooming immediately prior to the interview.)

__ Rehearse your handshake and greeting.

__ Obtain details about the interview in advance.
Who will conduct the interview?
How many interviews will there be?
How long should I plan for the interview?
Directions to the location.
Parking availability.
Request a job description faxed or mailed in advance (if necessary).

__ Gather necessary materials.
2-3 extra copies of resumes
2-3 copies of reference list
Job application information (social security number, name and address of educational institutions, driver’s license number.)
Nice quality pen (Not the one from the Best Western Hotel.)

__ Arrive 15 minutes early (But go inside no more than 5-10 minutes early.)

__ Tell your story to the interviewer with confidence!

__ Request a business card from each person who interviews you so you have the correct spelling of their name for your follow-up..

__ Send thank you letters promptly (within 24 hours).