The interview is one of the most important elements in the job search process. When an employer invites you to an interview, he/she is indicating an interest in bringing you on board. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange enough information to determine if you are a good "fit" for each other. Think of an interview as a highly focused professional conversation. You should use the limited amount of time you have to learn about an employer’s needs and discuss the ways you can meet these needs. In many cases, you will interview at least twice before being hired for a position. Once in a brief screening interview and at least once again in a more serious meeting when you may also speak with many of your potential coworkers.
The job interview is a strategic conversation with a purpose. Your goal is to show the employer that you have the skills, background, and ability to do the job and that you can successfully fit into the organization and its culture. The interview is also your opportunity to gather information about the job, the organization, and future career opportunities to figure out if the position and work environment are right for you.
Most employers do not hire people based on merit alone. Personality, confidence, enthusiasm, a positive outlook, and excellent interpersonal and communication skills count heavily in the selection process.
After your cover letter and résumé, the interview is your best opportunity to wow the employer-regardless of your background and experience. To do this, use every possible strategy to develop effective interviewing skills. The best way is to prepare a selective presentation of your background, thoughtful answers to potential interview questions, well-researched questions about the organization, and an effective strategy to market yourself. Also consider your career goals and what the available job offers so that you can discuss both of these topics with employers. Interviewing is a skill that improves and becomes easier with practice. Check with your school career center or your local Employment Service office to see if it offers workshops and individual videotaped mock interviews for practice.
It is to your advantage to carefully research the job and the organization. There are many ways to do this. You can request printed materials from the employer, such as annual reports and job descriptions. This is an entirely appropriate request, so don’t hesitate to make it. Use your library and career center resources. Ask colleagues, friends, and faculty about the organization, and about any personal contacts at the organization they might have. Look at the organization’s home page. Knowing about the job will help you prepare a list of your qualifications so that you can show, point by point, why you are the best candidate.
Practice, practice, practice
Prepare a succinct, clear answer to each of the questions in the interview questions section. Practice answering questions with a friend, or in front of a mirror. Ask your friend to give you constructive criticism on your speaking style, mannerisms, and poise. As you practice, avoid colloquialisms, such as "like" and "you know." Make sure you don’t script all your answers-you’ll sound as though you’re reading cue cards! It’s important to prepare yourself for talking with complete strangers.
Find out the logistics of the interview
The more you know, the more focused your answers will be. Find out when the interview is scheduled, what to expect during it, and how long you will be there. Also find out if you will be talking to just one person, or to several.
Be prompt and professional
Always arrive early. If you don’t know where the organization is located, call for exact directions in advance. Leave some extra time for any traffic, parking, or unpredictable events. If you are running late, call right away and let someone know. The best time to arrive is approximately 5 – 10 minutes early. Give yourself the time to read your résumé one more time, to catch your breath, and to be ready for the interview. Once you’re at the office, treat everyone you encounter with respect. Be pleasant to everyone as soon as you walk in the door.
Dress for success
Wear a professional business suit. This point cannot be emphasized enough. First impressions are extremely important in the interview process. Women should avoid wearing too much jewelry or make up. Men should avoid flashy suits or wearing too much cologne. It is also important that you feel comfortable. While a suit is the standard interview attire in a business environment, if you think it is an informal environment, call before and ask. Regardless, you can never be overdressed if you are wearing a tailored suit.
Carry a portfolio notepad or at the very least a manila file folder labeled with the employer’s name. Bring extra résumés and have the names, addresses and phone numbers of references, in case the employer asks. Also, bring a list of questions for the employer. You may refer to your list of questions to be sure you’ve gathered the information you need to make a decision. Do not be preoccupied with taking notes during the interview.
You will make the interview process easier for the employer if you volunteer relevant information about yourself. Think about how you want to present your strengths, experiences, education, work style, skills, and goals. Be prepared to supplement all your answers with examples that support the statements you make. It is also a good idea to review your résumé with a critical eye and identify areas that an employer might see as limitations or want further information. Think about how you can answer difficult questions accurately and positively, while keeping each answer brief.
An interview gives the employer a chance to get to know you. While you do want to market yourself to the employer, answer each question with an honest response.
Never say anything negative about past experiences, employers, or courses and professors. Always think of something positive about an experience and talk about that. You should also be enthusiastic. If you are genuinely interested in the job, let the interviewer know that.
Show your interest
One of the best ways to show you are interested in a job is to demonstrate that you have researched the organization prior to the interview. You can also show interest by asking questions about the job, the organization, and its services and products. The best way to impress an employer is to ask questions that build upon your interview discussion. This shows you are interested and paying close attention to the interviewer. It is a good idea to prepare a few questions in advance, but an insightful comment based on your conversation can make an even stronger statement. At the end of an interview, it is appropriate for you to ask when you may expect to hear from the employer.
Save discussion of salary for later
Find out as much as you can before the interview about the salary levels for the position you are seeking. Do not bring up the issue of salary during the first interview. If the interviewer asks about your salary expectations, give only a general answer, such as that your expectations seem to be within, or close to their range.
After the interview, take time to write down the names and titles (check spelling) of all your interviewers, your impressions, remaining questions, and any information that may influence your decision to accept a position with the organization. If you are interviewing regularly, this will help you keep employers and circumstances clearly differentiated.
Always follow up
You should write a thank you note within 48 hours after an interview, even if the interview (or the interviewer) was not productive and/or you are not interested in the position. It is important to say thank you for the time the interviewer spent with you. This letter should be brief. (Refer to the section on writing thank you letters.)