Interview Tips

The importance of preparing for a job interview cannot be overstated. In my book, I devote six tips and three appendices to interview prep! For the next few weeks, I’m going to use this blog to help you do your best when you get an opportunity to interview.

As I mentioned last week, a professional recruiter recently provided my students with some great advice about the job search, and I’m going to be sharing more of that with you today. One of the handouts she gave them was “Top 10 Interview Tips for New College Graduates,” which was written by Andy Chan, the Vice President for Personal & Career Development at Wake Forest University. Here’s what Chan suggests (along with some of my comments about his suggestions).

  1. Do your homework.” In other words, be as prepared as you can to answer questions that they may ask you about the organization. This goes beyond a quick surf of their website: You need to talk with any alumni, friends, or family who have worked there or done business with them, read reports about them in business publications or mass media, and really think carefully about how you can contribute. The eight tips in Step 3 (Research Potential Jobs) can help you find sources for your research and give you ideas about what you need to know.
  2. Anticipate and prepare for the typical questions with strong personal answers.” It’s highly likely that at some point in the interview you’re going to be asked to talk about yourself or describe some personal experiences. This is the type of thing that you will want to think about ahead of time. Appendix J lists many of the most common interview questions so that you can practice how you would respond to them.
  3. Develop 5-7 adaptable stories from your resume related to the job you’re seeking.” Interviewers often ask what we call STAR questions—questions that ask you to “describe a time when” you did something, such as work with a team or solve a problem. They’re called STAR questions because that is a clue to help you answer them: Describe a Situation or Task, the Action you took, and the Results you achieved. Appendix J lists many STAR questions so that you can be prepared for them.
  4. Frame your answers to show how you will add value to the organization.” Keep in mind at all times that the interviewer is looking to see how you can help the organization achieve its goals. The interview is not about what you want, it’s about what they need.
  5. Use the right vocabulary.” Every field has it’s own language, and common words often mean different things in different places. English teachers and engineers mean something different by the word “invention;” “development” has different meanings to botanists than to nonprofit directors.
  6. Prepare two or three “go-to” questions.” Most interviewers are going to give you a chance to ask them some questions, so be sure you’ve given this thought and are prepared to ask questions that really demonstrate your knowledge of the organization. Tip 42 (Learn how to interview) provides some ideas to get you started with your list of questions.
  7. Practice interviewing out loud.” If you’re still in college, it’s likely that your career center offers you the opportunity to do mock interviews. Take advantage of that service! If you’re out of school, ask friends or family members to practice with you. At the very least, you can practice in front of a mirror (although I think the other methods will be more effective!). You may want to record your practice session and then watch it to see if you have any annoying or distracting expressions or gestures.
  8. Demeanor, humble self-confidence, personality and enthusiasm really matter.” Make eye contact, smile, don’t fidget or look at your watch/phone. The interviewer should believe that there is nowhere else you would rather be.
  9. Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This suggestion is asking you to recognize that there may be more to the job than what it says in the job description or what you think the job title may mean. You just don’t know what it’s going to be like until you get the chance to take it on, so give yourself the opportunity to learn about organizations and jobs that may not seem on the surface to be what you want. (On the other hand, don’t waste everyone’s time interviewing for jobs you know you wouldn’t accept.) My first job out of college was as a secretary at a television station: I did a lot of typing and note taking and envelope stuffing. But I had the best boss, and he recognized that I was working hard and capable of everything he threw at me, and he promoted me three times in four years!
  10. Finish strong and follow up.” Chan suggests that you end the interview with a “final statement” that demonstrates your eagerness and appropriateness for the job. You will also want to ask the “what happens next” question, and be sure to send a thank you note right away. Tips 6 & 47 provide ideas about what to write, when to write it, and how to send the thank you note.