Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interviews: A Love-Hate Relationship Explained

Now that you've all rocked the career fair with your snazzy 30 second introductions, refined resumes, and sharp sense of style, it's time to learn the art of interviewing. For some of you, interviewing is an entirely new subject that you're just starting to explore as you try to find internships or co-ops for this coming year. For others, you've experienced many interviews...some good, and some bad.

Things to Do Before Your Interview

  • Research the company you will be interviewing with! I have said it many times, but I will say it again. Doing research will help you in the long run. You will ask more informed questions and are more likely to impress recruiters with your ambition and preparedness.
  • Think of 5-10 standard questions to ask during your interviews. Some of my old favorites include: "What opportunities does your company have for advanced education and training?", "Will I be required or able to relocate within your company? Where? How often?", "What is you company structure? Company culture?", and "What do you enjoy most about working for your company?".
  • Think of 3-5 company specific questions to ask. These could involve the company's recent financial standings, recent relevant news relating to the company, the company mission (usually on their website), a product line they offer, or any services they may offer. It's okay to ask questions that a recruiter may not know.
  • Review sample interview questions (you can literally find hundreds online) and talk through them in your head or with a friend. Pulling support from your experiences is always a good thing to do when answering a question. If a recruiter asks for a time when you were challenged by a technical experience, talk about something that has actually happened. If you DO NOT have an example from work, academics, or your personal life, DO NOT make something up. Say that you haven't had a situation like that so far and talk about something you have done to prevent that. For example, if I am asked about dealing with someone I didn't quite get along with, but I haven't had a situation like that ever, then I'd say, "To be honest, I haven't had a whole lot of difficulty with that. I think it is because I make a point to be open and respect other people's opinions and boundaries. I may not always agree with everyone, but I've never had a case where that has been escalated to an unfavorable situation." The recruiter will either ask more about what you've done to prevent unfavorable situations from occurring or move on to the next question.
  • If you can, schedule a mock interview with your local career center or ask a friend/family member to ask you sample interview questions.

Non-Verbal Communication

Believe it or not, a large percentage of communication and first impressions are dependent on non-verbal communication. For some of you this may come as a big surprise and for others, you've known this all along. For example, if you dress sloppily for an interview with an uneven tie, messed up hair, and a food-stained suit coat, you send the signal that you are unorganized and can't hold it together long enough to get through an interview. Making sure that you look cleaned up and polished for an interview is one of the first steps to sending out positive vibes. Another component of non-verbal communication is body language. How you shake hands, make (or don't make) eye contact, if you fold your arms across your body, if you smile, and even the position of your eyebrows, all say something to a recruiter. Think about this...when you're talking to one of your friends, if they constantly look away from you, have their arms folded across their body, and have pursed lips, what impression do you get? When interviewing, it is important to exude positive non-verbal communication.

Let's do a little exercise. Compare the pictures below. Which one of the guys in these pictures would you hire? Considering that you've probably never met these people and are just looking at them for five seconds or less, you would never know their qualifications or job experience.

Probably the first one, right? His shirt is tucked in, he looks sharps, and it's obvious that he made an effort to look presentable for the interview. I'm not knocking the classy teal suit in the third picture, but it's probably not going to give off the vibes you want to project. And it's WAY outdated.

Tips for the Big Interview

  • Have an extra copy of your resume on hand just in case. It's usually good to have a portfolio as well with an extra resume, pen, place to put business cards, and place to write down questions or write notes.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about your accomplishments. There's a big difference between being an arrogant turd and taking pride in your accomplishments and experiences. While being an arrogant turd is not advisable, being proud of what you've worked hard on and pointing out moments where you stood out as a superstar is definitely advisable.
  • Don't be afraid of a little silence. If you are stumped on a question or don't have an immediate answer, it is okay to pause for a few moments, take a deep breath, review the question in your head, and continue from there. Recruiters know that you won't know all the answers immediately. Rushing into an answer isn't going to make you look better. Especially if you don't know where you're going with what you're talking about if you rush into an answer.
  • Always finish your interview strong. Ask for contact information for each recruiter you talk to and follow up the interview with a concise "thank you" e-mail. Take a few moments at the end of your interview to state your interest in the company if you really want a position. Sometimes your interest in a position may not come out in an interview (it seems silly, but it's true) so it can be important to just say "Based on what we've talked about today, I think I'd be a great fit for your company and this position. I'm looking forward to hearing back from you about this position. If I have any additional questions, what is the best way to contact you? Thanks so much for your time! I really appreciate it."
  • Be on time for your interview! That means at least 5 minutes early!
  • Always be kind and pleasant to everyone you meet from the time you get out of your car to go into an interview and when you get back into your car at the end of an interview. You never know who you will speak with or meet in the elevator. Being rude to an administrative assistant is not acceptable no matter what the situation. One remark from anyone in the office about how you scoffed at them in the elevator could be the difference between you getting a call back and you hearing crickets.
  • Don't be a no show. If you have to cancel an interview, do it at least 24 hours before the interview is scheduled. If you skip out of an interview through MSU Career Services, your MySpartanCareer account WILL be frozen and you'll have to send a letter of apology to the recruiter you were set to meet with.
  • Follow up with your interviewers if you haven't heard anything in 5-10 days. You don't have to be rude or snobby with your follow-ups either. Just say "Hello ____ - I just wanted to check-in with you regarding our interview the other day. I haven't heard anything back yet and just wanted to know if there's anything you need or anything I can do to help make the process easier for you. Thanks again for your time! Regards - Eva McSpartan."

The STAR Method

The most popular interviewing style at the moment involves the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation-Task-Action-Results. Interview questions may include "Tell me about a time that you had trouble meeting a deadline." and "Tell me about a time you had to pool your resources to solve a problem." The majority of these questions usually start with the phrase "Tell me about a time..." The important thing to remember with these questions is that you need to think about every aspect of the STAR acronym. Give a situation, talk about tasks you had to perform to deal with the situation, the action you took to accomplish all of these things, and the overall results relating to the situation.

That should just about sum it up for now. If you have any additional questions please feel free to contact me at or by writing comments to this post.

Like always,

Good Luck Job Seekers!

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