The Association of Former Students

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Deliver an Exceptional Interview

The interview is a crucial component of your job search process.  You need to determine who has the hiring authority, but make sure that you are friendly and respectful to every individual you come into contact with right down to the receptionist and the janitor. It is reasonable to expect that team members will be asked to provide feedback as part of the selection process. Help each of them see that you will be a great addition to the team.

Think of the interview process as a competition. The winner in many cases is the person that survives a process of elimination from a pool of candidates, rather than the person that distinguishes them self as a perfect candidate. Research and preparation to understand the needs and operations of the organization will be very important while attention to detail and a polished performance will be expected. Hiring managers are looking for the person that confirms that they are the closest match the organization’s needs and culture; that will work within price range the organization is willing to pay.

If you are a recent graduate interviewing for your first job, you should follow the guidelines the Career Center uses to prepare current students seeking entry-level jobs. More seasoned candidates will be expected to apply their work history and experiences during the interview to demonstrate their alignment with the organization’s needs.  Be prepared to answer questions pertaining to your previous jobs as well as any gaps in employment or unusual circumstances. Time that you invested carefully writing each line on your resume to document your potential and the time you spend reviewing the targeted resume that you submitted for that position will be well rewarded when you are able to detail your strengths, skills and experience during the interview.

I. The Art of packaging your interview

Preparation for an interview requires research and practice to effectively present your alignment with the hiring managers shopping list. It requires attention to detail regarding your dress, posture, and demeanor.  But there is also an art to the interview which is built around communications skills. It starts with engaged listening and is carried through your ability to keep a conversation relevant and on topic.

No doubt your objective is to showcase and demonstrate “Product You”, but take great care that you hear, understand, and respond to the actual questions asked by your next manager and team members, rather than answering questions you thought they would like you to answer. The art continues in the ability to guide an interview conversation to assure that you cover each of your discussion points to demonstrate your unique alignment with their shopping list.

Be prepared to subtly market your readiness to meet their needs. Help the interviewer not only hear, but help them see that you are the best candidate to meet their needs. One option is to include 8-10 pages of your printed research documents, marked-up so they can see your preparation research, in your interview portfolio. Use that research to prepare 6-10 targeted questions related to projects of interest when they ask if you have questions. Write the questions down at the top of your notes, because it may be hard to remember some questions in the excitement of the moment. It may be surprising to learn how many interviewers will read your questions before you get the chance to ask them.  If you are a writer, graphics specialist, or developer, be prepared to leave samples of your work.  

The Career Center offers the “Perfect Interview” on-line resource to help you observe and adjust your interview presentation.  Use it!!

II. Invest time to understand the job to be performed

Know your customer’s needs. Valuable resources for researching employers include informational interviews, web research, and SEC Form 10-Ks. The 10-Ks are annual reports for publically traded companies that often provide insights into a company’s products, services, operating units and marketing strategies. The Career Center Library, employer presentations, career fairs, as well as business, trade and government publications also serve as resources.

The “Find an Aggie” directory on Aggienetwork.com and the contact search tools in CareerBeam and Symplicity are great resources to find Former Students and other contacts who are working in the industry or even the company that you can connect with to secure an informational interview. These conversations provide great insights to the experience you could have in the job. These conversations can also provide insights into the hiring process, right down to the types of questions asked during the employees hiring experience.

Find ways to demonstrate how you can meet their needs. As you grow your understanding of the job and organization, you should prepare so that you can effectively communicate those skills, accomplishments, and experience that best serve the employer’s needs.  Practice answering sample interview questions as soon as possible. The practice will help you polish your presentation and may provide insights that help strengthen your resume. Make sure you utilize the “Perfect Interview” resource early enough that you assure time to practice needed adjustments in your presentation style and body language.

III. Tips for Interviews

Prepare your portfolio. Carry an attractive portfolio (cordovan, black, or brown leather) with extra copies of your resume and references. Don’t forget the research notes and written questions that you will refer to later in the interview.

Make a good first impression. Arrive at the interview early, allowing plenty of time for parking, walking, and inclement weather. Stop at a restroom and check your appearance. Dress professionally, smile, make eye contact, and shake hands firmly.

Follow the interviewer’s lead. Take a seat when and where he or she asks you to sit. Sit comfortably but attentively, making sure not to slouch or appear too relaxed. Never place your materials on the employer’s desk without asking permission first.

Make your point and avoid rambling. Memorize the key points you plan to deliver, and budget the appropriate time to communicate each point. You want to help the interviewer recognize any added value you can deliver for the team while avoiding costly misstatements or unnecessarily exposing any weaknesses or points of concern.

Wait for your cues. Avoid discussing salary or benefits until it appears that an offer will be made, unless the interviewer initiates the discussion. Do not provide a salary expectation until you’ve researched the rate for someone with your qualifications. Maintain enthusiasm throughout the interview, and exit with courtesy and confidence.

As you get toward the end of the conversation, if you have decided that you want to work for the organization, tell them that you want the job and that you want to be part of their team. Savvy managers expect you to help close the sale. Your excitement and energy for the job sells and it can be contagious.


IV. Types of Interview Formats

Regardless of the interview format, you must make a good first impression. Many interviewers are most influenced in their decisions within the first few minutes of the interview. Invest time before the interview to know how you are going to answer the “Tell me a little about yourself” question. That answer will likely drive their first impression of you. You can often gain insight into an organization’s interview format and their preferred questions during the informational interviews that you have secured with employees of the organization, especially if they are recent hires.

It is important to be able to recognize the different formats used by potential employers to help you manage your presentation and budget your time. Each requires specific preparation on your part. Below are listed several common interview formats.

Behavioral Interviewing
The behavioral interview is based on the premise that the best way to predict future behavior is to determine and evaluate past behavior. This type of interview takes special preparation and skill to perform well.  These employers identify a profile of behaviors of interest to the organization. Some examples of desired behaviors include:

 Customer service   Stress tolerance  Planning  Initiative 
 Organization  Problem solving  Leadership  Creativity
 Flexibility  Motivation  Teamwork  Technical knowledge

 
Next, the interviewer asks open-ended questions designed to stimulate recollection of a situation to explore as to how you have behaved in that situation. For example:
  • Balancing/prioritizing several tasks within a short period of time
  • Dealing with an unproductive or uncooperative colleague
  • Finding better ways to perform a task

This interview format is seeking an answer that provides an overview of the situation, the candidate’s role, other persons that were involved, key events and the outcome. It tests your ability to quickly summarize and communicate a situation. The “STAR” Technique can provide an effective model by which you can organize and deliver your response to the question.
  • S - Describe the situation in which you were involved.
  • T - Describe the task to be performed.
  • A - What was your approach to the problem?
  • R - What were the results of your actions?
The interviewer documents your responses and compares actual behaviors in the situation to the desired behaviors they are seeking. Make sure the answers you provide are honest, concise, and reflect positively on you. If the event did not yield the desired positive outcome, then focus on what you learned from the experience, how you turned the experience to a positive, and how you will apply it going forward.

Practice answering behavioral interview questions. They provide an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate how your experience aligns with their needs. These questions also provide an opportunity to demonstrate your communicate skills by describing a situation, explaining the actions taken and reviewing the event outcomes.

Traditional Interview
This is the most common type of interview. It is usually conducted as a one-to-one conversation. These interviews are built upon a series of questions that often work from a script with some follow-up or clarifying questions. In some cases the interviewer is working without a list of questions. In those cases it is critical that you help keep your responses focused on their identified needs and that you budget time to assure that you cover your talking points and prepared questions. The best preparation for this interview format is to research the employer and the industry prior to the interview and practice, practice, practice with sample questions.

Sequential Interview
This is a variation of the traditional interviewing technique that involves a series of steps with several interviewers in a pre-planned sequence. Participants are typically drawn from one of two formats. In one format you will meet first with your future manager followed by meetings with peers, often from aligned departments within the organization. In this scenario they may be looking for your fit within the internal supply chain of their organization. In the second format you will meet with your future manager followed with a sequence of meetings with senior managers within the organization’s chain of command. Usually, each interviewer will defer the final hiring decision to the direct supervisor. In either scenario, you should treat each person you meet as if he/she were a key player in the decision-making process. If you make a negative impression on anyone, it will probably be reported in their post-interview evaluation process. Participants often compare notes looking for consistency in answers and provide their unique perceptions as to how you align with the needs in their respective departments or along their chain of command.
 
Group/Panel Interview
Panel interviews are becoming more common as organizations encourage more teamwork and group decision-making. This type of interview typically occurs at the employer’s location.  Focus upon one question at a time. Key attention toward the person leading the discussion, but stay attentive and respectful to each member of the group engaging all of the panelists in the conversation. You may be asked more than one question at a time. Select one question at a time and provide your response. If the committee continues to challenge you with multiple questions at one time, then recognize it as a stress interview technique and focus upon one question at a time answering questions from everyone at the table.

Technical Interview
Many information technology companies utilize the technical interview in their selection of new employees. Candidates are asked industry-related questions and are often asked to demonstrate various techniques.

V. Sample Interview Questions:

Sample Behavioral Interview Questions:
  • Describe the best/worst team of which you have been a member.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you sold someone on an idea or concept.
  • Tell me about a time when you were creative in solving a problem.
  • Describe a time when you helped co-workers who dislike each other to work together.
  • Tell me about a time when you made a bad decision. What did you learn? What would you do differently?
Sample Traditional Interview Questions:
  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • Why did you select your career path?
  • What would you like to be doing five years from now?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
  • Describe your greatest strengths and weaknesses.
  • Would you rather be in charge of a project work as part of a team?
  • What have you learned from the experience you have held?
Sample Stress Interview Questions:
  • What kind of people do you find it difficult to work with?
  • What are some of the things you find challenging to do?
  • How would you evaluate me as an interviewer?
  • What interests you least about this job?
  • How do you handle rejection?
  • What is the worst thing you have heard about our company?
  • See this pen I’m holding? Sell it to me.
Sample Case Interview Questions:
  • A chain of grocery stores currently receive its stock on a decentralized basis. Each store deals independently with its suppliers. The president of the chain is wondering whether the firm can benefit from a centralized warehouse. What are the key considerations in making this decision?
  • A magazine publisher is trying to decide how many magazines she should deliver to each individual distribution outlet in order to maximize profits. She has extensive historical sales volume data for each of the outlets. How should she determine delivery quantities?  

VI. Close the Sale

Recall that the interview is a sales presentation where you are selling a product; that is, your skills, knowledge, experience, and energy. You do not want to expend the effort to present yourself as a viable candidate and then fail to get closure. For a screening interview, you want to get a commitment from the interviewer as to what action will take place next and when. If the interviewer does not provide details as to whom will contact you and when, you should ask before leaving the interview.

 If you have a strong interest in the employer and the opportunities presented, make this clear in your closing remarks. Tell them you want the job.

You should request a business card as the conversation is wrapping up and ask if you can call or e-mail the interviewer with any additional questions or follow-up on the status of your application.

Take time during your departure to sit down in the lobby, collect your thought, and make detailed notes of your conversation(s). Your recollection of the discussions and the information covered is freshest at that moment and you will forget a significant percentage of the conversation within 30 minutes.  Perhaps even more important, people passing through that lobby will take notice of your thoroughness, discipline, and demonstrated attention to detail.

The business cards you secure during each interview will provide you the correct spelling of the interviewer’s name, title, and his/her mailing address. Send a thank-you card or business letter to them that evening before you go to bed. Thank them for their time and make sure that you reference something during the interview that excited you or that presented an opportunity for their organization that you would like to be a part of. A thank-you via e-mail is now commonly accepted, particularly considering the travel schedules of many key decision makers. That short business letter thanking them may well separate you from your competition.

Once you have thoroughly researched the targeted organization, and practiced your skills including utilizing the "Interview Stream" resource it time to relax, take a deep breath and help them see your best stuff.