Interviewing Skills and Tips- How to Impress the Interviewer
As a manager or administrator for the last thirty five years, I have had the opportunity to interview many individuals. I have seen every mistake that can be made and have interviewed people who have gone on in their careers to very successful positions. Recently I participated in a program of mock interviews for students from our local university giving tips on how to interview in this difficult job market. Below I will give anyone interested some tips on interviewing. It won’t necessarily guarantee the job but it will move you ahead of the pack. Keep in mind, however, that these are my opinions based on my experiences.
Presenting for the Interview
- Be on time- not early or late. If you are too early, grab a magazine or get a cup of coffee, do yoga or something. Present for your interview about five minutes before scheduled. If you present too early, the interviewer may feel pressure to get you in early; not a good first impression. Being late is inexcusable. You might as well kiss the job goodbye because there is almost no way to recover from it. If you even get to interview, you will be lucky to overcome the first impression.
- Bring your resume and cover letter. Even if you sent it in or posted it to the human resources department, have one available just in case. The length is debatable. Some say one page only. I would say don’t go beyond two. Use one of many online templates. Be sure it is precise and correct. If chosen, the company will verify the accuracy. The interviewer will look for gaps in employment so if you have them, be ready to explain. The interviewer will also look for how long you have been in previous positions. Job hopping without a good reason is a red flag.
- Do your homework. When you arrive for the interview, you should already have researched the company on their website. It’s hard to tell the interviewer what you can bring to their company if you don’t know what the company does.
- Dress- Be sure and dress appropriately.
Guys- you need to wear a shirt and tie. If it is for an institution where standard dress includes business attire, a suit and tie is more appropriate. Leave the polo shirt at home. You’re not interviewing for informal Fridays.
Ladies- A dress or pantsuit is appropriate. Again you want to present your best side. Also dress conservatively. Wearing a blouse or sweater that shows “your assets” is not really the best decision. You are making impressions on the interviewer and anyone else who sees or greets you in the organization. Recently I had a young woman who wore something a little too revealing. After the interview which was done with my door OPEN to protect me from any accusations, several of my employees commented on her appearance. Again, if applying for a position where business attire is the norm, a pant suit is appropriate.
Never wear jeans to an interview except on those rare occasions when told to do so. This may occur if there will be physical challenges to assess your skills after the interview.
- Greetings- Approach the interviewer confidently. Shake hands with a firm hand shake, if offered. Keep in mind that nowadays many people are opting out of the handshake greeting. Let the interviewer make the offer. This is especially true if the interviewer is a female. If a female interviewer wants to shake your hand, she will offer. Be prepared to react either way.
Once in the office, females sit first. Hesitate a moment to see if you are invited to sit and do so then. Play this one by ear. When you sit, the interviewer is watching your every move as everything you do sends a message. Sit back in the chair with your back straight. Don’t slouch. If you sit forward in the chair it tells the interviewer that you are nervous. When you sit straight and back in the chair it presents as confident. Do not lean forward during the interview. That says aggressive.
Answering interview questions
Most companies have moved to what is termed behavioral interviewing. With this type of interview, the interviewer is asking you how you have reacted to situations in the past. Be ready for this. Here are some sample questions that you can count on being asked.
Tell me about yourself.
You have choices here. You may or may not want to talk about kids, married, hobbies, whatever. I don’t suggest it. You are using valuable time. Answer the question in relation to the interview.
“My name is _____________________. I live in __________________________. I enjoy doing (things related to the job such as planning for events.) I volunteer (always a good item) with the local boys and girls clubs working with the soccer team. I enjoy people and working in groups.”
You get the picture. Keep it succinct and relevant. Smile when you talk.
Tell me about a time that you had to do a task where you struggled to succeed.
You will hear the phrase “Tell me about a time…” in behavioral interviewing. This means the interviewer wants to know WHAT YOU HAVE DONE, not what you would do. What you would do just tells the interviewer that you are trying to find an answer that he or she wants to hear. What you HAVE done tells the interviewer what you actually have done in that situation. The interviewer wants to know that you learned from an experience. Think about it a moment and give a real answer. Then tell the interviewer what you learned from the struggle so that he or she knows that you learn from your failures.
Tell me about an accomplishment you are really proud of.
This is your time to shine. Don’t be modest or shy. Let it all hang out. Why were you successful? What steps did you take to reach that pinnacle of success? Hopefully it wasn’t by climbing over others. The interviewer will be looking for organizational skills, tools that you used how you involved the team which is very important.
I have many applications for this position. Why should I hire you?
Tell the interviewer what you will bring to the company. Again, don’t be modest but be genuine. Allude to the skills that you use in volunteering. Point out your attributes as they apply to the needs of the company.
What skills would you bring to this company?
It’s alright to say it but realize that everyone says that they are “a people person”. You might want to be prepared to defend that. Being a team player is critical but be sure you can give examples why you consider yourself one. Don’t forget computer skills here. Are you proficient with Excel, Word, and PowerPoint? Can you use project software? How are you at giving public presentations?
What do you consider your biggest weakness?
We all have them. Be honest but be sure to follow up with how you have or are addressing the problem for improvements. The most common thing that I hear is procrastination and being on time. Both of these are CRITICAL items so you had better have a solution ready. “I have a tendency to be late” sounds really bad. “I have a tendency to run late so I set my clock ahead ten minutes to ensure that I am on time” is a much better response. Do not let your weakness speak for itself. Let what you do about it speak for you. By the way, as I stated earlier, you better have been on time for your interview.
Be prepared with questions!
This is where your research comes in. Ask questions about the company. This is your chance to interview them. What do they look for in a good employee? What is their management style and structure? Are their opportunities for continuing learning and advancement? If you have no questions, the interviewer will wonder why considering you want to spend time with that institution. Certainly you don't know it all, do you?
After the interview
Thank the interviewer for their time. Re-affirm your desire to work with them and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them.
Not all interviewers are the same. Some are seasoned, many are not. Be prepared to roll with the punches and good luck to you. Have a great day and successful interview.