When you receive a request for an interview, do you feel both excitement and fear? Most people do. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help you transfer your nervous energy into a positive, effective interview presentation. Interviewing, like any skill, can be learned and improved upon, with practice and support.
The single most important indicator of success in interviewing is preparation. While you can’t control many aspects of the job search process, you can control how well you present your skills, knowledge, philosophy, and work style.
The time you put into preparing for the interview will increase your chances of success. Your personal power in an interview is in your ability to show an employer why you would be an asset to their organization.
We’ve compiled some tips for getting ready.
Use print resources, the web, and networking contacts to learn as much as you can about the organization, including:
- Organizational mission, philosophy, and culture
- Current issues (recent merger? new superintendent?)
- Services, products, programs or populations served
Know Your Résumé
Review your résumé and rethink each position you’ve held. What were your significant accomplishments and challenges in each? Be prepared to talk about each experience as if it happened yesterday. How do your past experiences relate to the position you’re applying for?
Anticipate the Questions You’ll Be Asked
Given what you know about the organization and your field, what questions are you likely to be asked?
Many candidates find it very helpful to write or outline answers on paper and practice them out loud. This is the single most important activity you can do to help ensure your success. Without such practice, you’re likely to respond off-the-cuff with less depth and professionalism. Role-playing with a friend, career counselor, or colleague can be helpful in increasing your confidence and in refining your answers.
Develop Questions to Ask the Prospective Employer
Ask intelligent questions about the organization, program, or position, which demonstrate your knowledge, commitment, and enthusiasm. Save your questions about benefits and the work schedule until you receive a job offer.
Be prepared to encounter a number of different interview situations. Although interview types, styles, and techniques will differ among individuals and organizations, there are several common interview types you may experience.
Individual interviews are conducted by the supervisor you’d work for. This interview is usually longer than a screening interview and includes questions related to the position and your background, experience, and knowledge. Employers want a realistic picture of your strengths, attitudes, interpersonal style, and ability to solve problems.
Series interviews involve several meetings with different people within the organization, usually one at a time. All interviewers then gather to compare notes and make a recommendation or collective hiring decision.
Although it may be difficult to maintain your interest level and enthusiasm, treat each interview as though it were your first, remaining consistent in the information you provide.
Remember, each interviewer is meeting you for the first time and has not heard what you have said to the others. As you meet with each person, keep in mind their position in the organization and their potential issues and concerns.
Panel or Committee Interviews
Panel or committee interviews are conducted by a group of people at the same time. Try to ascertain each member's role in the organization as it may influence how you choose to respond to that individual. When answering questions from a particular individual, try to talk to and maintain eye contact with all the group members.
Panel interviews are quite common in schools and may include a personnel representative, principals, teachers, and parents. While this format can be intimidating, remember to utilize the skills that you’ve developed in speaking to groups as a teacher, instructor, group facilitator, or manager.
Group interviews are those in which several candidates are interviewed together by a panel or committee. Your interaction with the individual group members will be observed as well as the quality of your answers and contributions to the dialogue. This type of interview is relatively uncommon for employment but is sometimes used during the graduate school admissions process.
Obtain as much information in advance as possible concerning your upcoming interview. It’s important to have the phone conversation when you schedule the interview in a quiet place, free of distractions, with a notepad available. Knowing what to expect can help you feel more confident and in control. Follow these steps:
Ask the Basic Questions When Scheduling
Try to get the following information:
- Name and title of interviewer(s); pronunciation and spelling are important.
- Amount of time to allow for the interview. Asking about this may allow you to determine the type of interview to expect.
- Directions to interview site.
Remember that conversations with administrative assistants are part of the interview process. Their impressions of you are often shared with hiring officials—always put your best foot forward.
Plan Your Travel Route
A poor start caused by arriving late and frazzled is almost impossible to recover from. If you don't know how to get to the interview or how much time is needed, it will be well worth your while to make a "dry run."
Confirm the Appointment the Day Before
This establishes you as efficient and professional. Also, it’s possible that the interviewer has tried and was unable to contact you regarding rescheduling of the appointment.
Leave Early for the Interview
Even when you’re sure of how to get there, allow time for unanticipated delays. Plan to arrive at least 10–15 minutes early so you have time to "collect" yourself, review notes, and observe the environment. Wait in your car or in a main lobby if you arrive earlier than 10 minutes before the interview.
According to experts, approximately 65–75 percent of the hiring decision is based on nonverbal communication. Your posture, voice inflection, and facial expressions can communicate confidence, enthusiasm, and friendliness—all of which are important to employers.
Follow these guidelines:
A suit, dress, or skirt and blouse will cover most interview situations. Human service agencies and education organizations are generally slightly more informal, while a business setting tends to be more formal and conservative.
In all cases, avoid extremes in dress, makeup, and jewelry. When making the decision, ask yourself:
- Will this outfit contribute to the employer's sense of my professionalism and competence?
- Am I comfortable, yet dressed more formally than I would as an employee of this organization?
Be Aware of Your Body Language
- A handshake is a very important nonverbal cue for the employer. A firm, solid handshake will go a long way in creating a positive first impression.
- Sit up straight or lean slightly forward.
- Engage the employer by making eye contact, without "staring down" the interviewer.
- Smile when appropriate to convey warmth; it will also help you relax.
- Be conscious of nervous habits. In a stressful situation they may surface and detract from your presentation.
- Be enthusiastic, sincere, and friendly.
During an Interview
When first seated, be perceptive of the interviewer's pace and style; synchronize yourself accordingly. Interviews may range anywhere from a relaxed conversation to a very structured set of pre-determined questions.
When appropriate, ask the interviewer to elaborate on the role and responsibilities of the position. You’ll then be able to better understand the value the employer places on each job function, and, armed with this insight, you can tailor your answers accordingly.
In addition, keep the following points in mind:
- Validate your answers with specific examples as often as possible. Choose examples which correlate well with the requirements of the position and which highlight your relevant strengths.
- When unsure of how to respond to a question, slow down and take a moment to organize your thoughts before answering.
- Listen carefully to the question being asked. Consider what the employer’s concern may be behind the question. If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification before answering.
- Provide the appropriate amount of depth in your answer. For example, if an employer asks, “As a manager, how would you motivate your employees?” provide more than one method or example.
- Do not hedge or bluff when you don’t know an answer. Be honest about your lack of knowledge and offer to research the question.
- Speak professionally; word choices are important. Know the professional jargon of the field and interject it into your responses.
- Avoid going off on tangents. Stay focused on the position and your relevant experience.
- Never degrade past employers or organizations. Always emphasize the positive angle of an experience.
Many candidates find that the following questions are challenging. By considering each question and developing a strategy before the interview, you’ll improve your responses.
“Tell me about yourself.”
This question often is asked at the beginning of the interview. Again, preparation is the key. The employer is really asking you to highlight your experience and education as it relates to the position.
The answer you give an employer needs to be very different from the answer you would give a friend or counselor. Employers listen for content as well as how you structure your answer to this open-ended question.
With practice, you can use this question as an opportunity to share your key skills and experiences early in the interview.
“Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.”
Be prepared with 3–4 key strengths that relate directly to the job for which you’re applying. Rather than getting sidetracked with lengthy examples, keep your answer concise and your examples brief.
When you describe a weakness, remember that you want to leave the employer with a positive impression. Choose an area that you’re working on, but which is not a key component of the job. Present the weakness with a positive slant, explaining how you’re working on the area and how you’re improving.
“I’ve received 500 résumés for this position. Why should I hire you?”
This question is designed to tap into any professional insecurities lurking inside of you. Resist the urge to question your own qualifications. Concentrate on the question, rather than the preceding statement. Prepare a short, but powerful statement focusing on your strengths and qualifications, then present it confidently.
Behavioral Interviewing Questions
These questions require that you explain how you handled specific situations in the past rather than how you might handle a situation in the future. The theory behind these questions is that past performance is the best indicator of future performance.
Consider some specific examples related to the position. The more specific and results-oriented your answer, the better. Think of anecdotes that you can share that will reflect positively on your skills and experience.
During these “What would you do if...?” questions, the employer is curious about how you might handle a situation that commonly occurs in their organization.
Take a moment to consider the facts presented before you respond. In addition to presenting a strategy, you may also want to speak to the issues raised in the scenario. The employer will be listening for your problem-solving approach and your beliefs underlying the description of your actions.
An employer’s tone of voice, or type of question may make you feel uncomfortable. For example, you may be asked why you change jobs frequently or why you have a five-year gap on your resume.
The employer’s tone coupled with any insecurity you feel may cause you to feel defensive. Resist the urge to respond in a defensive tone. Stay calm and answer the question as positively as possible.
If you’re concerned about specific questions that may come up in the interview, practice them ahead of time, and get support from a career counselor.
During the pre-employment process, an employer may not ask questions for the purpose of discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or age.
While the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regards such inquiries with "extreme disfavor," many state laws have a list of questions that are considered unlawful. For the regulations in your state, contact your state government.
An employer may ask questions directly related to your ability to do the job, provided they are asked of all candidates. Inappropriate questions are those that intrude on one's personal boundaries. For example, "This position would require you to travel 30 percent of the time. How would your spouse feel about this?" is an inappropriate question. An appropriate question is, "Can you travel 30 percent of the time?"
Many people are unsure of what to do if the question of salary comes up during a job interview. It’s best to wait to discuss salary until you have been offered a position.
If you’re asked for your salary requirements early in the interview process, try to tactfully avoid answering the question directly. You might say your primary concern at this point is learning more about the position and that your requirements will be based on the responsibilities of the job. If you’re required to respond, offer a range that is based on your research of the field.
You’re not in a position to negotiate salary until you’re offered a position; after you’ve accepted the position there is usually no room for negotiation.
Some positions have negotiable salaries; some do not. For example, public school teaching salaries are set in contract negotiations between the union and the school district. If you’re offered a non-union position, always consider the option of negotiating the salary before you accept the job.
To negotiate effectively, research salaries for comparable positions in similar organizations. Some trade associations have information on salary ranges in their field. Ask a Career Resource Center staff member to point these out to you.
Ending an Interview
Always ask about the next steps in the search process before you leave the interview.
Restate your interest in the position.
- Inquire as to additional materials the employer may wish you to submit (e.g., portfolio, transcripts, letters of recommendation).
- Remain aware of your nonverbal and verbal communication in the closing minutes of the interview. Continue to maintain eye contact, smile, and give a firm handshake as you leave.
- Send a thank you note or email to the interviewer as soon as possible. Be sure that your thank you note reiterates your strengths and interest in the position. Should you decide that you are no longer interested in the position, you may want to follow-up with a thank you note indicating your decision.
Responding to a Job Offer
- When you’re offered the job, ask for some time to let the employer know of your decision. This will give you time to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the offer.
- If you’re considering other opportunities, try to "buy" some time. Be forthright with the employer.
- Before accepting a position, be sure that all your questions and concerns have been answered to your satisfaction. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification on health insurance, vacation time, and other benefits. This is your last chance to inquire about details such as parking, evening and weekend hours, expense accounts, or salary reviews.