Prepping for an Interview
Posted November 22, 2009on:
Okay, you got the interview! WOOT! This job economy sucks, so first off, good for you!
And then you ask the same question I did: Alright, now what?
They (meaning career services centers, your professors, your friends and family) say that you need to prepare. They say research the company, know it like the back of your hand. Use the Internet. One of the highest ranking sites on a Google search (which means that people likely link to this site from somewhere else) encourages job applicants to do their “homework.” It mentioned looking the part, a few basic and vague questions to rehearse, getting your references, getting there early, bringing the necessary documentation (here I have to wonder. Like what documentation? Your SS Card?) and then make sure you got your 25-second sales pitch down and ask questions and follow up. That’s all great. I’m sure you knew all that. It’s also absolutely vague and pretty much useless. (This is also a lesson on what domain names really mean: nothing. This list of “tips” came off of the website called Allbusiness. com. Hmm….)
I know because I did that. It got me zilch. I mean, I got unpaid internships. Experience is great. But does it help you ace the interview? Only one tip up there mentioned interview questions. Everything else translates loosely to “don’t be a moron and be professional.”
Not to say that research isn’t vital. It is. Really. If you don’t do it, you have just figuratively shot yourself in the foot. But there’s more to it than that. Interviews are conversations, but conversations with a point: You impressing Them enough for Them to pay You. So the question becomes, what can you do to do that?
The first thing is to take a really good look the job ad. What are they looking for? Creativity? Team work skills? Flexibility? Now think up, and write it out, a singular instant, when you exhibited each of those qualities. Use this format:
S: situation (the background)
T: task (what you had to do, the problem)
A: action (what you did)
R: results (results)
Often interviewers actually take notes using this format, looking for verbs that let them know what part of the format your in. According to the Interview Strategy Guide from the ASU Business Career Center, a few common situations that interviewers ask for are: initiative, motivation, leadership, goal achievement, flexibility, maturity, organizational skills, integrity, problem solving, influencing others, communication skills, and decision making skills.
Other common questions and good responses are
- Tell me about yourself.
This question, according to to my strategy guide, is a chance to show how you, based on your background, are an ideal candidate. But keep the response on-topic. According to a FOCUS Magazine article printed January 5, 1983 (found online here), keep your answer down to 2 minutes, focusing mostly on recent career experience. Save some stuff for later though. Don’t toss out all your best points.
- Why should we hire you?
Here’s a chance to show them how you’ll “fit” in with their company. I would say this is where your research into company culture can pay off. FOCUS suggests you talk about your ability, experience, and energy, specifically.
- What are your career goals?
Be careful with this one. Unlike some interview questions, this one has a defined right answer: To be with XYZ company in such and such capacity. My ASU Business Career Coach warned me that this is a loyalty question. FOCUS emphasizes that you talk about the progression of your career, not just “I want this job.”
- What are your strengths?
Career Coach says: have 3 strengths and have examples for them (go back to STAR). I like to change them for each interview. Some interviewers may care that I am a good presenter, but if I’m applying for an analyst position where I have more to do with a computer monitor, that’s probably not going to sell her on me. I’d have to mention, say, great with numbers, instead.
- What are your weaknesses?
A lot of people fall into a trap here. Who wants to admit to a weakness when the entire point is to impress the interviewer? But that’s exactly what you have to do, but also show how you’ve overcome them or work past them. Mine, so you get the idea, are: I’m hyper-focused (“I often concentrate too much on a little thing, but I learn to focus on priorities, which helps me spend time where it needs to go, not just where my gut takes me”), I’m often convinced I’m right (“I sometimes get convinced it’s my way or the high way. I have learned to read non-verbal cues, so I know when this is happening, and then I take a back seat. I frame my ideas in questions and make a conscious effort to listen.”), and I can over book myself (“I like to do a lot of things, and sometimes I overestimate how much I can accomplish in small period of time. I use a day planner and plan out all my time in order to avoid this.”)
- Tell me about a time when you dealt with a disgruntled team mate?
This question is relatively easy. They want to hear about you in a team situation. Think hard. Are you thinking of a school project? Don’t use it. Apparently 95% of us use school examples. Recruiters have heard them all. Be original. Stick out in their minds.
- Tell me about a time you worked on a team/were a leader?
Same thing as the one above. If you have been the leader of a club, that’s a classic example. Have you ever babysat? How about headed up a church discussion group?
- What motivates you?
Relate this back to the position. If it’s a sales position, money motivates you. If it’s a customer service position with Disney, how about smiling guests? Don’t lie, but it’s okay to make it fit the position.
So as you can see, there’s a bit more to prepping for an interview than going on to the website and seeing what the Mission Statement is. My recommendation is prep at least the day before the interview. Give yourself some time. Research about the industry, too, and do a Google News or Yahoo News search for the company and see what comes up.
Now, I have to give credit where credit is due: Thank you to ASU’s WPCarey Business Career Center. They gave me the format and helped me figure this all out the first time with a lovely flier. Thank you, Jyll. And thank you to the people who posted the FOCUS webpage.