How to Interview Effectively
The job interview is a strategic conversation with a purpose. Your goal is to persuade the employer that you have the skills, background, and ability to do the job and that you can comfortably fit into his/her organization. At the same interview, you should also be gathering information about the job, future career opportunities and the organization to determine if the position and work environment are right for you.
You can strongly influence the interview outcome if you realize that an interview is not an objective process in which the employer offers the job to the best candidate based on merit alone. But rather, an interview is a highly subjective encounter in which the interviewer offers the job to the qualified person whom he/she likes best. Personality, confidence, enthusiasm, a positive outlook and excellent interpersonal and communication skills count heavily.
One key to success is to use every means at your disposal to develop effective interviewing skills: selective presentation of your background, thoughtful answers to interview questions, well researched questions about the organization, and an effective strategy to market yourself. There is no magic to interviewing: it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with practice. The Career Center offers the regularly scheduled workshop, Effective Interviewing, and has excellent books and videos on interviewing.
A second key to success is careful research about the job and the organization, agency, or company with whom you are having the interview. You can request printed materials such as annual reports from the employer in advance or use internet and library resources. You should also talk with your contacts in the organization or use your personal network to discover the names of current employees you might call prior to the interview. Knowing about the job will help you prepare a list of your qualifications so that you can show, point by point, why you are the best candidate. Knowing about the employer will help you prepare an interview strategy and appropriate questions and points to emphasize.
The Interview Structure
Before receiving a job offer, you will typically have a series of interviews with an employer. The first interview is a screening interview that could be conducted over the phone or at the place of employment. On-campus interviews are also considered screening interviews. Screening interviews are rather brief, usually lasting 30-60 minutes. During that time, the employer will want you to elaborate on experiences outlined in your resume or application, and will describe the organization and available position. If the employer is impressed with your performance in this interview, you will be invited to a second (and perhaps third or fourth) interview.
The second interview process is longer, lasting anywhere from two hours to a whole day. It could include testing, lunch or dinner, a facility tour, as well as a series of interviews with various employees. You should come away from the second interview with a thorough understanding of the work environment and job responsibilities and have enough information to decide on a job offer should one be extended.
Each interview follows a rather predictable communication pattern of "warm-up," "information exchange," and "wrap-up" conversations. During the first few minutes of the interview (the "warm-up"), an employer will be formulating a first, and perhaps lasting, impression of you. How you greet the employer, the firmness of your handshake, the way you are groomed and dressed, will all be a part of this initial impression. To help you feel at ease, a practiced interviewer might ask "common-ground" questions about shared interests or acquaintances, or your travel to the interview. Some interviewers might start by saying, "Tell me about yourself," an opening for you to concisely describe your background, skills, and interest in the position.
The "Information Exchange"
The information exchange will be the primary part of the interview. It is when you will be asked the most questions and learn the most about the employer. In screening interviews, many employers will spend more time describing their opportunities than asking you specific questions. The reverse will be true in second interviews. Interview questions may range from "Why did you choose to pursue a degree in ...?" and "Describe the job you had last summer" to "What are your strengths/weaknesses?" and "What are your long-range career goals?" If you are prepared for the interview, you will be able to promote your qualifications effectively as you respond to questions. With practice, you will gain confidence and become more polished in your presentation.
Eventually the employer will probably say, "Do you have any questions?" This is the cue that the interview is moving to the "wrap-up" stage. Always ask questions because this demonstrates your prior research and interest in the job. Your questions might be direct, logistical questions such as, "When can I expect to hear from you?" (if that has not been discussed); a question to clarify information the employer has presented; a question regarding the employer's use of new technology or practices related to the career field; or a question to assess the culture and direction of the organization such as "Where is this organization headed in the next five years?" or "Why do you like working for this organization?" Do not ask specific questions about salary or benefits unless the employer broaches the subject first. The employer may also ask you if you have anything else you would like to add or say. Again, it's best to have a response. You can use this opportunity to thank the employer for the interview, summarize your qualifications and reiterate your interest in the position. If you want to add information or emphasize a point made earlier, you can do that, too. This last impression is almost as important as the first impression and will add to the substance discussed during the information exchange.
Because a job interview is a communication process, your skills will become more polished over time. It is helpful to remember the following:
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