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The Interview

Effective interviewing is an acquired skill that will benefit you throughout your career. Because it is an acquired skill, the first few times that you interview can be stressful. Early in your career the process feels inherently uneven as you will have had few interviews and the person on the other side of the desk likely has conducted many interviews. Relax. Your resume has gotten you this far so you can take it from there. Take the time to read the information below – advice on everything from what to wear to commonly asked questions to your thank you note.

Interview Preparation

Look the part:

Much has been written about what to wear to an interview. Take the time to read a couple of articles below. Generally, you want to dress conservatively and professionally. This is not an opportunity to make a fashion statement. Remember, you are selling and they are buying. You are entering their professional world. Even in companies with more informal cultures, you will not want to assume too much about what is appropriate. Get comfortable wearing professional apparel — not too tight, not too sexy, not too fashion forward. A tie or scarf can add a splash of color but your goal is not for them to remember what you wore. Your goal is for them to remember what you said.

Click here for some resources on what to wear to an interview. If it looks like you are going on a date it likely needs to be toned down. If you look like you could argue a case before the Supreme Court you are on the right track.

What EVERY Interviewer wants to know about you:

Though the actual questions will vary, one way or another every interviewer will want to know the following:

  • Do you know what you want?
    • You may be asked: Why are you applying for this job? What interests you in this company? Why did you major in “X”? All of which is meant to see if you have a sense of direction.
    • When applying for an internship show that you want to learn more about this career path and/or industry.
    • When applying for a full time job show confidence that this is the career direction you have chosen.
    • When describing your major in college show passion for some aspect of what you studied.
  • Do you have the skills we are looking for?
    • You may be asked: How would you rate your presentation skills? Using Excel can you create: a pivot table, a financial statement, charts or graphs? What have faculty said about your writing?
    • Be prepared to confidently talk about your skills. Describing your skills is both a minimum requirement to being considered for the job and an opportunity to set yourself apart from others. Be particularly ready for jobs that require specific skills such as conducting an accounting audit or a statistical analysis.
  • Are you the type of person we want to work with?
    • You may be asked: Tell me a little about yourself? Describe a difficult situation you handled? What do you do for fun or for the community?
    • In answering these questions you are providing some insight into who you are as a person. Students who tend to be quiet say too little and those who like to talk tend to say too much. Anticipate this type of question and have an answer ready – roughly 4 to 5 sentences – that shares a bit of how you spend your time and what is important to you. They are not interviewing you to be their best friend but they are hiring a human being so be human. Also, smile and let your sense of humor show through.

Do not turn preparing answers for questions into a full time job as you can only remember so much. Instead, view preparing for these questions as a way to get comfortable with the interview process. Remember, how you say what you say will leave an enduring impression. Be confident. Be prepared. Be your (professional) self.

Researching the Company:

Research the company prior to your interview. Would you hire someone who applied for a job with a company that they knew nothing about? Use the business press, electronic media, and contacts you have through family and friends to learn about the company. At a minimum, find out: What does the company do? What does it sell and what does it buy? Who are its likely customers? How has the company changed over time? Has it made any recent public announcements? What do others say about It? If it is a publicly held company, what is the price of its stock and has it recently change? While this may seem like a lot of information to remember, it will provide a valuable context for both what the interviewer says to you and provide ideas for questions you can ask.

Click here for resources for doing research on companies.

Questions to the Interviewer:

During the initial interview you will likely have no more than ten minutes to ask a few questions. Including time for answers, this means maybe three questions. In second and third interviews you will have more time to ask questions and by then you will know much more about the company. Prepare four or five questions for the initial interview as some may be answered earlier in the interview. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Why do customers prefer this company’s products/services as opposed to those of its competitors?
  • How would the interviewer characterize the company’s overall culture?
  • How are new employees evaluated and/or reviewed? What feedback do they receive?
  • What would be a typical career path from this initial job?
  • If I talk with someone hired within the last year what might that say about working here?
  • What should I expect next in the process?

Be sure that you recognize that some questions are more appropriate for the second or third interview (e.g., questions about salary and benefits) and not the first. Choose which questions to ask based on your company research and after carefully listening to what the interviewer says. You do not want to ask a question that shows you haven’t done your homework (e.g., you failed to see they were just in the news) nor do you want to ask a question the interviewer already answered but you were not paying attention.

The Interview

The initial impression you convey begins with a smile, your outreached hand for a firm handshake, and you introducing yourself – first and last name. Let the interviewer set the tone by offering you a seat and beginning the conversation. These first few minutes are very important. The interviewer has already seen your resume; they liked what they saw and now they are judging how you handle yourself. They will quickly assess your appearance and demeanor. You have requested this interview so make sure you give the impression of being happy to be there (even if you are nervous) and ready to answer questions. Suppose something unexpected happens — the interviewer mixed up the files and calls you the wrong name, the chair gets stuck on the rug, you drop your folder and copies of your resume fall to the floor — don’t worry. Just stop, look the interviewer in the eye, say “excuse me” and correct the issue, then pick up where you left off.

Establish Rapport: 

The interviewer will typically begin the conversation. Give him/her a moment to do so. If they seem to be waiting, start by saying how happy you are to have the opportunity to explain why you would be a good candidate for the position. Most college students have little experience with interviews and feel a bit intimidated facing an experienced interviewer. This is perfectly understandable. Reduce your anxiety by doing your homework on the company and developing some answers to standard questions. Like other skills, getting good at interviews takes experience. Fortunately, the interviewer knows this. Relax and recognize that the person sitting across the table is not looking for you to make a mistake. Instead, he/she wants you to feel comfortable to present your qualification and express your interest. During the interview you may even find the conversation going to a shared interest – perhaps you and the interviewer enjoy the same sport or other hobby, or had the same major in college. Talking about a shared interest helps break the ice and establish rapport.

A good interview will be purposeful enough to allow you to explain you strengths and interests, and comfortable enough to enjoy the conversation and learn a bit more about the position. If you are approaching the end of the interview and did not yet get the opportunity to mention something that sets you apart from other applicants there is nothing wrong with saying: “Before we conclude I would like to point out the really unique experience I had (fill in the blank) as it helped build my skills and reinforced my interest in this area.”

Some indicators that the interview is going well include: the interview extends past the appointed time period, positive reactions and follow up questions to your responses, having you meet another company representative, and a request for your list of references.

It is YOUR Interview:

Remember, this is YOUR interview. You asked to be there and a good match is as important to you as to the employer. The position description and your research on the company will give you important information but during the interview you can learn even more. In fact, either directly or indirectly, the interviewer will actually share what they need and want in a successful candidate. Zero in on this message. Then ask questions (as described above); good questions can convey your interest and enthusiasm. Within the short span of 20-30 minutes you can learn a lot about the company and actually help the interviewer see your qualities and the possibility of a good fit. Remember, your sole goal here is to move to the next stage. Even if you decide the position is not what you want, being asked to a second interview says much about your growing interview skills.

Always follow-up with a Thank You

A job interview thank you note is not just courteous; it is a requirement. Even if you do not want to pursue the position, send a thank you note. Careers are long and you never know when you might again interact with the interviewer. Plan for how you will handle sending a “thank you” before you even have your first interview.

  • Know the information you will need to send a thank you: a) an email address and/or b) a mailing address. When leaving the interview, take the interviewer’s card and ask “Can I send my thank you letter to this email address?”
  • Email or regular mail? Increasingly, an email thank you has become acceptable. There is no doubt, however, that a hand-written thank you note has an impact. First, send the thank you email. Then, particularly if this is a job you really want, drop a very brief hand-written note, even a note card, in the mail (be sure you have an address and stamps). Together, these gestures will reinforce your message of being interested in the position.
  • More than just a “thank you”! Your thank you note provides one more opportunity to make an impression. In addition to expressing your appreciation, thank the interviewer for his/her time, express your continued interest in the position and mention something you talked about, something that will remind the interviewer of the conversation. Ideally, it will be something that sets you apart. You do not have a lot of space. Your thank you email will be one paragraph and your hand-written note will be even more brief. Know before you go into the interview that you want some take away moment that can be part of your thank you note.

 

An example of a thank you letter:

Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:

It was very enjoyable to speak with you about the ____ position at ____ company. The job, as you presented it, seems to be a very good match for my skills and interests. The straight forward approach to management that you described confirmed my desire to work at ___.

In addition to my enthusiasm, I bring to the position strong writing and quantitative skill, the ability to work well with others, and the desire to produce results. My education and experiences provided me with a range of exercises in solving problems.

As I mentioned during my interview, my summer internship at ______ further developed my skills as ______.

I appreciate the time you took to interview me and look forward to hearing from you about this position.

Sincerely,

An example of a hand-written note 

Dear Mr/Mrs. Last Name:

Thank you for your time and truly helpful information regarding this opportunity and the career possibilities with ____ company. I remain deeply interested in the position and believe my training and internship experiences have prepared me well to make a difference. 

Regards,

A sample letter withdrawing your application:

Thank you very much for offering me the position of __________. It was a difficult decision to make but I have accepted a position with another company.

Again, thank you for your consideration.