How to interview effectively

The interview is one of the most important elements in the job search process. After your cover letter and resume, the interview is your best opportunity to wow the employer—regardless of your background and experience. When an employer invites you to an interview, he/she is indicating an interest in bringing you on board.

The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange enough information about the job, the organization, and future career opportunities to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other. It is a strategic conversation with a purpose. Your goal is to show the employer that you have the skill, background, and ability to do the job and that you can successfully fit into the organization and its culture.

Most employers do not hire people based on merit alone. Personality, confidence, enthusiasm, a positive outlook, and excellent interpersonal and communication skills count heavily in the selection process.

To ensure a successful interview, use every possible strategy to develop effective interviewing skills.

Be prepared. It is to your advantage to carefully research the job and the organization. There are many ways to do this. You can request printed materials from the employer, such as annual reports and job descriptions. This is an entirely appropriate request, so don’t hesitate to make it. Use your library and career centre resources. Ask colleagues, friends, and faculty about the organization, and about any personal contacts at the organization they might have. Look at the organization’s home page.

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.

Practice, practice, practice. Prepare a clear answer in a few words to each of the questions in the interview questions section. Practice answering questions with a friend, or in front of a mirror. Ask your friend to give you constructive criticism on your speaking style, mannerisms, and poise. As you practice, avoid colloquialisms such as “like” and “you know.” Make sure you don’t script all your answers—you’ll sound as though you’re reading cue cards!

Find out the logistics of the interview. The more you know, the more focused your answers will be. Find out when the interview is scheduled, what to expect during it, and how long you will be there. Also find out if you will be talking to just one person, or to several.

Be prompt and professional. Always arrive early. If you don’t know where the organisation is located, call for exact directions in advance. Leave some extra time for any traffic, parking, or unpredictable events. If you are running late, call right away to let someone know. The best time to arrive is approximately 5 - 10 minutes early. Give yourself the time to read your resume one more time, to catch your breath, and to be ready for the interview.

Dress for success. Wear a professional business suit. This point cannot be emphasized enough. First impressions are extremely important in the interview process. Women should avoid wearing too much jewelry or make up. Men should avoid flashy suits or wearing too much cologne. It is also important that you feel comfortable. While a suit is the standard interview attire in a business environment, if you think it is an informal environment, call before and ask. Regardless, you can never be overdressed if you are wearing a tailored suit.

Be organised. Carry a portfolio notepad or at the very least a manila file folder labeled with the employer’s name. Bring extra resumes and have the names, addresses and phone numbers of references, in case the employer asks. Also, bring a list of questions for the employer. You may refer to your list of questions to be sure you’ve gathered the information you need to make a decision. Do not be preoccupied with taking notes during the interview.

Know yourself. You will make the interview process easier for the employer if you volunteer relevant information about yourself. Think about how you want to present your strengths, experiences, education, work style, skills, and goals. Be prepared to supplement all your answers with examples that support the statements you make. It is also a good idea to review your resume with a critical eye and identify areas that an employer might see as limitations or want further information. Think about how you can answer difficult questions accurately and positively, while keeping each answer brief.

Be honest. An interview gives the employer a chance to get to know you. While you do want to market yourself to the employer—answer each question with an honest response.

Be positive. Never say anything negative about past experiences, employers, or courses and professors. Always think of something positive about an experience and talk about that. You should also be enthusiastic. If you are genuinely interested in the job, let the interviewer know that.

Show your interest. One of the best ways to show you are interested in a job is to demonstrate that you have researched the organization prior to the interview. You can also show interest by asking questions about the job, the organization, and its services and products. The best way to impress an employer is to ask questions that build upon your interview discussion. This shows you are interested and paying close attention to the interviewer.

At the end of an interview, it is appropriate for you to ask when you may expect to hear from the employer.

Save discussion of salary for later. Find out as much as you can before the interview about the salary levels for the position you are seeking. Do not bring up the issue of salary during the interview. If the employer asks about your salary expectations, give only a general answer, such as that your expectations seem to be within, or close to their range.

After-interview notes. After the interview, take time to write down the names and titles (check spelling) of all your interviewers, your impressions, remaining questions, and any information that may influence your decision to accept a position with the organization. If you are interviewing regularly, this will help you keep employers and circumstances clearly differentiated.

Always follow up. You should write a thank you note within 48 hours after an interview, even if the interview (or the interviewer) was not productive and/or you are not interested in the position. It is important to say thank you for the time the interviewer spent with you. This letter should be brief.

The interview structure

I. The Warm-up. Each interview follows a rather predictable 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, lasting, impression of you. The way you greet the employer, the firmness of your handshake, and the way you are dressed, will all be a part of this initial impression. An interviewer may begin by asking common-ground questions about shared interests, the weather, or your travel to the interview. Some interviewers might start by saying “tell me about yourself.” This is an opening for you to briefly and concisely describe your background, skills, and interest in the position.

II. The Information Exchange. The information exchange will be the primary part of the interview. This is when you will be asked the most questions and learn the most about the employer. Interview questions may range from “Why did you choose to pursue a business degree?” to “What are your strength/weaknesses?” and “What are your long-range career goals?” If you are prepared for the interview, you will be able to emphasize your qualifications effectively as you respond to each question. By practicing for interviews, you will gain confidence and have more polished answers.

III. The Wrap-up. Eventually the employer will probably say, “Do you have any questions?” This is your cue that the interview is moving to the wrap-up stage. Always ask questions. This demonstrates your 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 yet been discussed); questions 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 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.