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Nailing the Interview

Obtaining a job interview is not always easy and often requires a good deal of work. Preparing for an interview can require a good deal of work, as well, as this is your opportunity to portray to a potential employer that you have the skills and experience necessary to succeed in the available position. In general terms, your objective is to have an interviewer answer “yes” to the following questions after your interview.

  1. Do you have the skills and abilities needed to perform well in the available position?
  2. Do you have the attitude and work ethic needed to make valuable contributions to the company in the available position?
  3. Will you be a team player and fit into the organization?

Preparing for the interview

As you might imagine, most of the work you need to perform to impress a potential employer during an interview happens before the interview. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for an interview.

  • Research the company, so you can provide well-informed answers to interview questions. Be prepared to ask questions about the company to demonstrate that you’re well-versed in the company’s business
  • Know the job description. Be prepared to describe how your skills and experience will enable you to successfully perform the primary tasks and fulfill the key responsibilities of the position.
  • Be prepared to answer commonly asked interview questions (see below). Rehearse your answers to these questions (without trying to memorize the answers) by conducting a mock interview with a relative or friend.
  • Learn all you can about the interviewer. If you know who the interviewer will be, check to see if he or she has a LinkedIn profile.
  • Bring a pen, paper, work tools, and work clothing. During an interview, you might need to take notes and/or perform a work task. Be prepared.
  • Familiarize yourself with the location of the interview. If feasible, make a practice run to the interview location at the same time of day of the interview; determine traffic flow and where you’ll park or which bus or transit stops you’ll utilize.
  • Confirm the time and place of the interview. A day or two before the scheduled interview, send an email or make a call to the interviewer to confirm that the interview is still scheduled.
  • Get your interview clothes ready. Review Be Your Best to help determine best interview attire.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview. Being well-rested the day of the interview is very important. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep if possible.
  • Prepare copies of your resume, cover letter, and references. Bring along several copies of each document to the interview. Consider printing these documents on resume paper, which is available at most office supply stores.
  • Present your best self the minute you reach the interview location. The interview begins when you pull into the organization's parking lot or enter its building. Individuals you encounter on the elevator, in the hallway, and especially in the reception area might be asked later about their impressions of you or be involved in the selection process.
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes before the scheduled interview time. Plan to arrive at location of the interview 10 to 15 minutes before the actual time of your interview. Never be late, or the job could be lost before your interview begins.

What to expect during the interview

Much can happen during an interview and here's what to expect.

  • Anticipate some small talk. The interview will probably begin with a few minutes of small talk as the interviewer attempts to break the ice.
  • You will likely be asked variations of some of the following commonly asked interview questions.
    • Tell me about yourself.
    • What do you know about our company?
    • Why are you interested in this position?
    • Tell me about your key skills.
    • Tell me about a problem you faced and how you solved it.
    • What motivates you to do a good job?
    • Tell me about your proudest accomplishment.
    • What will you bring to this job?
    • Why do you believe you are qualified for this position?
    • Why should I hire you instead of someone more qualified?
    • Do you have any questions for me?
    • Describe a time when you went beyond the call of duty to get a job done.
    • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an upset customer.
    • Talk about a time you overcame a difficult problem / showed initiative.
    • Give an example of a time when you had to work with a difficult co-worker.
    • Describe a time when you had to handle a lot of tasks at the same time.
    • Tell me about a time you had a deadline to meet that seemed nearly impossible.
    • Talk about how you set and achieve goals.

How to act during an interview

Your behavior during an interview will help an employer determine how you will act toward clients, customers, and colleagues. Here are some tips for making a good impression during an interview.

  • Smile often. You want to present yourself as friendly and excited to be there.
  • Offer a firm handshake. This is a standard greeting in most interview situations.
  • Do not sit until the interviewer does or until he or she asks you to be seated. This is a good way to show respect to your potential employer.
  • Note the names and job titles of everyone in the room. This will help you with thank you letters after the interview.
  • Avoid saying anything negative about former employers, supervisors, and co-workers. Employers want employees with solutions to problems, not employees who dwell on bad past experiences. Further, employers are always looking to see how you will represent their company in public if hired and complaints about former employers or colleagues might raise concerns.

Tips for leaving strong impressions during an interview

You are going to want to set yourself apart from other applicants during your interview. Here are a few tips for how you might accomplish this.

  • Craft your SOARS stories. A SOARS story is a brief but compelling story of how you succeeded in a previous positions. SOARS stands for Situation, Obstacles, Actions, Results, and Skills. A SOARS story can be used to provide a powerful response to an interview question. Each part of the SOARS acronym plays a role in developing the SOARS story:
    • Situation – set the story’s context by describing a challenge you faced, a mission or objective you were given, a project you were assigned, or an idea you wanted to act upon
    • Obstacles – few really important missions are accomplished without encountering obstacles of some sort. The ability to persevere, to improvise, to succeed in the face of difficult odds are valuable traits for a potential employer. Describe the obstacles, constraints, or setbacks you faced.
    • Actions – outline the tasks you performed, steps you took, and approach you used to overcome obstacles.
    • Results – define the impact of your actions, the difference you made, the benefits you generated, and/or the positive changes you brought about.
    • Skills – describe the capabilities, traits, or knowledge you utilized as well as the skills you acquired or strengthened as a result of this experience.
    • Example of a SOARS story – My department received a new piece of equipment, and I was tasked with training my teammates on how to use it. Time was short, and I wasn't provided training to learn how to operate the equipment. When I unpacked the gear, I discovered it was unlike our existing equipment. To complicate matters even more, I had only one week to learn how to operate the new equipment well enough to teach others how to use it. For the next four days, I spent every free moment I had studying the operator’s manual, and I taught myself to use the equipment. On days five and six, I developed a pocket-sized job aid describing each step necessary to use the new equipment. I asked a teammate to use his smart phone to film me narrating each step as I performed it. On day seven, I conducted the training. At the end of the training, I tasked each team member with attempting to operate the new system successfully. I then emailed them copies of the video, so they could refer to it in the future. From this experience, I learned how to identify the key steps in a process, how to translate that knowledge into easy-to-understand print and video job aids, and how to organize a block of instruction in such a way that novices can quickly acquire and demonstrate mastery of an unfamiliar task. I’ll be able to use these skills in the future whenever it’s necessary to learn a new skill and then train coworkers to use that skill.
  • Ask informed questions. Throughout the interview process, the interviewer is trying to gauge how committed you are and how capable you will be in helping the company succeed. At the end of an interview, the interviewer may ask if you have questions. You’ll typically have time to ask two or three. The following questions will demonstrate your commitment to the employer’s success while providing you with information you'll need to decide if the job is a good fit for you:
    • After hearing my answers to your questions, do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job?
    • What will be the most important part of my job, in terms of ensuring that you and our team will be successful?
    • What will be the most valuable skills to develop if I am to add more value to our department?
    • Will I be given opportunities to acquire those skills?
    • What are the next steps in the selection process? How soon do you plan to fill this position?
    • Is it okay if I follow up with you?
  • Ask a “magic interview question.” If you really want to impress an interviewer, develop your own version of the following statement, practice it until it sounds natural, and then use it early on in the interview.

"From what I’ve been able to learn about this position, it sounds like it consists of things that I like to do, and am good at doing or could quickly learn to do. But now that I’ve got this opportunity to talk to you directly, could you tell me in more detail what are the most important things I can do in this position to contribute to your success and the success of the department that I’d be joining?"

This statement will accomplish three things.

First, it will set you apart from most of the other applicants by conveying that you are interested in the interviewer's success, not just your own.

Second, the interviewer’s response will provide you guidance as to what you should talk about throughout the rest of the interview to demonstrate that you will make valuable contributions to his/her team.

Finally, if you do get the job, you will have a blueprint for success.

  • Thank the interviewer for his/her time and consideration. At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer(s) for the opportunity to meet, ask for business cards, restate your interest in the job, and express confidence in your ability to contribute to the organization's success. A few examples of strong closing statements would be "This sounds like a great position and a great place to work" or "I'm confident that I could make significant contributions here."
  • Wait for a job offer before asking about salary and benefits. Do not ask about salary, vacation or paid time off, retirement plans, or other benefits until after you've received a job offer. Refraining from asking about these things will demonstrate that you are most interested in performing well in the available position.

What to do after the interview

What you do after an interview can significantly impact your chances of obtaining a job. Here are some tips that can increase your chances of obtaining employment after an interview.

  • Make notes of what you learned during the interview. Recording what you learned during an interview can be very helpful, especially when sending thank you notes to potential employers. Take time to write-down what was discussed.
  • Contact your references. You should let your references know that they may be contacted by the employer. Your references will appreciate this notice.
  • Send a thank you letter (emails are acceptable). Within a day after your interview, you should send a thank you letter or email to each of the individuals who interviewed you. Thank you letters give the employer a chance to ask for additional information from you and keep you on the employer’s mind as a viable candidate for the available position. Thank you notes should be brief, to the point, and error-free. Think of this correspondence as an opportunity to mention something you forgot or wish you had said in the interview. You might also restate your interest in the position and your confidence in your ability to do the job. Here is a sample thank you letter for your reference, and also check out Thank You Letters.
February 2, 20XX
Mr. Thomas Williams, President
Main Street Bank
1111 Washington Street
South Amboy, New Jersey 08879

Dear Mr. Williams,

Thank you for the opportunity to interview with you yesterday. The information you shared with me about Main Street Bank is helpful in understanding the impact of loan officers in your overall mission. I am excited about the possibility of applying my education and experience to this position with your bank. The expansion and public lending plans are especially interesting, and I look forward to helping the Main Street Bank enter this new market.

If I can provide you with any additional information, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Charles Henderson
2222 East Harbor Ave.
Madison Park, New Jersey 08859
  • Follow up with the lead interviewer. Within a week or so following the interview, it is appropriate to follow-up with interviewers to inquire about the position and to restate your interest in the position.