Sarah Van Vark
College of Business
You want the opportunity to interview with a great company, right? Of course you do. However, are you really comfortable with your interviewing skills? That might not be the case.
As I meet with students on a daily basis, I ask them: “Are you confident in your interviewing skills?” The look on some of their faces is pretty consistent. Unfortunately, the skill of interviewing is one area job seekers are not confident. The good news is it's a skill that can be improved.
Once you actually have an interview; preparation is essential to your success. As a former recruiter with a major financial services company, I can honestly say a common mistake interviewees make is not being appropriately prepared. You need to research the company and find some key information about it. You want to find out details such as the goals of the organization, what products or services they offer, and how the company compares to its competitors. Your knowledge of the organization will show your genuine interest in the interview and the position. In short: If you are effective with your exploration of the company, you will know what they do and won't have to ask, “What does your company do?”
Research will also help you decide if it is the right company for you. Spend some quality time on their Web site, talk to anyone you know who works there, and do research on the Internet to find news stories written about the organization. After your research is complete, it is time to practice your interviewing skills! Dedicate time for practicing answers to common interview questions. Enlist a friend to act as your interviewer and ask you questions. If you have a video recorder, tape yourself. You could practice in front of a mirror too. Crazy? Maybe a little. But, remember, your goal is to be more comfortable with talking about your skills and you know the saying: “practice makes perfect”.
General and common questions you need to be ready to answer include:
- “Can you tell me about yourself?”
- “What do you know about our company that interests you?”
- “What are your weaknesses?”
- “What are your strengths?”
These are just a sampling of universal questions. Many resources are available to provide you with other samples. Be ready for behavior-based interview questions too. A behavior-based question relates to what you have done in the past and how it predicts your future workplace behavior. You can practice these types of interview questions in advance.
Questions such as “Tell me about a time you’ve been in a conflict situation,” “Describe a situation where you had to make a tough choice,” “Tell me about a big project you had to plan for school or work,” or “Explain a time you needed to learn something new” are examples of these types of questions. Do not ask questions about salary or benefits at this time. Always end by asking, “What is the next step in the process?” so you know when you can expect to hear back from them regarding the position. It will also help you determine when you should follow up with them.
It is very important to dress to impress at your interview. What you wear and how you wear it will make a strong first impression on the recruiter. Remember, for an interview, professional and conservative are appropriate; flip flops and t-shirts are not. It’s best to reserve the weekends for showing off your new trendy outfit. Men should wear a dark suit, solid shirt, plain tie shoe, and conservative tie. Women should wear a dark pant or skirt suit, conservative shirt, low to medium heel, and limited jewelry. If you find yourself asking, “I wonder if this skirt is too short?” or “Is my tie too obnoxious?” The answer is probably yes. Bottom line: Be safe and dress conservatively.
I often hear the question, “What do I bring to the interview?” It's important to bring extra copies of your professional resume, official and unofficial transcripts, and references printed on resume paper. Sometimes, bringing samples of your work might be necessary. I recommend carrying these items in a leather padfolio, along with a pad of paper and pen. Prepare a list of questions you will ask during your interview. Just a hint – when they ask if you have any questions, don’t say no. Instead, ask the interviewer: “What do you like best about the company?” for example.
Do not forget one of the most important things - enthusiasm and smile! I have conducted many interviews where job seekers were so worried about what they were saying that they forgot to smile. Don’t go overboard, but still show your enthusiasm throughout an interview.
Immediately after the interview, write down everything you need to remember. You will want to write the name of the interviewer, the date you expect to hear from the company, questions you were not able to answer, etc. Are you done? Almost!
Be sure to follow up by sending a thank you note or email. Send a thank you within 24 hours of the interview. This will help ensure the interviewer remembers you and gives you the opportunity to include relevant information you may not have mentioned in the interview. Not everybody sends thank you letters, and yours may be the only one the recruiter receives.
Interviewing is not something that comes easily to everyone. Learning how to interview successfully is like learning a new dance routine. Be persistent and practice and you set yourself up for success.
Sarah Van Vark is a Career Coordinator in the College of Business Career Services office at Iowa State University.
For More Information
For additional information please contact the Career Services office for your college. A listing of the individual offices can be found at http://www.career.iastate.edu.