After you have assessed your skills and abilities, decided on prospective employers and applied for positions, the next step is the interview. The key to making a good impression in an interview is careful preparation. Preparing for an interview is just as important as studying for an academic examination. As with tests, preparation and practice can ease some of the tension and anxiety and increase your chances of success.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
- Record the exact time and place of the interview and arrive early.
- Know the interview process.
- Prepare and practice your answers to possible interview questions with a friend, a career counselor and by using InterviewStream.
- Prepare good questions to ask the employer.
- Select your interview attire.
- Get a good night's sleep to be well rested and alert.
- Be able to discuss past achievements and give concrete examples demonstrating your skills.
- Know what you are looking for and what you have to offer.
- Know why you are interviewing for the position with the organization.
- Know how you can make a contribution to the employer.
Know What Employers Look For in Interviews
- Interview preparation: interest in and knowledge of the industry, the position and the organization
- Communication skills: oral presentation skills and the ability to interact with others
- Qualifications: academic, work, volunteer and other experience
- Personality: enthusiasm, poise, cheerfulness, flexibility and sense of humor
- Leadership potential and teamwork: demonstrated ability to work with others and to get others to work together
- Clear and realistic career goals: future plans and awareness of career paths
- Appearance: dress and grooming
- Maturity: behavior and judgment
- Self-confidence: realistic appraisal of self
- Motivation and success potential: demonstrated patterns of accomplishment
- Work ethic: acceptance of responsibility, ability to keep commitments and the understanding of the importance of hard work
- Problem solving and analytical ability
Recruiters expect and are impressed with candidates who research and have knowledge about their companies. A favorite question asked is, "Why are you interested in our organization?" To answer the question effectively, you need to know the organization.
By researching the organization, you can learn whether your goals will fit the organizational structure defined by the employer. For example, there are some employers who have a reputation for being conservative; if you know that you do not fit in with this type of environment, talking to the recruiter would be a waste of time.
It is wise to begin researching as you are applying for a position, well before the interview. Keep a file on each organization to which you apply. In addition to information about the company (articles from periodicals, annual reports, tips or comments), the file should include date(s) of application(s), copies of any communication exchanged, appointment record, names of contacts and other relevant information. The information in the file will help you prepare for the interview and will be beneficial as you write follow-up letters. Keep your files even after you secure employment. If you consider a job change later, the information could be useful in securing a new position.
Know the Organization
You should be prepared to discuss the following aspects of the employer's organization:
- History of organization
- Complete product line(s) and/or service(s)
- Organizational structure
- Size of organization
- Prospects for growth or change
- Potential new products or services
- Annual sales growth for past five years
- Business methods and philosophy
- Standing in the industry
- Number of plants, stores and outlets
- Geographical locations
- Location of corporate headquarters
- Relocation policies
- Type of training program(s)
- Promotional path(s)
- Typical career path in your field
- Information about top management and their backgrounds
- Corporate culture
- Recent developments
Where to Find the Information
The following is a list of possible places to find employer information:
- Employers' websites
- Employer profile pages on LinkedIn and other social media platforms
- Direct contact with the organization
- Contacts at career fairs
- Company information presentations
- Career Services staff, professors, family, friends, alumni
- Chambers of Commerce
- Annual reports and employment brochures
- Business periodicals, newspapers and directories
Do not to give up if you can't find the information immediately. All publicly held companies are required to report to their stockholders through annual reports. Privately held and small companies may be more difficult to find information about and you will have to be resourceful in locating what you need. Check with libraries' reference departments and ask for advice. If the library doesn't have the information you need, their staff can often refer you to alternative sources.
Some information will not be available and you may ask the recruiter for clarification during the interview. Tell the interviewer you are aware of certain information about the organization (thus proving you have some knowledge of the company) and you would like to discuss additional information in more detail. What you can't find can become the basis of questions you could ask during the interview.
What to Wear
Plan carefully what you will wear to the interview. It is important to know the appropriate attire for your field. Dress conservatively with careful attention to grooming. The following suggestions may be helpful.
- Tailored clothing with no frills, ruffles, thin straps, plunging necklines, or exposed cleavage
- Suits and blazers in plain, neutral colors or understated patterns
- Dresses in dark colors, with or without blazers
- Scarves for color accents
- Skirts without slits
- Basic dark pumps with medium or low heels and sheer hose
- Jewelry should be simple
- No overpowering perfume
- Dark or gray suits (solid, pinstripe or shadow plaid)
- Dress shirts in solid colors
- Ties coordinated with the shirts (solids, stripes or small patterns)
- Calf-length socks in dark colors to match suits
- Tassel loafers, wingtips or lace-up shoes (no boots)
- Black or brown 1-inch belts to match shoes
- Only a watch for jewelry
- No overpowering aftershave or cologne
See our Pinterest boards for ideas of appropriate interview and work attire:
DURING THE INTERVIEW
- Be enthusiastic, interested, confident and friendly to everyone. The selection process begins even before you meet the company representative(s). Introduce yourself to the greeter or receptionist; they are often asked for their impressions of the candidates. Also, individuals who are convinced they are the best candidates for the positions will be the most influential with employers.
- Turn off your phone before you enter the reception area. Don't talk on your phone, check messages, or text while waiting for your interview.
- Make a good first impression. Follow the lead of the interviewer. Greet the interviewer by name. Use a first name only if invited to do so.
- Give the interviewer a firm handshake during introductions.
- Always conduct yourself as if determined to get the job you are discussing. You may have other irons in the fire; the interviewer expects that, but you want to demonstrate your sincere interest in a position with the organization.
- Be aware of your non-verbal behavior. Maintain good eye contact. Control nervous habits.
- Listen to the questions and give clear and concise answers.
- Ask questions regarding job-related issues that will provide you with helpful information and will demonstrate your knowledge of and interest in the position and organization.
- In closing, ask if there is anything else the interviewer would like you to discuss or do (i.e., fill out an application).
- Inquire about follow-up procedures.
- Thank the interviewer for her or his time and ask for a business card. Collect business cards from everyone with whom you meet during the interview process. If you are unable to get a business card, verify, in writing, the person's name (including correct spelling), title and address.
Stages of the Interview
Although the structure of interviews may vary, most interviews include the following stages:
Stage 1 - Informal "breaking the ice" conversation. Topics vary and are designed to help you feel more at ease.
Stage 2 - Interviewer's questions intended to learn about you, your major, education, work experience and interests. Common questions include "Tell me about yourself" "Why did you choose UMD?" "What are some of your interests outside of the classroom?"
Stage 3 - Interview questions that elicit the relationship between your interests, skills and background and the needs of the organization. "What types of contributions would you see yourself making to this organization?" "How do you see your background fitting with the qualifications for this job?"
Stage 4 - Your opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer, interviewer summary and determination of the next step.
Responding to Questions
- Be prepared for questions as soon as the introductions start.
- Ask the interviewer to repeat or rephrase questions, if needed, for clarification or to "buy time."
- Allow yourself silence while thinking of an example or response.
- If you have not experienced a particular situation you are asked about, explain what you did in a similar situation, even if it isn't exactly the same.
- Break eye contact while thinking of an example or response.
- Ask for time to come up with an example if needed.
- Admit a "mental block" if you have a difficult time thinking of an answer. This is much better than trying to "fake it."
Frequently Asked Interview Questions
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
- Why did you choose this career field?
- Why do you think you will be successful in this career?
- Why did you choose to attend UMD?
- How did you select your major?
- What courses did you like best? Least? Why?
- How do you spend your spare time?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What did you learn or gain from your summer and part-time jobs?
- What have been your most satisfying and most disappointing experiences?
- Describe an accomplishment.
- What have you done that supports your interest in this field?
- Why did you choose to interview with us?
- Do you think your grades are a good indication of your ability?
- In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our company?
- What are your plans for graduate study?
- How do you work under pressure?
- Which geographic location do you prefer?
- What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?
- What have you done in college that has enhanced your leadership ability?
- Are you willing to relocate?
- Why should I hire you?
Questions for Teacher Candidates
If you are a student who wishes to pursue a career in education, you may be asked:
- What is your philosophy of education? Of discipline?
- What issues in education are of greatest concern to you? Why?
- Describe the role of the teacher in the learning process.
- What is the role of the teacher in the community?
- How would you individualize instruction in your classroom?
- Why do you want to teach?
- What special abilities do you have that would benefit your students?
- What prompted you to go into the field of education?
- Do you grade on ability or effort? Why?
- If you discovered the slower learners in the class could not read the grade level book, what would you do?
- Tell me about your student teaching experience.
- How do you feel about being observed by supervisors or principals? Why?
- Are you interested in working with students in an extracurricular activity? Why or why not?
Behavioral Style Interviewing
The following is a list of additional questions you may be asked by employers. These are "Behavioral Style Interviewing" questions. This style of questioning is based on the idea that your past behavior is an indication of your future performance.
The interviewers will usually ask you to describe a situation in which you did or did not use a certain skill effectively. Some of the skills they may choose to focus on include: leadership, communication (oral, written or interpersonal), creativity, problem solving, listening, teamwork, time management and handling stress.
The interviewer may ask questions in the following format: "Give me an example of a time when..."
- You used your leadership skills effectively.
- Your leadership skills failed.
- You had to depend on your ability to get along with others.
- You had to communicate under difficult circumstances.
- You had to deal with a highly stressful situation.
- You handled a stressful situation badly.
- You were especially creative.
- You were not able to use your creative skills.
- You were motivated by a good boss.
- You had to work with a poor supervisor/boss/professor.
In answering behavioral style questions, or any other questions for that matter, it is useful to use the SAR (situation, action, result) model for responses:
- Situation - describe the situation or a similar one related to the question.
- Action - explain in detail what you did.
- Result - describe what happened as a result of your action. If the results were not particularly good, describe what you learned and what you did, or would do, differently the next time.
Handling a "Negative Question"
If the interviewer asks you for an example of a time when a certain skill failed you, do not let it "stress you out." They do not expect you to be perfect. Part of the reason they ask the question is to see how you handle yourself. Give an honest example and make sure to point out what you learned from your failure and how you handled the situation differently the next time, or how you might handle it differently in the future.
Handling Inappropriate or Illegal Questions
An inappropriate question is one that is not relevant to your professional qualifications. An illegal question is one that makes inquiries regarding issues of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, age, or marital status. Other areas that may potentially lead to legal liability include such things as medical history, pregnancy or plans for children.
The interviewer may or may not be intentionally asking illegal or inappropriate questions. The following are ways in which you may want to respond:
- Read into the purpose of the question (i.e., "If you are asking me if I can travel or work some weekends, I can").
- Let them know you want to give helpful information about your qualifications but are having difficulty understanding how the question relates to the specific job requirements.
In handling this type of question, remain professional and tactful but protect your rights as a candidate. If you believe the interviewer is asking the questions purposefully, you may choose to end the interview and/or inform the head of personnel or human resources at the interviewer's company. If an employer who has a recruiting relationship with UMD asks you illegal or inappropriate questions, please inform a career counselor or the employer relations coordinator.
Interviewing the Interviewer
You are usually expected to ask questions about the position or the company. It is best to focus most of your questions on the specific requirements of the job. Your questions should indicate that you have done your homework and know about the position and the company. It is also the time to get the information you weren't able to find in your research. The following are examples of questions you might ask:
- Could you describe the training program?
- What is the initial focus of the position?
- Is this hire for a new position or is it a replacement?
- What is the career path for someone who starts in this position (what are the opportunities for advancement)?
- Do you know what the last two people who held this position are doing now (did they get promoted or leave the company)?
- What are the major responsibilities of the position?
- What is the most challenging aspect of this job?
- What types of performance reviews are given? How often?
- What are the essential skills, knowledge and/or qualities necessary for an employee to succeed in this position?
- How would you describe the culture and work environment at your organization?
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
- Record your observations of the entire interview before the details slip your mind. Your notes will be helpful if you need to ask the employer additional questions and in comparing one employer with another in order to make a decision.
- Evaluate the interview. Did it go well? Is there room for improvement?
- Identify the next step in the process.
- Send a thank-you letter expressing appreciation for the interview. Be sure to reiterate your interest in the position and the organization. Send a unique thank-you letter to each person with whom you spent time during the interview process. For panel interviews you may send one letter to the entire panel, addressed to the chair, or send individual letters to each panel member, but each letter must be different and point out something significant to each panelist.
- Continue to practice your interviewing skills through practice interviews with career counselors, using InterviewStream and participating in an on-campus Practice Interview Day.
- If you do not hear from the company representative by the appointed time, make a follow-up telephone call to inquire about your status.
- Be courteous and professional at all times.
- Maintain detailed records related to your interviews and job search. Keep track of names and titles of persons with whom you met, copies of everything you sent, dates of interviews and follow-up correspondence and date of intended employment decisions on their part and your part.
Participants in the job search process should be aware of and prepared for hiring procedures that have been adopted by many organizations. These procedures may include: drug use screening, personality assessments or inventories, non-disclosure statements, "loyalty" contracts (with time requirements) and background checks.
There are few "standard operating procedures" with respect to these issues. If you are concerned about any of them, you should discuss the procedure with the prospective employer. Some organizations have made their policy statements available to Career Services. Specific policy and practice questions should be directed to the hiring firms. The Career Services staff is also available to discuss these and other employment issues with you.