Chapter 22: Interview Strategies
Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
- Explain at least three strategies for preparing for an interview
- Explain how to best respond to interview questions
- Identify the required elements of a post-interview thank you note
- thank-you note
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” (Arthur Ashe)Interviews are often intimidating for job seekers who feel the pressure of being evaluated and feel uncomfortable with the interview format. While the nervousness may never go away, effectively preparing for the interview can make you feel more confident, and, with practice, you will be better able to stay in the moment and treat the interview like a conversation.
This chapter focuses on general interview preparation. Do bear in mind, though, that different disciplines and industries have different interviewing techniques. For instance, the technical interview or “code day” has become standard for many computer science-related fields. You should always do research on standard practices in your industry, but also keep in mind that interviews can be surprising. In fact, some employers try to surprise interviewees to get a sense of how they think and react in unfamiliar situations. Part of your challenge is to stay open-minded and relaxed so you can project confidence, even in unexpected or unfamiliar situations.
Preparing for the Interview
Good preparation before an interview is based on understanding who your audience is—understanding the employer and the industry. This is not the type of information that you can memorize the night before. Take as much time as you can to read and absorb information from a variety of sources to get a thorough sense of the company—not just the basic information you find on the “About” page of their website, but the tone and personality they broadcast in social media, their past and current projects, their achievements, their community involvement, etc.
Job Interview Types and Techniques
Every interview you participate in will be unique: the people you meet with, the interview setting, and the questions you’ll be asked will all be different from interview to interview.
The various factors that characterize any given interview can contribute to the sense of adventure and excitement you feel. Nevertheless, it’s also normal to feel a little nervous about what lies ahead. With so many unknowns, how can you plan to “nail the interview” no matter what comes up?
A good strategy for planning is to anticipate the type of interview you may find yourself in. Common formats for job interviews are described in detail below. By knowing a bit more about each type and being aware of techniques that work for each, you can plan to be on your game no matter what form your interview takes.
Screening interviews might best be characterized as “weeding-out” interviews. They ordinarily take place over the phone or in another low-stakes environment in which the interviewer has maximum control over the amount of time the interview takes. Screening interviews are generally short because they glean only basic information about you. If you are scheduled to participate in a screening interview, you might safely assume that you have some competition for the job and that the company is using this strategy to whittle down the applicant pool. With this kind of interview, your goal is to win a face-to-face interview. For this first shot, though, prepare well and challenge yourself to shine. This type of interview should be treated like a real interview. This may mean dressing for the interview and having a resume in front of you so that it can be referred to. Another suggestion is to make sure your cell phone is fully charged and that the screening interview takes place in a location that is free of distractions. Try to stand out from the competition and be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.
Phone or Web Conference Interviews
If you are geographically separated from your prospective employer, you may be invited to participate in a phone interview or web conference interview, instead of meeting face-to-face. Technology, of course, is a good way to bridge distances. The fact that you’re not there in person doesn’t make it any less important to be fully prepared, though. In fact, you may wish to be all the more “on your toes” to compensate for the distance barrier. Make sure your phone or computer is fully charged and your internet works (if possible, use an ethernet connection instead of wifi). If you’re at home for the interview, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free. If the interview is via web conference, try to make your background neat and tidy (ideally, the background should be a plain wall, but that isn’t always possible). Avoid using a simulated background, as they often look fake and the employer may feel that you are trying to hide something.
Many job interviews are conducted with just you and a single interviewer—likely with the manager you would report to and work with. The one-on-one format gives you both a chance to see how well you connect and how well your talents, skills, and personalities mesh. You can expect to be asked such questions as, “Why would you be good for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.” Many interviewees prefer the one-on-one format because it allows them to spend in-depth time with the interviewer. Rapport can be built. As always, be very courteous and professional. Have handy a portfolio of your best work, and be sure to get their contact info so that you can send a follow-up email.
An efficient format for meeting a candidate is a panel interview, in which perhaps two to five coworkers meet at the same time with a single interviewee. The coworkers comprise the “search committee” or “search panel,” which may consist of different company representatives such as human resources, management, and staff. One advantage of this format for the committee is that meeting together gives them a common experience to reflect on afterward. In a panel interview, listen carefully to questions from each panelist, and try to connect fully with each questioner. Be sure to write down names and titles, so you can send individual thank-you notes after the interview.
Serial interviews are a combination of one-on-one meetings with a group of interviewers, typically conducted as a series of meetings staggered throughout the day. Ordinarily, this type of interview is for higher-level jobs when it’s important to meet at length with several major stakeholders. If your interview process is designed this way, you will need to be ultra prepared, as you will be answering many in-depth questions.
In some higher-level positions, candidates are taken to lunch or dinner, especially if this is a second interview (a “call back” interview). If this is you, count yourself lucky and be on your best behavior, because even if the lunch meeting is unstructured and informal, it’s still an official interview. If all persons interviewing you are ordering an alcoholic drink, feel free to order one as well (know your tolerance!), along with a glass of water. Drink slower than the interviewer to show restraint and patience. You are not expected to pay or even to offer to pay, but, as always, you must send a thank-you note. Lastly, use your best table manners!
These are just some of the interview types that you may encounter. The video below covers more if you are interested.
Link to Original Video: tinyurl.com/10interviewtypes
During the Interview
Once you have prepared mentally and gathered the information for your interview, it’s time to prepare for the interaction during the interview.
Dress the Part
Let’s keep this simple—dress your best. In most business cultures, dressing professionally is a sign of respect, conveying that you care about the position, that you want to make a good impression.
Here are the basics:
- Wear your best professional clothing—this typically means a suit (and a tie, for men) and dress shoes (no open toes, no white socks).
- Try on the complete outfit (including shoes) to make sure you’re comfortable. Does it fit? Does it stay in place? Can you sit down, shake hands, and move comfortably? You don’t want your clothing to distract you or the interviewer.
- Clean and press your clothes and shoes. Prepare your outfit the night before and hang it up (no wrinkles!).
Even if you know the work environment is casual, you should dress “up” for the interview—more professionally than you would if you worked there. The exception would be if you are explicitly told not to—for instance, if the recruiter specifies that you should dress “business casual.”
Don’t Come Empty-Handed
Arriving at the interview with important documents and notes shows that you are prepared and thinking ahead. Organize all your materials in a nice folder or folio—presentation matters!
Print out several clean copies of your résumé and any other documents you might want to reference, like the job or internship description or your references. You should also bring a few samples of your work, if possible—documents you’ve prepared or artifacts from projects.
Make the most out of all of that research and preparation by bringing notes. A nice notebook or paper and a pen are perfectly acceptable for you to have in the interview and they can help you feel more focused by getting some of the information out of your head and organized on paper.
Follow these guidelines:
- Be organized. Re-write or type and print your notes so you can easily find the information you need. You don’t want to be shuffling through scraps of paper.
- Keep it simple. Write down keywords, brief phrases and ideas that will jog your memory, not a complete script.
- Prepare questions for the interviewer (see examples below). You typically have the opportunity to ask these questions at the end of the interview, when it can be difficult to remember what you were going to ask.
For most job candidates, the burning question is “What will I be asked?” There’s no way to anticipate every single question that may arise during an interview. It’s possible that, no matter how well prepared you are, you may get a question you just didn’t expect. Not to worry! Prepare as much as you can—doing so will build your confidence in your answers and help you to be ready for unexpected questions.
To help you reach that point of sureness and confidence, take time to review common interview questions. Think about your answers. Make notes, if that helps. Conduct a practice interview with a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Speak your answers out loud. Below is a list of resources that contain common interview questions and good explanations/answers you might want to adopt.
|100 top job interview questions—be prepared for the interview (from Monster.com)
|This site provides a comprehensive set of interview questions you might expect to be asked, categorized as basic interview questions, behavioral questions, salary questions, career development questions, and other kinds. Some of the listed questions provide comprehensive answers, too.
|Interview Questions and Answers (from BigInterview)
|This site provides text and video answers to the following questions: Tell me about yourself, describe your current position, why are you looking for a new job, what are your strengths, what is your greatest weakness, why do you want to work here, where do you see yourself in five years, why should we hire you, and do you have any questions for me?
|Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers (from CollegeGrad)
|This site explores some of the most difficult questions you will face in job interviews. The more open-ended the question, the greater the variation among answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.
The video below asks different hiring managers what they want to hear from candidates in interviews.
Link to Original Video: tinyurl.com/answeringintqs
Questions to Ask the Interviewer
At the end of nearly every interview, applicants are often asked if they have any questions they would like to pose to the employer. Do you have a question ready to ask?
In addition to revealing your knowledge of the company, these questions are also an opportunity for you to figure out if the employer and the company culture is a good fit for you. Think carefully about what matters to you, what would allow you to do your best work, and try to ask questions that will give you insight into those factors.
- What are the primary tasks or responsibilities for a person in this position? What does a day in this job look like? Is travel required? Overtime?
- What is the orientation or training process?
- What are the goals/priorities for a person in this position? How will success be measured?
- What is the company’s assessment and review process?
- Does the company support professional development activities?
- How does this position fit within the team/department? What is the reporting structure?
- Does this position function alone or within a team setting?
- How would you describe the company culture or team dynamic?
- What is this company’s approach to management?
- What are the company’s overall goals and priorities and how do those affect someone in this department/position?
NOTE: This is not typically the best time to ask about salary and benefits. This is your opportunity to learn about the workplace and the position—the environment, how it’s structured, employee support programs.
From Donnie Perkins, Chief Diversity Officer, College of Engineering. Learn more here.
Following are some questions students may ask prospective employers about their diversity, inclusion and equity. Company recruiters who can provide factual and reasonable responses to these questions are on a positive track advancing diversity and inclusion in ways that truly benefit employees, the company, customers, and community while promoting innovations, strategic thinking and active engagement.
- How does [Company] define diversity, inclusion, and equity? Provide an example of how diversity, inclusion, and equity benefits [Company].
- What are the racial, ethnic, and gender demographics of [Company’s] company-wide, leadership, and manager levels?
- As a national and/or multinational company, describe your cultural competency training program for employees who will take assignments in [specific countries or continents where the company does business].
- Describe the role and responsibilities of women and persons of color on [Company’s] leadership team.
- Give me an example of how [Company] values people of color, female, LGBTQ, veteran and employees with disabilities.
Body Language & Interaction
As a general rule, it’s important to be observant and take your cues from the interviewer. Reflect their tone and pay attention to the dynamic they set—are they very formal and professional or more conversational? It’s okay to make small talk, but you want to follow the lead of the interviewer.
Be conscious of your posture. You will want to sit up straight (no leaning or lounging) and avoid crossing your arms in front of your chest (it can seem defensive or withdrawn).
Make eye contact. Look at the interviewer while they ask you questions and give them non-verbal cues—smiling, nodding—when appropriate. Make it clear that you are listening and understand what they’re saying.
Speak clearly and thoughtfully. Adjust your volume for the environment and make sure the interviewer can hear and understand you easily. Don’t rush yourself and take time to deliver thoughtful responses. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question.
Project calm. Fidgeting and extra movement can make you seem nervous even if you aren’t. Be aware of your tendencies and try to minimize them. If you know you fidget, try to keep your hands folded and avoid clicking or tapping the pen. Don’t wear jewelry that you will play with or that will make noise while you move. Wear your hair in a way that will not tempt you to touch or play with it constantly. If seated at a table, sit towards the front of the chair and plant your feet on the floor—it can help keep you steady.
Be yourself. With all of the previous tips in mind, you also need to feel comfortable and like yourself. If you are enthusiastic, if you talk with your hands, if you are shy, that’s fine—you just need to be the most engaged, professional version of yourself you can be in order to show the interviewer what you are capable of in the workplace.
After the Interview
At the end of the interview, you will want to ask the interviewer what you can expect in terms of next steps or when they might make a decision about the position. This will help set your expectations and allow you to prepare for future interactions—they might have multiple rounds of interviews or they might have another week left of meeting with candidates, for instance.
Within 24 hours of the interview, you should send a thank you note to the interviewer(s). Email is a standard and expected vehicle for this message and you will likely have already been in contact with them via email or will have their business card from the interview.
The formula for this message is simple, but choose your words carefully and try to extend their good impression of your written communication here as well:
- Relevant subject line
- Gratitude for their time and the opportunity
- Your continued interest in the position
- Something specific from your conversation (this is where taking notes comes in handy!)
- Reminder of your qualifications
- Positive and forward-looking conclusion
You will want to reflect the overall tone of your interaction—try to make it consistent with the person they met the day before.
Subject: Design Engineer Internship – Thank you
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you yesterday. I feel like I learned a lot about the Design Engineer Internship role at ABC Innovations and I remain very interested in the position.
After hearing about the project I would be assigned to, I did some further research on your prototyping process and I can see interesting connections with the work I did in my previous internship. It would be exciting to build on that knowledge with your team.
Please feel free to contact me via phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email if there is any additional information I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.
- Interviewing is all about preparation. Never walk in blind to an interview. Spend some time before hand research the company and the position. This will help you better articulate how you will be a good fit for them. Additionally, review some common interview questions and have some stories in mind that you can use to answer them.
- Also come prepared with some questions of your own. Pick ones that are important to you as this will help you determine if the company is a good fit.
- After the interview is complete, send a thank you note to the person or people you met with. Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to emphasize your qualifications. If your thank you note has lots of grammatical errors, it will reflect poorly on you as a candidate.
This chapter is adapted from “A Guide to Technical Communications: Strategies & Applications” by Lynn Hall and Leah Wahlin (on ohiostate.pressbooks.pub). It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This chapter is also adapted from “Blueprint for Success in College and Career” by Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill (on Rebus Community). It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License