08th February, 2016
It’s not only baseball season but also job-hunting season. This is especially true if you are among that new group of graduating college student’s eager to enter the work force and score that dream job. To achieve that success you have to hit it out of the park on your interview. I have wanted to write a follow-up piece to a post I wrote a couple of months ago that discussed phrases and common responses to interview questions that were a real turn-off to employers. I envisioned this next column to include really great responses and suggestions to some of the toughest questions that even the savviest candidates might have trouble answering.
I reached out to many of my most trusted colleagues in the recruiting and university career services industries and asked if they would share some perspectives that I could add to my own. Here then are some essential tips and advice that can help you hit it out of the park on that interview.
Always do your homework on the company and the position you are interviewing for and arrive on time, rested, and ready. The first few minutes of an interview are critical and set the tone for the entire conversation. Look the interviewer in the eye, smile and firmly shake hands saying something like: “I have really been looking forward to meeting you”. This immediately displays your confidence in and eagerness for the opportunity to discuss your qualifications and the position in more depth.
It’s fairly common for the interviewer to engage in a little bit of small talk at the start of the interview to help you relax and ease into the discussion. Be prepared to share something about your interests. You may want to discuss something fairly innocuous that happened recently in a sporting event, national or world news. The truly well prepared candidate will, if possible, have “Googled” their interviewer and know something about their interests and passions that they can bring out in the first moments of the interview. This will establish that you did your homework and more importantly that you have something in common with the person(s) who will ultimately decide if you are a good fit for the organization.
Manny Contomanolis at the Rochester Institute of Technology shared some common characteristics to “good interview answers”. These include:
Answers that are direct and actually answer the questions that were asked.
Using “articulate brevity” – don’t take more words or time than necessary to effectively respond to questions.
Responses that seem genuine and truly reflect the candidate’s consideration of the question rather than a “stock” answer that sounds rehearsed.
Answers that are consistent and reinforce or advance a positive image of the candidate.
Dan Black, at EY told me that it’s rare when a student can provide a specific, recent, and relevant example in response to a question but when they can, it’s a home run. Dan said, “many students tell me what they ‘would do’ or how they ‘normally react’ to situations, but those don’t have the same predictive validity as something that they actually did in similar circumstances. The lesson here is to think in advance about potential situations you have been in which you can relate to scenarios posed during the interview.”
Dan also volunteered that sometimes the best response to a questions is “thoughtful silence”. Too many candidates feel the need to fill every single minute of the interview with conversation, and it often can be distracting to the flow of the interview. Candidates who understand the value of the pause and are comfortable with several seconds of silence to really listen and consider what is being asked will generally come across in a more positive way during the interview.
Geographic flexibility and willingness to relocate are increasingly important in today’s work life and company recruiters really appreciate a candidate who can be flexible about location and the position they are seeking. Interviewers appreciate flexibility but also value knowing that candidates have preferences when presented with a range of potential choices. So, if you have a particular desire or interest in a specific geographic location feel free to express it during the interview. This can be very helpful for an organization in matching a candidate to particular opportunity.
Almost every interview includes a question about your strengths. Be prepared to discuss two or three relevant skills or competencies and make sure to give some concrete examples as to how you would apply these in ways that would make a meaningful contribution to the organization.
Maybe even more critical is the way you respond to questions about your weaknesses or a project you were involved in that failed. It’s important to give an honest and brief answer to both. Discuss a weakness or an example of a failure that won’t be viewed as a major detriment and demonstrates that you are open to constructive criticism and more importantly can learn from mistakes.
Another suggestion that came from several experts, including Jim Beirne at Washington University in St. Louis, was how to respond to questions where you don’t know the answer. The best advice is not to guess at the desired response but simply to acknowledge that you don’t have the answer. These days most interviews are either case or behaviorally based and if a candidate attempts to make up an answer, the interviewer might assume the person will do the same thing on the job. Offer instead as part of your response how you might go about finding the answer or if you really want to impress someone, follow-up the interview with an email in which you respond to that same question after having researched and examined it more thoroughly. This can allow you to demonstrate honesty, persistence, inquisitiveness, research abilities, and your sincere interest in the position.
As an interview is winding down, most interviewers will ask if you have any questions. One consistently great thing to ask is if there are any topics that haven’t been covered or information that you could expand on that would help them evaluate your candidacy. This type of confidence and thoroughness can go a long way with an employer who will be trying to assess what type of work ethic you will bring to the job.
Interviews are critical to getting the job you want, but need to be approached as an opportunity to hear more about the job and organization and for the employer to learn more about your abilities, work ethic, and passion for the position. If you prepare diligently, provide meaningful examples and approach it with an energy and integrity you will have a successful season of job hunting!