The ‘Art’ of Interviewing

Interviewing for a job or an internship never seems to get any easier – even when you have gone on more interviews than you can count.  There’s really nothing in the job seeker’s experience that can illicit more stress, anxiety, beads of sweat on the forehead, than the thought of the interviewing process.

The 'Art' of Interviewing

The ‘Art’ of Interviewing

You are meeting new people and at the same time having to sell yourself and your skills.  The employer ‘has what you want’ and it can be a process that feels like you’re begging for some scraps at the table.  Effective interviewing is really a combination of many factors and the plus to this is that many, as a candidate and contrary to what you may believe, of those factors are actually under your control.

As stressful and challenging as interviewing can seem, here are some suggestions to better position yourself in the process.  Take one, or all, of these into account, and you’ll be much better prepared and perceived as a potential candidate.

Research, research and then research some more!

Research should always be your first step and this is an area that your ‘competitors’ are actually helping you out!  They are helping you in that many do NOT effectively research organizations they are interested in or applying to.

I’ve seen many ‘prepare’ by looking at the employer’s website, but that’s not really preparation and to be honest, who doesn’t at least look at the organization’s website?

To properly research you have to take it much, much further.  Look at the organization in question, read their site and their marketing materials.  That’s good for a basic understanding of what they want one to see.

The next step is to start researching them.  Google them and see what you find?  Read what’s been said or presented in both positive and negative ways. Read feedback from clients or past employees.  Look at articles that delve into what they do and get a better pulse of how that organization is run.  Also, what can be particularly helpful is looking at their competitors or similar organizations – closely!  It can give you a good picture as to what they are doing well, not so well and a better scope of the industry as a whole.  Think how much better of a candidate you’re to be if you can speak on these levels!

With this sort of examination, try to gain a better understanding of industry trends and changes.  If you can speak to these, you may be able to plug yourself into an organization as an excellent candidate who ‘gets it!’  Gathering this sort of background information on a prospective employer is a crucial element in successful interview preparation.

You will need to be prepared to speak to questions such as “What do your know about our organization?” and “Why are you interested in working here?”  All of the questions asked by an interviewer will be trying to get a sense of you and your motives, ambition and intent.  Speaking to these will be much better suited having armed yourself with comprehensive organizational and industry knowledge.

Practice makes perfect, at least in theory!  Interviews are anxiety producing and this can be greatly alleviated with some going through the motions.  While I say practice, I do not mean such as standing in front of a mirror and watching yourself answer your own questions.  This really isn’t ‘practice’ as you’re in complete control whereas an interview is about NOT having control and how to prepare and handle such.

Make it ‘real’ by practicing with a friend and, if possible, record or videotape your responses so you can replay the interview and see and evaluate how you did.  What is great practice is if you can schedule informational interviews with people or organizations of interest?  It’s a fantastic way of getting some real, face-time with people in an industry of interest and gaining some real knowledge and feedback before actually meeting with a hiring manager.

Behavior based interviewing is becoming more and more common.  Typically, a candidate’s past performance is the best predictor of future performance and a behavioral interview is a way to get a feel as to how a candidate will do in a real-life scenario.  With these, rather than the typical interview questions on your background and experience, you will you need to be prepared to provide detailed responses including specific examples of your work experiences and many times an interviewer will take a past example from your resume and ask you a question about such, but switch it up on you to see you reaction/response.

The best way to prepare is to think of examples where you have successfully used the skills you’ve acquired.  Take the time to compile a list of responses to both types of questions and to itemize your skills, values, and interests as well as your strengths and weaknesses.  Emphasize what you can do to benefit the company rather than just what you are interested in.  Also prepare a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer.  Remember, you aren’t simply trying to get the job – you are also interviewing the employer to assess whether this company and the position are a good fit for you.

Common Conversational and Behavioral Interview Questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What interests you most about this job?
  • Why did you choose your major/degree?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Tell me about a time when you managed a team project?
  • Give me an example of working with a difficult customer/client?
  • Give me an example of when you failed and what did you learn?
  • Tell me about a successful outcome and how it played out?
  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • Tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership skills.

Interviews range from conversations lasting a few minutes to several formal meetings, sometimes with more than one interviewer.  Interviews allow you to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job, but you are not alone if interviews make you nervous.  The better prepared you are, the more relaxed and comfortable you will be when the questions start coming your way.

Tips and suggestions for a strong interview experience

Be timely – “On time” means early! Plan to arrive at least ten to fifteen minutes or so before your scheduled interview.  If need be, take some time to drive to the organization ahead of time so you know exactly where you are going.

Know the interviewer’s name – and the spelling of such! If you’re not sure of the name, call and ask prior to the interview as to whom you’ll be meeting with and make sure to clarify both spelling and pronunciation.

Bring an extra copy of your resume – Yes, they should have these in hand but always best to be prepared with such.  Also, you never know how many hands your materials have changed with on the way to the interview so it’s possible that they are not with the hiring manager in the moment.  I’ve seen such happen and it’s not as uncommon as one might think.

Keep composed – During the interview try to remain as calm as possible.  If you’re asked a question that you’re unclear on, ask for clarification and remember that it is perfectly acceptable, in fact to your benefit, to take a moment or two to frame your responses so you can be sure to fully answer the question.

Good posture – making appropriate eye contact and connecting with a firm handshake are all important facets too.  The nonverbal communication is creating an impression and can be a great beginning — or quick ending — to your interview.

Dress for the organization – Today’s casual dress codes do not give you permission to dress as “they” do when you interview. It is important to know what to wear to an interview and to be well-groomed. Whether you wear a suit or something less formal depends on the company culture and the position you are seeking.  Your research on the organization should tell you directly what’s expected for attire.  If need be, call to find out about the company dress code before the interview.

Listen – Your interviewer is giving you information, either directly or indirectly.  If you are not hearing it, you are missing a major opportunity.  Good communication skills include listening and letting the person know you heard what was said. Observe your interviewer, and match that style and pace.

Take care to answer the questions – When interviewers ask for an example of a time when you did something, they are asking behavioral interview questions, which are designed to elicit a sample of your past behavior.  If you fail to relate a specific example, you not only don’t answer the question, but you also miss an opportunity to prove your ability and talk about your skills.

Don’t talk too much – Telling the interviewer more than is needed in the moment can be a mistake.  When you have not prepared as much as you should have ahead of time, you may ramble when answering interview questions, potentially talking yourself right out of the job.

Don’t be too familiar – The interview is a professional meeting to talk business.  This is not about making a new friend. Your level of familiarity should mimic the interviewer’s demeanor.  It is important to bring energy and enthusiasm to the interview and to ask questions, but do not overstep your place as a candidate looking for a job.

Use appropriate language – It’s a given that you should use professional language during the interview.  Be aware, on your part, of any inappropriate slang words or references to age, race, religion, politics or sexual orientation – these topics could send you out the door very quickly.

Confident and arrogant are not the same thing – Attitude plays a key role in your interview success.  There is a fine balance between confidence, professionalism and modesty.  Even if you’re putting on a performance to demonstrate your ability, overconfidence can be as bad, if not worse, as being too reserved.

Ask questions – When asked if they have any questions, most candidates answer, “No.”  Wrong answer.  Part of knowing how to interview is being ready to ask questions that demonstrate an interest in what goes on in the company.  Asking questions also gives you the opportunity to find out if this is the right place for you.  The best questions come from listening to what you’re asked during the interview and asking for additional information.

Don’t appear desperate – When you interview with the “please, please hire me” approach, you may appear desperate and less confident.  Reflect the three C’s during the interview: clear, calm and confident.  You know you can do the job; make sure the interviewer believes you can, too.

The whole interview is about demonstrating confidence, related knowledge and understanding, but most importantly, why YOU are interested in the role and what you, specifically, can offer compared to the next candidate!  Being prepared, informed and well armed with information can be the way to establish yourself as a candidate that the organization recognizes and wants to bring aboard.

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