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An interview is framed by what happens before, during and after.
What happens before an interview will help you succeed. This includes taking the following steps:
Before you even walk into the interview room, you need to assess a few things:
It’s vital that you know your strengths and weaknesses because you should compare them to the job description. Is there a match between what they are looking for and your skills and abilities? If some of a job’s most important skills and abilities appear in your weakness column, there is no match. If your top three or four strengths appear in the job description, there is an obvious match.
A huge difference exists between spending your entire workday interacting with people versus sitting in front of a computer screen analyzing data all day. Creating a spreadsheet (or a dashboardA concise, one-page document that includes several points of interest.) that highlights sales figures and presenting that to your boss weekly is vastly different from standing in front of a group of twenty to thirty peers and managers and presenting that data.
You must know your likes and dislikes because a workday can be long, and you should at least like most of what you will be doing. Some people are motivated by the amount of money they will make in a job, however, and if that works for them, it’s sufficient. It’s also important, however, to like the type of work you will be doing. It makes for a miserable day, week, month, and year if you do not.
College internships are key because they expose you to work you might like, as well as work you definitely would not like. Having as many internships as possible is a goal every college student should have. It may be helpful to know that the vast majority of companies hire mostly juniors because they will graduate in one year and some companies would like to extend full-time offers to their summer class. But don’t let that dissuade you from seeking an internship if you are a freshman or sophomore. It may be more difficult to obtain an internship, but it’s definitely worth the effort if it gets you closer to what you do or do not want to do on a full-time basis.
While in college, it’s beneficial if your internships help you understand exactly what you want to do, and exactly what you need to do to get there. For example, if you are interested in marketing, you might have a sophomore internship at an advertising firm. You might end up doing mostly administrative work, but you get some exposure to the creative team. One of the team members allows you into a couple of meetings (with your manager’s permission), and you experience what their job is like. This is it for you! This is what you want to do.
Your next logical step is to discuss with your manager if the next summer is a possibility, especially if you could work with the creative team. You hope your manager is so impressed with your work, your attention to detail, and your passion that you receive the open slot next summer in the creative department. If you aren’t guaranteed a job the following summer, make it your goal to target more advertising agencies and garner a job in a creative group. The more directed you are, the more likely it is you will get the job you want.
Preparation is key to succeeding in the interview process. The following steps will help you get a second round of interviews:
Completing the research step ensures that you have fully researched the company, the industry, and the competition. Knowing how to interview well within the industry and company will help you get a second interview. You also might be able to research the interviewer using Google or http://www.linkedin.com. Having relevant background information might give you helpful hints on how to position yourself.
The section of this chapter titled “Different Types of Questions” has a detailed list of the top questions asked during an interview and strategies to succeed with each question. Pay close attention to that section to help you prepare for an actual interview. For now, before you practice actual questions, you can do four things:
Being prepared reduces stress and improves performance. Here is a checklist of things to do and consider before your interview day.
Getting lost on the way to an interview will only increase your stress, so know exactly where you are going, even if you must make a trial trip. Few things are worse than being late or arriving looking like you just did the one hundred-meter dash.
The most successful interviewees have a routine that includes the following:
The moment you have been waiting for has arrived—the actual interview. Keep six things in mind:
It is important to be aware of nonverbal impressions such as your handshake, eye contact and eye movement, posture, and facial and hand expressions. A sizeable percentage of what we communicate comes via body languageNonverbal impressions such as handshake, eye contact and eye movement, posture, and facial and hand expressions. It is generally accepted that a sizeable percentage of what we communicate comes via body language.:
Maintain good eye contact throughout the interview. It’s OK to look away occasionally, but, for the most part, eye contact should be steady. It shows confidence and inspires trust in all that you say.
When you are feeling stressed, a smile usually relaxes your face, which usually helps you to relax overall. An introductory or occasional smile shows that you are enjoying the conversation, and it adds to your confidence factor.
Practice your handshake. The Goldilocks approach is best: Don’t crush the interviewer’s hand, but don’t give a soft, floppy handshake, either. Your handshake should be firm and businesslike. If you get nervous to the point of having a sweaty palm, wipe it against your pants leg or skirt just before you shake your interviewer’s hand.
Sit up straight with your shoulders back and your feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s fine to cross your legs if you feel more comfortable doing so, but avoid looking too relaxed. You should be poised and fully focused on the interviewer, ensuring that you answer all questions to the best of your ability.
If you’ve met others in the company, mention that up front. It’s a great way to open an interview because you establish that you’ve already met others at the company, and the interviewer also can contact them for feedback.
The more focused you are during an interview, the more successful you will be. Focus on the question asked and answer it directly. If you think you’ve gone off course for any reason, it’s OK to ask the interviewer if you are on the right track. Your answer should have a beginning, a middle, and an end that includes a real, tangibleSomething real and measurable., and preferably positive result. Here is an example of a question asked and an effective answer:
Question: Jenna, what was your biggest contribution to the company you interned with last summer?
Answer: Throughout the summer, we had approximately five to six team meetings where the entire staff of ten engineers and their direct reports were present to discuss the major goal of the summer: the construction of a new courthouse.
I was tasked with drafting the agenda of these meetings and the agenda notes, which verified all that was discussed and agreed upon. The agendas directed complex meetings, and the agenda notes served as key documents that verified and clarified what was discussed and agreed upon during the meetings.
My first draft of the first agenda was much too broad, but with feedback from my manager, I ensured it included all the details necessary to hold a productive and effective meeting and created the structure for the agenda notes document. The agenda notes were typically three to five pages long, and by the second meeting, I was drafting the agenda and publishing the notes without any revisions from my manager.
I received exceptional feedback from several department heads because, in many instances, the notes saved countless hours of work. For example, during the third meeting, we reversed course on a previously agreed-upon strategy for the front columns of the courthouse. One of the key assistant engineers was not at the meeting, and when her peer brought her up to speed, he forgot to mention that the columns were changed from the Roman style columns to the Grecian columns, which needed a more intricate support system from the roof to the courthouse steps. Luckily, she read my agenda notes, which highlighted any course changes in red, and saved about two weeks’ worth of work, which was easily several thousand dollars. It also kept everyone on track regarding the completion date, which is June 2014.
To improve this process overall, I loaded the agenda and the notes into the department’s central files so instead of relying upon hard copies or e-mailed copies, everyone had one place to go for this important document that kept everyone on track. They are still using the improvements I implemented, so I’m very proud of that.
The answer’s beginning set the stage:
Notice it had a middle that allowed you to understand how things were working:
Positive momentum was built throughout the answer, and Jenna shared the positive results of her work:
Never misrepresent anything about yourself during the interview:
Interviewers have a way of discovering any misrepresentations, so save yourself misery and humiliation by being authentic and honest.
This important step in the interview process is relatively easy and can be done in advance of the actual interview. Use the research you’ve already conducted to formulate five to seven questions you’d like to ask at the end of the interview. Table 8.1 "Topics and Potential Questions" includes some topics and potential questions.
Table 8.1 Topics and Potential Questions
|Goals of the company, division, department||I understand that your main goal is to complete X.|
|Are you pleased with your progress so far?|
|Goals for the position||I understand that should everything work out and I receive the offer, I would be responsible for Y.|
|Would you expect that I will be able to do that in one month, three months, or six months?|
|Training program||Is there any training I would receive prior to my first day?|
|Would I receive ongoing training, or is it basically on-the-job training?|
|Critical skills needed||What two or three skills do you think are absolutely necessary to succeed in this role?|
|Culture of the company||I’ve researched your website and learned that the culture is x, y, and z.|
|Would you agree? Can you add anything to this?|
|Questions about the interviewer||How did you get your start in this business?|
|What are you most proud of in your time at this company?|
|What is the one thing about this company that you are most focused on improving?|
|To what do you attribute your success at this company?|
|Additional questions||I read the speech the chairman gave at the X conference last month. In that speech, she mentioned the importance of leadership and that this company is building a strong bench strength of leaders. How is that being done?|
|I recently read a few articles about this company in The Wall Street Journal and on BusinessWeek’s website. The articles seemed to say X. Do you agree?|
|I see that the stock has held steady lately. Can you tell me what you think caused this increase (or decrease)?|
Remember to do two things when preparing your questions for the interview:
Match the proper questions to the proper interviewer:
Research everything you can before the interview:
Your final interview question should pertain to the next steps you should take so you will know how to follow up. Be certain your last question accomplishes the following:
You can take definite steps after an interview to improve your chances of being called back for a second round or getting an offer for the position. Four steps increase your odds:
E-mail, versus a handwritten note, is preferred for many reasons:
Some individuals believe a handwritten note distinguishes you from others; while that may be true, you never know if it arrived. You could send an e-mail and a handwritten note to cover all the bases, but don’t use the exact wording for both notes. Using a high-quality, professional notepaper or stationery is recommended.
Figure 8.2 "Sample Thank-You Note 1" is a sample thank-you note an employer received after a first-round interview.
Figure 8.2 Sample Thank-You Note 1
Figure 8.3 Sample Thank-You Note 2
Figure 8.4 Sample Thank-You Note 3
If you’ve met other people during your job search and they’ve been helpful in any way, send them an e-mail update as to how you’ve progressed. It will mostly likely be shared with others, so take great care when writing any note to a company representative.
Once you’ve interviewed for a position, note your expected follow-up on your calendar. If the company representative said you will be contacted in a week, mark that on your calendar. If you aren’t contacted, add another three or four days onto your calendar and then follow up with the company. After that, maintain consistent communication to help produce positive results.
Different ways to keep in touch include the following:
You should be working on no fewer than ten targets to ensure you have activity because some targets will get cold, while others get hot. The recruiting process is, to a large extent, a numbers game. Having more companies in play increases your chances of success.
Sometimes no matter how well you prepare, something still goes wrong. The following strategies will help you manage when things go amiss: