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Section 3: Interviewing Mastery
This next section will help you master the interview. Before we discuss tips on interviewing, you should know about different interview types.
The conventional interview
In this interview, you will talk with a hiring manager or hiring panel and basically respond to questions asked. The questions asked require you to review your experience, education, and skills.
The situational interview
While this interview contains elements of the conventional interview, it carries a higher focus on putting you in live situations. For instance, you might be asked, “Let’s say a customer comes in and is upset about their bill. What would you do?”
Another example might be, “A user is having trouble with their monitor. They are getting the ‘123’ Error Message. What do you have them do to fix the problem?”
Situational interviews can be more stressful but also allow the hiring manager to draw out real behaviors and knowledge from the interviewee.
Usually, most hiring managers use both methods throughout an interview.
Always dress up. Always. You need to know about some myths involving professional dress for a personal interview.
Myth #1: “Dress one level up from the work environment.”
Myth #2: “Dressing up will intimidate those who are not dressed-up.”
Myth #3:, “Dressing up is an unfair practice because it discriminates
against those who cannot afford nice clothes.”
Myth #4: “Dressing up is an insult if you look nicer than the
person interviewing you.
All of these are wrong and need to be discarded. If you want an effective employment strategy, you should always dress up for a personal interview.
As a general rule, wear a suit to an interview. This is true especially for professional jobs. For blue-collar jobs, it may be okay to wear dark slacks and a nice dress shirt with a tie. Sometimes, khakis with a nice collared shirt may be worn.
Regardless of your field or industry, wearing a suit every time is recommended. Do you want the job? Then go all out!
Women should wear a business suit if possible. Dark colored slacks with a blouse are acceptable, but your best dress is slacks and a jacket.
If skirts are worn, hosiery should be present. Longer skirts should be worn ; wearing short-skirts is only appropriate if the skirt is part or a suit ensemble and touches the knees.
Never reveal skin when going to an interview; it is not professional.
Now that you are dressed up, you need props. Props help a person focus all of their nervous energy. No matter how cool you are, an interview will probably make you nervous.
Thus, instead of twiddling your thumbs, bouncing your knee, biting your nails, or tapping your fingers, you can hold a notebook, make notes, scribble in the notebook, or take a drink of water.
There is really only one prop that you need to have, and it is discussed below:
The notebook. Your notebook should be professional looking and contain a blank note pad with a pen. In addition, the notebook should house 5 copies of your resume package in case the person(s) interviewing you does not have a copy.
Hand shakes need to be firm, not crushing and not limp. Please give a good hand shake.
How to answer a question
Now that you have arrived well dressed with the proper supplies and have given a good handshake, you are ready to sit down and answer questions in an interview.
The best way to give an answer in an interview is to tell a story.
Now, storytelling need not be long, drawn-out, and overly dramatic. You should, however, simply use certain tactics to create imagery in the interviewer’s mind.
An example appears below:
Question: “This job requires strong communication skills; tell me how your communication skills will benefit our organization.”
Answer: “Well, I have strong communication skills. I get along well with others and always think about how I am coming across to the person I am speaking to. Also, I have great writing and public speaking skills that lend themselves to my overall strong communication skills.”
Think about that answer. Yes, it included facts and information. However, the interviewee did not prove that he has strong communication skills.
Won’t everyone say they have strong communication skills? An effective employment strategy demands that you:
The best way to prove that you have what the manager is looking for is by following these two steps:
- State that yes, you have the questioned skill
- Prove it by sharing a specific example
The specific example
When giving a specific example, be sure to include the right wording in your statement. See the table below for words to use and words not to use.
Words to use Words NOT to use
An elderly woman Their
Do you see a pattern? The goal is to be as descriptive as possible without being over-blown. When you give a specific example in your answer, you literally create images in the listener’s head.
And when you are saying great things about yourself, while including specific examples, you literally grab the interviewer from her desk, and throw her into your story. She sees the old lady who was upset at the rotten milk. She even imagines her wearing a coat or a certain colored blouse.
More importantly, they see you! They see you exhibiting great behaviors on the job.
Let’s return to our previous example. What if the person stated the following answer during an interview?
Question: “This job requires strong communication skills. Tell me how your communication skills will benefit our organization.”
Answer with specific example: “Well, first of all, I have great communication skills in both the written and verbal areas. For example, at ABC Incorporated, a customer approached me demanding to know why our account policies changed. She had been charged an overdraft fee and was not happy about it. I stayed calm and kept a professional demeanor as I walked her through the new policy. I then offered to reduce the fee because I understood she was valuable to our business. She was happy when she left and continues to bank at ABC.”
Is imagery present? Do you see the person working? Is there more than just “Yes, I am good at communication”?
Note: While the above example appears long on the printed page, it only takes about 20 seconds to actually speak.
As you read through this example, analyze the pictures that appeared in your mind. What did the lady look like? What was the environment like?
This is a little different, because you don’t have a real person in front of you to get proper imagery. The next exercise will help you with this.
There are four main categories into which most interview questions fall. Below you will see the four main categories with guidance on what to say.
Problem solving. Here you want to talk about the method you take in solving problems and provide a great example as to how you followed this process. For example, talk about when you:
- Created a new process – What was the problem needing this new process?
- Helped a customer – What was the problem the customer had? How do you problem solve with the customer to achieve success?
- Solved a problem – Discuss a complex problem that existed, without jargon, and your role in solving the problem.
The key is to refer to the rules of giving a specific example. Do not say, “we, they, their, them”, in your answer. What did you do to solve the problem?
Communication skills. For this type of question, you want to focus on the strongest area of communication in your skill-set. Here are some of communication areas:
- Oral, verbal, interpersonal, persuasion
- Conflict resolution
- Instruction, presentation
- Problem identification, analysis
- Discipline, write-ups
- Feedback, performance review
Of the list (on page 67), from which do you have experience or stories? Focus on these communication-strengths and talk about how you utilized this particular skill to communicate.
Again, talk about what you did and refrain from saying “we, they, etc”.
Customer service. Regardless of your field of study, customers are going to be present in your life. Whether your “customer” is a patient, student, co-worker, boss, or an actual retail customer, you will need to prove that you are a customer-focused individual.
The simple formula for answering this question is to think of a time where you turned an upset or angry customer into a happy one. Whether over the phone, in person, or in writing, make sure you use specific details to tell this story.
If you absolutely cannot think of a time like this, think about a time where you received an award, commendation, raise, or other accolade because of your customer service.
Still needing help? Outline your commitment to customer service and state your philosophy. Then, talk about a time where you delivered customer service over and above the call of duty.
Organization/detail. Here you are going to talk about your commitment to being organized. In addition, you will provide a specific example of a time where you paid close attention to detail to successfully complete a project.
If you are a particularly efficient person, talk about that here.
Others. Many other question types will likely arise based on the career you are seeking.
For instance, showing your commitment to performing tasks that are undesirable and outside the general job description might benefit you. Or, perhaps you are applying for a position requiring time management skills.
Leadership is another great category for which you might wish to rehearse a specific example answer.
Take a moment to identify additional question-types that apply to your career now:
Using the four interview question categories defined earlier and the “other” categories you brainstormed above, develop one specific example for each question-type.
Write out your answer completely, like a script. This will help you for a real-life interview.
Be sure your specific examples follow the structure talked about throughout this portion of the text. Write it out as if you were giving the answer live to an interviewer.
For example: “One time an elderly woman approached the customer service counter with spoiled milk and was very upset because it had been the third time in a week this had happened. I assured her we valued her business and made sure to listen to her entire complaint. I refunded her milk in its entirety and gave her free milk.”
Be specific in your answers!
Problem solving specific example
Communication skill specific example
Customer service specific example
Organization/attention to detail specific example
Specific example (Other #1)
Specific example (Other #2)
Specific example (Other #3)
Now that you have specific examples written down, try to memorize what you have written. Now, don’t memorize word for word, but try to be able to speak extemporaneously or spontaneously.
After reviewing your answer, have a partner ask you the question “Tell me about your __________ skills”. Then, rehearse your answer in front of them. Take turns giving answers to questions until you do a good job with the question without looking at your notes.
After both partners have answered these questions, give feedback to one other. Feedback should include a list of areas that need improvement and areas that were particularly strong.
What is your greatest strength?
The final two question areas to discuss usually come at the end of the interview. An interviewer will ask a candidate, “What is your greatest strength?”
Then, “What is your weakness”, or “What is a weakness you have?”
When answering the strength question, here are some tips:
Tie in skills from previously mentioned question-types. To provide continuity in your interview, if you have talked about “problem solving skills” or “communication skills” during the interview, refer to one of these as your strength (depending on which one is your strength). Remember the question-types:
o Problem solving
o Communication skills
o Customer service
o Organization/attention to detail
o Other categories developed in Exercises 9 & 10
Always provide a specific example. After stating your strength area, explain why it is a strength and then provide a specific example that has not been used before. This is your final answer, as the strength question usually comes at the end of an interview. Make a lasting impression by stating a brand-new, powerful, specific example!
What is your greatest weakness?
This is the question that makes everyone squirm. While there are many tactics to use , you first need to know what not to say.
- Never say “I don’t have a weakness”. Everyone has one.
- Never refer to an actual weakness that would prevent you from getting the job: “I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.” Weaknesses should be benign.
- Do not try to hide your weakness by stating an obvious strength: “I work too hard.”
To help you with this difficult question, here is a formula to follow when stating a weakness:
- State the benign (or non-incriminating) weakness
- Discuss how you are actively working to overcome the stated weakness.
The best weakness to use, especially if you are studying for a new career, is experience. Anytime you interview, the interviewer will know you do not have experience.
Of course, if you need experience for the job for which you are applying, you will not want to use this method.
Here is an example of a weakness statement based on experience.
Notice how the person stated the weakness and then discussed how he is actively working to overcome it.
What are some other weakness areas you can think of? Take a moment to brainstorm.
Other benign weaknesses
Previously, you developed answers to question-types and practiced with a partner. Do the same thing below for strength and weakness questions.
Strength specific example
“I would say my greatest strength is..________________________
Greatest weakness specific example
“I would say my greatest weakness is..._______________________
The goal is to have these actively ready in your memory come interview time. When you recall specific examples and answer questions quickly and smoothly, you appear sharp and ready for the job.
Do you have questions?
After answering questions from an interviewer, you will usually be asked, “Do you have any questions for us?”
Yes! Always have questions for the interviewer. Having questions not only helps you appear interested in the position but also gives you a great opportunity to show depth, understanding, and awareness towards this potential position.
In addition, you can gain valuable insight into whether you would like to work for the organization, should you be offered a job.
Develop questions to ask before the interview takes place. Research the company, the job, and the environment (job security, economy) as best you can. Then, as you transition to asking questions of the interviewer, you will appear sharp and smart.
It is impossible to recreate a live environment for this exercise. Depending on what job you are applying for, your questions will center around many issues.
For instance, you might ask about the working hours or schedule for one job, and at another you might talk about staffing, management, or relationship issues. Still, at another organization, you might discuss actual job duties more in-depth.
Before you brainstorm your own questions, you should know questions to avoid during your first interview.
Questions to avoid
How much is the pay? While this is an important issue, you should use your shield here. Sometimes hiring managers become concerned you are only interested in money and will bolt for another job that pays more if they hire you.
The proper way to ask a question about salary is: “Is now a good time to talk about compensation?”
This allows the interviewer to be in charge of a conversation about money. Depending on the situation, he will either say, “No, we talk about that at the second interview”, or, “Sure, what questions do you have?”
How much time off is there? Again, use a shield and avoid temptation. Yes, this is an important question, you don’t want to come off looking as if you are more interested with time off than working.
How long until I advance? While you can ask about advancement opportunities, try not to phrase your question in a way that shows you want to rush off and climb the ladder. Some companies will applaud this and others will not hire you because they think you will jump ship.
Research your companies well to try and figure out each one’s culture.
Brainstorm with your class or partners to think of general question areas that would be effective at a job interview.
Write brainstorming results below:
The closing pitch
You have submitted your behavioral resume package, answered a wide array of questions, asked your own questions, and the interview is almost over.
Don’t let the interview end without a closing pitch!
Formula for delivering the closing pitch
- When finished with questions, say, “Well, I think that is all the questions I have. You know, let me just say that.”
- Deliver your closing pitch and include “excellent fit” in your statement, if you feel strong about the job.
Asking questions not only helps you appear sharp but also provides a breeding ground for an effective transition to the closing pitch.
After following step 1, here is where you deliver a short statement of your strong desire to work for this organization and state how you would be an excellent fit.
Hiring managers want to hire someone who is a good fit
for the job duties, the department, and the company as a whole.
Sample closing pitch:
“I think those are all my questions. Let me just say that after reviewing your company and talking with you today, I am really excited about the opportunity to work with you and feel I would be an excellent fit for this job.”
Notice the term “excellent fit”. This closing pitch is not asking for the job or saying “When do I start?”, but it simply states that the interviewee feels good about the job duties in comparison with his skill set, and that he liked the people who interviewed him.
Last Updated: July 1, 2014