Interview Skills

Congratulations! You’ve spent days, weeks or even months looking for the right job or internship and now you’ve been asked to come in for an interview. If the thought of going on an interview causes you to feel butterflies in your stomach and your heart to beat a little faster, don’t worry; you are not alone. The majority of job seekers feel uneasy or slightly panicky before the interview. The good news is that there are no reported cases of students dying of nervousness during an interview. This packet contains suggestions to help you relax and have a great interview. You will only have a short time to demonstrate your qualifications and interest, so you want to be sure to make a great first impression. Following these steps can help make your interview less stressful and more successful.

 

Step One – Preparation: Research and Practice

Being well prepared for a job or internship interview will not only make a good impression on the employer, but also will boost your confidence and help to lower your anxiety level. Experts recommend spending at least three hours preparing for each interview.

 

Research

It is important to have a good understanding of the company and the position prior to beginning an interview. Before you can convince an employer that you want to be a bank management trainee, you must know what a bank management trainee does. Additionally, you will need to know information about the organization and industry. Being knowledgeable demonstrates to the employer that you are sincerely interested in the position and have made an effort to learn more. Obviously, the interviewer will know more than you about the company, so don’t think you can bluff your way through this answer. Prior to the interview, you should research:

  • type of organization and its function

  • mission and goals

  • reputation and market share

  • history and philosophy

  • competitors

  • location, including international operations               

  • products or services for sale

  • size and number of employees

  • annual sales and earnings

  • plans for growth and future outlook

  • opportunities for advancement  

  • company culture                                           

 

There are several methods you can use to uncover information about the employer before your interview. To begin, use the Internet to locate general information. Visit the organization’s Web site and search for online articles or references to the company on other sites. Don’t forget to visit the investor relations and stockholder sections of company Web sites, as these pages often contain the type of statistics and information you are seeking. Read trade publications and check with professional organizations for information on a specific field or industry. The Career Services Web site has links to several employment databases that include company information. Go to the Career Resources Online page to access multiple online directories.

 

Another good way to learn about an organization is to conduct an informational interview with a current employee. You may want to check the Career Connections database on R-CareerLink to see whether any Rollins alumni are employed there, and/or consult your personal network for connections. An informational interview is a great opportunity for you to ask questions and gather more information about a specific type of work or employer.

 

Practice

Practice makes perfect is a good mantra to repeat to yourself as you get ready for your job or internship interview. You can prepare for an interview in several different ways. The Office of Career Services conducts mock interviews where you can practice answering questions and get valuable feedback to help you improve your interviewing skills. Just call the office at 407-646-2195 to schedule an appointment. It is also a good idea to jot down a list of questions that you expect to be asked, and practice answering out loud with a friend or in the mirror. You don’t need to memorize your answers, but thinking about the key points you want to communicate will help you sound more polished and professional during the interview.

 

It might sound silly, but be certain you know how to get to the interview site. If you’re not sure about the directions, take a test drive to the site and make a note of the time so you can arrive about ten minutes early the day of the interview.

 

Step Two – Appearance

Your professional appearance at an interview might not win you the job, but inappropriate attire can certainly lose you the job. Your ability to dress professionally speaks to your knowledge of the industry and your interest in fitting in. Appropriate business attire will help you appear more mature and seasoned, which can aid you in competing with older individuals who have more experience. Generally, you will dress more professionally for an interview than you will if you are hired to work in that environment. Although you may have your own unique fashion sense, your appearance should always be as conservative as possible for a job interview. Attire will vary somewhat depending on your career field, but below are general recommendations for professional dress:

 

Men

  • Two-piece business suit, navy or dark color

  • Long-sleeve, button-down shirt (white or blue)

  • Conservative tie (avoid cartoons or loud colors)

  • High-fitting dark socks (no white sweat socks!)

  • Business-style leather shoes; lace-up or slip-ons

  • Clean-shaven or well-trimmed facial hair

  • Hair should be clean and short, styled neatly

  • Professional wristwatch, no extra jewelry                                               

 Women

  • Business suit (skirt or pants in subdued color)

  • Skirts should be knee-length or longer

  • Color-coordinated blouse (no cleavage)

  • Neutral-colored hosiery (no patterns or fishnets)

  • Closed-toe shoes with low to medium heels

  • Conservative makeup and nail polish

  • Keep hair neat and clean; long hair pulled back

  • Minimal jewelry: no more than one pair of small earrings, one ring per hand, wristwatch 

 

 Additionally, there are some interview attire tips that apply to both men and women.

  • Suits should fit well and be free of dangling threads or tags

  • Colognes and perfumes should be avoided or used very sparingly

  • Know that cigarette smoke can linger on hair or clothing and may be offensive to some interviewers

  • Fingernails should be kept short and clean

  • Fresh breath is a must! Be sure to clean those teeth and always have breath mints on hand.

  • Avoid showing body art; cover tattoos with clothing if possible and remove all facial and tongue piercings

  • Carry a briefcase or leather portfolio if you wish, but don’t bring a book bag!

 

Step Three – Make a Good First Impression

It sounds cliché, but the truth is you only get one chance to make a first impression. Most employers can tell within the first few minutes of the interview whether they are interested in you as a potential intern or employee. Your verbal responses to questions are certainly important, but inappropriate nonverbals and a bad attitude can ruin your chances before you even open your mouth.

 

Be sure to arrive for your interview 10-15 minutes early. This will provide you with time to check your appearance and gather your thoughts prior to the interview. Be sure to greet the receptionist in a friendly and polite manner. Front desk staff will tell the interviewer if you behaved rudely.

 

When the employer greets you, stand up and offer a firm handshake and a friendly smile. Make direct eye contact with the interviewer and offer a return greeting similar to, “Nice to meet you.” If the employer mispronounces your name, clearly state your name correctly as you shake hands. The only things you should carry with you into the interview are a portfolio with extra copies of your resume, a list of your references, some note paper and a pen. Women may also bring a small, professional purse. If you have a coat, ask the receptionist if there is a rack in the waiting area where you can hang it. If not, you may have to keep it with you.

 

As you enter the interview room, wait for the employer to indicate where you should be seated. After the employer sits, it is your cue to also take a seat. During the interview, remember to practice good nonverbal skills:

  • Sit up straight with your shoulders back

  • Maintain eye contact but don’t stare

  • Show confidence and enthusiasm in your facial expressions

  • Speak clearly, don’t mumble

  • Cross your legs or keep feet flat on the floor, but don’t switch positions too much            

  • Take your time in responding and stay relaxed

  • Smile, stay upbeat and positive

  • Avoid nail biting, playing with rings, tapping your pen, twirling your hair and swinging in the chair

  • Don’t cross your arms in front of your body

  • Use limited hand gestures to emphasize key points

 

Step Four – The Interview:  Getting to Know You

The first few minutes of the interview usually include introductions and are a time when you and the employer can size each other up and get into the interview groove. The employer will probably talk for a moment or two in order to help put you at ease. He or she may briefly mention the weather, traffic or other small talk. Most likely, the first question asked of you will be “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” This is not the time to reminisce about your birthplace, old relationships, sports teams, health issues or extended family. Some points you may want to cover are:

  • How you learned about this position

  • How or why you are interested in this career field or industry

  • An activity, club or pastime that you may have in common with the interviewer

  • College education                    

  • Internships

  • Related work experience you’ve had that helped prepare you for this job

  • Strengths or skills that make you a good candidate for this position                  

 

What’s important to remember when answering this question is that the employer is not looking for a life history. He or she wants to see what you will decide to discuss when you reply. For example, as a candidate, you may mention that you did an internship at a company similar to this one, and that’s what motivated you to seek employment in this field. Or, you may decide to talk “a little bit about yourself” by describing your friends, hobbies and private life. Rarely will an employer ever want to hear this kind of personal information, but most interviewers do want to hear about you in relation to your professional development and career interests.

 

Step Five – The Interview: Questions and Answers

Gradually the interviewer will move the conversation along by describing the organization to you and beginning to ask you some questions. He or she will want to know why you applied for the position and how you are a qualified candidate. The interviewer will use your resume to formulate questions about your education, your strengths and weaknesses, your previous work experience, and your overall ability to do the job. You will probably be asked questions such as:

  • What made you want to go into this industry / field of work? What do you like about it?

  • I see that you attended Rollins College, how or why did you decide to attend a liberal arts institution?

  • How has your education prepared you to work in this field? What did you learn at Rollins that will contribute to your performance at our company?

  • What did you learn in your major that might be applicable to the job here?

  • What do you consider to be your greatest strength? And what are your weaknesses?

  • What sort of short-term and long-term goals have you set for yourself?

  • What motivates you to work hard?

  • What type of supervision and work environment will help you perform your best?

 

One of the most common complaints heard from interviewers who work with Career Services is that Rollins students tend to lack focus and/or direction. It is perfectly normal for graduating seniors to be unsure about how they want to spend the next 50 years of their lives. Many recent college graduates do not immediately find a career field that is both interesting and motivating. Rollins students frequently interview in a number of different areas ranging from banking, to public relations, to government jobs and environmental work. HOWEVER, in an interview, you must appear to be focused, even if you still feel lost and confused about your future. The interviewer should be convinced that you are excited about this career field, you are interested in the job, and you want to learn more about the company. Vague responses or statements that indicate you have no idea what you want to do will make you appear unprofessional and the employer can view you as a flight risk. Why would the organization hire someone who is likely to hate the job and leave after only a month?

 

Depending on the style of the interviewer, you may be asked a number of situational or behavioral questions, designed to provide insight into your personality. Though questioning of this type will vary widely, below is a short list of some of the most commonly asked questions.

  • What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself and why?

  • Can you think of a time when your job required you to work with a difficult or dissatisfied customer? How did you handle the situation?

  • What type of books do you read?

  • How do you usually cope with stress? Please use examples

  • Using a recent situation as an example, please describe your leadership style.

  • What do you do in your free time?

  • If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want to have with you?

  • Can you describe a time when you solved a problem in a creative way?

  • Will you give me an example of a skill or skills you learned from your extracurricular activities that would be useful to you in this position?

  • Please tell me about a time when you made a bad decision.

 

Your answers should be complete and formulated in a logical, orderly manner. Generally, responses should last only one or two minutes. Be sure not to interrupt yourself, rather finish a sentence before moving on to your next thought. If you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification. NEVER interrupt the interviewer and don’t be afraid to take a moment or two to think before answering the question. Although you should be prepared, it’s likely that at least one question will catch you off guard and you’ll need several extra seconds to think about your response.

 

“Um…Uh…Yea…Uh-huh…Well…Like…I dunno”

These are words and phrases that should be removed from your interview vocabulary. Being able to communicate intelligently is essential to a successful interview. One of the best ways to improve your speaking skills is to schedule a mock interview in the Office of Career Services. Using words such as “uh” and “like” can not only cause you to appear unprofessional, but also distract from the content and meaning of your responses.

 

Step Six – The Interview: Job Specific Questions

Now is when the interview will probably start to become very specific to the field and position for which you are applying. The interviewer has already gathered basic information about you and begun to assess you and whether or how you might fit into the organization. At this time, the employer will try to determine whether you are knowledgeable about the industry and if you have the skills or the ability to do the job well. The research and preparation you did before the interview will be helpful here as you discuss the details and finer points of the position. Be prepared to answer questions such as these:

  • After reading the job description, in which areas do you feel you are most qualified and where would you require the most assistance?

  • Have you read any magazines or journals published in this field recently?

  • How do you think advances in technology will impact the work of our organization?

  • Where do you think we are the most vulnerable as a business?

  • Are you familiar with _______________ (computer program) that we use daily in our office?

  • The job description states that we are looking for candidates who have ________________ experience, but I don’t see that on your resume. Do you actually have any experience in that area or how do you plan to compensate for that deficiency?

  • What do you expect will be the biggest challenge facing this industry in the next five to ten years?

 

Your responses to these types of questions should be honest and positive. If, for example, you do not have experience with a type of computer program, which was mentioned in the job description, you should admit that. However, you can describe how quickly you are able to learn programs or discuss other software that you do know which may be similar. In this way, you are able to put a positive spin on a potential weakness.

 

Step Seven – Inappropriate Questions

Hopefully you will not need the advice offered in this step, but it is a good idea to be prepared in case you are asked inappropriate questions. Federal law makes discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, age, disability or religion illegal in personnel decisions. Questions that inquire into these areas as well as height, and weight are also inappropriate, unless they directly relate to one’s ability to do the job. The following types of questions should not be used in hiring decisions:

  • Are you married, divorced, separated or single?

  • How old are you?

  • Do you go to church?

  • What political party do you support?

  • Are you living with anyone?

  • Have you ever been arrested?

 

Sometimes the interviewer may not be aware that he/she is asking an inappropriate question. Perhaps the reason for asking a question about your plans to have children is related to the employer’s concern that you may not be able to travel as needed. You are not obligated to answer any inappropriate questions, but it may be in your best interest to discover the meaning behind the employer’s question and attempt to respond directly to that issue. Consider the following possible answers to this inappropriate question. All are acceptable responses and you should answer in a way that is most comfortable for you.

 

Q: Are you married?

A1. No.

A2. Yes, I am. But I keep my family life separate from my work life so that I can put all my effort into my job. I’m flexible when it comes to travel and late hours, as my references can confirm.

A3. I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re getting at. Would you please explain to me how this issue is relevant to the position?

A4. That question makes me uncomfortable. I’d really rather not answer it.

 

Step Eight – Your Questions and Conclusion

Near the end of the interview, you will probably be asked if you have any questions. The right answer is “Yes.” It is important for you to ask questions to elicit information you need about the position in order to know whether the job is a good fit for you. Usually, 2-4 questions is considered an appropriate amount. Using the research you gathered on the organization prior to the interview is often a good way to help formulate questions. The interviewer will probably be making judgments about your interests, personality, and competence based on the number and types of questions you ask. The list below contains some of the most common questions interviewees should ask in order to gather information and impress the employer.

  • Where does this position fit into the organization?

  • Is this a new position? (If not…have previous employees been promoted within the company?)

  • What expectations do you have for this position long-term?

  • Based on the financial statements I read on the Web site, it seems like this organization really dominates the competition in this industry. To what do you attribute that success?

  • Is there a training or orientation program and what does it entail?

  • How will my performance be evaluated?

  • What is the most difficult challenge the person will face in this position?

  • How long have you been with the company and how did you get the job?

  • I know that you are soon going to merge with _____________ organization, how will that affect the work of this department?

 

It is a good possibility that during the interview you may be nervous and forget some of the questions you had planned to ask. That is completely normal and it is OK for you to write your questions down on a small index card before the interview. If, as the interview progresses, you remember to ask all your questions, then you won’t need the card. However, if you need a little help recalling a few of the questions, simply mention to the interviewer that you have some questions you want to be sure to ask, and then refer to your note card. Formulating questions in advance demonstrates concern about the position and preparation for the interview.

 

DO NOT ask about salary or benefits. At an interview, rather than asking what the company can do for you, you want to focus on what you can do for the company. It is not appropriate to discuss salary and benefits until the employer initiates the discussion or until you have received a job offer.

 

At the close of the interview, the employer will probably say something similar to “Glad you could come by today. We have several other people to interview. We’ll be in touch.” This is actually NOT the time for you to say goodbye. You should try to briefly summarize your strengths as they relate to the job before leaving the interview. For example: “I’m really glad I had the chance to talk with you. I know with what I learned when I helped redesign the public relations strategy at the Golf Channel, I could improve your public image too.”

 

Prior to leaving the interview, you should ask when the employer expects to make a hiring decision. If the response is something like, “Friday of next week,” then you can ask, “If I haven’t heard from you by the following Monday, may I give you a call?” The interviewer will likely say yes and then you won’t have to wonder when you’ll hear or what you should do next. If you have this discussion, be sure you do actually call when you indicate you will.

 

Step Nine – The Second Interview

The interview went well and you are expecting a job offer any day now, right? Wrong. Although some employers will make job offers immediately following a first interview, or even AT the first interview if you’re very lucky, most organizations require a second meeting before making an offer. Very rarely will an internship site require a second interview.

 

Generally, a second interview will be longer (at least a few hours or perhaps one to two days) and will almost certainly occur at the offices of the organization. A first interview could be only thirty minutes or so and might happen on campus or over the telephone, but if you are called back for second interview, the employer is seriously considering you as a candidate for the position. Keep in mind however, that this is NOT a guaranteed job offer. It is extremely likely that other candidates have been invited to interview again as well. At a second interview, you will probably take a tour of the facilities and be introduced to several other staff members. You should be provided with a schedule and/or list of names of the persons you’ll meet in advance and if not, you may ask for one. This will help you feel prepared and perhaps know a bit about each person prior to your meeting.

 

Step Ten – Thank You Note and Follow-Up

Always send a thank you note after an interview (first or second interview, on-campus or telephone…always send a thank you!). It is a thoughtful and courteous gesture that will be appreciated by most employers. In addition to expressing your gratitude for the interview, briefly restate the reasons you believe you are right for the job. Stress your value – what you will do for the employer. When you formally interview with several staff members, it is recommended that you thank each person individually. If meeting with several interviewers at one time or meeting only briefly with many members of a specific department or division, it may be acceptable to send a group thank you in addition to the individual note you send the primary interviewer.

 

It is recommended that you mail a thank you note, although e-mail is acceptable in some technology-based organizations. Generally, a typed or hand-written card is the formal and most appropriate method through which to thank your interviewer for his or her time and consideration. Try to send a thank you note as soon as possible after the interview (within 24 hours if possible). That way, the employer will probably receive the thank you before final hiring decisions are made and your note might help the interviewer remember you fondly. If you believe the organization may be making hiring decisions very quickly, you might want to e-mail a nice thank you letter immediately after the interview, to ensure it is received prior to the final hiring decision.

 

If you have not heard from the organization after the date on which the employer indicated hiring decisions would be made, it is completely acceptable for you to phone and inquire as to the status of your application. If a decision has been made, you will be notified and if the company has not yet made an offer, you will know that you are still under consideration. Don’t be too discouraged if you do not get an offer on your first, second, or tenth job interview. The job search process can take a long time, but if you practice your skills and prepare for each interview, you will soon succeed.


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Interviewing Guide

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Professional Dress Guide


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