Interviews – How hard can they be?Before we discuss the textbook definition, let’s look at the perception that many candidates have about interviews. Everyone who has worked for a company has probably participated in at least one interview. It’s just talking, right? And, talking about something that interviewees (that’s you) generally know pretty well – yourself. Therefore – easy! Right? And, that’s the first mistake many interviewees make – they underestimate how challenging an interview can actually be. Technically, an interview is a conversation that is designed to elicit information about a candidate’s experience and skills. It is usually structured to some degree and may include more than one interviewer and one or more scheduled sessions.
If I’m qualified, why do I need to interview?Well, for starters, there’s a very good chance that you aren’t the only qualified candidate for the job. Imagine a folder with multiple qualified resumes waiting on the interviewer’s desk as soon as your interview is complete. That’s one of the reasons you need an interview – to differentiate yourself from the others in that stack of resumes and to show that you are the best possible choice. Okay, let’s close the textbook because an interview is more than the standard definition. An interview is a type of investigation into the candidate. Legally, an interview can be considered a test; similar to skills testing. Of course, qualifications are critical and must be first on the list. No matter how likable one is, that ultimately won’t matter if the candidate can’t do the job. When you think about it, the organization is the home that you’ll be living in from 8-5 each day. The interview is designed to determine if you’ll fit in well with the other members of the work family. After all, you will spend more weekday hours with them than with your own family. Conversely, someone who doesn’t seem to be a good social fit with the organization must have top-notch qualifications to pass this part of the test, if at all.
Tricky questions and other potholes
One of the ways to sell yourself in an interview is to be prepared for some of the seemingly innocent questions that interviewees sometimes don’t handle well.
Tell me about yourself OR Why are you interested in this job/company?These seem like another of those “easy” things to respond to. But consider the reason for it. The first one is not really a question, so there’s no right or wrong answer. Both are open-ended and totally up to the candidate to share as much, or as little information as they want. The problems?
- Candidates who are nervous tend to talk and divulge more, so the danger here is the potential to say too much of the wrong thing. The interviewer can’t ask about and isn’t supposed to consider, certain personal details, but once they’re out of the bag, there’s an inherent risk that it could count against you.
- Reciting your entire work history isn’t what the interviewer is looking for either; they have your resume/application in front of them and will ask specific questions at some point. They want to see how you respond and if you take the lead; it’s a definite opportunity to sell yourself by focusing on the skills that will be beneficial to the company/job.
- The best response is to give a broad overview of who you are and what lead you to this interview.
- Example – You’ve always been interested in this field or took a course in college on this subject and decided to pursue it. And/or, you’re familiar with this company and the work they’re doing in this field and wanted to join the team to be a part of this work.
- You can also share a few personal details that may be pertinent and show you to be a well-rounded person who will relate well with co-workers.
- What are your weaknesses?
What are your strengths?This one seems straightforward, as you obviously want to highlight what you’re good at, but it also has the potential to backfire. You don’t want to be viewed as arrogant or as the lone wolf who doesn’t give credit to the factors that helped you to develop that skill. Example: Pick a skill, preferably from the job description that you have high competence in. Describe it factually: how you identified the need for the skill and the steps that you took to obtain it (education, working with a mentor or someone who already had the skill, volunteering for projects that used that skill); why you enjoy using that skill to accomplish something; and finally relate it to the job being discussed.
Strategies to ace the interview without being arrogantNever underestimate the skill involved in interviewing – both on the part of the interviewer and the candidate. An interview is a structured discussion designed to find out who the candidate really is (and when done correctly, who the company and interviewer really are, too). A good interviewer can elicit information that the candidate may prefer not to share, so take the time to practice and prepare.
- The number one rule – Do your homework! Know the job, know the company, know the field. Practice answering questions in the mirror, with a friend, and in a mock interview. Record yourself and play it back to catch nervous habits (it’s okay to be nervous; it’s what you do about it that counts). Refine it until you have a comfort level with your performance. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the play.
- Review standard and not-so-standard interview questions and prepare your thoughts. You don’t need to memorize canned answers; you just have to feel comfortable enough that you can provide an honest and thorough answer to every question.
- Practice answering questions using the STAR approach – Situation, Task, Actions, and Results. The interviewer may use STAR or behavioral/competency-based questions to ascertain how you would handle similar situations in this job so use this approach in your practice sessions.