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Interviewing Guide

STOP -- Before you go any further, did you know you can call the Center and schedule an appointment with a counselor if you need help with interviewing? You can even ask to do a mock interview.

Sections

  • Introduction
  • Being Invited to Interview
  • Researching the Position
  • Researching the Company
  • Getting Ready for the Interview
  • What to Wear
  • Interview Questions
  • Illegal Questions
  • What to do on the Interview
  • Filling Out the Application
  • References
  • Interview Don'ts
  • Negotiating the Salary
  • After the Interview
  • Sample Follow-Up Letters

Introduction

If an employer is impressed with your resume, you will be invited in for a job interview. Employers require all prospective job candidates to meet with them for a face to face interview. Employers use the job interview to decide if you are a good match for their current opening. It is also your chance to learn more about the position and the work environment of your potential employer. If your resume is considered a written summary of your qualifications, think of the job interview as the oral presentation of your credentials. Being hired depends on succeeding at this key stage of the job search process.

A job interview is an opportunity for you to provide a potential employer with information on your goals, abilities, work experience, educational background and personality. Interviewing is a skill that you can learn. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of being the candidate who obtains a job offer at the end of the process. Here are some basic interviewing guidelines:

  • Research the company.
  • Know about the position for which you are applying.
  • Anticipate the interviewer's questions and prepare responses.
  • Answer negative questions with positive responses.
  • Ask questions about the position and the organization.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Communicate your strengths.
  • Follow up after the interview.

The key to successful interviewing is being prepared. The interview begins long before you shake hands with the interviewer and does not end until you have followed up with the employer. This guide will examine the interview process and outline the steps you can take to develop effective interview skills.

Being Invited to Interview

If your resume has done the job, the employer will call you in for an interview. You can expect employer to call during business hours, typically Monday through Friday, between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

How is your telephone being answered? If someone calls and they are unable to leave a message you will lose the opportunity to interview. Invest in an answering machine and make sure the message on your machine is professional in tone. If someone in the household will be answering your calls, make sure they can take an accurate, detailed message on your behalf. Don't forget to check your messages regularly.

Whether you are interested in the position or not, it is professional and courteous to call the employer back within 24 hours.

Researching the Position

Research can increase you chances of being offered a position at a good salary. Before you meet the employer, familiarize yourself with the responsibilities typically performed in this type of position, and know the average salary range.

This information can be gathered by:

  • Asking the interviewer to fax or mail you a job description before your scheduled interview date.
  • Looking in the Sunday help wanted sections of the New York Times, Star-Ledger, and Record at job advertisements for similar positions.
  • Going to the library and reading about the position in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
  • Visiting a local bookstore and reviewing books on the target occupation.
  • Doing research on New Jersey's employment web site: www.wnjpin.state.nj.us.
  • Talking to Professionals who are employed in the field.

The employer will expect you to have a general understanding of the position before the interview begins. If you do research ahead of time, you will be able to discuss the current position opening with intelligence and competence. Being prepared in this way is sure to make a positive impression on the employer.

Researching the Company

To gain an edge over your competition it is a good idea to research the company before the interview. Learning about a prospective employer will give you the insight you need to ask intelligent questions at the interview. It also demonstrates to the interviewer your resourcefulness and interest in the organization. In addition, conducting research can provide you with information that may help you decide whether to accept or decline a job offer.

Here are the types of questions you should try to focus on answering during your research:

  • When was the company founded, and by whom?
  • What does the company do? What products do they manufacture and sell? What services do they provide?
  • Who are their customers or clients?
  • Who is their biggest competitor?
  • How much do they spend annually to run their company?
  • What are their profits or total annual sales?
  • How many different divisions do they own? What are they?
  • How many offices does the company operate and where are they located?
  • How many people do they employ?
  • Does the organization have any special needs or goals?

There are several ways to gather information on companies. Here are some suggestions:

  • Conduct research on the Internet - most companies maintain their own web sites and a great deal of information can be gathered by visiting the organization's home page.
  • Visit the BCC or your public library and ask a reference librarian for help in researching the organization. There are many reference books, magazines, and computer databases to investigate.
  • Request an annual report and informational/product literature from the company's public relations department.
  • Review the company literature on file in the Cooperative Education and Career Development Center here at the college.
  • Talk to friends and family members who may work for or know someone who works for the company.
  • Contact the Chamber of Commerce in the town where the company is located and request information on the organization.

Getting Ready for the Interview

Try to complete these tasks no later than the day before the interview:

  • Go over your employment history, including dates of employment, places worked, responsibilities performed, date of college graduation, and major field of study.
  • Be sure you have thought about your reasons for leaving a current of former position, and the skills and talents you will bring to a new position.
  • Anticipate questions the interviewer may ask and prepare thoughtful answers ahead of time.
  • Think about questions you have for the employer and write them down so you don't forget to ask them during the interview.
  • Gather things you will be bringing to the interview, including:
  • * Two copies of your resume - one for you to look at during the interview and a copy for the interviewer, in case he or she has misplaced the original.
    • A list of references.
    • Samples of your work - literature you have written, projects you have completed, etc.
    • Blank paper and a pen to take notes - taking notes will help you to remember important points raised during the interview so you can review them later on.
  • Make sure you have accurate directions to the interview site. If you have time, drive to the site the day before, so you don't get lost on the day of your interview.
  • Lay out your clothes and the other items you will need to dress for the interview, so things go smoothly on interview day.

What to Wear

Appearance counts. Research indicates that an employer's very first impression of you is based on how you look. Take the time to dress professionally.

Let's start with the basics. Good personal hygiene and a neat, well-groomed appearance are a must, as they will positively influence the outcome of your interview. Don't forget to get a haircut, shower, shave, brush your teeth, and trim your nails before the interview.

When dressing for an interview it is best to dress conservatively and wear classically-styled clothing. Remember that you are dressing for an interview - not for work. It doesn't matter what the interviewer or other employees are wearing. Once you secure a position it is acceptable to conform to the dress code of the office. On an interview, however, professional attire is required.

Clothing guidelines for women in order of preference:

  • suit, tailored blouse, stockings, pumps
  • skirt, blouse, blazer, stockings, pumps
  • dress, blazer, stockings, pumps

Clothing guidelines for men in order of preference:

  • two-piece suit, white long-sleeved dress shirt, tie, dress socks, dress shoes
  • khakis, white long-sleeved shirt, tie, sport jackets, dress socks, loafers

Best clothing colors: stick with neutrals like beige, navy, black, olive, and gray

Go easy on the cologne, perfume, hair gel, make up, hairspray, and jewelry.

Best bets: Simple is best. You want the interviewer to notice your skills and qualifications. If what you are wearing is inappropriate or overpowering the interviewer may not focus on your qualifications.

If you have any questions regarding appropriate interview attire stop by the Cooperative Education and Career Development Center in room C-100 or call (201) 447-7171 and ask to speak to a counselor.

Interview Questions

Interviews are usually structured around the question and answer format. After an initial introduction and greeting you can expect the interviewer to take the initiative and ask a series of questions designed to assess your communication skills and suitability for the position. Usually each question is asked with a specific purpose in mind. Remember that there is a question behind every question. Try to discern what information the interviewer is seeking so that you can provide the best answer.

Listed below are some typical interview questions. Read them over and think about how you would respond to each one. Preparing thoughtful responses to questions ahead of time will help your interview to go smoothly and can have a positive influence on the employer's final decision.

Typical Interview Questions

Tell me about yourself.

The interviewer wants to evaluate your oral communication skills and how well your qualifications match the position. The expected response is a one to two minute summary of your educational background, work experience, skills and any other information that relates to the position you are seeking. Most professionals recommend that you not include personal information such as marital status, family background, etc. Prepare a response to this question and rehearse it, as it will almost surely be asked in some form during the job interview.

What are your career goals?

Employers expect candidates to have set career goals and to be able to articulate them effectively. You may be asked about your immediate or long-term aspirations. Discuss how your educational background and work experience qualify you for the position. Discussion of long term goals should demonstrate an understanding that career advancement within an organization usually is a step by step process. Demonstrate your willingness and ability to work your way up.

What are your strengths/weaknesses?

Highlight one or two of the qualities and skills that show you are the right person for the job. In discussing weaknesses avoid describing a trait that would make you a poor employee. Present an issue and show how you have resolved it in the past or cite a lesson learned. You can also present a weakness that is really a hidden strength. The following is a sample response. "Sometimes it's difficult for me to make a major decision but that is because I am very thorough. I tend to gather and verify as much information as possible. As a result, when I make a decision, it's usually the right one."

Do you work well with other people?

The employer is trying to determine if you are a team player. Provide examples of situations where you have had success as a member of a group.

Why do you want to work for this company?

This question provides you with an opportunity to discuss your research. Talk about the needs of the company, the company goals and perhaps a current project. Show your interest and ability to make a contribution. Avoid talking about what the job will do for you.

Why are you leaving your current job?

This question should always be answered in positive terms or in terms of where you are going and not in terms of the negatives of the position you are leaving behind. Talk about looking for new challenges, the size of the organization, advancement, etc. If you were terminated from your last position, be as honest as possible, discuss things in terms of a mismatch of employee and organization and try not to assign blame. This situation will require some finesse so again preparing and rehearsing an answer is recommended.

Why does your employment record show a gap?

This question can arise after an interviewer reviews your resume or sees your application. You should be prepared to explain the gap in the most positive way possible. Taking the initiative to address the reason for the gap in your work history can help your explanation to be more credible and reduce or change a potentially negative reaction. Talk about taking the time to get training, arranging finances for schooling, or if necessary, some extraordinary situation which prevented you from working. Be careful not to go into too much detail and assure the interviewer that the situation has been resolved.

Why do you think you should be considered for this position?

This question is often phrased, "Why should we hire you?" Outline the requirements of the position as you see them and relate them to your skills, educational background and work experience.

Can you work under pressure?

An unskilled interviewer may phrase a question that seems to require a simple yes or no answer; however, one-word answers are never acceptable. Always follow your answer with an example or more information. Here you might say that pressure can sometimes motivate you and that proper planning and organization can reduce a good amount of deadline pressure.

Following are several more examples of typical interview questions for which you should prepare answers. If you need help responding to these or any interview questions or if you think you have a particularly difficult situation, seek help in the Cooperative Education and Career Development Center.

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Would you be willing to relocate?
  • What is your most significant accomplishment?
  • How would your current supervisor describe you?
  • Can we check your references?

Behavior Based Interviewing

Behavior based interviewing is becoming increasingly popular and is considered effective by its practitioners. It is an interviewing technique that is based on the concept that past performance is the best predictor of future success. Behavior based questions are designed to obtain detailed information about the way you work. You will be expected to give examples of how you have solved problems, communicated with others, obtained information, demonstrated leadership skills and managed responsibilities and subordinates. Each question can have several follow up questions that will probe for information related to performance in past jobs and projects. Candidates are expected to discuss specific examples, details, and numbers. Prepare for this type of question by reviewing your work experience and school projects. Expect to discuss your experiences in terms of successful outcomes, dealing with pressure and facing adversity. Demonstrate your creative thinking and problem solving skills by explaining your role in the successful completion of projects.

The following are some examples of behavior based or problem solving questions. Virtually all questions will begin with "Tell me about a time when" or "Describe a time when" or "Give me an example of a time when". Tell me about a time you:

  • Came up with an innovative solution to a challenge your company was facing.
  • Had to work under pressure.
  • Had to deal with an irate customer.
  • Handled a difficult situation with a co-worker.
  • Wrote a report that was well received.
  • Were unable to complete a project on time.
  • Had to make an important decision without all of the necessary facts.
  • Demonstrated leadership skills.
  • Worked as part of a group or team to complete a project.
  • Prioritized the elements of a complicated project.

In some cases, several follow up questions will be asked so that the interviewer can gain an understanding of your problem solving skills and work habits. Here are two examples:

  • Tell about a time that you didn't get the desired result from a customer, co-worker, manager or classmate. What steps did you take? What was the outcome?
  • Give an example of a time that you were under tremendous pressure. How did you keep track of multiple projects? Were you able to meet all deadlines? How were you able to stay focused?

Questions you Might Ask

Near the end of the interview you will have the opportunity to ask questions. You should always have a few questions prepared. Take the time to consider what you need to know about the company or position before you accept or decline a job offer. Write your questions down before the interview so that you don't forget to ask them. Well thought out questions demonstrate your interest in the company and will give you important information about how well suited you are to the organization. Here are some question you might ask:

  • What are the immediate challenges of this position?
  • What will be my responsibilities and duties?
  • What type of training will be offered?
  • Who will be my supervisor?
  • Is travel required?
  • How will my performance be evaluated? How often?
  • What opportunities for advancement exist?

It is generally inappropriate to ask questions about salary, vacation, sick days, and health benefits on the first interview. These details are usually discussed during a subsequent interview or after a job offer has been made. The questions you ask on the first interview should focus on learning more about the responsibilities and challenges of the position for which you are applying and the inner workings of the organization.

Illegal Questions - What's the Right Answer?

Various federal, state and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you. An employer's questions on the job application, in the interview, or during the testing process must be related to the job you are applying for. For the employer, the focus must be: "What do I need to know to decide whether or not this person can perform the function of this job?"

Options For Answering

If you are asked an illegal question you have three options.

  • You are free to answer the question-but if you choose to do so, realize that you are giving information that is not job related, and you could harm your candidacy by giving the "wrong" answer.
  • You can refuse to answer the question. By selecting this option, you'll be within your rights, but you're also running the risk of coming off as uncooperative or confrontational-hardly the words an employer would use to describe the "ideal" candidate.
  • The third option is to determine the intent behind the question and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job. For instance, the interviewer asks, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" or "What country are you from?" You've been asked an illegal question. You could say, however, "I am authorized to work in the United States." Or, if your interviewer asks, "Who is going to take care of your children when you travel?" You might answer, "I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires."

Here are some examples of illegal questions-and their legal counterparts.

INQUIRY AREA ILLEGAL QUESTIONS LEGAL QUESTIONS
National Origin/ Citizenship Are you a U.S.citizen? Where were you/your parents born? What is your “native
tongue?”
Are you authorized to
work in the U.S.? What languages do you read, speak or write fluently? (This question is okay, as long as this ability is relevant to the performance of the job.)
Age How old are you? When did you graduate from State University?
What’s your birth date?
Are you over the age of 18?
Marital/Family Status What is your marital status? Who do you live with? Do you plan to have a family? When?
How many kids do you have? What are your child arrangements?
Would you be willing
to relocate if necessary? Travel is an important part of the job. Would you be able and willing to travel as needed by the job? (This question is okay as long asALL applicants for the job are asked it.) This job requires overtime
occasionally. Would you
be able and willing to work
overtime as necessary?
(Again, this question is
okay as long as ALL
applicants for the job are
asked it.)
Affiliations What clubs or social organizations do you belong to? List any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform
this job.
Personal How tall are you? How much do you weigh? Are you able to lift a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards, as that is part of the job? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.)
Disabilities Do you have any disabilities? Please complete the following medical history. Have you had any recent or past illness or operations? If yes, list and give dates. What was the date of your last physical exam? How’s your family’s health? When did you lose eyesight? How? Based on the job description, are you able to perform the essential functions of this job? Are you willing to
undergo a medical exam
after we’ve made you a job offer? (The results of the exam must be kept strictly confidential, except medical/ safety personnel may be informed if emergency medical your treatment is required, and supervisors/managers
may be informed about necessary accommodations on the job, based on the results of the exam.) Do you understand that any offer of employment is conditional based on the
results of a medical exam?
Arrest Record Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been
convicted of _________? (The crime name should be reasonably related to the performance of the
job in question.)
Military If you’ve been in the Military, were you honorably discharged? In what branch of the
Armed Forces did you
serve?
What type of training or
Education did you receive
in the military?

Reprinted with permission from Rochelle Kaplan, General Counsel for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She specializes in employment law and legal issues pertaining to recruitment and employment.

What to do on the Interview

Your resume has gotten you an interview. You have researched the position and organization, prepared questions and answers for the interviewer, and chosen appropriate attire. What can you do to increase your chances of being offered the job?

  • Arrive on time, preferably 10 or 15 minutes before your interview appointment. Leave enough time for traffic, parking, and unexpected delays.
  • Be friendly, treating office staff and the interviewer professionally. Don't forget to smile!
  • Shake hands firmly while maintaining eye contact when greeting the interviewer. This gesture will help you in establishing an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual respect, and will begin the interview on a positive note.
  • Show enthusiasm and express an interest in the position. An energetic and positive person will have a competitive edge in the hiring process.
  • Be honest when describing yourself and your talents. This is your chance to let the employer know who you are.
  • Pay attention to what the interviewer is saying. Being a good listener shows your interest in the position and helps you to answer questions completely.
  • Communicate effectively, using complete sentences. Summarize your skills for the employer and relate them to the position for which you are applying. Remember that you are communicating with body language as well. To appear confident and relaxed, maintain eye contact and sit up straight with arms uncrossed.
  • Answer the interviewer's questions, using specific examples of work successfully completed to demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the job.
  • Ask questions of your own about the employer and the position. The answers will help you to decide whether or not you want to pursue this opportunity.

Before you leave be sure to:

  • Tell the employer you are interested in the position and would like to be considered for it.
  • Ask about the next step in the interview process.
  • Thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration.
  • Obtain a business card or the name, title, and address of the interviewer.

Filling out the Application

Most employers will request that you complete a job application even though you have submitted a resume. Applications typically ask for basic identifying information including: social security number, work experience, education, technical skills, references, salary history, and current salary requirements. Make sure you have all this information on hand for the interview. Completing the application may seem to be a simple, routine task. Take a few minutes of your time to insure that this document will be a credit to you, since the employer will review it carefully.

  • Be sure you have read the entire application before you START.
  • Read each section before you WRITE.
  • Print neatly
  • Use words you are sure of (misspelling and incorrect usage will count against you).
  • Give thoughtful answers to questions (reasons for leaving etc).
  • Be sure your dates are correct and information is complete.
  • Answer each question honestly.
  • Bring relevant addresses and phone numbers as well as any other necessary information you need to fill out the application.
  • Once the application is completely proofread, sign and date it.
  • IF YOU HAVE MADE A MISTAKE, that cannot be crossed out neatly ask for another form.

References

Most employers will ask for references during the interview. A reference is a person that an employer can call to find out what kind of worker and/or student you are. When an employer speaks with a reference, they are looking for personal qualities and characteristics that would make you suitable for employment with their organization. Choose your references with great care since these individuals will play an important role in the success of your job search.

So that you can support all areas of your resume try to get an ACADEMIC REFERENCE and an EMPLOYER REFERENCE. Get your academic reference from a favorite college professor. Make sure the professor knows you very well and is familiar with your work. Get your employer reference from a supervisor at a current of former place of employment.

You should have a total of three references in all. You must choose people who will be sure to say positive things about you, because the response of references can determine whether or not a job offer is made.

In order to avoid an embarrassing situation, always obtain permission before listing someone as a reference. Once you have permission, let the individual know that you are actively interviewing, and that a prospective employer may call soon. Don't forget to give each of your references a copy of your resume.

References should not be listed on your resume. Keep them on a separate sheet of paper, preferably the same color, bond, and type as your resume and cover letter. Include name of reference, their position or title, the place where they work, a work address including town, state and zip code and a daytime phone number with area code. Submit your references to the employer only when requested.

A sample reference list is available for your review:.

REFERENCES FOR JANE DOE

Ms. Mary Smith
Professor of Accounting
Bergen Community College
400 Paramus Rd.
Paramus, New Jersey 07652
(201) 447-7100

Mr. John Ripley
Controller
Consolidated Systems, Inc.
123 Corporate Way
Secaucus, New Jersey 07094
(201) 555-6789

Ms. Emma Valerno
Director
Corporate Training Center
456 Executive Boulevard
Englewood, New Jersey 07631
(201) 555-6789

Interview Dont's

It would be a good idea to avoid the following when interviewing:

  • Discussing personal problems. Talking about health, finances, relationships, or other personal matters is inappropriate.
  • Mentioning salary, health benefits, sick days, paid holidays, and vacation time. These factors are usually brought up on a second interview or after a job offer has been made.
  • Speaking negatively about current or former employers, co-workers, or professors. Putting other people down is a poor reflection on you and will hurt your chances of getting the job.
  • Chewing gum, eating, and drinking. Employers frown upon this sort of thing. It is, after all, hard to look poised and professional while blowing bubbles and balancing food or beverages on your chair.

Negotiating the Salary

It is customary not to discuss salary on a first interview unless the employer brings it up first. If the interviewer does want to talk salary, however, you must be prepared to negotiate. Research typical salaries for your target occupation using the suggestions mentioned on page 3 of this booklet. You must have an awareness of the average annual salary paid to persons in a position similar to the one for which you are applying. Ask for a fair salary based on what you know about salary rates in this occupation and the years of experience that you will be bringing to the position. Don't take less than you are worth, but don't price yourself out of the position, either. Compensation comes in the form of benefits, paid holidays, sick leave, and vacation time as well, since these factors constitute a hidden paycheck that may influence your decision to accept or decline a job offer.

After the Interview

You have successfully completed the face-to-face interview with your prospective employer. The process is not complete, however, until you have taken care of certain details. Make sure you:

  • Record your impressions of the interview.
  • Analyze what you did right and what mistakes you made, so you do not repeat them on your next interview.
  • Send a brief thank you letter to the interviewer (see example below).
  • Follow up by telephone call about a week later.
  • Accept the position verbally and also in writing (see sample acceptance letter below) if you get a formal job offer and wish to take the position.
  • Let the employer know both by telephone and in writing if you do not wish to pursue a position or accept a job offer (see sample rejection letter below).

Taking care of these details is good business etiquette and evidence of your professionalism.

Sample Thank You Letter

Your Name
Your Address

Date

Contact's Name
Contact's Title
Company Name
Company Address
City, State Zip Code

Dear Ms. Cohen:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with you on May 15. I appreciated the information you shared with me regarding the Anderson Corporation and the junior accountant position. As a result of our meeting I am excited and more convinced than ever that I could make a contribution as a member of the accounting team.

Again, thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any additional information. I can be reached at 201-555-1234. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Your Signature

Type Your Name

SAMPLE REJECTION LETTER

Your Name
Your Address
Date
Contact's Name
Contact's Title
Company Name
Company Address
City, State Zip Code

Dear Ms. Jones:

Thank you for offering me the position of paralegal with your law firm. I very much appreciate the time and consideration you have given me. At this time, however, I wish to withdraw from consideration for employment with your organization. I have accepted another position that more closely matches my qualifications and experience.

Again, thank you for the opportunity. Best wishes to you and your staff.

Sincerely,

Your Signature

Type Your Name

Sample Acceptance Letter

Your Name
Your Address
Date
Contact's Name
Contact's Title
Company Name
Company Address
City, State Zip Code

Dear Mr. Smith:

I am very pleased to accept your offer of a position as an Accounting Assistant with North Jersey Business. I look forward to the challenge of the job and the chance to make a contribution to the magazine.

As per our discussion, I will report to Mr. Jones in the Controller's office on Monday, June 14, l999 at 9:00 am.

If you need any additional information, please feel free to contact me at
(201) 555-1234. Thank you for this opportunity and for your confidence in
me. I look forward to joining the staff.

Very truly yours,

Your Signature

Type Your Name