Interview is an opportunity for both the employer and the applicant to gather information. The employer wants to know if you, the applicant, have the skills, knowledge, self-confidence, and motivation necessary for the job. At this point you can be confident that the employer saw something of interest in your resume. He or she also wants to determine whether or not you will fit in with the organization's current employees and philosophy. Similarly, you will want to evaluate the position and the organization, and determine if they will fit into your career plans. The interview is a two-way exchange of information. It is an opportunity for both parties to market themselves. The employer is selling the organization to you, and you are marketing your skills, knowledge, and personality to the employer.
Research is a critical part of preparing for an interview. If you haven't done your homework, it is going to be obvious. Spend time researching and thinking about yourself, the occupation, the organization, and questions you might ask at the end of the interview.
Step 1: Know Yourself
The first step in preparing for an interview is to do a thorough self-assessment so that you will know what you have to offer an employer. It is very important to develop a complete inventory of skills, experience, and personal attributes that you can use to market yourself to employers at any time during the interview process. In developing this inventory, it is easiest to start with experience. Once you have a detailed list of activities that you have done (past jobs, extra-curricular involvements, volunteer work, school projects, etc.), it is fairly easy to identify your skills.
Simply go through the list, and for each item ask yourself "What could I have learned by doing this?" "What skills did I develop?" "What issues/circumstances have I learned to deal with?" Keep in mind that skills fall into two categories - technical and generic. Technical skills are the skills required to do a specific job. For a laboratory assistant, technical skills might include knowledge of sterilization procedures, slide preparation, and scientific report writing. For an outreach worker, technical skills might include counseling skills, case management skills, or program design and evaluation skills. Generic skills are those which are transferable to many work settings. Following is a list of the ten most marketable skills. You will notice that they are all generic.
* Analytical/Problem Solving * Flexibility/Versatility * Interpersonal * Oral/Written Communication * Organization/Planning * Time Management * Motivation * Leadership * Self-Starter/Initiative * Team Player
Often when people think of skills, they tend to think of those they have developed in the workplace. However, skills are developed in a variety of settings. If you have ever researched and written a paper for a course, you probably have written communication skills. Team sports or group projects are a good way to develop the skills required of a team player and leader. Don't overlook any abilities you may have When doing the research on yourself, identifying your experience and skills is important, but it is not all that you need to know. Consider the answers to other questions such as:
* How have I demonstrated the skills required in this position? * What are my strong points and weak points? * What are my short term and long term goals? * What can I offer this particular employer? * What kind of environment do I like? (i.e. How do I like to be supervised? Do I like a fast pace?) * What do I like doing? * Apart from my skills and experience, what can I bring to this job?
Step 2: Know the Occupation
The second step in preparing for an interview is to research the occupation. This is necessary because in order to present a convincing argument that you have the experience and skills required for that occupation, you must first know what those requirements and duties are. With this information uncovered, you can then match the skills you have (using the complete skills/experience inventory you have just prepared) with the skills you know people in that occupational field need. The resulting "shortlist" will be the one that you need to emphasize during the interview.
It is also in your best interest to identify the approximate starting salary for that position, or those similar. There are several ways to find out about an occupation:
Acquire a copy of the job description from the employer (Human Resources/Personnel) or check with Student Employment Services. If you are responding to an advertisement, this may also supply some details.
The Career Resource Centre has general information files on a variety of occupations. Make sure you have read through the appropriate file and are updated on the occupation. If you belong to a professional association related to the occupation, use its resources. These associations often publish informative newsletters and sponsor seminars. It is also a good way to meet people working in the field. Conduct information interviews with people working in the field. Read articles about people in the occupation, and articles written by people in the occupation. Sources include newspapers, magazines and the internet. Find out what the future trends are in the area. Is technology changing the job?
Step 3: Know the Organization
The more you know about an organization, the better prepared you will be to discuss how you can meet its needs. Some of the characteristics that you should know about an organization are:
* Where is it located? * How big is it? * What are its products and who does it serve? * How is the organization structured? * What is its history? * Have there been any recent changes, new developments?
There are a number of ways in which you can access this information. Most medium- to large-sized organizations publish information about themselves. You can access them in number of ways:
* On campus at the Student Employment Services (company literature and business directories) or at the Drake Centre Library * The Winnipeg Centennial Library has a business microfiche with information on over 5000 Canadian companies and business directories * Many companies have internet home pages which you can locate by searching by industry and company name * Finally, you can visit or phone the organization and request some information on their products, services or areas of research
If the organization is fairly small, or fairly new, there may not be much information published. In this case, it will be necessary to do an information interview. Contact someone within the organization, introduce yourself, explain that you are considering moving into the field, and ask if it would be possible to meet with him/her to inquire about the company/organization and about what exactly the position would involve. Step 4: Prepare Questions
Having completed your background research, you are now ready to prepare questions to ask the interviewer(s). Try to think of questions for which the answer was not readily available in company literature. Intelligent well thought-out questions will demonstrate your genuine interest in the position. Be careful how many questions you ask, however, as too many can imply you feel the interview was not successfully run. Pick your questions with care - this is your chance to gather information, so ask about what you really want to know. Avoid sounding critical by mentioning negative information you may have discovered. This is one of the most effective ways to compare different employers, so for issues of particular importance to you (for example, whether they support staff upgrading), you should ask the same questions of each employer. Some sample questions are:
* What are the most significant factors affecting your business today? How have changes in technology most affected your business today? * How has your business/industry been affected by the recession? * How has your company grown or changed in the last couple of years? * What future direction do you see the company taking? * Where is the greatest demand for your services or product? * Where is most of the pressure from increased business felt in this company? * Which department feels it the most? * How do you differ from your competitors? * How much responsibility will I be given in this position? * What do you like about working with this organization? * Can you tell me more about the training program? * Have any new product lines been introduced recently? * How much travel is normally expected? * What criteria will be used to evaluate my performance? * Will I work independently or as part of a team? * How did you advance to your position? * What are the career paths available in this organization? * When can I expect to hear from you regarding this position?
It is very important to ask the last question because employers want to hire individuals who are interested in the position - and asking this question definitely helps to demonstrate interest on your part. Exercise judgment when asking questions to an employer. When being interviewed by a large company that has a high profile, one would not ask the question "What is the history of your company and how was your company started?" You can find the answer to this question in the company's annual report or articles in magazines/newspapers. However, small- and medium-sized companies do not always produce publicly available annual reports and it may be difficult to access information on the company and its role in the industry. This question is appropriate if you have exercised all other ways to find out the answer.
Types of Questions
Interviewers use five different types of questions - directive, non-directive, hypothetical, behavior descriptive, and stress. Being aware of the different types can help you in the preparation stage as you build your skills inventory. It may also help you focus in on exactly what is being asked and what the employer is looking for in specific questions.
The interviewer determines the focus of your answer. The information that the interviewer wants is very clear. If you have completed the research on yourself, this type of question should be easy to answer.
Example: "What skills do you have that relate to this position?"
"I have very good communication and interpersonal skills that I have refined through several summer and part-time jobs working with the public. In addition, I am fluent in both English and French."
You determine the focus of your answer. The interviewer asks a general question and does not ask for specific information. The most common non-directive question is
"Tell me about yourself."
When answering the question, keep in mind that the employer is interested in knowing how your background and personality qualify you for the job. In your answer, you should cover four areas: your education, related experience, skills and abilities, and personal attributes. As you talk about these areas, relate them to the job you are seeking. Decide what your response will be before starting to speak, this helps to keep responses concise.
Example: " Tell me about yourself."
"I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology, and have recently completed the course
in Volunteer Management through the Volunteer Center of Winnipeg. These have given me a strong background in many of the principles of human behavior and the recruitment, training, and supervision of volunteers. I have experience in working with young adults in a helping capacity, both through my position as a Peer Advisor at the University of Manitoba, and as a camp counselor at a camp for behaviorally troubled adolescents. Both of these positions involved individual counseling, facilitating discussion groups, and teaching young people about health issues - all of which relate directly to the services which I would be training volunteers to provide within your organization. In addition, I thoroughly enjoy working with young people, and can establish rapport with them easily."
Hypothetical or Scenario Questions
When asking a hypothetical question, the interviewer describes a situation, which you may encounter in the position and asks how you would react in a similar situation. This is a good way to test problem-solving abilities. When answering this type of question, try applying a simple problem solving model to it – gather information, evaluate the information, priories the information, seek advice, weigh the alternatives, make a decision, communicate the decision, monitor the results and modify if necessary.
Example: "Suppose you are working your first day in our laboratory, and a fire at a nearby work station breaks out. What would you do?"
"Before I start working in any laboratory, I always locate the emergency equipment, such as eye washes, fire blankets and alarms. I would also review the safety protocols. So in this situation, I would be aware of these. As soon as I noticed the fire, I would shut down my experiment and if the fire is significant, I would pull the firm alarm and help to evacuate the lab. In the case of very small flame, I would ask the staff member at the station what I could do to help, Which would vary with the type of substances involved.”
Behavior Descriptive or Behavioral Questions
This type of question is becoming increasingly popular in interview situations. It asks what you did in a particular situation rather than what you would do. Situations chosen usually follow the job description fairly closely. Some employers feel that examples of past performance will help them to predict future performance in similar situations. There is no right or wrong answer to this type of question, but keep in mind that you should relate the answer to the position. If you are interviewing for a research position, talk about a research project you completed.
Example: "Give me an example of a work situation in which you were proud of your performance."
"While working as a sales representative for XYZ Company for the summer, I called on Prospective clients and persuaded them of the ecological and economic benefits of Recycling. I also followed up on clients to ensure that they were satisfied with the service They received. This involved both telephone and in-person contacts. I increased sales 34% over the same period in the previous year."
When preparing for this type of questioning, it is crucial that you review the skills and qualities that the position would require and identify specific examples from your past which demonstrated those traits.
Some questions will surprise you and possibly make you feel uncomfortable during an interview. For
Example:" Which do you prefer, fruits or vegetables?" There are many reasons why an interviewer might ask such questions. They may want to see how you react in difficult situations, or they may simply be trying to test your sense of humor. Such questions may directly challenge an opinion that you have just stated or say something negative about you or a reference. Sometimes they ask seemingly irrelevant questions such as,
"If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?"
The best way to deal with this type of question is to recognize what is happening. The interviewer is trying to elicit a reaction from you. Stay calm, and do not become defensive. If humour comes naturally to you, you might try using it in your response, but it is important to respond to the question. What you say is not nearly as important as maintaining your composure.
Example: "Which do you like better, Lions or Tigers?"
"Oh, lions definitely. They appear so majestic and are very sociable. To be honest, I think that seeing The Lion King four times has probably contributed to this!"