Acing an Interview: A Quick Guide

Written by Colleen Coleman

Career Services hosted a series of short workshops on career-related topics for students working or studying on campus last summer. At the third event in the Summer Series, Joanna Wiseley, Director of Career Services, gave students an Intro to the Interview. Here are Mrs. Wiseley’s Top 10 Interview Tips:

  1. Do your research.
    The easiest thing to do in preparation for a job interview is researching the company online. Going into the interview, you should know what the company does and have a basic understanding of the company’s products and/or services. If you are preparing for a grad school interview, research the faculty and familiarize yourself with their academic interests and publications.
  2. Prepare to answer questions.
    While it won’t help you to memorize answers to anticipated interview questions—you risk seeming stiff and unnatural—practicing responses will help you feel more confident and appear more capable. Here are a few common interview questions you can start with:

    • Tell me about yourself.
    • Why did you choose Hillsdale/your major?
    • What is your GPA? Is it a good indicator of your abilities?
    • What motivates you to succeed?
    • What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
    • Why do you want to work at our company?
    • What did you like most/least about your previous roles?

    For further preparation, schedule an appointment for a mock interview with the staff in Career Services. You can request that your mock interview be filmed. This will allow you to study your tone of conversation, posture, level of confidence, and overall presentation, and to note any areas for improvement.

  3. Prepare to ask questions.
    The interview is the company’s opportunity to learn more about you, but it’s also your opportunity to learn more about the company. Asking good questions presupposes that you’ve thoroughly researched the company. Prepare questions that are specific and tailored to the position you are applying for, and write them down before your interview on a notepad in your pad folio or folder. Examples of types of questions you might ask include, “What does a regular day look like for this department/business?”, “What is your favorite thing about working here?”, and “Is this a new position? If not, what did the previous employee go on to do?” A candidate who asks good questions comes across as prepared, informed, and enthusiastic.
  4. Dress for success.
    When selecting your attire for the interview, follow the “one step up rule”: dress one step up for the position for which you are applying. You can always call the place where you will be interviewing and ask for the dress code if you are uncertain about its level of formality. Overall, keep it basic. Wear neutral colors. Use cologne/perfume sparingly. Ladies, keep make-up and jewelry to a minimum. Finally, make sure that your outfit is finished. Your suit coat should fit well. Your shirt sleeves should be ironed, even if you are wearing a suit coat. If the interview room is rather warm or you are asked to take off your suit coat, un-ironed sleeves could be an indication that you will take shortcuts. Remember that in addition to your resume, the interviewer will be reading your physical appearance. Make sure your image says what you want it to say.
  5. Get organized.
    Write down the time and place of your interview, and make sure you know the name of your interviewer. If you have time, visit the location of interview in advance. Bring extra copies of your resume, cover letter, and any other documents that were required for the application in a folder or professional pad folio.
  6. Make a good first impression.
    The first 5 seconds determine the impression you make. Try to engage with all the people in the office. Even before you are introduced to the interviewer, you must make a good impression on the receptionist.  An unfriendly comment to the receptionist could cost you the job. Approach the interviewer confidently and if he/she moves to shake hands, do so. Give a firm handshake, stand tall and maintain good eye contact. Wait to sit until you are asked to.
  7. Sit up!
     It is vital that you maintain great posture throughout the interview. Remember that your physical presence—your attire, manner of speaking, the way you carry yourself—is telling the interviewer about you, as is your resume. Posture is a huge component of your physical presence. Lean forward in your chair and keep your hands neatly folded in your lap.
  8. Use the STAR Method.
    During your interview, you will likely be asked “behavioral interview questions.” Behavioral interview questions allow the interviewer to predict your future level of success based on your past experiences. “Describe a time you needed to deal with a difficult situation or a difficult person. What did you do?” and “Describe a successful team you were part of. What did the team accomplish and what did you do?” are two examples. Use the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions successfully:

    • Situation: State it.
    • Task: What was the challenge before you?
    • Action: What were the specific steps you took to address the challenge and the situation? Share enough to show that you had an active part.
    • Results: Highlight the positive outcome. This is the step where students most commonly fall short. Show that your employer was satisfied with your work.
  9. Close the interview.
    Use the last 20 seconds of your time with the interviewer to summarize why you are a great candidate for the role. Re-state your interest in the position. Ask about the next steps and thank the interviewer for their time.
  10. Promptly follow up.
    Soon after the interview (at least 3, but no more than 24, hours after) follow up by sending an email and then a handwritten thank-you note to the interviewer.  A thank-you note will set you apart from other applicants because most do not take the time to write one. Keep it short and neat.