Interview Basics


Interviewing is among the most important and, for many, most dreaded aspects of the job search process. Whatever your opinion, however, interviews provide an opportunity to turn a job possibility into a job offer. Focused preparation and an awareness of common interview procedures will give you the confidence you need to perform well during your interviews.

Resumes and cover letters do not get you a job. While they are components of your job search process that may create access to employers, your interview performance is likely to be the most important factor in securing a job offer.

Interviewing provides you with an opportunity to explain, in your own words, the ways in which your experience, knowledge, skills, and aspiration combine to make you a desirable candidate for a given position and organization. Additionally, the interview setting allows you to demonstrate your interpersonal skills, professionalism, and personal style. While most people claim (in resumes and cover letters) to possess interpersonal or communication skills, interviews provide you with the opportunity to actually demonstrate such skills. A corollary benefit of interviewing is the in-depth research you can perform on an organization as you prepare for and participate in different interviews.

Procedural Aspects of the Interview Process

To increase your comfort and confidence as you prepare to interview, you should be aware of some fundamental principles of interviewing. Knowledge of the purposes of interviews, the ways in which interviews get arranged, and how to prepare yourself for interviewing success will assist you as you enter the job search.

General Purposes of Interviews

While there are numerous types of interviews and innumerable personal approaches employed by interviewers, it is safe to say that the general purposes of an interview are to:

  • Get to know you on a personal level
  • Learn more about your qualifications
  • Allow for the gathering of information relevant to organizational needs
  • Provide additional information on the position and organization
  • Assist the organization in identifying the applicant who should receive a job offer

How Interviews Get Arranged

There is no simple answer to the question, "How do I get interviews?" Instead, it is helpful to employ a variety of tactics when attempting to secure interviews. The recommendations in this section will provide you with some initial strategies. First, to find positions of interest and employer contact information, consult the Career Services Center, state employment services, job vacancy periodicals, employer directories, Internet sites, and other similar resources. You will also want to undertake some networking measures to establish contacts and uncover job leads.

Once you have begun making contacts with organizations, be ready at any time for employment-related telephone calls. Have a professional (or, at least, tactful) message on your answering machine and tell roommates and family members that you might be receiving telephone calls from recruiters.

If you are serious about securing an interview that could lead to landing a job, give top priority to job search-related activities. Your work or class schedule is, of course, important. However, the more flexibility you have when trying to arrange an interview, the better the impression you will make on recruiters.

A potential employee who seems reluctant to do some schedule juggling is not perceived by the recruiter as demonstrating the flexibility and commitment necessary to succeed as a new hire. Remember that a recruiter begins to evaluate you long before the interview takes place; in fact, evaluation begins when you first make contact with an organization.

A Word About Stress

Perhaps you know someone who is comfortable and, more importantly, talented at speaking in front of audiences. In your mind, this person is lucky, because he or she does not get nervous and can look good and communicate clearly while making presentations or interviewing for jobs. A few points should be clarified. First, this person probably does get nervous. Second, this person probably takes measures to ensure interviewing success prior to the interview. Finally, you can be this person.

Everyone experiences some kind of nervousness when preparing for an interview. There are various ways to manage and channel this stress while understanding that nervous energy is a positive thing. It means you care about the interview. It means you are up for the challenge and interested in doing well. It means you are human.

Relaxed interviewees are people who have practiced their responses, mentally clarified their qualifications for the position, and realized that an interview is a mutual exchange of information between two interested parties. In short, a relaxed interviewee minimizes uncertainties and is ready for unexpected twists or turns presented by the interviewer. Knowing these "agenda items," you should prepare yourself to fulfill each general purpose.

Recruiter - The Generic Term

Individuals from the human resources department of an organization are typically associated with the hiring process; however, any organizational representative (from lower-level, professional staff to top-level executives) may be involved with coordinating and conducting interviews as well as making hiring decisions. Although this guide uses the term "recruiter" in the generic sense, not all representatives with whom you correspond will carry the title of recruiter or be from the human resources department. Therefore, be sure to make note of their true titles and departments. Remember, from a recruiter's perspective, there are dozens of things that must get done during the course of a workday; communicating with applicants about position vacancies is only one of many daily tasks. Even human resources representatives, the people who are most involved with recruiting efforts, have a diversity of tasks aside from such responsibilities. Therefore, while it is imperative that you show determination and persistence when following up on job leads, you will want to be particularly considerate of a recruiter's time and appreciative of his or her willingness to spend some of that time considering your inquiry.

Another important factor that is often overlooked when trying to arrange interviews is the value of establishing a positive relationship with the gatekeeper. Do not assume that someone with a title of "secretary" or "program assistant" is powerless within the office. In fact, you must realize that the gatekeeper is among your most important allies in the early going.

You can only reach the person you need if the gatekeeper is willing to send you there. Once the gatekeeper is convinced that you are a talented individual with whom he or she would like to work, you stand to gain more than access to the decision maker - you stand to benefit from positive comments made by the gatekeeper to the decision maker. With regard to arranging interviews, you should think about expenses you might incur while interviewing. If you initiate the contact with an organization and act as a catalyst in getting an interview scheduled, be prepared to pay for any related expenses. If a recruiter initiates contact with you or takes the lead role in inviting you to interview, it is reasonable to expect the organization to provide funding for major expenses (e.g., airfare and accommodations).

Do not assume this is the case, however. Before embarking on a long journey in response to a recruiter's request for an interview, ask if your expenses will be covered. While you should avoid asking for reimbursement for expenses customary to job seekers (e.g., clothing, copying, or faxing) or minor expenses (e.g., parking or short-distance travel), it is acceptable to inquire about reimbursement for major expenses when an organization has displayed real interest in hiring you.

There is one simple difference between these two scenarios. When you initiate contact with an organization, you create the relationship and hope to prove that the organization needs you. When a recruiter initiates contact with you, it suggests that the organization has a need for someone with your experience, knowledge, and skills. The recruiter must demonstrate why it is in your best interest to work for the organization. The later scenario places you in a position of advantage if the interview process should advance to the negotiation stages. As you can see, the dynamics are quite different depending on who initiates contact.

Take time to consider other factors that might be important when arranging interviews. Meet with a career counselor to find answers to your specific questions. Once you succeed in securing an interview, you are ready to move forward with the interview process.

You Have to Be You

Remember to convey your individuality when interviewing. Keep in mind that not every interviewing approach or technique works for everyone; as you read, consider the ways in which you can utilize and adapt the methods in this guide to your personality and goals.

Good Answers to Interview Questions Take Shape Long Before the Interview

When readying yourself for the interview process, you first want to have a clear view of your professional profile. Whether you generate that profile by completing self-assessment evaluations, conducting research on career fields of interest to you, summarizing your personal work history, or meditating, it is important to know who you are, what you value, what skills you possess, and where your interests lie.

Interview questions are much easier to answer once you create a strategy regarding the image - the professional profile - you want to project. For example, consider this standard interview question and the hypothetical thought process you, as the prepared interviewee, might undertake when crafting a response.

"Why did you choose a liberal arts degree?"

Thought Process
Thinking back to your self-assessment, you know that you chose the liberal arts because you enjoy studying about various cultures, understanding the process of human interaction, and lifelong learning.

"Before I came to college, I knew I wanted to increase my awareness of people and cultures around the world. I have always been interested in understanding human relationships and want to continue refining my communication and interaction skills. I also want to keep learning and growing regardless of my specific job title. For those reasons, I was attracted to the liberal arts curriculum."