The purpose of an interview
The interview is a mutual exchange of information between an employer and you, as a candidate for a position. The primary objectives are to:
· Supplement résumé information
· Show that you understand your strengths and weaknesses and have a sense of direction
· Enable the employer to evaluate your personality and attitudes in terms of the demands of the organization and the position
· Allow you to gain information about the organization and the job that is not available through other sources
· Give you and the employer an opportunity to discuss the desirability of further contact or an offer of employment
First impressions matter whether they be online or in person. Your success or failure in the interview can depend on your appearance and the interviewer's first impression of you.
Be punctual. Arrive ten minutes early to allow yourself time to collect your thoughts. Take the opportunity to observe the work environment. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Research indicates that, on average, an interviewer decides to hire in just 5 1/2 minutes. If the first impression is not positive, it will be difficult to change the interviewer's mind during the rest of the interview.
Look neat, clean, and well groomed. Select proper clothing for the type of organization interviewing you. If in doubt, be conservative. It is also advisable to keep fashion accessories to a minimum, to avoid wearing strong scents because many people have environmental allergies, and to turn off cell phones, electronic organizers, and pagers.
Greet each person with respect and professionalism. When you shake hands, make eye contact and smile. Handshakes should be firm but not aggressive; try to match the grip of the interviewer. It is good etiquette to wait to sit down until the interviewer invites you to do so.
Preparing for the interview
To impress an employer, you must be well prepared and understand the value of what you have to offer. To demonstrate effectively your suitability for the position and your value to the organization, you must know yourself. Review your self-assessment information and your résumé. Be prepared to give examples to substantiate all claims in your résumé.
Know the company/organization
You must be familiar with the position and the organization so that you can demonstrate your interest in and fit for the job.
A commonly asked interview question is: "What do you know about our company?" If you are unable to answer this question effectively, employers will see this as a sign of disinterest.
Answering interview questions
The next phase of the interview consists of the interviewer asking you questions to try to determine your fit. Having knowledge of possible questions helps you to prepare points to include in your answers. Think about why a question is being asked. What does the employer really want to know?
Behaviour-based and situational/hypothetical questions are increasing in popularity because they are considered to be more valid predictors of on-the-job performance.
- Behaviour-based questions
Behaviour-based interviews are designed to elicit information about how you have performed in the past because past behaviour is a good indicator of how you will function in the future. These questions usually begin with phrases such as the following:
· Tell me about a time...
· Describe a situation in which...
Recall an instance when…
Give me an example of…
Be certain to tell the truth, get to the point, stay focused, turn negatives into positives, and be consistent with your responses. Common behaviour-based interview themes include the following:
Working effectively under pressure
Handling a difficult situation with a co-worker
Applying good judgment and logic in solving a problem
Completing a project on time
Persuading team members to do things your way
Writing a report or proposal that was well received
Anticipating potential problems and developing preventative measures
Making an important decision with limited facts and information
Making a quick decision during the absence of a supervisor
Making an unpopular decision
Adapting to a difficult situation
Being tolerant of a different opinion
Using your political savvy to promote a program or idea that you really believed in
Dealing with an upset client
Delegating a project effectively
Explaining complex information to a client, colleague, or peer
Surmounting a major obstacle
Prioritizing the elements of a complicated project
By analyzing the questions asked of you, you will discover further details about the position.
An interviewer will use situational/hypothetical questions to establish how you would react to and handle real-life situations on the job. For situational/hypothetical questions, candidates must have a good understanding of the job and its requirements. Here are some examples of this type of question:
· If you had met your project deadlines and your direct supervisor was unavailable, describe how you would remain busy
· You are the manager of a small software testing team, and one individual is continually late for work and taking extended breaks. How would you approach the issue?
· During construction, a contractor unexpectedly finds a very large object in one of the trenches where he is about to dig. He requests that you tell him how to proceed. How would you deal with this situation? You plan a workshop to teach newcomers to Canada how to use word-processing software. Unfortunately, only four people have registered and you are required to · have a class of ten. You really feel that the training is important but are worried about the financial consequences. It is five days before the class is scheduled to begin. What do you do?
· You have a conflict with someone who is senior to you and is not your supervisor. Describe how you would handle it
Potential employers often require proof that you have the practical skills and savvy to successfully do the job.
The following are examples of skill-testing questions:
· What is the difference between server-side and client-side scripting?
· Provide a brief description of a diode
· Explain the theory of elasticity
· What is a comma splice?
If you know the answer, great! If not, don't fake it. Instead, indicate your interest and desire to learn.
When answering problem-solving questions, you want to demonstrate your abilities to process information quickly, think logically, and problem solve creatively. Employers place emphasis on the thought process rather than on the conclusion. Examples of problem-solving questions include the following:
· Why is a manhole cover round?
· How many automobiles are there in Toronto?
· Estimate the size of the DVD rental market in Tokyo, Japan
· How would you project the future rate of PC game purchases in Canada?
· Describe how you would extract caffeine from coffee beans
The key is not to worry about getting the "right" answer but, rather, to demonstrate your logical thought process in solving the problem. The following five-step process is appropriate for handling most problem-solving questions:
1. Listen carefully to what is being asked
2. Ask clarifying questions to determine exactly what the interviewer is looking for
3. Respond by first explaining how you’d gather the data necessary to make an informed decision
4. Discuss how you’d use that data to generate options
5. Based on the data you’ve gathered, the available options, and your understanding of the position, explain how you’d make an appropriate decision or recommendation
Keep in mind, there is no right answer, only your answer.
In addition to asking the other types of questions mentioned, many employers rely on a series of standard questions, and you should prepare for them:
· Tell me about yourself
· What are your short-term goals? What about in two and five years? How are you preparing to achieve them?
· What is your vision/mission statement?
· What do you think you will be looking for in the job following this position?
· Why do you feel you will be successful in this work?
· What other types of work are you looking for in addition to this role?
· What supervisory or leadership roles have you had?
· For you, what are some advantages and disadvantages of working in a team environment?
· What have been your most satisfying/disappointing experiences?
· What did you like/dislike about your last job?
· What motivates you to do a good job?
· What are your strengths/weaknesses?
· What kinds of problems do you handle best?
· How do you reduce stress and try to achieve balance in your life?
· How did you handle a request to do something contrary to your moral code or business ethics?
· What was the result the last time you tried to sell your idea to others?
· Why did you apply to our organization and what do you know about us?
· What do you think are advantages/disadvantages of joining our organization?
· What is the most important thing you are looking for in an employer?
· What were some of the common characteristics of your past supervisors?
· What characteristics do you think a person needs to work effectively in our company/department?
· What courses did you like best/least? Why?
· What did you learn or gain from your part-time/summer/co-op/internship experiences?
· What are your plans for further studies?
· Why are your grades low?
· How do you spend your spare time?
· If I asked your friends to describe you, what would they say?
· What frustrates you the most?
· When did you last have a disagreement with someone at work, and what was the outcome?
· What could you do to increase your effectiveness?
· What was the toughest decision you have had to make in the last year? Why was it difficult?
· Why haven’t you found a job yet?
· How will you be successful in the job, given your lack of experience in ______ (e.g., sales, fundraising, bookkeeping)?
· Why should I hire you?
While responding to questions, use to your advantage information that the employer volunteers about the position and organization. Listen for verbal cues and hints (e.g., what is said, how it is said) and customize your responses accordingly, but be honest. For example, if you are excellent at multi-tasking and skilled at meeting tight deadlines, share this information if the interviewer just stated that the work environment is very fast paced. Furthermore, listen carefully to the question and how it is phrased. If it can be interpreted in more than one way, and if you are unsure what the interviewer really wants to discuss, ask for clarification.
Awkward situations may occur during an interview, and it is up to you to be prepared to handle confidently whatever happens. To increase your confidence and prepare for an interview, practise interviewing. Check for quality of information in your answers, and the positive, non-verbal reinforcement of your words.
The key to tricky situations is to remember that barriers to employment can often be overcome by focusing on the positive. Circumstances that you may find problematic are:
If applying for short-term work (e.g., co-op or summer), you will likely have only one interview, so it is acceptable to discuss salary. If you need to know the salary and it has not been discussed, ask about it as your final question.
Employers hiring full-time or contract staff may inquire about salary during a first interview to see if your expectations are compatible with what they are offering and to see how much value you place on your experience, skills, and educational background.
If you answer a question and there is no prompt response or follow-up question, what do you do? Try to remain calm and collected. Silence may not be a negative sign; the employer could be taking time to process and record your answer and/or be considering the next question.
You may have difficulty communicating your thoughts clearly and concisely, especially when you are not sure how to respond to a question. The key is to remain calm and positive, focus on the question, and continue to remind yourself that you are doing well. You may request clarification if you are not sure what the interviewer is asking or pause and politely ask for a few moments to consider your response; however, don't take too much time because employers want to see that you can think well under pressure.
Of course, if you’re stumped because you simply do not know the answer, be honest with the interviewer in a positive and professional manner.
Interviewers will often ask negatively phrased questions to assess your perceived weaknesses and strengths. The following are a few examples:
· What are your weaknesses as an employee?
· Recall a time from your work experience when you made a bad decision or mistake. How did you get beyond it?
· Give me an example of a time you did not meet a project deadline. How did you handle the situation?
Be honest and discuss a real work-related weakness or past event that would not negatively impact performance for the job you are applying for.
Many short-term jobs and/or gaps in employment history
It is becoming more common to work for shorter periods for a variety of employers, so employers may not place as much emphasis on dates worked as they might have in the past. However, if asked, be prepared to provide reasons that the employer will understand for your frequent job changes or gaps in employment history.
Although you should truthfully explain in a few words the reasons for your job changes or gaps in employment, focus on what you did during the gaps that was related to the position.
Having never worked or no recent work experience
Tell the interviewer about any relevant courses/workshops, volunteer/internship experiences, and/or extracurricular activities. Indicate if you have researched and joined associations/societies in your field to learn and/or stay knowledgeable about industry trends and connect with other professionals. Convey your interest in the position and indicate that you look forward to a long-term association with the company.
Being over/under qualified
Although you may be concerned about your qualifications, the interviewer liked something about your résumé or you wouldn’t have been offered an interview! Counter the interviewer's fear that you may not be suitable by emphasizing your positive traits and describing how your experience, education, and skills will help you succeed in the position.
An interviewer can never ask how old an applicant is, and you should raise the topic of age only if you think that age will be a barrier in the hiring process. Whether you feel you are younger or older than the norm for the job you are applying to, you want to present yourself in the most positive light. Redirect the employer's focus from your age to your qualifications. Stress how your age is an asset. How is your life experience of benefit? Can your energy and enthusiasm compensate for a perceived lack of experience?
Disclosure of disability
People with physical, sensory, or learning disabilities, or chronic medical conditions are advised, like all job seekers, to focus on their abilities and interests when choosing a career.
During the self-assessment process and later during interviews, it is important to be up front and honest about your situation if your disability may present a performance barrier or if you need to request accommodation or assistive devices.
During your self assessment, determine how you can overcome or compensate for any perceived or real stumbling blocks to employment so that you can explain your situation more clearly and positively.
Reasons for leaving last job
An employer may inquire about your reasons for leaving a job to determine if concerns from a previous job might impact the organization. Employers like to gauge your attitude toward work, management, organizational change, and policies/guidelines.
Honestly and concisely state your reasons for leaving. If you left on good terms, offer the interviewer letters of reference that outline your relevant achievements.
If you were unable to obtain a reference from your previous place of employment because you left on bad terms, you must briefly explain why. Read the section above on “Reasons for leaving last job.” Quickly follow up your statement to suggest that the interviewer contact other references from your list to obtain a more accurate picture of your previous work experiences. If references are outdated, you must decide if they are still appropriate to use.
Verbal and non-verbal communication
Smile, when appropriate during the interview. Be enthusiastic and responsive. As you talk about your past and present activities, your passion and energy can be communicated both through your words and your body language (e.g., an excited tone of voice, leaning forward, nodding your head in agreement). Maintaining eye contact is important; failure to do so may imply a lack of confidence or, worse, cause the employer to question your truthfulness.
Sit comfortably, without slouching. Don't put anything on your lap or in your hands if it will restrict your natural body movement or if you may be tempted to play with it.
Respond to questions specifically and concisely but give sufficient details to enable the interviewer to evaluate your credentials. Think before you speak. It is quite acceptable to pause before talking in order to organize your thoughts. Avoid verbal fillers such as "um," "ah," "you know," or regularly repeating the question to provide thinking time.
Use business language. Avoid slang. Speak clearly. Watch the interviewer for clues on how the interview is progressing.
Prepare in advance to talk about any topic that you are concerned or feel uncomfortable about. If there is something that you don’t want an interviewer to inquire about, it will likely be raised during the interview. Practise your answer out loud often enough to feel confident. Maintain poise and self-control. Consider a difficult issue as a learning opportunity that has made you a better person.
Questions you can ask
To supplement the information you obtained before the interview, you may want to ask questions during the interview. Some questions will arise naturally during the interview, but it is wise to prepare some questions in advance. Asking questions will demonstrate your interest and help you determine if the job fits your personality, skills, interests, and values.
Your questions should be pertinent to the position and show your enthusiasm and knowledge.
It is important to compose your own questions; however, the following may give you a starting point:
· What do you see as the priorities for someone in this position?
· Please describe a typical day on the job?
· What training programs do you have available for your employees?
· What level of responsibility could I expect in this position?
· Is there a typical career path for a person in this position?
· What are the company's plans for the future?
· What do you see as the greatest threat to the organization?
· What/where are the greatest opportunities for the organization?
· How would you describe your organization's management style, culture, and/or working environment?
· What do you like most about your organization?
· How are employees evaluated and promoted?
· In order to set up a budget for next term, can you tell me what the salary for this position is? (Ask salary questions at the end).
Types of Interviews
The most common interview format is one interviewer interviewing one candidate, either by phone, via video, or in person.
Interview with two or more people
Although it is important to have good eye contact with the person who asks you a question, also look at the other interviewers frequently to include them in the discussion. Try to remember each person's name and use his or her name during the interview.
General/group interview or information session
This approach is intended to provide applicants with a large amount of information about the organization and the job. The format is used to save time and ensure that everyone understands the basic facts. This process is usually followed by an individual interview. A well-timed and intelligent question may help the employer to remember you positively.
Competitive group interview
In this interview format, one or more persons interview many candidates at the same time. This type of interview is sometimes used when a position involves team work and the interviewers want to see how you interact in a group setting, when the company wants to see who emerges as a leader within the group, or when people are being interviewed for several similar roles within the company. It is important to thoughtfully and intelligently contribute, be attentive to the contributions of others, and not to monopolize the conversation.
Telephone interviews are an effective way to quickly and cost-effectively screen or hire candidates. If there will be more than one interview, the first may be conducted by phone; candidates being seriously considered may be invited to a subsequent on-site interview. If you are not ready for an interview when called, politely request that the interviewer call back at another, mutually convenient, time (non co-op interviews only). This request will allow you to refresh your memory on the organization and consider what points you want to make.
All of the above advice about interview skills still applies. Keep your résumé, organization information, points that you want to highlight, and list of questions handy; in fact, keep these in front of you during the interview for easy reference. (Don't shuffle your papers though!) Have a pen and paper available to note any comments or questions that may occur to you during the interview. Choose your words carefully and be succinct. It is also important to vary your voice tone, tempo, and pitch to keep the employer's attention. Ensure that you are in a private setting to eliminate any distractions or background noise.
In this type of interview, recruiters use video technology to conduct interviews at a distance. Use the same strategies you would if you were meeting in person; clothing, body language, and dialogue are important. Depending on the sophistication of the technology, you may experience short transmission delays. Make eye contact with the camera, which, to the employer, appears as direct “eye contact.” Remember to check the monitor periodically to observe the interviewer’s body language.
When interviewing you for a long-term position, a prospective employer may invite you and other finalists to visit the organization. One purpose is to allow you to meet other staff. The second is to give more people an opportunity to interview you in greater depth to determine whether a good match is developing. Do not assume that a second interview will lead to a job offer; ensure you actively listen, ask relevant questions, and collect specific information about the company so you can elaborate on how your strengths match the organization’s requirements. Use the opportunity to observe the work environment (e.g., physical space, relations between employees, work pace) to determine if the setting matches what you are seeking. The visit can take from one hour to an entire day. When an organization offers to pay your expenses to travel to the interview, be prudent in submitting costs. Your choice of moderate rather than luxurious accommodation, food, transportation, etc. will reflect your good judgment.
Ending the interview
When it appears that the interviewer is about to end the interview, you should make sure you have covered certain points before you leave the room. Except in the case of co-op for which the hiring process is clear, make sure you understand the process that will occur before a candidate is selected for the job (e.g., another interview in the same/another location, meetings with other individuals in the organization, etc.). Ask the interviewer when you can expect to hear about a decision or ask when you should make an inquiry as a follow-up.
Enthusiastically express your interest in the position (unless you are sure that you are not interested) and thank the interviewer for interviewing you. Ask for a business card or ensure that you have the interviewer's name, title, and address so that you can send a thank-you letter. Make sure your letter is sent within forty-eight hours of the interview. In addition to being a standard business courtesy, a thank-you letter may tip the scales in your favour if you are in close contention for the job.