Interview Preparation

interview

Not many people feel really confident going into an interview.  In fact, a recent survey found that 92% of U.S. adults are anxious about job interviews. The best tactic for reducing interview nerves is to be prepared.  In this guide, you’ll be provided with the best strategies to ace the interview.

What is an Interview, Really?

An interview is a TWO-WAY conversation.  From the employer’s perspective, they are trying to assess if you:

  • Have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job.  They probably already have a pretty good sense of this or you wouldn’t have been offered the interview.
  • More importantly, they want to know if you will be a good fit with the organization, the supervisor and co-workers.  Adding new staff is like adding to a member of the family and they want to ensure that you will “play well in the sandbox” with others on the team.

From you, the interviewee’s perspective, you are:

  • Trying to convince them that you have the skills knowledge and experience needed for the position and that you have added value over other potential candidates.
  • Assessing if this organization, supervisor and prospective co-workers will be a good fit for YOU!

Interview Settings

During the hiring process, you may be interviewed in anyone or more of these settings:

  • Telephone Screening – As the name implies this may take place very early in the interview process.  Just like any other interview, preparation is key to success.  Additionally, it’s recommended that you ensure that you have a quite place to take the interview call that is free from distractions.  To ensure that you are in a professional frame of mind, even though no one is going to see you, consider dressing as you would for any other interview.  You’ll feel more on your game than if you take the call in your pajamas and bunny slippers.
  • Video Conference or Skype Interviews – This type of interview setting will also tend to happen to occur early in the hiring process.  It’s important to ensure that your background for this type of interview is free from distractions.  Conducting your interview at home where children, pets, roommates, significant others can be heard or seen will detract from your effectiveness.  Also, if the space where you can be seen by your computer’s camera can be seen, looks like a disaster area, you will be seen less favorably by your prospective employer. 

    As an alternative, consider reserving one of the individual study rooms in the library.  You can do so by visiting http://csufresno.libcal.com/

    Computer camera placement is important as well.  Stack books under your computer to ensure that camera is set to eye level.  If you are uncomfortable with seeing yourself on the screen during the interview, put a sticky note on the screen.  You can also use that sticky note to post reminders of key points you want to share or questions you want to ask without the interviewer seeing them.
  • Group Interviews – In a group interview, you will be interviewed with a group of other candidates.  You may be given tasks to complete as a group or asked simply to ask questions.  The purpose of this type of interview is to see how you interact in a team setting and if you can have your ideas heard in a crowd.  Again, your research will pay off here.  If you fully understand the type of employee they are seeking and the skills and knowledge needed to do the job.  Shape your answers, and interactions with other candidates, to highlight how you fit the employer’s needs.
  • Panel Interviews – This situation tends to freak many interviewees out.  You walk into a room, usually with a large conference table filled with strangers.  Your heart sinks.  Don’t let it!    Think about it like a martial arts movie.  Do all the “bad guys” ever jump the hero?  No, he or she takes on each of the “bad guys” one at a time.  You will do the same, answering one question at time.  The nice thing is that your interviewers aren’t the “bad guys” and they can’t take you on all at once.  Simply answer your questions as you would for a one-on-one interview.  Focus on the person who asked you the question or the person who looks the most skeptical in order to win them over.   After the interview, be sure to get a business card from each member of the panel and send a hand written thank-you note.  It will help to set you apart from the crowd.
  • One-on-One Interviews – This is the most common type of interview setting.  As with all interviews, the key is showcasing your skills, knowledge and experience in relation to the needs of the position.  If at all possible, in addition to the other research you need to conduct prior to your interview (which is discussed in the Interview Prep Research section below), research the person interviewing you.  Do you share any interests or experiences?  If you do, you may have an opportunity to work it into your conversation, creating a sense of affinity between you and the interviewer.
  • Dining Interviews – In this setting you may be interviewed during a meal.  In addition to attempting to impress your prospective employer with how you meet the needs of the job, you now have to do it while eating food.  It’s highly recommended that you take the time to learn proper dinning etiquette prior to taking part in this type of interview.  The Fresno State Career Development Center offers a dining etiquette training each year.  Visit their website at http://www.fresnostate.edu/studentaffairs/careers/ for details on upcoming events. 

    For additional tips on successfully navigating a dining interview visit these sites:

Interview Question Types

Interviewers will take multiple approaches to the questions they ask.  These include:

  • Situational Interview Questions – These questions start with some variation on “What would you do if…?”.  While you can answer the question with what you think the interviewer wants to hear, a much more effective approach is to tell them about a time when you addressed a similar situation.  You can begin your answer with “I’ve had experience with that in the past and this was my approach to the situation…”.
  • Behavioral Interview Questions - The purpose of this type of question is to assess your past experience.  They will start with some form of “Tell me about a time when….” This is where your accomplishment statement (or C. A. R. stories) will come into play.  As mentioned in the resume section of this site, C. A. R. stands for:
    • Challenge: What challenge or task did you face?  This could be during an internship, part or full-time job, volunteer experience, or research project.
    • Action: What action did you take to address the challenge or task?  This could be independently or as part of a group.
    • Result: What was the result of your action that was of benefit to your employer or the people you served?  The results could be quantifiable, such as a specific percentage of increase in sales or a decrease in work related accidents when compared to the previous year.  Alternatively your results may not be quantifiable, but verifiable.  Did you get positive feedback from your supervisors, colleagues or customers?  What did they say about your efforts?
  • Simulation – Rather than a question, you’ll be asked to perform a task needed for the position in a simulated setting.

For each of these settings and types of questions, the key is preparation.  In the next section we’ll address the research you need to conduct to prepare for the interview.

Pre-Interview Research

A survey conducted by Robert Half International of Chief Financial Officers, found that the number one mistake made by interviewees is failing to research the company. 

What to Research:

  • The company’s major products, services or programs.
  • Key people in the organization and the organizational structure.
  • Size in terms of sales, people served and employees.
  • Key opportunities and/or challenges facing the organization.
  • The company culture.
  • The company’s competitors.
  • The industry as a whole.
  • If possible, research the person interviewing you.

How to Research:

  • Visiting the company’s website.
  • Viewing the company’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Follow the company through their social media - LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube Channel and even Pintrest.
  • Through your network: professors, the staff at the Jordan College Advising & Career Development Center, the staff at the Fresno State Career Development Center, friends or family who work at the company and Fresno State alumni.
  • Google news items about the company.
  • Utilize website likeGlassdoor.com, Indeed.com and Vault.com.

Practice Prior to Your Interview

You don’t want your interview to be the first time you’ve spoken about how you fit with the needs of the position.  Presenting yourself in a clear and concise manner takes practice. 

The Elevator Pitch - You’ll need to develop an “Elevator Pitch” which is a 30 to 60 second introduction of yourself and what you bring to the organization.  To assist you in developing your Elevator Pitch download our “Creating Your Elevator Pitch” handout (284kb) by clicking HERE.  You can also visit these web articles to assist you as you develop your customized pitch:

Prepare Answers to Potential Interview Questions - You need to review potential questions.  Click HERE to download “Questions You Should be Prepared to Answer”.   Also use Google or other search engines to find additional questions by simply typing “name of job interview questions” (i.e. credit analyst interview questions).  Several sites will return from this search that provide more position specific questions you may be asked to answer.

After you’ve put together your list of potential questions, consider writing your answers down.  The act of writing will help commit it to memory and decrease the likelihood of a “brain freeze” during the interview.  Then have a friend, family member or significant other serve as a mock interviewer.  Mock interviews are also available by scheduling an appointment with the Jordan College Advising and Career Development Center or the Fresno State Career Development Center.  You can do so by calling 559.278.4019 or emailing Mary Willis at mwillis@csufresno.edu.

What to Bring to the Interview

Now that you’ve researched your prospective employer and practiced for your interview, it’s time to put it all into practice.   There are some important items you need to bring with you:

  • Copies of your resume.  Don’t assume that the interviewer(s) have one. 
  • Copies of your list of references.  With regard to your references, make sure that you’ve formally asked the individuals listed to serve as references.  Provide your references with a copy of your resume and a copy of the description of the job for which you are interviewing.  This will allow them to do a much better job of sharing your qualifications for the position.
  • Business cards.  Even as a student you can have business cards.  You can print them yourself or have them professional printed through a service such as Vista Print (link).  Your business cards should include your name, major and where you go to college, your expected graduation month and year, a phone number where you can be reached and a professional sounding email address.
  • A folder or pad-folio where you can store your extra resumes and lists of references, along with a pen and paper for taking notes.
  • A list of questions to ask during the interview.

One item not to bring: Your phone.  Please leave it in your car to avoid any potential distractions.

Dressing for Success

As I’m sure you know, what you wear to an interview makes a huge impression on the interviewer.  In fact, you will be seen before you are heard, so what you wear is a major component of your first impression.  As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Here are some general guidelines on what to wear:

For Women

  • Conservative, solid color skirt suit or pant suit. Blouses should be simple and light colored.
  • Closed toe shoes. The heel should be no taller than 2 inches.
  • If your interview will involve a tour of the facility, be sure to wear a pants suit and shoes should have rubber soles.
  • Nails polish should be freshly done and in subtle tones.  If no polish, make sure your nails are neatly trimmed.
  • Jewelry should not be distracting.   Less is more in this case.
  • Make up should be used sparingly and should compliment what you are wearing.  No “smokey eyes” for interviews.  A clean natural look is best.
  • Hair should be well groomed and neat. Avoid unique hair color or trendy styles.

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For Men

  • A long-sleeved dress shirt, dress slacks, and a tie are a must.  Depending on the weather a sports coat is appropriate.  A conservative suit is in navy or gray preferable.
  • Freshly polished shoes and dress socks.
  • Hair that is a conservative length and a clean-shaven face.

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For both men and women, cologne or perfume should be subtle or not worn at all.

Depending on the type of position you are interviewing for, these guidelines may need to be adjusted.  For positions in farm production or food processing, it may be perfectly appropriate to wear “Docker” style pants or nice jeans, clean and polished boots and a polo or short-sleeved shirt (without a tie).  Hats are never recommended.

If you have questions about expected interview attire, you can certainly ask the person arranging the interview what the recommended attire is for the meeting.

Are you looking for great interview clothes and have limited budget? Take advantage of the Fresno State Career Development Center’s Clothing Closet.  You can get gently used professional attire for free through this program.   The Career Development Center, in Thomas 103 has a Professional Clothing Closet open to all students in need of professional attire.

The Closet, run entirely by donations, is open during regular business hours. Students may take up to three (3) items of clothing per semester. 

For more information, or if you are interested in donating clothes, contact the Career Development Center at 559.278.2381.

Before Arriving at Your Interview

Take a Test Drive – If possible, a day or two before the interview, travel to the location at the same approximate time of day your interview is scheduled.  This will limit the possibility of you being late due to traffic or getting lost.  If you have problems finding the interview location, be sure to contact the person who scheduled the interview for clarification.

Arrive Early – While you don’t want to arrive in the reception area for your interview more than 10 minutes early, you can arrive to the location and bide your time until the 10 minute countdown.

When You Arrive and During Your Interview

Treat Everyone with Respect – One thing that can sink your chances at the job is being rude to the reception staff (or any staff member for that matter).  Treat them all with the utmost respect.

Give Firm Hand Shake and Maintain Good Eye Contact – While there are cultural differences in proper greetings and appropriate contact, in general offer a firm handshake (not wimpy or bone crushing) with good eye contact.  Follow your interviewers’ lead.    To avoid a sweaty handshake, visit the restroom prior to the start of your interview and run cold water over your inner wrist.

Be Honest – While this should go without saying, don’t lie during your interview.  You will get caught!  If you have done your homework and prepared for the interview, you should have real examples that show how your skills, knowledge and experience meet the needs of the position.  If you don’t have a particular experience they are seeking, share examples of how you learned new tasks quickly and successfully. 

Be aware of what questions are illegal.  In addition to the information about included in the “Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer” hand out (link) this article from Lifehacker.com provides some good guidance.  http://lifehacker.com/the-most-common-illegal-job-interview-questions-you-sho-1706238105

If you have questions about how to handle certain interview questions, be sure to schedule an appointment with Mary Willis in the Jordan College Advising & Career Development Center in Ag Science 110 by calling 559.278.4019 or emailing mwillis@csufresno.edu.

Be Confident –You’ve done some great things and you need to share them. Don’t minimize them.  Avoid phrases such as, “It was really nothing, but…” or “I think I could do that.”  During interviews it perfectly appropriate to speak well of yourself.  On the flip side, don’t be cocky.  Remember that you are not the answer to all of their problems.  Show proper respect for their knowledge and experience.

Close Out the Interview with a Well Thought Out Question – Have a question or two about the job, company or industry - A question whose answer cannot easily be found on the Internet.  Your research will pay off here.

After the Interview

Pat Yourself on the Back – Congratulate yourself for having made it through the interview.  You’re still alive.

Catalog Questions – Write down the questions asked during the interview to assist you as you prepare for future interviews.

Reflect – Assess what went well and what you want to repeat for future interviews.  Additionally be honest with yourself about what you need to work on for next time.

We are here to help you prepare for your interview.  Schedule time to discuss your interview preparation strategy or go through a mock interview. 

  • Mary Willis - Jordan College’s Coordinator of Internships & Professional Experiences, by calling 559-278-4019, or
  • Adrian Ramirez – Associate Director of Fresno State’s Career Development Center (and Jordan College Liaison) by calling 559.278.2381.