You’ve got a great resume and your job search is in high gear. With all this activity, it’s easy to forget a simple fact: it is the interview that eventually lands you the job. Experts say preparation for the interview deserves at least as much attention as any other phase of your job search.
“Few people understand that in reality, a job interview is a personality contest between candidates, who essentially all qualify for the job,” says Leslie Fischer, President of Harvard Oaks Enterprises, a career consulting firm in Chicago engaged in preparing people for job interviews. Ms. Fischer, who has extensive experience in this field, offers some easy-to-follow advice to people on how to give the best possible impression at the interview.
- Wear a suit and a tie or a conservative dress if you apply for a professional or a public contact position. Wear dress slacks and a dress shirt or skirt and a sweater combination even if you will be interviewed for a production or laborer’s position. Don’t forget that the interview is a business negotiation between the candidate and the prospective employer.
- Be prompt.
- Don’t smoke or chew gum.
- Don’t be overly concerned about the fact that you are nervous; human resource managers will usually try to warm you up.
- Give frank and brief answers, use good grammar and a friendly tone.
- Listen attentively and look the interviewer directly in the eye.
- Sit up straight, but try to relax.
According to Fischer, a job interview has its own choreography, with carefully designed questions to explore the potentials and the personality of a candidate. If cleverly answered, these questions offer candidates plenty of opportunity to stress personal achievements and positive personal traits.
“If you know what questions to expect, it will double your chances to do well at the interview,” says Fischer, who advises candidates to prepare answers to the 6 most commons questions they are likely to be asked during the interview.
1. Tell me about yourself. The employer is not asking where you were born and how many sisters and brothers you have. Cite your interests, describe your goals and your general background.
2. Why should I hire you for this job? Don’t be shy. Be self-confident and as precise as much as possible. Mention a specific achievement in your career and assert that you can do something similar for the company.
3. Why did you leave your previous job? Watch out! “Personality” question. Don’t criticize your former boss and do not mention personality conflicts. The employer wants to check your loyalty and see whether you are easy to get along with.
4. Why are you interested in working for us? Do your homework and learn a little about the company. The best way to start is calling the company’s Public Relations Department and inquire about publications they produce.
5. How much do you expect to be paid? This question deserves study itself, but be reminded at this point that the interview is a business negotiation: the first to speak is in the weaker position. If you have to answer, start with a range that you would be comfortable with and then negotiate further as the job offer unfolds.
6. Are there any questions you want to ask? This is a chance to reinforce a good impression. Ask about the position: who you have to report to, what the promotion opportunities are, etc. But be interested in the company, too: the number of employees, its long and short term growth plans, etc.
Other questions may, of course, also emerge ranging from the ones referring to employment gaps to an inquiry about one’s attitude to colleagues of the opposite sex. “Requirements often vary according to the position, but it’s not impossible to describe the ideal candidate,” says Fischer. “In terms of general characteristics, employers value candidates who are enthusiastic and who demonstrate a high a level of personal integrity.” Another prerequisite is a genuine desire to be given the job. “Therefore,” says Fischer “don’t miss the opportunity to ask for the job explicitly at the end of the interview.”
Is all this preparation worth the pain and time? Remember: it’s great to get an interview, but out there, there is something even better: to get a job offer.
Questions Most Often Asked in Job Interviews
1. Why are you interested in this position?
The answer should reflect good preparation: clarification of your goals, likes and dislikes, your job priorities, and your knowledge of the organization and the parks and recreation field.
2. Tell me about your current and previous bosses. What kind of people are they?
This question seeks to determine personality traits, maturity, potential conflicts, and most important, the ‘fit’ with the hiring manager. The guideline for answering this question is to be positive, even if it hurts. If you think the Superintendent is a tyrant, say instead, “our superintendent is an extremely strong leader. He’s firm in his handling of people and a demanding manager.” With this question, your prospective supervisor is trying to find out whether you are a loyal employee. Be honest in your appraisal of the person in question, but express all your thoughts in a manner that will be perceived as showing your loyalty to the organization.
3. Has your job performance ever been appraises? How were you assessed–the pluses and the minuses?
The interviewer is trying to get an idea of your honest. While no applicant is expected to reveal major flaws or serious shortcomings, everyone has some weaknesses, and failure to admit them makes a negative impression. Be prepared with a “greatest weakness” to confess, but make sure it’s not one that will disqualify you from the job you’re interviewing for. Being a workaholic or too meticulous are examples of “weaknesses.”
4. Is your responsibility individual or are you part of a team effort?
The interviewer is trying to find out whether you exaggerated your influence in performing tasks and achieving results. Your answer should show a balance: “I did this independently; I served as a member of the task force that did that.” The employer is also looking for a team player.
5. Describe a time when you felt particularly ineffective, why you felt so, what you did about it, and what the outcome was.
The interviewer is trying to identify traits the organization is looking for in a job applicant and traits it hopes to avoid. Also notice that this is a four part question. If the applicant fails to answer parts 2, 3, or 4, it may indicate a short attention span and poor detail orientation.
6. Describe a time when you felt particularly effective. The interviewer is interested not so much in the activity itself as how you describe it, and how you behave during the explanation. If you say “I’m not sure what you want,” this will be identified as a “dependent trait,” which could lead to elimination if the employer is looking for someone who can work independently.
7. What are the most satisfying aspects of your present job? What are the most frustrating?
The interviewer is trying to find out what makes you tick. Are you results-oriented and pleased with the attainment of specific goals? Or have you had “difficulty with interpersonal relations and personality conflicts that have stymied efforts to reach objectives?” Never bring up interpersonal conflicts because you won’t find a job that doesn’t involve interacting with people.
8. What are the most important factors you require in a job?
How should it be structured to provide you satisfaction? Your answers–freedom to operate, security, overall environment, people, responsibilities, compensation, etc.–should all reflect how well suited you are for the job.
9. Most people have some long-range goals and objectives. Where do you want to be in 5-10 years?
The answer should reflect some degree of preparation and logic. Don’t tell the employer that with an English degree you’d eventually like to be the accounting manager.