Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ten on Tuesday | Interview Advice

Throughout the past year, I have had countless interviews - for job positions when relocating to Montana, for internships, for graduate schools, for full-time career positions here in New Mexico. These opportunities have allowed me to develop many different interview skills, skills that I have been trying to share with friends who are getting ready to finish their undergraduate degrees. As a natural extrovert and self-proclaimed "people person", interviewing has never been uncomfortable for me but I know that is not the case for everyone. Searches for interview tips yield a wide variety of results, many of which I find too vague to be useful. That's why this weeks' Ten on Tuesday is dedicated to helping you ace your next interview.

1 // Research the company (and if possible, the person) you are interviewing with. If nothing else, at the end of your interview, the interviewer is likely to ask "do you have any questions for me?" and this provides you with a great opportunity to show your knowledge of the company. Become familiar with the company's mission statement or goals and use the same key terminology when answering interview questions. (These key words could be terms such as "integrity" or "responsibility," for instance). It is impressive to know the accomplishments and if appropriate (as in the case of graduate school interviews), research interests, of the person you are addressing.

2 // Dress appropriately. This doesn't mean wearing business clothing, it goes beyond that. It is important to know what type of position you are applying for - interviewing at an interior design firm warrants a different style of dress than interviewing with a large corporation. I recently interviewed for a wide variety of jobs - I wore colorful and interesting clothing to interview for arts related positions, more formal clothing when applying to corporations, and casual dress when indicated by the hiring manager. On a side note, always arrive at an interview with a clean car and an organized bag - you never know when you will need to dig for a pen, or when an interviewer will walk you out! 

3 // Avoid drinking during an interview. Often times, you will be offered a beverage leading into your interview - a cup of coffee, a glass of water. While it may seem tempting, especially with sweaty palms and a dry throat, I suggest turning the offer down. Imagine knocking that glass of water all over the desk and paperwork in front of you, or spilling coffee down your white dress shirt.

4 // Research common interview questions and practice answering them. Most interviews cover the same types of questions, "explain a time that you gave great customer service", "explain an opportunity you had to fix a problem for a dissatisfied client", and so forth. A quick Google search will yield plenty of questions to practice.

5 // Figure out the best way to answer the question, "Why don't you tell me about yourself?" As any blogger will know, writing your "about me" page is the most difficult part of blogging. Interviewers often start with this question to see how you will handle an open ended request. It is easy to list off hobbies or interests but this question should be used to explain your strengths and accomplishments, future goals and indirectly, how that fits the company and its interests.

6 // If you are looking to enter a new field or industry, understand the industry you are looking to enter and be able to communicate why you are interested in it. Companies realize that the economy is tough and individuals are looking for jobs across many fields just in hopes of finding a good position. Even if this is the case for you, if you are looking outside of your past employment industries, understand what interests you in the field. For instance, I just took a position at a veterinary hospital - an industry out of my usual comfort zone. In my interview, rather than saying "well I love animals!," I discussed how my past experience paralleled what I thought the veterinary hospital needed.

7 // Come prepared for the interview. It isn't safe to assume that the interviewer has or has even seen your resume. Even if they have read it, it may not be handy for the interview itself. For that reason, you should always bring at least one copy of your resume, if not more. Being prepared could also mean bringing a design portfolio, a list of references, or anything other relevant materials.

8 // Bring a list of questions. This ties in to points 1 and 7 but I noticed that this was one of my weaknesses in interviewing for jobs here in New Mexico! After researching the company, you may find yourself without answers to questions like - where is this company headed in five years? What are some trends in this industry? You may also have more direct questions like - what is the dress code for this position? How are employees scheduled? It is easiest to have your questions answered in the interview, this also makes you more prepared to accept or decline a position if it is offered.

9 // Be prepared to negotiate salary. You should never be the first one to bring up this topic but you should always be prepared for the discussion. You should know what you're willing to accept when you arrive for the interview - you can determine this based on your own budget, and also by researching salary statistics for similar positions. If the position interests you but perhaps has a lower salary than you'd like, be willing to discuss benefits, or perhaps shortening the time it would take to be eligible for a raise.

10 // Apply to fewer jobs! I put this tip last because it is not actually for the interview itself but it may make your interviewing experience easier. In fact, I think this might be the best tip on the list. If you apply to a large number of jobs, you may get quite a few interviews making it more difficult to choose which jobs to interview with. You may also get interviews for positions that aren't a good fit for you, making the interview uncomfortable. Rather than sending a uniform cover letter and resume to one hundred different positions, choose a few you are really interested in and then tailor your application materials to the position, company and industry.

So tell me, what piece of advice would you add to this list? What piece of advice do you think is the most helpful?

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