10.4 Interviewing Skills

The job interview is one of the most challenging and hope-inspiring events of our lives. It consists of a meeting with a potential employer during which you discuss your qualifications for an available job. Here, you would be asked to discuss how your education, work experience, interests, and character align with the job. Often interview questions go beyond to reveal how you relate to others, solve problems, use specialized skills, and would fit into a specific department or the organization as a whole.

Employment interviews come in all shapes and sizes, and may not be limited to only one exchange or one interaction. A potential employee may very well be screened by a computer (as the résumé is scanned) and interviewed online or via the telephone before the applicant ever meets a representative or panel of representatives. The screening process may include formal tests that include personality tests, background investigations, and consultations with previous employers. Depending on the type of job you are seeking, you can anticipate answering questions, often more than once, to a series of people as you progress through a formal interview process. Just as you have the advantage of preparing for a speech, you can apply the same research and public speaking skills to the employment interview. Let’s examine this process in more detail, starting with the following video: Top Interview Tips: Common Questions, Body Language & More (2020).

 

The Interview Process

The invitation to interview means you have been identified as a candidate who meets the minimum job requirements and demonstrates potential as a future employee. Your cover letter, résumé, and/or related application materials may demonstrate the alignment between your qualifications and the job duties, but now comes the moment where you will need to articulate those points out loud in a bid to convince the interviewer that you are indeed the right person for the job. To achieve this goal, you must arrive prepared to discuss how you can be an asset to the organization. To be able to do this, you must know yourself as well as the organization and the job that has been posted, so careful preparation is required to optimize your performance. There is no one right or wrong way to prepare and present at your interview; however, some elements are common across interview opportunities.

Preparation

The right frame of mind is an essential element for success in communication, oral or written. For many, if not most, the employment interview is surrounded with mystery and a degree of fear and trepidation. Just as giving a speech may produce a certain measure of anxiety, you can expect that a job interview will make you nervous. Anticipate this normal response, and use your nervous energy to your benefit. To place your energies where they will be put to best use, the first step is preparation.

Briefly, the employment interview is a conversational exchange in which the participants try to learn more about each other. Both conversational partners will have goals in terms of content, and explicitly or implicitly across the conversational exchange will be relational messages. Attending to both points will strengthen your performance. To prepare for an employment interview, research the company, market, and even individuals in your effort to learn more about the opportunity.

If you have been invited for an interview, you can rest assured that you have met the basic qualifications the employer is looking for. Hopefully, this initiation signal means that the company or organization you have thoroughly researched is one you would consider as a potential employer. Perhaps you have involved colleagues and current employees of the organization in your research process and learned about several of the organization’s attractive qualities as well as some of the challenges experienced by the people working there.

Figure 10.4.1 Depicted here are a number of considerations before
going into a job interview (Doyle, 2020).

Businesses hire people to solve problems, so you will want to focus on how your talents, expertise, and experience can contribute to the organization’s needs. The more detailed your analysis of their current challenges, the better. You need to be prepared for standard questions about your education and background, but also see the opening in the conversation to discuss the job duties, the challenges inherent in the job, and the ways in which you believe you can meet these challenges. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the fact that you have “done your homework” in researching the company. Table 1: “Interview Preparation Checklist” presents a checklist of what you should research before you consider yourself prepared for an interview.

Table 10.4.1 Interview Preparation Checklist

What to Know Examples
Type of Interview Will it be a behavioral interview, where the employer watches what you do in a given situation? Will you be asked technical questions or given a work sample? Or will you be interviewed over lunch or coffee, where your table manners and social skills will be assessed?
Type of Dress Office attire varies by industry, so stop by the workplace and observe what workers are wearing if you can. If this isn’t possible, call and ask the human resources office what to wear—they will appreciate your wish to be prepared.
Company or Organization Do a thorough exploration of the company’s Web site. If it doesn’t have one, look for community business listings online. Contact the local chamber of commerce. At your library, you may have access to subscription sites such as Hoover’s Online (http://www.hoovers.com). Use this resource as an important source for company information.
Job Carefully read the ad you answered that got you the interview, and memorize what it says about the job and the qualifications the employer is seeking. Use the Internet to find sample job descriptions for your target job title. Make a written list of the job tasks and annotate the list with your skills, knowledge, and other attributes that will enable you to perform the job tasks with excellence.
Employer’s Needs Check for any items in the news in the past couple of years involving the company name. If it is a small company, the local town newspaper will be your best source. In addition, look for any advertisements the company has placed, as these can give a good indication of the company’s goals.

Knowledge Check

Performance

From this solid base of preparation, you need to begin to prepare your responses. Would you like some of the test questions before the test? Luckily for you, employment interviews involve a degree of uniformity across their many representations. Here are eleven common questions you are likely to be asked in an employment interview

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Have you ever done this type of work before?
  3. Why should we hire you?
  4. What are your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
  5. Give me an example of a time when you worked under pressure.
  6. Tell me about a time you encountered (X) type of problem at work. How did you solve the problem?
  7. Why did you leave your last job?
  8. How has your education and/or experience prepared you for this job?
  9. Why do you want to work here?
  10. What are your long-range goals? Where do you see yourself three years from now?
  11. Do you have any questions?

(McLean, 2005)

When you are asked a question in the interview, look for its purpose as well as its literal meaning. “Tell me about yourself” may seem like a broad request, but it is not. The employer is looking for someone who can address their needs. Telling the interviewer about yourself is an opportunity for you to discuss how your personal qualities can become assets for the organization. Consider discussing experiences that align well with the job duties and show how you can respond to organizational needs.

In the same way, responses about your strengths are not an opening to brag, and your weaknesses are not an invitation to confess. If your weakness is a tendency towards perfectionism, and the job you are applying for involves a detailed orientation, you can highlight how your weaknesses may serve you well in the position.

Figure 10.4.2 A survey of 2,169 business leaders reveals that using active listening skills and asking relevant questions improves the chances of securing employment. (GlobalNewswire, 2018).

In addition, consider using the “because” response whenever you can. A “because” response involves the restatement of the question followed by a statement of how and where you gained education or experience in that area. For example, if you are asked about handling difficult technical situations, you could answer that you have significant experience in that area because you’ve served as a customer support technician at a help desk with X company for X years. You may be able to articulate how you were able to turn an encounter with a frustrated customer into a long-term relationship that benefited both the customer and the organization. Your specific example, and use of a “because” response, can increase the likelihood that the interviewer or audience will recall the specific information you provide.

You may be invited to participate in a conference call and be told to expect the call will last around 20 minutes. The telephone carries your voice and your words, but doesn’t carry any visual cues. If you remember to speak directly into the telephone, look up and smile, your voice will come through clearly, and you will sound competent and pleasant. Whatever you do, don’t take the call on a cell phone with an unstable connection—your interviewers are guaranteed to be unfavorably impressed if you keep breaking up during the call. Use the phone to your advantage by preparing responses on note cards or on your computer screen before the call. When the interviewers ask you questions, keep track of the time, limiting each response to about a minute. If you know that a twenty-minute call is scheduled for a certain time, you can anticipate that your phone may ring perhaps a few minutes late, as interviews are often scheduled in a series while the committee is all together at one time. Even if you only have one interview, your interviewers will have a schedule, and your sensitivity to it can help improve your performance.

You can also anticipate that the last few minutes will be set aside for you to ask your questions. This is your opportunity to learn more about the problems or challenges that the position will be addressing, allowing you a final opportunity to reinforce a positive message with the audience. Keep your questions simple, your attitude positive, and communicate your interest.

At the same time as you are being interviewed, know that you too are interviewing the prospective employer. If you have done your homework you may already know what the organization is all about, but you may still be unsure whether it is the right fit for you. Listen and learn from what is said as well as what is not said, and you will add to your knowledge base for wise decision-making in the future.

Above all, be honest, positive, and brief. You may have heard that the world is small, and this is true. As you develop professionally, you will come to see how fields, organizations, and companies are interconnected in ways that you cannot anticipate. Your name and reputation are yours to protect and promote.

 

Knowledge Check

Post-performance

You completed your research of the organization, interviewed a couple of employees, learned more about the position, were on time for the interview (virtual or in-person), wore neat and professional clothes, and demonstrated professionalism in your brief, informative responses. Congratulations are in order, but so is more work on your part.

Remember that feedback is part of the communication process: Follow up promptly with a thank-you note or e-mail, expressing your appreciation for the interviewer’s time and interest. You may also indicate that you will call or e-mail next week to see if they have any further questions for you. (Naturally, if you say you will do this, make sure you follow through!) In the event that you have decided the position is not right for you, the employer will appreciate your notifying them without delay. Do this tactfully, keeping in mind that communication occurs between individuals and organizations in ways you cannot predict.

After you have communicated with your interviewer or committee, move on. Candidates sometimes become quite fixated on one position or job and fail to keep their options open. The best person does not always get the job, and the prepared business communicator knows that networking and research is a never-ending, ongoing process. Look over the horizon at the next challenge and begin your research process again. It may be hard work, but getting a job is your job. Budget time and plan on the effort it will take to make the next contact, get the next interview, and continue to explore alternate paths to your goal.

You may receive a letter, note, or voice mail explaining that another candidate’s combination of experience and education better matched the job description. If this happens, it is only natural for you to feel disappointed. It is also only natural to want to know why you were not chosen, but be aware that for legal reasons most rejection notifications do not go into detail about why one candidate was hired and another was not. Contacting the company with a request for an explanation can be counterproductive, as it may be interpreted as a “sore loser” response. If there is any possibility that they will keep your name on file for future opportunities, you want to preserve your positive relationship.

 

Knowledge Check

 

Conclusion

Although you feel disappointed, don’t focus on the loss or all the hard work you’ve produced. Instead, focus your energies on where they will serve you best. Review the process and learn from the experience, knowing that each audience is unique and even the most prepared candidate may not have been the right “fit.” Stay positive and connect with people who support you. Prepare, practice, and perform. Know that you as a person are far more than just a list of job duties. Focus on your skill sets: If they need improvement, consider additional education that will enhance your knowledge and skills. Seek out local resources and keep networking. Have your professional interview attire clean and ready, and focus on what you can control—your preparation and performance.

 

 

EXERCISES 10.4.1

  1. Find a job announcement of a position that might interest you after you graduate or reach your professional goal. Write a brief statement of what experience and education you currently have that applies to the position and note what you currently lack
  2. What are the common tasks and duties of a job you find interesting? Create a survey, identify people who hold a similar position, and interview them (via e-mail or in-person).
  3. What has been your employment interview experience to date? Write a brief statement and provide examples.
References

Anonymous. Communication for business success.  http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/communication-for-business-success/. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Doyle, A. (2020). How to prepare for a job interview. The Balancehttps://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-prepare-for-a-job-interview-2061361

GlobalNewswire. (2018). What’s the key to a successful job interview?  https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/04/11/1468553/0/en/What-s-the-Key-to-a-Successful-Job-Interview.html

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. http://www.cengage.com/cgi-wadsworth/course_products_wp.pl?fid=M20b&product_isbn_issn=9780176531393&template=NELSON

Indeed. (2020). Top interview tips: Common questions, body language & more [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG68Ymazo18

McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

 

 

 

 

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Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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