Interview Preparation

The key to a successful interview is practice and preparation. Use this information to prepare for your next interview.

Preparation

Research the Company

In the job search, there are three points at which researching an organization is critical for the employment seeker:

  1. When a position is attractive to the employment seeker and s/he wants to apply
  2. When the employment seeker prepares her/his resume and cover letter for application
  3. When the employment seeker has been granted an interview opportunity for a position

Researching a company in preparation for an interview is a must because it is not unusual for a hiring manager to ask some or all of the following questions in an interview:

"What do you know about our organization?"

"Why are you a good match for our company?"

"What is your opinion about our products, the industry, and our competitors?"

Unfortunately, interviewing candidates prepare very little or not at all for this line of questioning. Lack of knowledge about the interviewing organization is a primary reason candidates are rejected.

Reviewing an organization's website for general information (mission, number of employees, locations, etc.) is a good research start. For information such as the organization's culture, growth, outlook and possibly interview feedback from prior interviewing candidates, utilize websites such as:

Don't forget to ask your network whether anyone has insight to the company or has interviewed there before.

Make a Plan

Have a plan for your interview day to ease your nervousness and put your best foot forward. Some things to do ahead of time:

  • Proofread and print copies of your resume and references. Be prepared with several copies of both.
  • Bring the information necessary to fill out an application, if you already haven't done so.
  • Get a good night's sleep the night before.
  • Get directions to the interview location and map your route. You may want to make a dry run to make sure you arrive in plenty of time.
  • Bring a small portfolio or briefcase with a notepad and pen to jot down important information before or after the interview.
  • Lay out your outfit and make sure any accessories are appropriate.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early!

Practice, Practice, Practice

  • Over prepare answers to common interview questions. Know your strengths, weaknesses, why you want to work for the company, but don't sound rehearsed.
  • Videotape or practice with a friend to get comfortable with your responses and to assess non-verbal communication cues. Practice your handshake and appropriate eye contact.
  • Practice difficult questions and behavioral interview questions and prepare answers ahead of time.
  • Use "The Virtual Job Interview" software in the career center.

 

Resumes and Cover Letters

How to Format Your Resume as Plain Text

Prepare a resume that looks impressive on a computer screen when e-mailed. The e-resume, short for electronic resume, is a vital tool for today's job seeker.

More than 80 percent of employers are now placing resumes directly into searchable databases and an equal percentage of employers prefer to receive resumes by e-mail. Format a copy of your resume for e-mailing and online job posting.

A plain text resume will be stripped of formatting enhancements such as bold and underline, so it won't be as attractive as your word-processed resume. However, it will be universally compatible, allowing you to control its appearance.

View an example of an e-resume PDF

How to Create a Plain Text Resume

  1. Open your formatted resume and change the right margin to 2 inches. This will reduce the number of characters that appear on each line so that your resume looks good when it's pasted into an e-mail.
  2. Select all the text and change the font to Courier 12 point, a fixed width font.
  3. Click on the File menu and choose Save As.
  4. Rename your document so you don't lose your original formatting.
  5. For MS Word users, go to the "Save as type" drop down menu. If you are e-mailing your resume, select "Text Only with Line Breaks" from the options. If you are pasting your resume into an online form on a web site, select "Text Only".
  6. Select "Yes" at the prompt that warns about features being compatible.
  7. Close the document and reopen it in a text editor, such as Notepad to check that all of the characters have been converted correctly.
  8. Review and clean up your document. Change bullets to asterisks, plus, or minus signs; ensure that your contact information is in a logical sequence; add horizontal lines using a series of dashes or asterisks (up to 65 characters) to separate sections; capitalize titles for various sections, and remove symbols (such as accent marks) that didn't convert properly.
  9. Save your work.
  10. To help control the look of your e-mail, regardless of the recipient's settings, set your e-mail application to format for the lowest common denominator before you paste in your text resume. Specific instructions vary, but these options usually can be found under the Tools – Options, or Special Settings menus in your e-mail program. Click on Mail Sending Format or Composing Mail. Choose the default "plain text setting" instead of HTML. If you're using Eudora, un-check the word wrap option. In MS Outlook Express, change the Automatically Wrap Text option to 65 characters.

How to Format Your Resume for a Scanner

You have spent hours and hours writing and formatting the perfect resume. You have created an e-mail-ready, plain text version as well. Now you need to create a version of your resume that is ready for a scanner. Why?

Because many larger companies and a growing number of small ones, use computers to sort the hundreds of resumes they receive. These companies scan paper resumes into a computer database.

The scanner software looks for specific words in your resume, when it finds them it's called a "hit." If your resume is not formatted for the scanner, the computer can't read it and doesn't record any hits. Your resume is then discarded. You don't get considered for the job.

How to Maximize the Scannability of Your Resume

Content

Focus on keywords. You may need to rearrange the format of your resume to include keywords near the top of the document. While writing your scannable resume, use nouns to describe your qualifications, not verbs.

When hiring managers search through the database of resumes, they can only search by keywords. These keywords tend to be nouns. If you have a job description from the company or classified ads that match the position, try to include keywords from these on your resume. For example, use "Nurse," instead of "Nursing."

Make sure your resume is well stocked with specific, concrete nouns that describe your experience and expertise. List industry specific software, jargon, and acronyms (but spell them out!).

Formatting

  1. Use non-textured, white 8.5 X 11 paper, black ink, printed on one side only.
  2. Provide a laser printed original. Not a copy!
  3. Do not fold, staple, or paper clip.
  4. Choose a standard font where the characters do not touch, such as Helvetica, Arial, or Courier. Use the same font throughout.
  5. Choose a font size between 12 to 14 points.
  6. Do not underline or italicize text.
  7. If you use bullets, include a space after the bullet.
  8. Bold may be okay for most newer systems, but you may want to remove it just to be safe.
  9. Use all capitals to distinguish headings.
  10. Remove boxes, graphics, columns, horizontal, and vertical lines.
  11. If more than one page, place your name at the top of each page.
  12. Place your phone numbers on their own lines.
  13. Rename and save your scannable resume under a new name.

Sample Cover Letters

  • Writing Cover Letters PDF
  • E-mail Cover Letters PDF
  • References PDF

Sample Resumes

Get started with this Resume Outline PDF

  • Resume with little experience
  • Chronological
  • Functional resume emphasizing skills
  • Combination
  • Career changer with tech emphasis
  • Functional for a career changer
  • Tech/Computer Science
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Business
  • Paralegal
  • General Office
  • Hospitality
  • Dietetic Technician
  • Cardiac Technology Career Changer
  • Radiologic Technology
  • Entry Level Nursing
  • Certified Nursing Assistant
  • Human Services
  • Health Information Technology

Resume Overview: Right Your Resume


Dressing for Interview Success

Even if the department is casual, you should dress in professional business attire for an interview. Dressing professionally will always make a good first impression, anything else is a risk. Be sure to choose clothes and shoes that are both comfortable and make you feel good. Uncomfortable clothing may be distracting and affect your interview performance.

Men

  • A traditional, conservative suit; navy, gray, or black.
  • A white or blue long sleeved shirt with a conservative tie.
  • Professional and clean dress shoes with black socks.
  • Neat and professional hairstyle, clean-shaven (or trimmed) facial hair
  • A watch and one ring. Leave the earring at home.
  • No cologne or after-shave.
  • Trimmed and clean nails.

Women

  • A well-coordinated suit; navy, gray, black or any other non-loud color
  • A long sleeved blouse in a complimentary color
  • Neutral or skin-tone hosiery
  • Moderate matching shoes with a medium heel
  • Subdued, natural make-up and no perfume
  • Neat and professional hairstyle
  • Sparse jewelry
  • Manicured nails with light or clear nail polish

 

Interview Questions

"Tell me about yourself."

The interviewer is trying to get to know you with this question. You should provide a brief background (education, work experience, etc.), who you are (skills you possess and what you like to do), career goals, and the nature of the work that you want to do. Remember to focus on professional rather than personal information.

"What are your strengths?"

This is your opportunity to summarize your specific skills and personality characteristics as they relate to the job.

"What are your weaknesses?"

We all have weaknesses, so be prepared witha weakness that you are working to strengthen.

"Why did you choose this career?"

Prepare a thoughtful answer that shows your dedication and thoughtful consideration of your work and its importance in your life.

"What are your career goals?"

The employer is looking for your ability to plan and to what extent your goals match what you can do for the company.

"What are your short-term goals?"

The employer is looking at your ambitions and ways you may get established in the organization as well as your flexibility.

"Are you a team player?"

Give an example of how you have worked on teams in the past and demonstrated the interpersonal and communication skills required to be a member of the team.

"Why should I hire you?"

This questions probes your understanding of the needs or requirements of the position and how they relate to the priorities of the organization. You must have done your homework to be prepared for this question. Sell you skills as they relate to the position.

"What motivates you?"

Avoid saying that you want the company to give you (money, benefits, etc.). You should say what you want in terms of what you can give to your employer.

"How do you handle pressure?"

Have a realistic answer, since all jobs have some level of stress. Give an example of how you have handled pressure in the past and ways to avert future situations.

"What are you looking for in a job?"

The question challenges your rational thought process by presenting an open-ended inquiry to your priorities. Demonstrate an understanding of what a good job might be and tie those elements to your strengths.

"What do you know about our company?"

Do your research; use the internet, newspaper, company reports, etc. to find out details about the company.

"Why are you interested in our company?"

Do your homework before the interview. Be prepared with two or three reasons why you want to work for the company and reasons you would fit in.

"What kind of salary are you looking for?"

 

Behavioral Interviewing

Behavioral interviewing encourages candidates to provide detailed accounts of how they have handled past situations. The questions often begin with the words "Tell me about a time when..."

To Be Prepared for a Behavioral Based Interview:

  • Identify your chief skills and strengths and examples of when you have used them. Recall dates, quantities, or other success measurements to convey the situation.
  • Understand the requirements of the job for which you are interviewing and the skills and experiences the interviewer may ask you to describe.
  • Remember to be specific. Providing examples of small but convincing actions and behaviors is more important than unsubstantiated claims of job success.

Some Popular Example Questions Are:

  • Describe a major problem you faced and how you dealt with it.
  • Tell me about a time when you were on a team and a member wasn't pulling his or her weight.
  • Give me an example of a time when you worked under heavy stress and the sacrifices you made to achieve an important work or school goal.
  • Tell me abut when you had to deal with someone who disagreed with you.
  • What kind of people (or situations) upset you?
  • Describe some situations where you would not have been successful had you not been persistent.
  • Tell me about a situation where you gave your all and you were not successful. Why not? What happened?
  • Tell me about a long-term goal and how you achieved it.
  • When did you last lose your temper? Describe the reasons. What was the outcome?
  • How do you relax or get away from it all after a hard day?
  • What are some of your biggest disappointments? How did you cope?
  • Describe any personality types with whom you find it hard to communicate.
  • Tell me about a setback in your business or career.
  • What assignments, projects, or accomplishments have given you the greatest sense of achievement or amount of satisfaction? Why?
  • What type of self-development activities have you undertaken to prepare yourself or to obtain the necessary qualifications for this position?

Thank You Letters

Be sure to send a thank you note to the interviewer within 48 hours of your interview. This added touch will demonstrate to the employer that you are interested in the position that sets you apart from the other candidates.

You should send a formal letter via mail or through e-mail if that is how you have corresponded with the organization. The letter should include your desire for the position and mention something from the interview that impressed you about the company or the job.

Thank You Letter Sample

123 Main Street
Elgin, IL 60120
December 22, 2011

Ms. Jane Smith
Human Resources Director
XZY Company
456 State Street
Chicago, IL 60123

Dear Ms. Smith:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to interview for the call center representative position yesterday. The interview was informative and confirmed my desire to work within your excellent organization.

As we discussed, you are looking for someone that can come in and "hit the ground running." With my three years experience in customer service in a high-volume call center setting, I believe that I am that person. During my employment at ABC Company I was called on to handle difficult customers and had a proven record of retaining customers. This experience combined with my strong service orientation and belief that "the customer is always right" has well prepared be for a career in this industry.

I am very interested in this position and I am available for a follow-up interview at your convenience. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any further assistance. I can be reached at any time at 847-555-1234.

Thank you again for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Fred Jobseeker

Sample Applicant Questions

Remember, you'll also have the opportunity to ask questions during the job interview-- and the interviewer will very like gauge your interest in the position based on the questions you ask.

DO NOT ask about salary, benefits, vacations, or any other job perks. This kind of information is usually discussed in the second interview or later.

Reasonable questions to ask include:

  • What is a typical day like?
  • What kind of person are you looking for?
  • What are the opportunities for advancement?
  • How are evaluations conducted?
  • Is this a new position or a position that is being filled by someone who previously left?
  • What type of training is required and how long is it?
  • What will the first 30 days in this position be like?
  • What projects or issues do you foresee facing this department or company in the near future?

Job Search Tips

Employers recruit on campus throughout the semester. Check back in January for a list of recruiters

7 Job Search Tips

  1. What's your timeline? Figure out how long you can afford to look
  2. Do you know what you really want to do? List three skills you enjoy using, three tasks that you like performing, and three companies you are interested in.
  3. Do you have a 30-second pitch? You should be ready with a sound byte describing what you're looking for and what you can offer an employer. Watch CareerSpots Video "The Elevator Pitch."
  4. Do you have supporting materials? You'll need to create your own business card with contact information, a businesslike cell phone message and social media presence, a resume, and a cover letter tailored to each job.
  5. Do you LOOK ready to look? You may need to get a haircut or buy new interview clothes
  6. Do you have a job-hunting space? It can be a library or a Starbucks- but you need a place where you can focus. You'll also need a quiet spot from which to make calls.
  7. Who's in your network? List all the communities you belong to: volunteer, sports, neighborhood, virtual, religious, high school, college, etc. Identify friends and current/former colleagues with whom to set up exploratory interviews.


Informational Interviews

Informational interviewing is a technique used to acquire information about a company or career. It is a managed approach to explore career possibilities, locate the hidden job market and develop a network.

Why Do It?

It will help you:

  • Clarify goals
  • Explore in-depth the characteristics of a job/career
  • Determine the job possibilities in this career area
  • Learn about the industry, business sector, or department
  • Locate the hidden job market
  • Develop a network
  • Develop listening skills

Finding a Contact

Ask a friend, supervisor, coworker, teacher, acquaintance, or someone in human resources to help you find your initial contact.

The Process

  • Call for an appointment asking for 15-20 minutes of their time.
  • In person (preferably)
  • Telephone interview
  • Customize questions to meet your needs
  • The Informational Interview
  • If possible, try to meet in a neutral environment, but a place that is convenient for the contact. Meeting at the contact's office may make it appear that you are going to ask for a job.
  • Bring your resume and leave them a copy.
  • Always ask for additional names of people to contact--building your network.
  • Ask for the person's business card to get his/her address and contact information.
  • DO NOT ask for a job. This is not the purpose of the informational interview.

What You Will Learn

  • If the job/careers fit you.
  • What skills, education, and experience you may have or may need.
  • Employment outlook
  • Earning power.
  • Work environment.
  • Culture

Follow Up

Send a thank you note to everyone who helps you or talks with you--do this the same or the next day.