How to Have a Successful Job Interview

Going for a job interview is much like auditioning for a part in a play. You get one opportunity to present yourself, and the overall impression you make often determines whether or not you get the "part," the job.

Often, small things that occur during an interview can mean the difference between getting an offer and being rejected. Your basic goal is to spark a positive response in the interviewer; to arouse her interest and keep her attention. You can do a great deal to "set the stage" upon which you will be judged. Your "makeup and costuming" (appearance), your entrance, your "script" (resume or employment application), and your "delivery" (verbal skills) can all contribute to the "curtain call," a job offer.

First, dress the part.

Because the first impression you make on the interviewer will be visual, do everything you can to make a good appearance. When you walk through the door, you immediately project what type of worker you will be. Neat, clean clothes and shoes are in; jeans, bare midriffs, and bare feet or sloppy sandals are out. Dress conservatively; wear a suit, dress, or skirt and blouse. Concentrate on good grooming: clean hair and nails, conservative makeup, and a deodorant.

Second, write your script and practice your lines.

When you begin job hunting, prepare a typewritten resume and notes to make filling out an employment application easier and faster. A resume, necessary for all the jobs described here, should include your full name, address, telephone number, and a chronological listing of your education (name and location of schools, years attended, and when and if you graduated). Your work experience, paid as well as volunteer, should include the company or individual for whom you worked, address and phone number, job title, and a brief description of your accomplishments. More detail on how to write a resume is given in a separate article.

In completing an employment application, write legibly and neatly, give dates in chronological order, and answer all questions or write "NA" (not applicable) if they do not apply to you. Never write "see resume"; this can indicate that you lack cooperation skills. Take a pen and notebook to the interview in case you are given information you would like to write down.

Practice your "lines" by preparing answers to some of the following questions and rehearsing your answers with a family friend or someone who works in the field you hope to enter. Your answers, as well as your self-assurance and manner, are used by the interviewer in her evaluation of you. Be prepared to answer the very general question, "Tell me about yourself." This question is your opportunity to summarize briefly who you are and how well you can do the job.

Two basic questions you should be prepared to answer are, "Can you do the job?" and "Will you fit in?" Additionally, you may be asked the following:
What courses did you take? How were your grades?
Which subjects did you like best? Why?
What activities did you participate in at school?
Have you held any offices or participated in extracurricular activities?
How do you spend your free time?
What are your career goals?
Which of your previous jobs did you like best? Why?
If you could design a job for yourself, what would it be like?
What are your strengths? What are you most criticized for?
What have you done that you are most proud of?
Why should I hire you?
Why do you want to work for our company?
To answer the last question, learn as much as you can about the organization to which you are applying. Find out what product it produces or what service it offers and whether the company is successful. You may find some of this information in the public library, from the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau, or from company annual reports to stockholders. Parents, teachers, friends, or guidance counselors may also give you some help.

Now that you are prepared, make your entrance.

You may have already made an appointment, either by contacting the personnel department or by answering a newspaper ad or job posting at school, or you may have been referred by the Employment Security Commission, an employment agency, or a school counselor. Make your entrance "on cue"; that is, do not be late. Give yourself sufficient time to find the company if you have never been there and to locate the interviewer's office.

Once you are in the interviewer's office, try to relax. Make frequent eye contact with her when you talk. Do not look at the floor, the ceiling, or the pictures on the wall. Speak clearly and smile. Be friendly and positive. Even if you have been rejected in past interviews, do not project a negative attitude. Think before answering a question. Listen carefully to the question, and ask for clarification if you do not understand it.

Remember the interviewer's name and use it during the interview. Do not call the interviewer by his or her first name unless you are asked to do so. Wait to sit until you are offered a chair or the interviewer sits. Do not smoke.

Ask questions during the interview, but do not monopolize the conversation. If you just wait for questions to be asked and dutifully answer them, you have done nothing to set yourself apart from the other applicants. Give the interviewer a chance to guide the discussion to cover the points she wants to know. Make your answers complete, but do not ramble. Ask questions about the job duties; the work hours; the pay; the company's promotion policies, if it is a permanent job; and, if relevant, the assistance offered for further training and schooling. Questions about vacation and other time off may be asked, but do not give the impression that all you are interested in is how many days you can take off. You want to sell yourself as a person who is interested in learning how to do a job and in getting it done.

Try to find out exactly what the requirements of the position are, so that you emphasize skills and experience that are relevant. Ask early in the interview what is expected of you in the job. Do not be afraid to sell your good points or to claim responsibility for projects on which you have worked.

While you should try to give clear answers to questions, you should not be asked some questions. Some are prohibited by equal employment opportunity laws; others, while not prohibited, should not be asked unless they are related to the job for which you are being considered. For example, you should not be asked your height and weight unless they are necessary for performing the job. You should not be asked your age (but an employer may ask if you are 18 years of age or older); your race, national origin, or religion; your marital or family status, whether you plan to have children, or whether you have an arrest record. If you are asked any of these questions on an application, answer "NA" (not applicable). If they are asked verbally, you should first politely ask their relevance to the job. If the interviewer admits these questions have no relevance to the job, politely decline to answer them.

At the close of the interview, ask the interviewer if she has any concerns about your ability to do the job. If she says "yes," ask what they are and respond appropriately. If she says "no," say that if any concerns do arise, you would appreciate an opportunity to respond to them. You can then ask how soon you can expect to know whether or not you got the job and if the interviewer would like you to call back to get this information. Thank the interviewer, and make your exit.

After the interview, write down your impressions. You may be interviewed for more than one job, and these notes can help you decide which position to accept. Write down the questions you were asked, your answers, and what the interviewer said. Such information can be valuable in preparing for future interviews. Also, because you may have more than one interview with the same person or with the same company, you can be consistent in what you say.

If you are qualified for the job, have prepared yourself well, and put your best foot forward during the interview, you stand a good chance of succeeding. The most common reason companies give for choosing one applicant over another is personality and overall impression of the candidate. Grades are surprisingly low on the list. Companies say they want top graduates, but they really want amiable, well-rounded workers who are highly motivated, can communicate well, and have the skills that the company needs. Do not be discouraged if you do not get the first job for which you apply. Review each interview and decide what you did to make a good impression and what you might do better. Then try again.

Original article by Barbara Solari, Personnel Manager, Lovelace Inhalation Toxicology Research Institute, Albuquerque, NM

Updated by Joanne M. Wambeke, M.Ed., NCC, Santa Fe Community College, P. O. Box 4187, Santa Fe, NM 87502-4187