Interviewing 101

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This past week and a half has been one that has flown by yet felt long and busy at the same time. You know those kind? Matt and I have felt the Lord really working in both of our hearts and although the outcome is always worth the cost, the process can be very tiring. God has been answering prayers, showing me sin in my life with love and grace, and has been revealing a few more steps along the path He’s leading us on. I honestly cannot ask for more than that. God’s never ending love, forgiveness, and faithfulness continues to meet us where we’re at and provide for our needs right when we need it.

I’m sure there will be more details and specifics that I will be sharing in the near future, but for now I do have one update to blog: I was offered a regular, full-time job with the company I have been temping for! After weeks of waiting and many interviews, I felt confident this was from the Lord when the offer was, ironically, “suddenly” presented at the end of last week. New transitions and changes will be entering my life shortly, and although I am a bit nervous I know the Lord will provide me with the strength, power, and courage that I need. Hooray for another “known” on the 2011 list and the end (at least for a while) to my professional drought.

That being said, I know I will most likely find myself in a place in the future where I am once again searching for a job and competing against many other skilled individuals for one opening. I also know that there are probably many of you out there looking for a job, or hoping to find a new one to rescue you from the one you are in. Times are tough right now, and with the struggling economy we can find our resumes swimming around in pools of resumes representing 20+ years of experience…leaving us thinking, “how will I ever stand a chance?” With a good amount of personal experience and a few specific college classes under my belt, I thought I would share with you a few important interviewing tips that can make the difference between first round cuts and second interview callbacks. With preparation, confidence, and a high level of professionalism, I promise you it IS possible to stand out and be just as desirable of an employee as those with much more experience. Regardless of what type of job you are interviewing for, there are several guidelines and keys to preparation that you want to make sure you do not forget. Take a look at the following:

* When you are scheduled for an interview, make sure you take some time several days beforehand to research the company as much as you can. Go to their website and check out what other websites may say about them. If you know someone who works for this company, interview them to gain understanding from an inside perspective. Try to figure out what their culture is. What are their values? What skills and/or characteristics are important to them? What do they look for in their employees? How do they define successful employees? How do you see yourself fitting into that? Take notes as you research so you can later organize your findings to help prepare.

* Take these notes and the job description you are applying for and highlight key words and phrases that they state are important to them. For example, if they value creativity, flexibility, responsibility, and leadership, highlight these words and think through how you can talk about them in your interview. Think of specific examples of how you have been creative and flexible in past jobs or in school. Always be prepared with a specific example to back up a claim you make about yourself.

* Research common behavioral questions and prepare a few answers using the STAR approach. At least 1 or 2 behavioral questions are almost always asked during an interview. An example of this would be “Tell me about a time you encountered conflict at work or in a group, and tell me how you handled it.” Or, “What would you say is one of your areas in need of improvement?” “Tell me 3 of your strengths.” “How would you handle a situation in which you had 20 things asked of you at once, and not a lot of time to finish them in.” As with most questions asked in an interview, there is a strategy in answering behavioral questions. The STAR approach says in summary, to answer describing the situation or task you were in, the action you took, and the results you received/what you learned from it. Check out this site for more information.

* Prepare a few questions that you want to ask your interviewers. Sometimes when asked on the spot whether or not you have any questions, it can be hard to think of them although you know they’re in the back of your mind. Take some time ahead of time to jot down a few questions about the specific job opening, about the company, about future growth, and about follow-up. This shows that you are taking the interview seriously, that you are looking to see if the company is a good fight for you, and that you care about your own growth and development. Save questions about pay, vacation, and benefits to 2nd or 3rd round interviews.

* Plan your outfit out ahead of time. This goes for men as well. Take into account what type of company you are applying to; are they more professional in appearance, or are they casual? Either way, a suite/jacket/tie is always safe for men, and a suite/blazer for females. Ladies, make sure your shirt is not see-through or low cut. You do not want anything about your appearance to take away from your credibility. Pull your bangs back so that no hair falls in your face. Jewelry should be small and not distracting, nails should be clear of polish, and make-up should be kept to neutral colors. Stay away from perfume and cologne for the day as well; you never know who could be allergic or turned off by your strong scent. Dress shoes should be worn for men, and black closed toe shoes for women. If your shoes have a high heel, make sure you are comfortable walking in them! Again, you do not want anything to take away your perceived credibility. Read more here.

* Be confident! Even if you don’t feel it, act it. Research has shown that the more you carry yourself with confidence, the more confident you will start to feel. And it’s true! Starting with the receptionist, greet them with a big, warm smile and a firm handshake. State your name clearly and ask them how they are doing today, and thank them for their time. Your initial impression is more important than you know, and even the receptionist can have a say in who gets hired – you never know who is watching you!

* Make eye contact while you speak and be mindful of your posture and body language. Eye contact is a powerful tool. Use it. A lack of eye contact communicates a lack of confidence and professionalism. Sit up straight and use your hands appropriately while you speak. Do not touch your hair or face, or fidget in your pockets. Do not sway from side to side in your chair or cross your arms. You want to appear approachable, comfortable, and in charge. Body language says a lot, so use it to your advantage!

* Save the personal details for a lunch date, once you are hired. It’s always best to stay away from personal details of your life. Your interviewer is not legally allowed to ask about your marital status, children, your health, etc, so it is up to you if you decide to bring that up. Always remember that while discrimination is not allowed, your interviewers are human, and it does sometimes happen. Stick to professional examples of conflict, struggles, challenges, goals, and weaknesses.

* At the end of the interview, ask about their timeline with choosing a candidate, and state your intentions to follow-up. Thank them for their time again, using their name, and wish them well in their selection as you go in for a farewell handshake. This is your last chance to impress them and leave them with a good impression.

* Take the time to follow-up after a few days. Send them an email or make a quick call, thanking them again for their time and stating your interest in the job. This is always a good time to ask any questions that may have come up, or clarify anything you may have left out during your interview. This shows initiative and your interest in the job.

Overall, remember that interviews are not as scary as they seem. You are also interviewing them to see if it is the type of place you want to work at. Believe in yourself and your abilities – it’s okay to talk yourself up and share all your accomplishments. And always remember to be (or act) confident; this is your main key to success.

I hope you found some of this helpful and will feel more prepared next time you have an interview. I know I sure did. Regardless of the result of the interview, the experience you gain is so valuable and better prepares you for the future. So don’t be discouraged if the process is long and tiring for you – God always has a plan.