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Table of Contents

Six Steps to Job Search Success, v. 1.0

by Caroline Ceniza-Levine and Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio

8.1 What to Do Before, During, and After an Interview

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn success strategies to employ before, during, and after an interview.
  2. Understand that creating routines can improve your chances of success.
  3. Learn effective follow-up skills that are critical to the interview process.

An interview is framed by what happens before, during and after.

Before

What happens before an interview will help you succeed. This includes taking the following steps:

  • AssessTo estimate the value of something. your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and your goals
  • Prepare and practice: know where you are going and get your interview suit ready in advance
  • Have a routine that you will follow the day of the interview

Assess

Before you even walk into the interview room, you need to assess a few things:

  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Your likes and dislikes
  • Your goals

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

It’s vital that you know your strengths and weaknesses because you should compare them to the job description. Is there a match between what they are looking for and your skills and abilities? If some of a job’s most important skills and abilities appear in your weakness column, there is no match. If your top three or four strengths appear in the job description, there is an obvious match.

Know Your Likes and Dislikes

A huge difference exists between spending your entire workday interacting with people versus sitting in front of a computer screen analyzing data all day. Creating a spreadsheet (or a dashboardA concise, one-page document that includes several points of interest.) that highlights sales figures and presenting that to your boss weekly is vastly different from standing in front of a group of twenty to thirty peers and managers and presenting that data.

You must know your likes and dislikes because a workday can be long, and you should at least like most of what you will be doing. Some people are motivated by the amount of money they will make in a job, however, and if that works for them, it’s sufficient. It’s also important, however, to like the type of work you will be doing. It makes for a miserable day, week, month, and year if you do not.

College internships are key because they expose you to work you might like, as well as work you definitely would not like. Having as many internships as possible is a goal every college student should have. It may be helpful to know that the vast majority of companies hire mostly juniors because they will graduate in one year and some companies would like to extend full-time offers to their summer class. But don’t let that dissuade you from seeking an internship if you are a freshman or sophomore. It may be more difficult to obtain an internship, but it’s definitely worth the effort if it gets you closer to what you do or do not want to do on a full-time basis.

Know Your Goals

While in college, it’s beneficial if your internships help you understand exactly what you want to do, and exactly what you need to do to get there. For example, if you are interested in marketing, you might have a sophomore internship at an advertising firm. You might end up doing mostly administrative work, but you get some exposure to the creative team. One of the team members allows you into a couple of meetings (with your manager’s permission), and you experience what their job is like. This is it for you! This is what you want to do.

Your next logical step is to discuss with your manager if the next summer is a possibility, especially if you could work with the creative team. You hope your manager is so impressed with your work, your attention to detail, and your passion that you receive the open slot next summer in the creative department. If you aren’t guaranteed a job the following summer, make it your goal to target more advertising agencies and garner a job in a creative group. The more directed you are, the more likely it is you will get the job you want.

Prepare

Preparation is key to succeeding in the interview process. The following steps will help you get a second round of interviews:

  • Research the industry, the company, the competitors, and the interviewer (if possible).
  • Practice answering interview questions.
  • Have a full dress rehearsal three days before the interview.
  • Know where you are going in advance, and get there thirty to forty-five minutes early.
  • Have a routine the day of the interview.

Know the Industry, the Company, the Competitors, and the Interviewer

Completing the research step ensures that you have fully researched the company, the industry, and the competition. Knowing how to interview well within the industry and company will help you get a second interview. You also might be able to research the interviewer using Google or http://www.linkedin.com. Having relevant background information might give you helpful hints on how to position yourself.

Practice Answering Interview Questions

The section of this chapter titled “Different Types of Questions” has a detailed list of the top questions asked during an interview and strategies to succeed with each question. Pay close attention to that section to help you prepare for an actual interview. For now, before you practice actual questions, you can do four things:

  1. Check with your career services department. Do they have an interview guide? Do they hold interview workshops? Will they conduct a mock interview with you? If so, take advantage of what is offered.
  2. Google additional interview questions and look in the mirror as you practice answering these questions. Get an interview buddy to ask you these questions, as well as probing questions, to dig deeper into your answers.
  3. Be confident when answering (even if you don’t feel confident), be positive, and don’t undersell yourself.
  4. Focus on the results of each of your projects, tasks, and courses. A results-oriented candidate has a better chance getting the second interview and potentially the offer.

Have a Full Dress Rehearsal Three Days before the Interview

Being prepared reduces stress and improves performance. Here is a checklist of things to do and consider before your interview day.

  • Make sure your interview suit is clean and fits perfectly. You should feel very comfortable in the clothes you wear for an interview. This helps build your confidence.
  • Pay attention to colors and style. If you are interviewing at a company where the dress is casual, it is still best to dress in a professional, conservative manner. Men and women should consider conservative suit colors such as navy, beige, and black. White or beige shirts give a very professional appearance. If you are not sure, it might help to shop at a professional clothing store.
  • Shine your shoes and be certain they are in excellent shape. Women should wear closed-toe shoes with moderate-height heels.
  • Take care in all aspects of your appearance, including your hair and nails.
  • Bring extra copies of your résumé.
  • Write down well-researched questions before the day of the interview.
  • Carry a professional-looking briefcase that has an inside portfolio containing paper and a pen.
  • Keep a small bottle of water in your briefcase in case your mouth gets dry.
  • Carry a cloth handkerchief in case your face perspires (for any reason). Some people sweat more than others and using a handkerchief is more professional (and sanitary) than using your hand. Avoid tissues because they can leave a residue that doesn’t make a very good impression. On a somewhat related note, if you happen to sneeze during an interview, sneeze into your sleeve versus into your hands. The interviewer will not want to shake your hand otherwise!

Know Where You Are Going

Getting lost on the way to an interview will only increase your stress, so know exactly where you are going, even if you must make a trial trip. Few things are worse than being late or arriving looking like you just did the one hundred-meter dash.

Routine

Establish a Routine to Follow the Day of the Interview

The most successful interviewees have a routine that includes the following:

  1. Set two alarm clocks to make sure you wake up early enough to have plenty of time to get ready for the day.
  2. Have your interview suit ready to go, your shoes polished, a portfolio with two to three copies of your résumé and a working pen, and five to seven questions already written down.
  3. Arrive at least thirty minutes in advance to avoid the slightest possibility of being late. You may wait in your car or a coffee shop until fifteen minutes before the interview. You don’t want to let the interviewer know you are there thirty to forty-five minutes early.
  4. Read or listen to something inspirational before your interview.
  5. Carry a small bottle of water in your briefcase in case your mouth gets dry.

During

The moment you have been waiting for has arrived—the actual interview. Keep six things in mind:

  1. Body language
  2. Networking updates
  3. Focus
  4. AuthenticityBeing real and genuine, not fake.
  5. Questions to ask toward the end of the interview
  6. Questions about the next step

Body Language

It is important to be aware of nonverbal impressions such as your handshake, eye contact and eye movement, posture, and facial and hand expressions. A sizeable percentage of what we communicate comes via body languageNonverbal impressions such as handshake, eye contact and eye movement, posture, and facial and hand expressions. It is generally accepted that a sizeable percentage of what we communicate comes via body language.:

  • Eye contact
  • Smile
  • Handshake
  • Posture

Eye Contact

Maintain good eye contact throughout the interview. It’s OK to look away occasionally, but, for the most part, eye contact should be steady. It shows confidence and inspires trust in all that you say.

Smile

When you are feeling stressed, a smile usually relaxes your face, which usually helps you to relax overall. An introductory or occasional smile shows that you are enjoying the conversation, and it adds to your confidence factor.

Handshake

Practice your handshake. The Goldilocks approach is best: Don’t crush the interviewer’s hand, but don’t give a soft, floppy handshake, either. Your handshake should be firm and businesslike. If you get nervous to the point of having a sweaty palm, wipe it against your pants leg or skirt just before you shake your interviewer’s hand.

Posture

Sit up straight with your shoulders back and your feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s fine to cross your legs if you feel more comfortable doing so, but avoid looking too relaxed. You should be poised and fully focused on the interviewer, ensuring that you answer all questions to the best of your ability.

Networking

If you’ve met others in the company, mention that up front. It’s a great way to open an interview because you establish that you’ve already met others at the company, and the interviewer also can contact them for feedback.

Focus

The more focused you are during an interview, the more successful you will be. Focus on the question asked and answer it directly. If you think you’ve gone off course for any reason, it’s OK to ask the interviewer if you are on the right track. Your answer should have a beginning, a middle, and an end that includes a real, tangibleSomething real and measurable., and preferably positive result. Here is an example of a question asked and an effective answer:

Question: Jenna, what was your biggest contribution to the company you interned with last summer?

Answer: Throughout the summer, we had approximately five to six team meetings where the entire staff of ten engineers and their direct reports were present to discuss the major goal of the summer: the construction of a new courthouse.

I was tasked with drafting the agenda of these meetings and the agenda notes, which verified all that was discussed and agreed upon. The agendas directed complex meetings, and the agenda notes served as key documents that verified and clarified what was discussed and agreed upon during the meetings.

My first draft of the first agenda was much too broad, but with feedback from my manager, I ensured it included all the details necessary to hold a productive and effective meeting and created the structure for the agenda notes document. The agenda notes were typically three to five pages long, and by the second meeting, I was drafting the agenda and publishing the notes without any revisions from my manager.

I received exceptional feedback from several department heads because, in many instances, the notes saved countless hours of work. For example, during the third meeting, we reversed course on a previously agreed-upon strategy for the front columns of the courthouse. One of the key assistant engineers was not at the meeting, and when her peer brought her up to speed, he forgot to mention that the columns were changed from the Roman style columns to the Grecian columns, which needed a more intricate support system from the roof to the courthouse steps. Luckily, she read my agenda notes, which highlighted any course changes in red, and saved about two weeks’ worth of work, which was easily several thousand dollars. It also kept everyone on track regarding the completion date, which is June 2014.

To improve this process overall, I loaded the agenda and the notes into the department’s central files so instead of relying upon hard copies or e-mailed copies, everyone had one place to go for this important document that kept everyone on track. They are still using the improvements I implemented, so I’m very proud of that.

The answer’s beginning set the stage:

  • Throughout the summer, we had approximately five to six team meetings, where the entire staff of ten engineers and their direct reports were present to discuss the major goal of the summer: the construction of a new courthouse.
  • I was tasked with drafting the agenda of these meetings and the agenda notes, which verified all that was discussed and agreed upon.

Notice it had a middle that allowed you to understand how things were working:

  • My first draft of the first agenda was much too broad, but with feedback from my manager, I edited it to include all the details necessary to hold a productive and effective meeting and create the structure for the agenda notes document.
  • By the second meeting, I was drafting the agenda and publishing the notes without any revisions from my manager.

Positive momentum was built throughout the answer, and Jenna shared the positive results of her work:

  • I received exceptional feedback from several department heads because in many instances, the notes saved countless hours of work.
  • To improve this process overall, I loaded the agenda and the notes into the department’s central files, so instead of relying upon hard copies or e-mailed copies, everyone had one place to go for this important document that kept everyone on track.
  • They are still using the improvements I implemented, so I’m very proud of that.

Authenticity and Honesty

Never misrepresent anything about yourself during the interview:

  • Don’t indicate you are fluent in a language if you aren’t.
  • Don’t mention you know a computer program that you clearly don’t know.
  • Don’t mention you’ve been to a certain city if you haven’t been there.

Interviewers have a way of discovering any misrepresentations, so save yourself misery and humiliation by being authentic and honest.

Questions to Ask toward the End of the Interview

This important step in the interview process is relatively easy and can be done in advance of the actual interview. Use the research you’ve already conducted to formulate five to seven questions you’d like to ask at the end of the interview. Table 8.1 "Topics and Potential Questions" includes some topics and potential questions.

Table 8.1 Topics and Potential Questions

Topic Question
Goals of the company, division, department I understand that your main goal is to complete X.
Are you pleased with your progress so far?
Goals for the position I understand that should everything work out and I receive the offer, I would be responsible for Y.
Would you expect that I will be able to do that in one month, three months, or six months?
Training program Is there any training I would receive prior to my first day?
Would I receive ongoing training, or is it basically on-the-job training?
Critical skills needed What two or three skills do you think are absolutely necessary to succeed in this role?
Culture of the company I’ve researched your website and learned that the culture is x, y, and z.
Would you agree? Can you add anything to this?
Questions about the interviewer How did you get your start in this business?
What are you most proud of in your time at this company?
What is the one thing about this company that you are most focused on improving?
To what do you attribute your success at this company?
Additional questions I read the speech the chairman gave at the X conference last month. In that speech, she mentioned the importance of leadership and that this company is building a strong bench strength of leaders. How is that being done?
I recently read a few articles about this company in The Wall Street Journal and on BusinessWeek’s website. The articles seemed to say X. Do you agree?
I see that the stock has held steady lately. Can you tell me what you think caused this increase (or decrease)?

Remember to do two things when preparing your questions for the interview:

  1. Match the proper questions to the proper interviewer:

    • If you are interviewing with a managing director, ask about the goals of the company, the division, or the department. Ask about the stock of the company and ask what keeps them up at night.
    • If you are interviewing with someone in human resources, ask about what is covered during the training program. You can also ask what skills are necessary for success, about past alums from your school, and so forth.
  2. Research everything you can before the interview:

    • Research the company’s, the division’s, and the department’s goals. Study the website, speak to alumni (if possible), and attend marketing events prior to the interview.
    • Research your interviewer using Google and LinkedIn.
    • Gather information from your network. Are your interviewers alumni from your school? If you knew someone else at the company, before the interview takes place, it’s fine to mention who you know and where you met.

Question Your Next Steps

Your final interview question should pertain to the next steps you should take so you will know how to follow up. Be certain your last question accomplishes the following:

  • It demonstrates that you are forward thinking and that you tie up loose ends.
  • It clarifies the follow-up process.

After

You can take definite steps after an interview to improve your chances of being called back for a second round or getting an offer for the position. Four steps increase your odds:

  1. Send a thank-you note.
  2. Update all parties relevant to your search.
  3. Create your follow-up strategy.
  4. Set up additional targets.

E-mail a Thank-You Note before the Day Ends

E-mail, versus a handwritten note, is preferred for many reasons:

  • Your note will be immediately received by the interviewer. It’s common courtesy to thank people for their time right away, and manners count quite a bit during the job search.
  • Your ability to write a concise business note is demonstrated.
  • Your quick communication keeps you at the top of the interviewer’s mind.
  • Your e-mailed thank-you note can be shared easily and often by everyone who interviewed you. This positive momentum keeps you in a positive light with all parties.
  • Your e-mail is an opportunity to quickly confirm that you have the critical skills necessary to do a fantastic job. In the e-mail, you can reiterate the skills you have or mention something specific that was discussed in the interview, thus making an even stronger case for why you’d be a great hire.
  • Your e-mail can include an attached article about the company or about an interest you share with the interviewer.
  • Your e-mailed thank-you note is more likely to receive a response from the interviewer.

Some individuals believe a handwritten note distinguishes you from others; while that may be true, you never know if it arrived. You could send an e-mail and a handwritten note to cover all the bases, but don’t use the exact wording for both notes. Using a high-quality, professional notepaper or stationery is recommended.

Figure 8.2 "Sample Thank-You Note 1" is a sample thank-you note an employer received after a first-round interview.

Figure 8.2 Sample Thank-You Note 1

Figure 8.3 "Sample Thank-You Note 2" and Figure 8.4 "Sample Thank-You Note 3" are additional examples of a thank-you note.

Figure 8.3 Sample Thank-You Note 2

Figure 8.4 Sample Thank-You Note 3

Update All Parties Relevant to Your Search

If you’ve met other people during your job search and they’ve been helpful in any way, send them an e-mail update as to how you’ve progressed. It will mostly likely be shared with others, so take great care when writing any note to a company representative.

Map Your Follow-Up Strategy

Once you’ve interviewed for a position, note your expected follow-up on your calendar. If the company representative said you will be contacted in a week, mark that on your calendar. If you aren’t contacted, add another three or four days onto your calendar and then follow up with the company. After that, maintain consistent communication to help produce positive results.

Different ways to keep in touch include the following:

  • Thank the company’s representative for either the interview or the update.
  • Give a results update.
  • Send holiday greetings (throughout the year).
  • Share an article about the company or about a common interest.
  • Express congratulations on positive news about the representative’s career or the company.
  • Make a referral.

Set Up Additional Targets

You should be working on no fewer than ten targets to ensure you have activity because some targets will get cold, while others get hot. The recruiting process is, to a large extent, a numbers game. Having more companies in play increases your chances of success.

When Things Go Wrong

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare, something still goes wrong. The following strategies will help you manage when things go amiss:

  • If you forget to turn your cell phone off and it rings, apologize and quickly turn off the phone. Don’t look at the number of the person calling you.
  • If you are late, call in advance to notify the interviewer and ask if the interview can proceed. Apologize when the interview takes place.
  • If you have a wardrobe malfunction—a popped button, a run in your stockings, or you spilled coffee on your clothing—a little humor might help.
  • If you went on a tangent and did not answer the question directly, check to make sure you are on track or ask that the question be repeated.

Key Takeaways

  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and your goals before you begin the interview process.
  • Knowing what to do before, during, and after an interview is critical to your overall success.
  • Having a routine that you follow during the days before and the day of the interview will lower stress and increase your chances to succeed.
  • The more prepared you are for an interview, the more likely you are to succeed. Control what you can through preparation and practice and when the unexpected happens, you will be in a better position to manage it.
  • If things go wrong during an interview, you can take specific steps to regain your composure.
  • Sending a thank-you note is a perfect way to thank the interviewer for their time and keep the lines of communication open. Identify something in the interview that you want to highlight in your note, yet keep it short and concise.

Exercises

  1. Compare your list of strengths and weaknesses with those of a friend or fellow student. Seek reinforcement that your strengths are indeed your strengths and vice versa.
  2. Select your interview outfit, including your suit, shoes, and briefcase or portfolio. When selecting something to wear, make sure your suit is professional and fits well. Preferred colors are navy, beige, and black. In the spring or summer, beige is an acceptable color for women. If you are not sure, ask a salesperson at a professional clothing store.
  3. Draft a list of everything that you must do one, two, or three days before an interview and leave nothing to chance.
  4. Practice answering a few interview questions, emphasizing the results you have achieved in various situations. Act confident even though you may not feel confident.
  5. Draft a thank-you note and ask a friend or someone from career services to review it. Ensure it is grammatically correct in every way: spelling, tenses, and so forth.