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An interview is a conversation between you and a potential employer. Ideally, it will be a mutually informative dialogue within which you both benefits from learning one another. The candidate uses the interview as an opportunity to share information about her/his background and qualifications, to express interest in the hiring organization and to pose questions to the interviewer. Likewise, the interviewer uses the conversation to promote the hiring organization and to determine if a good match exists between the candidate and the position.
While this exchange of information is an integral aspect of the conversation, the “fit” between you and the interviewer(s) – how natural the conversation is, how much you enjoy one another’s company, how confident and positive you seem and how interested they are in being stranded at an airport with you for 5 hours – can be just as important.
The following guide to interviewing will assist you in preparing for both aspects of an interview by addressing (1) information you should know and be able to discuss, and (2) techniques of social interaction useful for communicating poise, maturity, reliability, and enthusiasm.
This advice applies generally to positions in the U.S. with U.S. employers. For interviews with foreign firms/organizations in U.S. offices, for jobs abroad and for U.S. jobs where staff members may use culturally-specific social customs, research the cultures and traditions of that country or group.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING INTERVIEWS
An interview offers you and an employer the opportunity to learn whether or not there is a "fit" between you and the interviewer's organization. The ideal interview is a two-way street, allowing the employer to sell the job to you and permitting you to elaborate on the information contained in your resume.
The invitation to interview means that, in general, you are qualified for the job; however, the employer wants to determine if you are the best qualified candidate to serve the firm's interests. This determination is made strongly on the basis of your enthusiasm and honesty. The more interest, enthusiasm and motivation you display in an interview, the better your chances are for moving forward in the process. Regardless of industry, most employers are interested in the following:
- Communication (written and verbal) Skills
- Interpersonal and Teamwork Skills
- Leadership Qualities/Potential
- Knowledge of the industry
- Organizational Skills
- Analytical and Problem-Solving Ability
Depending upon the nature of the job and the organization, other competencies may be evaluated more rigorously. You may be asked for a writing sample for public relations or advertising jobs. Technical questions will be asked in engineering interviews. Expect quantitative and analytical questions in finance and consulting interviews. Be prepared to discuss case situations with consulting firms. Sales jobs will place even stronger emphasis on verbal communication skills, enthusiasm, and personality. Pay attention to the qualifications described in the job description, as these are attributes that are likely to be evaluated during the interview process.
How you present yourself is just as important as what you say. Nonverbal communication can give as much information, if not more, than words. Be conscious of slouching back in a chair (boredom?), twiddling your thumbs (nervousness?), and crossing your arms (hostility?). If you are asked a particularly tough question, maintain your composure and take extra time to think before replying. Be sure to maintain good eye contact, which conveys confidence and honesty.
During the interview, be sure to listen carefully to the interviewer and answer the question that is asked. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation if you don't understand the question. It is fine to take a few moments to think before answering difficult questions, so don't rush into your answer until you are ready (silence during an interview is perfectly acceptable, even if it is slightly uncomfortable).
Also, physical appearance plays a role in the outcome of the interview. A simple rule is to dress the same way you would expect to dress at work if you were offered the job. Men and women should wear a suit. Be sure to minimize jewelry and cologne/perfume. If you have long hair (men or women) that gets in your face, consider wearing it "up" or in a ponytail.
Very rarely does an interviewer make an offer during the first interview. It is likely that he/she will get back to you within a few weeks with an offer, a rejection, or an invitation to visit his/her organization to talk to other people. The second interview is usually an entire day in length. Probably you will interview with several different people in the department, all of whom participate in the hiring decision.
It is a good idea to keep a log of your interviews. You may need the name, title and address of your contact at a later date. If you are being interviewed in the On-Campus Recruiting suite, each schedule has the necessary information on it (be sure to jot this down before you leave the recruiting facility). You should write follow-up letters to the organizations in which you are particularly interested. Such letters involve thanking the employer for the interview and reconfirming your interest in the position offered.
HOW TO PREPARE
Preparation is vital. While you cannot anticipate every question, you can prepare yourself to make the most of whatever you are asked.
First, it is important to know yourself and your career objectives. Employers are not interested in students with undefined career goals; they aim to fill jobs with qualified candidates who have some sense of direction and know how their skills support their job objectives. Even if you don't know exactly what you want to do, you have to be able to confidently tell an employer why you are interested in this particular job at this time. Think about your own abilities and experience in relation to an employer's needs. Be able to discuss why you want to work in this type of industry, division, and/or company. Identify your strengths in relation to each job for which you interview. Review your resume for experiences - whether they are related to education, work, or activities - that you can use as examples to support your skills. Anything on the resume is fair game, so also be prepared to describe or explain any item on it.
Know the Organization and the Industry
Second, know the organization, the industry and the position. Spend time reviewing organization websites, familiarizing yourself with the organization’s divisions, mission statements, and the like. Learn about the industry, what are the most important trends in this field and how is the economy affecting the industry . Know who the key players are and be able to speak the “language of the industry”. Read literature available at the Career Services Library. Talk to alumni currently working at the organization to get more detailed information about what it takes to be successful there. You are not expected to be an expert in the particular field, but you should have enough knowledge to formulate meaningful questions to present to the interviewer. You can usually get an overview of the organization, its products and/or services, its philosophy and new developments, from its website or annual report. Also, the Lippincott and Van Pelt reference collections house a variety of trade journals and online resources which discuss current issues in the field.
Know What to Ask
Third, be certain to prepare questions to ask the interviewer. You want to evaluate the organization and the opportunities provided by this position in order to determine whether or not you are even interested. In addition, the questions you ask convey interest and enthusiasm; if you fail to ask anything of the interviewer, s/he might assume you aren't particularly interested in the job or the organization.
Finally, interviewing is a skill that improves with practice. Counselors are available in Career Services by appointment for mock interviews. These practice sessions usually last 30-60 minutes and can be videotaped to provide maximum feedback. Be sure to practice answering interview questions aloud, rather than just thinking about what you will say. Get together with friends and take turns asking each other questions, then providing feedback on strategies for improving your answers (as well as your delivery).
TYPES OF INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
There are a number of different types of interview questions. Many are personality based: "What are your strongest skills? What do you do in your spare time? Why are you interested in market research?" A great many questions can come directly from the resume: "In which of these classes did you learn the most about public policy? Tell me about your last internship. Give me an example of a time you had to deal with conflict in one of your student groups."
More and more interviewers are asking behavioral questions, in which the employer asks you to recount a specific example of a past experience which s/he can use as a predictor for your future behavior. "Tell me about a time you demonstrated initiative. Give me an example of your leadership ability. Describe your most recent group effort and how you contributed to the team." In answering these questions, be certain to describe a SPECIFIC example (don't describe your leadership style in general, but rather recount a specific time you were in a leadership role). After setting the context, describe your role, contribution to, or influence on that situation. Finally, always provide a statement describing the outcome of your efforts (e.g., the grade you received, the percentage increase in sales volume due to your efforts, etc.) so they can evaluate your effectiveness.
A common way to approach answering behavioral questions is to use the STAR method:
- S = Situation: Describe what you were facing
- T = Target: Describe what you wanted to achieve
- A = Action: Describe what you did
- R = Results: Describe what happened, how things turned out, what you learned, and perhaps what you'd do differently if presented the same circumstances
Brainteasers and Guesstimates
Some interviewers are famous for brain-teasers and analytical "guesstimates." These questions are fairly common in financial and consulting interviews. For example, "How do you know the light is out in the refrigerator when you close the door?” or “You have eight balls. 1 weighs more than the other 7. Using a balance scale, how can you find the ball that is heavier using the scale only 2 times?” or “How many blue suits are sold in the US?” You need to demonstrate sound logic and exceptional reasoning skills. Think aloud. For the guesstimates, explain how you would arrive at an estimate, then perform the basic math necessary and give a numerical answer.
Finally, case questions focus on business issues and problems. Most commonly used in consulting interviews, they test your analytical skills and business acumen. A case can be very broad (e.g., "What makes ABC Company so successful?) or extremely specific (e.g., a discussion of detailed financial statements) in nature. There are several extremely useful guides to interviews available in the Career Services library. You can also access Career Services' online Vault and WetFeet career guides from the Career Services library webpage. (Click on the online subscriptions link.)
FREQUENTLY ASKED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
- Tell me about yourself.
- When did you know you wanted to be an xyz?
- Describe yourself in 3 adjectives.
- How would your friends describe you?
- What makes you tick or what motivates you?
- Why should I hire you?
- Why did you decide to go to Penn?
- Why did you choose your major?
- How did you learn about our organization?
- What do you know about our organization?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What was the worst thing that happened to you on a summer job?
- What contributions could you make to our organization?
- What do you expect from a job with us?
- What is your greatest asset?
- If you were an interviewer, what do you think the three most important criteria would be for hiring someone for this position?
- On what grounds would you dismiss someone?
- Do you like working with people? Is this an important factor?
- How would you handle an irate client if the complaint were against the organization's policy?
- Describe a situation when you had to learn a large amount of material quickly. How did you do it?
- Why are you interested in this field of work?
- Do you have any questions?
- What was your best subject in school?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- Why did you take a leave of absence?
- Would you consider relocating?
- Could you travel three days a week?
- How do you relieve stress?
- Do you plan to go to graduate school?
- If we hired you, what is the top position you see yourself holding?
- Is there anything which could potentially interfere with your performance?
- Tell me about your experience on a part-time job.
- Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
- What was the best part of your college experience?
- What do you think is the most important/difficult ethical dilemma facing our industry today?
- How do you get people to do things they don't like to do?
- Are you more interested in program development or implementation?
- If you could be one person in the world, who would it be?
- What do you like to do for fun?
DIFFICULT INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
- I see you received a very low grade in XXXX. Why?
- What was your worst subject in school?
- Let's pretend that the first 25 minutes of the interview have passed. What were you planning to tell me in the last 5 minutes?
- Why do you, an xyz major, want to go into business?
- With your educational background in xyz, why didn’t you apply for law school?
- You don't seem to have done as well academically in college as you did in high school. Why?
- How do you feel about working with numbers? What is 12% of 69? How did you figure that out?
- Where do you think employment with this company will take you five years from now?
- You strike me as graduate school material. Why are you applying for jobs?
- What do you think of our organizational structure?
- How do you feel you work without direct supervision? Are you prepared right now to work without supervision?
- Would you prefer to work independently or as part of a team? Why?
- How much traveling would be ideal in a job?
- What is your greatest liability?
- What is one of your weaknesses? Now, I know you had one prepared, so give me another one?
- What major problem have you encountered and how did you deal with it?
- What have you learned from your mistakes?
- Of what activity are you least proud?
- What was the worst part of your college experience?
- Why should we hire you rather than one of the 200 other applicants?
- How much do you expect to earn?
- What question do you wish we had asked?
- Highlight the one thing on your resume that separates you from everyone else on Penn's campus.
- What don't you do well?
- Tell me about a time when you failed at something.
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and what you learned from it.
- Describe a group work situation where you and your partner were having trouble getting along with each other. How did you resolve the problem?
- Describe a situation when you were faced with a deadline that you couldn't meet. How did you handle it?
- You are very qualified. Why would you want to work at a small company like ours, when you could work at a larger company?
- How would someone who dislikes you describe you?
- Tell me everything you know about___xyz____in three minutes (or tell me everything you know about our organization in three minutes?)
- Why didn’t you get a permanent offer from your last summer employer?
- Who else are you interviewing with? What do you think of those organizations?
- What characteristics/traits do you most dislike in a person?
- If you could be a fruit, what type of fruit would you be?
- You work in a library, and a book has been misshelved. How do you find it?
- What is the one question you don’t want us to ask you?
- What is the biggest risk you ever took?
- If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
- Give me an example of how you are a risk taker.
- What is your grade point average?
- Why are tennis balls fuzzy?
- What is the lowest salary you would consider?
- Tell me something that is not on your resume.
- How much do you think you will be earning in ten years?
- Give me an example of a time your ethics were tested and how you responded and reacted.
- Could you make a commitment now?
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS BY INDUSTRY
- Reverse a linked list.
- Swap two numbers without using temporary space.
- Write STPCPY(), function, optimize.
- Design a checkbook program:
a) Open a new account
b) New entry
c) Delete an entry
d) Compute balance
- How would you test this program? Design an interface.
- What is a DLL?
- Describe a time when you used data to prove a point.
- Explain to your grandparent how photos are sent over phones.
- Describe what a telnet session entails.
- Given a binary tree, we need to keep track of all the parents of a given node. What's an efficient way of doing this?
- Tell me all about Sparc RISC architecture.
- Look at the picture below. Will the water depth, d, rise or lower after rock, R, is thrown into the lake? (Do not write out equations. Argue by waving your hands)
- Explain relational databases as if I were not computer literate.
- What temperature (ÁC) is 212ÁF?
- What does NEMA stand for?
- After being shown 6 plastic and metallic objects, describe what material was used and how each was made.
- Describe telecommunications protocols.
- You mess up a depreciation/amortization number in your model, i.e. too low / too high. Walk through your income statement, balance sheet, CF and describe the net effect of your mistake.
- What are the major challenges in computer security?
Case Questions - These questions are designed to give you the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to handle ambiguous data. The process that you follow to answer the question is much more important than arriving at the "right answer". Your quantitative ability will be judged. Consequently, it is important to have the figures that you develop in your answer be correct.
- If you wanted to buy a ski resort, what would you consider? Draw a graph of cost and revenue per skier. Questions regarding graphs - how they would move/change with certain contingencies?
- Estimate the total value of all the personal items on a commuter flight that arrived at La Guardia airport at 8:30 am this morning from Boston given that the plane was approximately 2/3 full. (Tip:` Don't forget to include checked luggage.)
- You are a manufacturer of toys and you have a product that cost US $1,000. Estimate how many of those you can sell in Hong Kong.
- You're taking a trip to Indonesia tomorrow to work with a company for a period of time. You don't know anything about this firm but you are provided with the financial statement of this firm from last year. How do you get the general idea about the firm's "health" condition, given that you only have one hour to report your opinion to your boss?
- How would you go about advising a bank if it should implement an ATM system?
- You are the consultant for a bank. Give some quantitative measures that can indicate the productivity of the operations department.
- How many skis will be sold in the U.S. next year?
- What is the market size for wall paper?
- Estimate the number of airplane flights in a year.
- Estimate the size of the paper clip industry.
- A company dealing with a commodity product is thinking about expanding internationally. If its labor costs are competitive with industry standards, what issues might influence its decision?
- What is the population of dogs in the United States?
- Where would you put a gas station if there were none in New Jersey?
- How many drug stores are there in Manhattan?
- How would you estimate demand for forks in one year?
- Estimate the number of printers in Hong Kong.
- The sales of a travellers cheque company are falling. How would you go about deciding what should be done about it?
- Estimate the demand of airplanes for a select category 10 years into the future. There are three producers and 10 airlines.
- How much does a 747 weigh?
- How would you respond if a client asked for someone in a more senior position to be doing his/her company's work instead of you?
- Tell me about the CAPM (Capital Asset Pricing Model).
- What are some flaws in the DCF analysis and how can they be corrected?
- Describe what you believe to be the future of the derivatives market?
- What is .125 squared?
- How would you trade a butterfly with the following option prices?
- How would you go about selling the idea of a derivatives hedge to a prospective client?
- What is 5 2/7 - 3 7/8?
- Two retail banks have different return rates on their loan portfolios, although default rates are similar. What might explain the difference?
- Why would the cap rate on a Holiday Inn be the same as the Plaza Hotel?
- How can you convince your client that the "higher yield" bond does not really give a higher yield?
- How would you go about valuing a firm? How would you value a hotel in Minnesota if you only had one day to look around?
- Give some suggestions to improve the credit card business of your bank?
- What is the relationship between the forward and spot interest rate?
- What is the difference between enterprise value multiples and P/E multiples. Why would you use Enterprise Value to EBITDA, and Price to Earnings?
- How does depreciation affect the 3 financial statements?
- About what price was the Dow Jones today?
- Would you rather have a dollar today or two dollars tomorrow?
- How would you value a hotel in Minnesota if you only had one day to look around?
- Use 12 equal sided sticks to construct 6 equal size squares?
- Discuss your analytical and organizational skills.
- You don’t have any experience in law, so why are you interested in working at a law firm?
- Are your plans to go to law school? If so, when?
- Interviewer picked up a paperweight and said "sell me this."
- If you were to introduce a new product into a foreign market, what are some of the factors you would first study in that country?
- You need more shelf space in a store, how do you convince the store manager to give it to you?
- Put 4 things in order of importance. I believe they were money, happiness, security(like not losing your job), etc.
- Pick one from each of the following that best describes you… team or individual, at a desk or out on the streets, leader or follower, etc. Another one they asked was to tell them something that wasn't on my resume-essentially what I liked to do for fun.
- What experience have you had with sales and cold calls?
- Discuss your experience with public speaking.
- How would you bring in new clients to our business?
- Let’s do a mock phone call where you are speaking to a prospective client about our business.
Nursing / Health Care
- Why did you chose to specialize in ___________________?
- How would a preceptor or colleague describe you?
- Tell me about the most difficult clinical experience you've faced and how you handled it.
- What do you consider the most important qualities a nurse needs to do this job successfully?
- What did you like best/least in your clinical experiences?
- How did you motivate a resistant patient to comply with your instructions?
- What do you think is the most significant problem in health care today?
- What would you do if.......... (cites clinical situation; here the interviewer is looking for your judgement and maturity in handling complex situations)
QUESTIONS TO ASK INTERVIEWERS
- What areas need the immediate attention of the person you hire?
- What are the major responsibilities of this position?
- How long have you been with the company?
- What attracted you to this company?
- What qualities and skills are most valued at this firm?
- What characteristics must one have to thrive at this organization?
- What are the company's growth projections?
- Whom do you identify as your major competitors?
- What are your plans for new products or services?
- How would you describe a typical patient/client/customer in this organization/facility?
- How would you define your management philosophy?
- What are you looking for in the person who will fill this job?
- Describe a typical day.
- Describe the ideal candidate for this position.
- What kind of training would I receive?
- What activities could I engage in now that might help me on the job if I'm hired?
- How centralized is the organizational structure?
- What do you like most about your job and the company?
- Whom could I speak with who has the position now or who has been promoted from the position recently?
- What are the avenues for advancement?
- What is the turnover rate?
- Who would be my supervisor and what is that person's supervisory style?
- What do you see as the key issues/challenges facing the person in this job?
- How has this organization/facility been affected by all the changes in the xxxx industry?
- What is the time line for filling this position? (Will there be additional interviews? When can I expect to hear back?)
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE AT A LOSS FOR WORDS
- What if an interviewer poses a question that catches you so completely off guard that you cannot come up with an answer at all? Ideally, you can use some of the following suggestions to buy time and come up with a response:
- Stall for time – ask to have the question repeated, repeat it yourself
Ask for a few moments to think over the question
Ask for clarification
Try to redirect your thought process and find an answer
- … and if all else fails …
In a gracious and polite way, say something like “May we return to this question later on? I seem to be at a loss at the moment.” (Then think of something to say as the interview proceeds!)
… and if they interviewer returns to the question and you still don’t have an answer …
- “This is a question that has really stumped me for some reason. May I have your card so that I can follow up later on today with an email?” (This is a last resort, of course, but if you go this route – make sure you follow up as promised!)
What you wear to an interview depends a great deal on the industry and organization. While in most situations a suit would be most appropriate, there are instances where something less formal would be better. In fact, in some instances, what you wear is actually an indication of how well you understand the industry or how well you would fit there. For example, your sense of personal style if interviewing for a major retailer or your understanding of the work culture if interviewing at some place like Microsoft. Ultimately, however, you want to be remembered for your great smile and the intelligent things you said, not necessarily for what you are wearing. Whatever you choose should distract from you.
Here are tips for appropriate interview attire from David Ong's (Maximus Recruiter in Residence) campus interviewing presentation from fall 2011, which is a good place to start. When in doubt, always err on the more conservative recommendations of this table:
- Two piece suit (ideal is solid navy or grey)
- Solid/pinstripe/glen plaid suit in black/navy/gray (skirtsuit or pantsuit)
- Separate blazer/pants/skirt combo (might be more appropriate for creative field)
Shirt or Blouse
- Solid White or Blue Shirt (starched)
- Plain or Spread Collar
- Pinpoint or Broadcloth material
- White or pastel blouse (in less conservative fields brighter colors are fine)
- Silk or Cotton material
- Shoes – Dark leather pumps are ideal; Open toed shoes/Sandals are not appropriate!
- Jewelry – Should be subtle and minimal
- Bag – Briefcase or a tote…not a bookbag
- Hair – Invest in a good haircut (shorter is better)
¡Nails – Clean
- Cologne - minimal
Be positive and confident throughout the interview. Don’t be defensive or apologetic about anything. Frame any negatives, weaknesses, or gaps positively and leave it at that. Now Prepare, Relax, Be Yourself, and Smile!
- Maintain eye contact as you speak, have good posture, and avoid “um,” “like,” and “uhh”, etc.
- Silence is OK – taking a moment to consider your answer is certainly appropriate. It can be a sign of thoughtfulness and intelligence, in addition to giving you time to collect your thoughts.
- Never lie in an interview. Don’t give excuses. Don’t be negative and don’t say an uncomplimentary or judgmental thing about anyone.
- At the first interview, do not ask about salary or benefits. Wait until you have an offer to negotiate. There are many places to research salary trends in the meantime (www.bls.gov, Career Services surveys, etc.).
- Convey professionalism, maturity, and poise in all interactions with the organization. In a sense, the interview process extends well beyond your actual interview to include all interactions with the organization, employer presentations, night-before events, and correspondence.
- Provide a great first and last impression – firm handshake, good posture, smile.
The End of the Interview
- The interviewer will give you a clue that it’s time to wrap things up by:
Taking off her/his watch and setting it down
Putting your resume away or moving it somewhere else on the table
Changing posture or position to indicate s/he’s soon to stand up
Asking “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”
- Be sure to "close the deal" at the end of your interview - in your parting comments, mention your appreciation of the interviewer's time and reiterate your interest in the role and your potential for success with the organization, especially given what you have learned in the interview. Also be certain to determine what the timeline will be moving forward, by asking questions such as, "When may you be making a hiring decision regarding this position (or for second-round invitations)," to determine when you may expect to hear from the organization's representative.
- Send a thank you letter within 48 hours! In this note, state specific things you discussed during the interview, and if you are interested in the position, use this opportunity to convey your excitement to the interviewer. Email notes are acceptable as well, and are frequently preferred by recruiters who are on the road and not receiving their mail until the 1st and 2nd rounds are well over.
EMPLOYERS ON WHY INTERVIEWS DON’T GO WELL
Employers tell us that when interviews go wrong, they go wrong (typically) for these reasons:
- The student didn’t really know why s/he applied for the position and how it fits into her/his career path. Think through this beforehand and be able to articulate it.
- The student is confused about what the organization does. Be sure to take the time to learn what they do and be able to discuss it.
- The student is not enthusiastic. It’s OK to smile and be excited! You set the tone for the interview, so demonstrate your enthusiasm!
MOCK INTERVIEWS, WORKSHOPS, AND INTERVIEWSTREAM
A number of workshops will be offered throughout the academic year to provide an overview of the interviewing process, including: what to expect during interviews, how to prepare, and a discussion of additional resources to assist in your job search preparation. Dates and times of interview techniques workshops can be found on the Career Services website.
Mock interviews are available to discuss and practice the interview process. Students will gain an understanding of what is expected of them as well as the kinds of questions that they should expect from an interviewer. Mock interviews are available with and without videotaping, although videotaping is recommended. To make an appointment for a practice interview, please call (215) 898-7529 for College of Arts & Sciences; (215) 898-7533 for Engineering & Wharton; (215) 898-4381 for Nursing.
InterviewStream (practice interviewing via webcam)
Need to brush up on your interviewing skills for an upcoming interview? InterviewStream is the leading practice interview system that allows job seekers the opportunity to see and hear themselves online. Using a webcam, individuals can simulate job interviews by responding to pre-recorded interview questions and practice both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. InterviewStream allows you to customize your own interview by choosing from thousands of questions in a wide variety of industries and job functions. Afterwards, all interviews are immediately accessible online for self-review, or can be sent to career counselors, mentors, or others from whom you would like feedback. Current students and Penn alums can access InterviewStream through PennLink, our job and internship board. Simply click on the InterviewStream icon on the main PennLink homepage.
Follow-up interviews allow for more in-depth assessment on the part of both employer and student. The employer looks beyond basic qualifications to issues of "fit" and application of skills. As a candidate, you should also take the opportunity to observe as much about the company and its culture as possible. Remember that you are "interviewing" those at the firm as much as they are interviewing you.
Since an on-site interview often involves at least some degree of travel, logistical preparation is required. Identify your primary contact(s) for travel arrangements (if necessary) and for the interview day itself. Request an itinerary for travel and clarify reimbursement arrangements. Some organizations routinely pay for travel expenses. Others, such as government agencies or smaller firms, may be less likely to do so. If in doubt, simply ask what the organization's policy is on travel reimbursement. Make sure that you have accurate directions to the organization and allow sufficient time to arrive in a timely fashion. It is also helpful to request an itinerary for the interview day that outlines the names and titles of those you will meet.
Invest in a briefcase that will allow you to carry numerous critical items (e.g. portfolio, newspaper, cell phone, etc...) Review your notes from previous preparation and prepare additional questions that are applicable to different levels of company representatives from top management to recent hires. For instance, questions for top and middle managers might address strategy and the "big picture" or their career paths. Questions for recent hires may address more day-to-day issues of work and lifestyle. Make sure to read the newspaper (preferably national and local) to ensure that you are up to date on current events.
An on-site interview is at least half-day and most are full days, so get sufficient rest the night before. If you are traveling directly to the interview, make sure that you wear a suit that does not wrinkle easily and avoid messy foods. Use your travel time to relax and gather your thoughts. Allow extra time for getting lost and plan to arrive at the company 15-20 minutes early to get settled. If you will be spending the night before the interview, you may be invited to a night-before reception and dinner. If so, be personable and professional because such events are still "part of the interview." When you settle in at the hotel, continue to convey your professionalism by not charging items to the room.
Maintain a good level of energy and be prepared to answer the same questions repeatedly since you will be interviewed by a number of employees and managers. Make sure you request business cards from all who interviewed you and note any interesting aspects of your conversation on the cards for later reference. If you are in a "group interview" along with other candidates, be confident and gracious. You are being assessed on your ability to contribute to a team effort. For all day interviews, designated employees often take candidates to lunch. Use the lunch as a time to build rapport and regroup for the remainder of the interview. Remember that the "interview" continues even if you have lunch with peers or recent hires, so avoid alcohol, smoking, messy food and presumptuous comments. The employer will typically pick up the tab for lunch. Try to order a mid-priced meal and avoid the most expensive items, unless specifically recommended by your host.
The purpose of follow-up correspondence is to thank the interviewer(s), to briefly recall any highlights of the interview conversation, and to reiterate interest in the position. Write the primary thank you letter to the person who organized the interview, perhaps with references to others who interviewed you. You may also write brief thank you notes or e-mails to the others who interviewed you. It is always helpful to personalize the letter by mentioning something specific you spoke about during the interview. Ideally, these letters should go out within 24 hours of the interview.
PHONE & VIDEO CONFERENCE INTERVIEWS
Phone and video interviews are sometimes used by recruiters as an initial screening interview, especially for long-distance recruiting. Be sure to verify whether the employer is to call you or vice versa. Be clear on the interview time, especially in cases where there are different time zones involved. For example, is the interview 1:00pm Eastern Standard Time or Pacific Standard Time?
One advantage of a phone interview is that you have an opportunity to establish rapport without the initial pressure of a face-to-face encounter and you can refer to notes as needed.
However, it is critical to understand that since the interviewer can not see you, you do not have the advantage of using visual non-verbal cues to reinforce your answers and convey enthusiasm about the position. Therefore, you must make sure that your tone of voice is as energetic as possible. Making sure that you are well-prepared and well-rested before the interview will be helpful in this regard. It is often said that smiling while you speak enables you to maintain a natural and upbeat tone without becoming monotone in your pitch. While notes may be helpful, do not become so relaxed as to read them verbatim. This can make you sound stilted and less engaging to the employer. If an employer calls unexpectedly and you are not prepared or in a good location to interview, always feel free to suggest setting up an appointment to have the discussion at a later time.
Video conferencing is a great option for employers who are on travel restriction, or otherwise cannot travel to campus to interview students. For video conference interviews, make sure that the space that you are in is not cluttered and does not distract from the conversation. You should be dressed professionally since the interviewer will see you. InterviewStream (described above) would be a great way to test your webcam to see how you look and present on video. If you plan to use Skype, try to do a practice run with a friend to make sure you work out any potential technical glitches before the interview. Penn Career Services now offers video conferencing (ISDN, IP, and Skype options) to allow employers to interview students remotely. Students interested in reserving the equipment should contact the Career Services receptionist Joan Corbett, firstname.lastname@example.org to check on availability.
Whether the interview is over the phone or by video conference, make sure that you reserve a quiet space for your interview. If you must interview in your dorm room, make arrangements with roommates as necessary. It may be useful to have a calendar available in case the employer wants to schedule a follow-up on-site interview.
Career Fairs are not formal interviews, but rather shorter interactions designed to "capture" an employer's interest in talking with you further. Typically, each employer will be assigned to a table for you to approach to discuss their employment opportunities. Make sure you look at the web site for the career fair to find out who is coming, what they are looking for, etc. Then, do your homework. Explore the web sites of the firms that interest you so that you are familiar with the firms and can ask good questions. Your research should help you to connect what is important to the firm to your background. Based on this, prepare and practice a brief statement introducing yourself and think of a few thoughtful questions to ask employers about their organization or position.
Check on what the proper attire for the career fair is. If you are not sure, it is best to err on the conservative side, as it is easier to “dress down” as necessary upon arrival by removing a jacket or tie. Bring plenty of resumes and place them in a portfolio or professional looking bag. Make sure you carry your belongings in such a way that you are free to shake hands and interact without appearing awkward. Some organizations will bring promotional gift items. Don't plan to take more than you can carry inconspicuously.
Arrive as early as possible, knowing which firms are a priority for you to visit first. It's up to you to approach the recruiters and initiate conversation. Introduce yourself and thank the employer for attending. Shake hands, make eye contact and offer your resume as requested. Your statements and questions should be specific and targeted, demonstrating that you have researched the organization. As a result, you are more likely to make a good impression in a very limited amount of time.
Be professional when talking to, or about, employers. Some of your friends who have recently graduated may be at the fair helping with recruiting. Remember that they represent the employer now, and are looking at you as a potential employee. Be aware of others waiting. If you are very interested in a given employer and would like to talk further, say something like, "I'd like to speak with you further, but I see that you have others waiting. May I come back later to see if you have more time?” or “ May I take your business card to contact you if I have any more questions?"
Ask employers for their business cards and write follow-up/thank you letters if you are interested in the position(s). Try to trigger the recruiters' memory of you by stating something that you had discussed with them. If you want to pursue a job with a recruiter, make sure you know what to do next (i.e. fill out an application form, send a letter of recommendation, etc…). After the event, jot down some information about each representative that you spoke to. This will help you in the future when contacting this person or others in the organization.