Student Involvement & Career Center

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Interview Preparation


Guide to Interview Preparation

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Four Steps to Interviewing

Know Yourself

The first step to any career development is knowing yourself—your skills, interests, and values. This information not only helps you develop a career objective, but also guides you in answering interview questions. When preparing for an interview, remember to consider questions such as:

  • In what kind of environment do I work best?
  • What kind of daily schedule would I like to have?
  • What are my career goals in five years? Ten years?
  • How could this job help me work towards those goals?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Know The Employer And The Position

"What can you do for my organization?" is the question on the mind of each employer. Study the mission statement, goals, finances, and growth projections to get an idea of the company's direction. Think honestly about why you would like to be part of this organization so you can share it with the employer.

Define The Interview

Think of an interview as a conversation. A conversation implies that you share information about yourself with a person who has similar interests. The interview gives you a time and a context to talk about all of your previous hard work, your career goals, and your aspirations to someone who is eager to listen. Instead of seeing the interview as something to dread, consider it a chance to share your enthusiasm about the potential job.

Dealing With Stage Fright

The fact that evaluation is an inherent part of interviewing causes anxiety for many people. Often, when people are nervous, they are responding to an internal voice that warns them not to make a mistake or risk looking dumb. Interviews rely on your positive energy, so it is very important to counteract this negative internal voice by strengthening positive self-messages. Think about the following phrases below. Consider how they can help you to identify negative self-messages and convert them into positive ones.

  • What do I fear most about the interview situation?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • If I were giving advice to someone else in this situation, what would I tell him/her?

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Optimal Interview

Optimal Interview is an online interviewing tutorial that is accessible via GatorJOBS. Practice your interviewing skills online any time of the day or night! Once you have logged onto GatorJOBS, Click on the Optimal Interview link, then click on the Create a New Account button to get started. If you have any questions about the program you can meet with a Career Counselor during Drop-In Hours, listed at right, or email your questions to alegator@sfsu.edu.

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Questions and Answers In Depth

Take a look at the interview questions below. After you read the proposed question take a moment to think about how you would answer before reading on. Remember, to develop good interviewing skills, practice, practice, practice! You are strongly encouraged to meet with a Career Counselor to practice mock interview questions in person.

Question: "Can you tell me about a time you worked hard to accomplish something?"

Your approach: Quickly organize your thoughts before you speak. Approach the question as if you were writing a paper. First, introduce your answer by reiterating the question, such as:

  • "There have been several times I have worked hard to make accomplishments."

Next, make your point(s) and give examples:

  • "One example is my current internship. I had to work extremely hard in the beginning to establish myself as a competent professional who could take on advanced responsibilities. At first, my employer viewed me as a student worker who just made copies, until I took it upon myself to create an updated database of key clients. This project was a huge undertaking, but I executed it well and as a result, was offered higher-profile tasks."

Finally, summarize your point(s) and restate the question:

  • "The experience in my internship was definitely a situation in which I had to work hard for something. I learned the value of taking initiative and the importance of creating my own opportunities."

Question: "How well do you handle pressure?"

Your approach: People remember ideas through stories, not lists. Don't just say, "I perform well under pressure." Instead, tell the employer how you organized and executed something successfully within time constraints. The more vivid specifics you include, without getting overly detailed, the more memorable you will be to the employer.

Question: "What are your weaknesses?"

Your approach: When people get nervous, they sometimes feel the need to confess all their faults. An employer does not want to know every weakness that you possess; they actually want you to give a realistic picture of your abilities in a persuasive manner. A proper-phrased answer to this question proves that you have a good attitude and can find the silver lining in any situation.

Be positive when discussing weaknesses, and remember that they can always be viewed as potential assets. Explain how you have either overcome a weakness, or used it as a strength. Take a look at the two examples below:

  • "When I first started in my advertising internship, my desire to avoid conflict was a real problem. I sought out a mentor to coach me on ways to deal with conflict situations and I've now become much more effective in this area."
  • "I know that I tend to get bored by working on one project for too long and lose my intensity. So, now I concentrate on one main project until I feel restless and take a break by working on a secondary project for a short while. I find that by doing so, I get new ideas on the main project and my work overall is actually much better."

Question: "Tell me about yourself."

Your approach: The interviewer will often begin by asking this or a similar open-ended question, such as, "Why are you interested in the position?" This is a perfect opportunity for you to make the point most important to yourself and the job position. Regardless of the specific question, you can make a confident first impression and help establish a direction for the rest of the interview. For example:

  • "I was destined to work in corporate communication because, even as a kid, I was comfortable speaking in front of groups, and I liked to put on skits and shows in school. When I started high school, I began working part-time in my mother's office and realized how much I would like to put my communication skills to work in a corporate atmosphere."

Or, you might include a statement that ties your academic background to a particular field:

  • "I decided to major in Finance because it offered a wide range of courses related to analysis and quantification of results. In my current internship, I have been able to put these skills to use in various projects dealing with vendors and purchasing contracts."

Question: "How does your background fit the position I am hiring for?"

Your approach: Your entire goal in the interview is to help the employer see the fit between you and the vacant position. As you explain your skills and background, continually emphasize your connection to the job. It is not pushy to state that you want the position. For instance:

  • "Through my job in retail, I became very detail-oriented as I organized merchandise and weekly scheduling. I know your position requires lots of attention to detail, and my past experiences and organizational skills make me well qualified. I am very interested in putting my skills to use in this position."

In Summary

Bottom line: When answering an interview question, tell your story. Look again at the sample interview questions that were posed earlier. As you try formulating your personal answers to those questions, try using this formula: be a
"STAR." (Situation, Task, Action, Result)

  1. Describe the situation in detail by giving the overall context.
  2. Describe the task that you were responsible for—what was your role?
  3. What action did you take to resolve the situation?
  4. What was the end result of the action that you took?

By subscribing to the STAR formula, your answers should present themselves clearly, succinctly, linearly, powerfully and positively.

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Questions Most Asked by Employers

Frequently Asked Interview Questions

  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • Tell me about yourself...
  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in three to five years?
  • What are your goals?
  • What is your GPA? Does it reflect your abilities?
  • What characteristics do you think this job requires?
  • If hired, what abilities would you bring to this position?

Knowledge of Job & Company

  • What is your knowledge of the position you are applying for?
  • What attracts you to our company?
  • What do you think are the most important skills needed to do this job?
  • What would you change about our company if hired?
  • What kind of salary are you looking for?

Organizing, Planning & Leadership

  • How do you schedule your work day?
  • When you are given a major project, how do you go about getting it done?
  • If you were in charge of a team project, how would you organize and delegate responsibilities?
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • What applied theories and concepts would you use in this position?

Problem Solving & Decision Making

  • Are you more intuitive or logical in solving problems?
  • Give an example of your problem solving style.
  • Have you ever received differing instructions from two different people? What did you do?

Knowledge & Technical Skills

  • What kind of equipment can you operate?
  • What computer skills/knowledge can you bring to this position?
  • What computer languages do you have experience with? Can you provide working examples?
  • Describe a major class and/or internship project.

Maturity, Judgment & Poise

  • Describe a difficult situation you faced at work. How did you handle the situation?
  • What would you do differently in the same situation?
  • How do you work under pressure?
  • Describe your most recent supervisor. What did you like or dislike about him/her?
  • How has college contributed to your personal and professional development?

Other Important Questions

  • Why did you choose your major?
  • What courses did you enjoy most?
  • What are your long-term and short-term goals?
  • What extra curricular activities have you been involved in?
  • How would a friend or professor describe you?
  • What were your responsibilities in your last job? What did you learn in that job?

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Questions To Ask Employers

Here is a list of questions to ask employers during your interview.

Questions Especially for New Hires

  • What kind of career opportunities are currently available for my degree and skills?
  • What are the expectations for a new hire?
  • What is the overall structure of the department where the position is located?
  • Describe the work environment.
  • Why do you enjoy working for the firm?

Success and Advancement

  • What qualities are you looking for in your new hires?
  • What characteristics does a successful person have at your company?
  • What are the opportunities for professional growth?
  • Identify typical career paths based on past records.
  • What is the time frame for advancement?
  • How is an employer evaluated and promoted?
  • What is the retention rate of people in the position for which I am interviewing?
  • Describe the typical first year assignments.
  • Tell me about your initial and future training programs. What are the challenging facets of the job?

Company Stability and Growth

  • What are the company’s plan for future growth?
  • Is the company stable and financially sound?
  • What is the company’s record of employment stability?
  • What industrial trends will occur in this company?
  • How has the company fared during the recent recession?
  • What makes your firm different from its competitors?
  • What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses?

Management

  • How would you describe your company’s personality and management styles?
  • Is it company policy to promote from within?
  • Tell me about the work history of your top management.

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After the Interview

Be sure to obtain a business card with the name, title and address of the recruiter. This card will be useful when you write your thank you note or want to contact the interviewer in the future. Provide any applications, references, or transcripts requested by the prospective employer as soon as possible.

Follow-up Letters

Follow-up letters are an appropriate method of maintaining contact with the interviewer, and it's a great way to reinforce your suitability for the job. Thank the employer for his or her time and the opportunity to be interviewed. Don't forget to let the employer know you want the job and why you would be an excellent choice.

Should you email a follow-up letter or handwrite one? Consider the industry and experience with your interviewers, to make your decision:

  • Was your interview environment more formal and conservative (typical in Business, Accounting and Science industries)? Consider sending a formal email.
  • Did you interview in a more relaxed environment (typical in Human Service, Education and Hospitality industries)? A hand-written note may be more appropriate.

Download a Thank You Letter sample to help you get started:

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