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Interviews

An interview is an opportunity to present your background, experience and skills to an employer and allows you to evaluate a potential opportunity to determine if it is a good match for you and your professional aims.

You can become an effective interviewee by preparing ahead of time. Learn about interview approaches, structures, potential questions and practice techniques. When combined with specific research on the organization and field, interview preparation allows you to present yourself with confidence.

This section is designed to address interviews in which you are the interviewee and will cover:

To learn about informational interviews when you interview someone else, visit the Personal Brand & Networking section. 

Interview Mediums

Interviewers gather information in a variety of ways. Here are common types of interviews and techniques you may encounter as interviewers evaluate your candidacy.

In-person Interviews

At some point in the evaluation process, most employers want to meet you face-to-face. In-person interviews may last from a half hour to a full day to help employers get a sense of your personality and style, as well as your qualifications, skills and interests. You might meet one-on-one or with several people at once.

If you meet one-on-one with multiple interviewers back-to-back, know that each person will ask questions from their own perspective and relationship to the position. There may also be some overlap in questions from one person to the next. Back-to-back interviews can be tiring so be sure to keep up your energy, motivation, patience, and good humor so that the last interviewer has as positive an impression of you as the first.

In a group interview, answer questions by responding to everyone in the room. Acknowledge all of the interviewers by using a positive demeanor, relaxed, professional body language, and good eye contact.

Phone Interviews

Increasingly employers are using a short interview by telephone – usually about a half hour – to pre-screen applicants, after which select candidates are invited for on-site, in-person interviews. But don’t let the phone fool you; phone interviews are indeed formal, professional conversations. Find a quiet place to make your call and be sure that you will have uninterrupted service, especially if using a cell phone. 

In addition to technical difficulties, phone interviews can offer other challenges. For instance, you can’t see the interviewer(s), so you will lose body language and facial expression cues. It also may be difficult to judge the meaning of silences over the phone. Be patient; a silence may simply mean the interviewer is finishing her/his notes about your last answer before s/he asks the next question.

On the up side, because you can make a call from anywhere, there’s no need to worry about traffic or a stain on your shirt. Plus, you can have notes and/or a web browser open in front of you for reference.

If during practice interviews you find that your energy on a phone interview drags, consider dressing up and sitting in front of a mirror. Even though the employer can’t see you, your confidence, smile and energy will come across in the tone and speed of your speech.

Video-conferencing Interviews

If you are not able to meet an employer onsite (e.g., you are abroad, you can’t afford to travel, the employer can’t pay for your travel) you or an employer can request an interview via a video-conferencing system such as Skype. This way of interviewing is similar to an in-person interview. Remember to keep your body language and facial expressions natural and congenial. Even though you are looking at a screen, try to maintain eye contact by looking at the interviewer’s image and the system’s camera, not over or beyond the screen.

The obvious advantage of video-conferencing over telephone interviews is that you are able to see the interviewer(s). However, you may experience delays between the voice and visual transmissions. Speak a little more slowly than normal to make this delay less noticeable, and expect a pause after your answers, while the interviewer finishes listening to your answer and asks the next question. Also, try to limit rapid hand, head, and body movements, as they may appear blurry on the screen.

Remember that the interviewer will be able to see you and your surroundings. Make sure that you are dressed for an interview and that your space is tidy and appropriate for a professional conversation. Be sure to position your computer so that the wall behind you (which the interviewer will see) is neutrally lit and free of distractions.

We also highly recommend that you anticipate any technical issues by testing your equipment – connectivity, internet access and webcam – well ahead of the interview.

Interview Process

Interview processes can be short – a matter of days or just a few weeks – or long – carried out over several months. Duration varies based on many factors such as the urgency the employer feels to fill the position, the number of candidates applying, the level of position within the organization (a more senior position or highly competitive national or international search may take longer), and the organization’s familiarity with top candidates.

In a shorter process, the employer may require only one or two interviews to make a hiring decision. This can include an initial “screening” interview usually lasting about a half hour and often conducted by phone but possibly at the organization’s offices. It is usually led by a friendly, encouraging individual trained to follow a fairly structured but strategic line of general questioning to determine your fit for the position and make a recommendation about whether to move you forward as a potential candidate.

If the organization chooses, it can begin by interviewing you in person for a period of typically one to two hours. This will likely take place at the organization’s offices or, in the case of long distances, be facilitated by video-conferencing. One or two staff members with authority in the organization will likely conduct the interview. Their questions will be substantive and explore your abilities, experience, work style, and interests. They may follow up with a shorter meeting or other communication (email or phone call) to confirm their interest and offer you the position.

In a longer interview process, you may find that an employer will ask you to interview several times for a position before making a hiring decision, sometimes calling you back to the organization two or three times. Each additional interview indicates that the employer is interested in you and that you are likely part of an increasingly smaller group of top candidates.

After the initial meeting(s), subsequent interviews are more in-depth conversations that are usually conducted at the place of employment and involve individuals with authority to recommend hiring, high-ranking managers or potential supervisors. The interviewers may require you to respond to technical questions or discuss a case. You may also meet with multiple employees or potential co-workers. The length of these interviews can range from several hours to a full day.

Keep in mind that you are being interviewed and observed throughout the time that you are visiting the organization, not only during the formal office interviews. Remain professional at all times, even when you think you are no longer being interviewed, such as when greeting the receptionist or eating with some of your peer employees. You are technically being interviewed until your departure.

Special Components/Formats

Group interviews

Employers sometimes use group interviews to better gauge your teamwork skills, creativity, relationship building, personal work style and leadership. The employer assembles a group of candidates together and asks them to tackle a problem, rank priorities or discuss an issue. Consider the following tips:

  • Speak up and articulate your opinion to the group.
  • Be careful not to dominate the conversation.
  • Actively listen to your fellow group members; make eye contact with whoever is speaking, nod, etc.
  • Solicit input from group members who have not yet spoken.
  • If you are confronted with a divergent opinion, address the conflict respectfully and explore the possibility of a solution or compromise; if one cannot be found, politely agree to disagree.

Presentation or Project

If you are applying to work in a position that requires presenting and teaching skills, an employer might ask you to do a sample presentation during your interview. For example, you might be asked to present a 10-minute lesson for a teaching position or a sample social media campaign for a marketing position. The greatest challenge in a presentation is prioritizing your time.  Practice your presentation ahead of time with others to make sure that you are able to share what is most important in the time allotted.

Personality/Skills Assessment

Potential employers may administer personality or skills assessments as part of the selection process. The former provides information on your work style, decision-making preferences and collegial relationship building to judge your “fit” with the organization’s needs. The latter information helps interviewers assess the level and scope of your field expertise.

Question Types

Broadly speaking, there are three types of interview questions: general, behavioral and case. Most interviewers ask a combination of these types of questions.

General questions are asked to get a broad sense of you and your background and may address your education, past work experience and interest in the position and/or organization. For example:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you decide to seek a position with this organization?

Behavioral questions are skill-focused and are based on the philosophy that past experiences predict future behavior. They are designed to elicit concrete examples of things you’ve done. For example:

  • Describe a situation when you acted as part of a team.
  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated your communication skills.

Case questions present you with a situation and require you to share how you would approach it. They may be framed in an analytical, business structure or a “what if” scenario. For example:

  • Your client is Motorola. The year is 1980. They just invented the cellular phone 3 years ago. They want you to estimate the market demand for cell phones over the next 30 years and tell them if there is a market for this invention.
  • It is the first day of class. You are writing something on the board and a paper wad hits you in the back. What would you do? Later the same day, if all the students drop their pencils, what do you do?

Interview Preparation and Strategy

Research leads to success

Extensive research is essential preparation for all interviewees, no matter how much experience they possess, including: the specific organization, role, responsibilities and skills required.

Practice makes perfect

Conduct a virtual practice interview using InterviewStream (new users will need to create an account with their Brandeis email), a tool offered by Hiatt that allows you to conduct and record virtual mock interviews from any space with an internet connection and a webcam, and then assess your progress. You can also make an appointment at Hiatt for a mock interview with an alumni career advisor to practice responses to questions and get feedback and advice on research preparedness and examples, as well as tone and body language.

Responding to questions: STAR Technique

It is extremely helpful to anticipate possible interview questions and prepare answers that showcase your qualification and respond directly to the specific opportunity. Take time to reflect on your background and skills and identify those qualifications that relate to the responsibilities of the position for which you are interviewing.

The most effective way to demonstrate your qualifications in an interview is to provide concrete examples. The STAR technique is a strategic framework to frame responses that keeps you responsive, on topic and focused. To tell the “story” of your example, follow this easy and effective structure:

  • Situation – a brief set-up of the situation you are going to talk about
  • Task – an explanation of the task you had to complete or problem you had to solve
  • Action(s) – specific/detailed actions you took, focusing on the skills you used in this situation
  • Result – positive outcome from the example you shared; how did things turn out?

STAR example:

Question: Tell me about a time you initiated a project to address an unmet need in your past work.

Answer:

Situation: As a market analyst at Big World Airlines, I was responsible for incorporating data from our social media sites into the company’s larger marketing efforts.

Task: I noticed that there was a tremendous amount of useful information about users for individual sites that helped us to use them effectively. However I felt we should also cross reference the data from all sites to develop a more comprehensive profile of our social media users to understand overlapping and isolated user demographics and preferences and utilize these marketing opportunities more effectively.

Action(s): I drew up a proposal for enhancing data collection and analysis and shared it with the heads of the marketing, IT and product divisions; convened a series of meetings to discuss possible avenues and goals; and ultimately, working closely with the technology team, oversaw the incorporation of a computer program and analytical protocol to obtain detailed data about our audience. 

Result: As a result, Big World Airlines has instituted a new array of targeted marketing and promotional messaging that spans the needs of our users. Traffic on our social media sites has increased by 25%, including an emerging increase in crossover use among sites, and actual purchases from the social media user demographic has increased by 30%.

Practicing for Case Questions

If you will face case questions in your interview, practice is required to be effective. There are several excellent resources available for finance and consulting case preparation on B.hired, including the Vault guides on case interviewing and CQ Interactive/Case In Point. Create a case practice team to push yourself to become skilled case interviewers; you are stronger candidates together than you are alone. Human services and education case practice may be done with classmates, faculty and mentors.

Questions You Can Ask

Based on your research, compose questions to ask the interviewer about the job and organization. Make sure that your questions:

  • Relate to the position and the organization/industry
  • Are appropriate to the interviewer’s level and position in the organization
  • Express your research and interest for the position/organization

Don’t ask questions that are:

  • Answered on the organization’s website
  • Personal (i.e., the interviewer’s salary, age, nationality, or schooling)
  • Whimsical or irrelevant

Get the Details Right

Before the Interview

  • Review your online presence.
  • Print extra copies of your resume to bring with you to your interview.
  • Ready a simple portfolio to hold your resumes, pen and notepad.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Engage in self-reflection.
  • Relax before going into the interview. Take deep breaths and focus on your skills, strengths and opportunity to share your story.
  • Turn off your cell phone before arriving at your interview location. Do not text, email, surf the web or talk on the phone during the interview or even while waiting for the interview to start.
  • Plan your transportation to your interview and plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early.

During the Interview

  • Be mindful of your body language and posture.
  • Shake hands firmly and maintain eye contact.
  • Project enthusiasm even if the person or people conducting the interview do not.
  • Listen carefully to each question. When answering questions, pause in order to give yourself time to compose an answer that is concise but thoughtful. Politely ask for clarification for questions that are unclear.
  • Answer questions in terms of your skills and accomplishments, following the STAR technique.
  • Speak in positive terms, avoiding negative comments about former employers or co-workers.
  • Avoid questions about salary and benefits for conversations that take place after you have been offered a position. Be sure to conduct research regarding current salary range.
  • Close the interview with a summary statement to reiterate the skills you have to offer and reaffirm your interest in the position.
  • Ask each interviewer you for a business card to assist you in sending a thank you email and/or card with accurate names, titles, and organization names.
  • Ask for a timeline regarding the hiring process.

After the Interview

  • Follow-up the interview with a thank you letter. This is a critical opportunity to restate your interest and qualifications and set you apart from other candidates.
  • Ask yourself: What were my strengths in the interview? What did not go as planned? What can I do differently next time?
  • Conduct a "post-interview assessment" with a friend or mentor to help improve your technique, interviewing skills, and confidence.
  • Follow-up with the interviewer if you have not received an update by the date the employer said you would receive one.
  • Consider how you would respond to a job offer.

Hiatt Can Help

InterviewStream

Glassdoor.com

Call 781-736-3618 to schedule a mock interview in-person, over the phone or via Skype with a Hiatt alumni career advisor.

Video record, view and rate your responses to practice interview questions using InterviewStream (new users must create an account with their Brandeis emails).

Browse real interview questions and other interview details for any job or company. Brandeis alumni have full (free) access to all information on Glassdoor.com without having to create an account.