Surviving and Thriving in an Interview
Some candidates look fantastic on paper, only to disappoint in the interview. On the other hand, some people have a natural talent in interviewing. But interviewing is ultimately a learned skill.
Following are ten tips to help you be your best as you interview.
1. Research the industry and company beforehand; over-prepare. Use every resource to your advantage: fellow students, professors, career-center resources, informational interviews with alumni of your school, the company's recruitment literature and website, WetFeet's Insider Guides, and databases and websites such as LexisNexis, the U.S. Business Browser, and Hoovers. (More information on this point can be found in Surviving and Thriving in a Tough Job Market: Ten To-Dos to Be Your Best.)
2. Know what you're looking for, what's important to you, and why you are in the interview. What are your values, interests, preferences? What kinds of roles and responsibilities are stimulating to you? What are your top five criteria for choosing a company or accepting an offer? What drew you to interview with this company, for this job? Thinking through these issues will keep you focused in your interviews-and keep you from wasting time (yours and the interviewers) in interviews for jobs you aren't truly interested in. (Again, you can find more information in Surviving and Thriving in a Tough Job Market: Ten To-Dos to Be Your Best.)
3. Understand what you have to offer: your skills, experience, education, talents, and strengths. What makes you unique? What are your points of difference? Understand how these make you a good fit for the opportunity the company is offering, so you can make the fact that you are a good fit clear to the interviewer.
4. Anticipate the questions you'll be asked. Think about key points you would emphasize for each question you can imagine the interviewer asking. Additionally, prepare how you would handle any illegal, unfair, or politically incorrect questions in a firm but graceful manner. And remember: If it's on your resume, it's fair game.
5. Practice, refine, practice. Participate in mock interviews; practice on your own or with other students. Solicit honest feedback and work to improve. At a minimum, one practice interview is a must. (For case interviews, do two or more, since they can be quite complex. Check with your school's consulting club and career center to see if they conduct mock case interviews.)
6. Be on time, enthusiastic, and professional in your interviews. When in doubt, dress more formally (most of the time, a suit and tie for men, a pantsuit or jacket and skirt for women). Don't overdo the accessories (scarves, jewelry, perfume, makeup). Bring extra copies of your resume, just in case. Make sure pagers and mobile phones are turned off. Present a firm handshake and eye contact when you introduce yourself. Wait to sit until after the interviewer does, or until he or she offers you your chair. Don't rush to fill in silence. Think before you speak; take time to form your thoughts. Tell the interviewer that you can be reached by phone or e-mail if there are any follow-up questions. Show enthusiasm modulated to the interviewer's. Speak with clarity and confidence. Close the interview with a handshake and genuine thank you; make a positive last impression.
7. Develop questions (at least three) for each interview. Examples might include: What keeps you in the company or makes you most excited about working there? How do you think the new players x and y and recent merger activity between a and b will impact you? Can you give me some examples of what kinds of roles MBAs typically have at the company after two, five, or eight years?
8. If the interviewer does not discuss next steps and the timing of the recruiting process, ask about them. If you think you'll be invited for a second-round, this will allow you to block out the time on your calendar so you can participate.
9. Follow up-quickly-with a written thank-you note. In this age of e-mails, an old-fashioned handwritten note can be a breath of fresh air. You don't need fancy, personalized stationary; a simple note-card or nice paper will do. Try to personalize your thank-you's if you are sending them to more than one person in a given company; assume they will be passed around. Saying the same thing to everyone shows you did not take the time to differentiate between your interviewers, which could be interpreted as meaning that you don't care about the position, or bring into question your level of business sense.
10. After each interview, assess your performance. Understand what worked, and what didn't. Keep learning and improving as you go on interviews. Ask yourself questions like: What do I need to do to perform better for next time? Should I get additional practice-such as a videotaped mock interview, or mock-interview feedback? Your career centers, the people you've interviewed with, and fellow students with whom you've participated in mock interviews can all be a source of excellent feedback.
Sherrie Gong Taguchi is a leading expert and author on career management, recruiting, and executive coaching. She was VP of Global University Recruiting at Bank of America, Director of Corporate HR for Dole Packaged Foods, and, for the past seven years, Assistant Dean and Director of the Stanford Business School's MBA Career Management Center and Management Communication Program.
Sherrie's first book, Hiring the Best and the Brightest, has been lauded as an incredible resource both for companies that recruit and develop top talent as well as MBAs in job searches who want preparation for interviews and a competitive advantage on the recruiting process.