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CRC Interview Guide

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Contents

Background Information

The purpose of the job interview is two-fold: First, it allows the interviewer to determine how well suited you are for the job, and second, it allows you to learn as much about the position and employer as you can. This meeting gives you the opportunity to summarize the assets you have to offer an organization--specifically knowledge, skills, experience and demonstration of your interest. Each interview is different. In order for you to present yourself and your qualifications in the most effective manner, you must prepare for each interview.

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Planning, Preparation and Practice

The results of planning, preparation and practice will enable you to make a better presentation to the interviewer, which demonstrates your thoroughness, competence, emotional readiness and enthusiasm to work for that organization. The effort you put into your preparation for an interview will distinguish you from the other candidates. Your task in planning, preparing and practicing for an interview is threefold:

  1. Know your product (yourself) inside and out
  2. Research customers (employers) who are most likely to buy that product
  3. Present your product as something that can really add value to the organization

The CRC’s Interviewing Skills Workshop will introduce you to the fundamentals of interviewing. You can check workshop dates here. Once you’ve completed the Interviewing Skills Workshop, be sure to stop by the CRC to sign up for your practice interview. The CRC’s Practice Interview program will provide you with a realistic interview experience and knowledge in how to behave in a behavior-based interview. (Refer to "Behaving in a Behavior-Based Interview" section for an explanation of this methodology.) Volunteer interviewers who have been trained by human resource professionals in behavior-based interview techniques conduct the practice interview. It is videotaped for your future reference, and lasts approximately 40 minutes. About half of the 40 minutes is devoted to providing you feedback and answering any questions you might have about interviewing.

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Researching the Position, Company and Industry

It’s smart to know about the position, company and industry you are applying for before your interview. If you have completed research and can ask knowledgeable questions about organizational structure, activities and your role in the company, your interviewer will take notice. Your effort will display intelligence, resourcefulness, diligence and most of all, interest. Employers are not just looking for candidates with great skills; they are just as much interested in candidates who demonstrate interest in the job. Why? Because interested employees work harder, show more initiative and enthusiasm and have lower turnover rates. Therefore, you should always come prepared to ask questions of the interviewer. Refer to "Questions to Ask the Interviewer" section for examples.

Once you have conducted thorough research of the position, the company and the industry, you can prepare by practicing responses in advance for questions the interviewer is likely to ask, given your background, the career position for which you are interviewing and the listed items on your résumé. Company or industry-specific questions are often simple tests by interviewers to see if you have "done your homework" in preparing for the interview. If you haven’t prepared for the interview, you are unlikely to have coherent responses to why you are interested in XYZ company. Interviewers look for your answer, how well you organize your response and how you articulate your response or express yourself. By practicing your responses to possible questions, you will be able to communicate your skills, experience and enthusiasm in an organized fashion. Refer to "Common Interview Questions" Section for sample company and industry specific questions.

Some of the areas you may want to research include:

Data sources for finding the above include (resources will vary depending on the size and nature of the company):

Company and Industry Research

*Be aware that what a company presents on its Web site is limited to what it wantsyou to know. It is therefore imperative that you conduct external research to ensure you are getting a more complete picture of the company.

Position Research

You may still have difficulty finding information on smaller or non-publicly traded firms after you’ve used the resources noted above. Try contacting the company’s recruiter directly. Individuals who supervise the hiring process know that potential employees will be looking for information. They may be able to answer your questions regarding company structure, activity, size and scope.

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Giving Employers What They Are Seeking

Recruiters are most impressed with candidates who demonstrate good communication skills, consistently maintain good grades and pursue an internship or co-op in their field of study. Candidates who have taken the time to complete research on the company and can ask pertinent questions that show they’ve done their homework will further impress a recruiter. But no matter what qualifications you possess, no matter how stellar your GPA, there are some skills that can make or break your candidacy.

Surveys conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) indicated that employers, whether they’re looking for computer programmers, retail managers or accountants, desire well-rounded employees who are able to interact appropriately, effectively and efficiently in the workplace. In other words, candidates with proven technical and "people" skills/qualities are most desired. The lists below show how employers ranked specific skills and personal characteristics (notice the overlap.)

Desired Skills

Desired Personal Characteristics

1. Interpersonal skills 1. Honesty/Integrity
2. Teamwork skills 2. Motivation/Initiative
3. Analytical skills 3. Communication skills
4. Oral communication skills 4. Self-confidence
5. Flexibility 5. Flexibility
6. Computer skills 6. Interpersonal skills
7. Written communication skills 7. Strong work ethic
8. Leadership skills 8. Teamwork skills
9. Work experience 9. Leadership skills
10. Internship/Co-op experience 10. Enthusiasm

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Techniques to Demonstrate Skills/Personal Qualities

Your ability to demonstrate to an employer that you have these qualities and skills is just as important as actually possessing them. The following techniques can be used to help the interviewer make an evaluation in your favor when assessing your qualities and skills:

Quality/Skill Technique:

*When providing examples, use the STAR technique discussed in the following section to positively emphasize your valuable characteristics.

The above qualities/skills are just a sample of "competencies" that employers are looking for. Other competencies employers may be seeking are creativity, decision making, assertiveness, time management, etc. Which competencies an employer will be seeking will depend upon the skills and qualities required for the position. It is therefore imperative that you first learn of the skills and qualities required for the position when preparing for the interview. This can be accomplished by analyzing the detailed job posting. An informational interview is another excellent means in which to learn about the key competencies of the job. (Please refer to the CRC Web site for further information on informational interviewing.)

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Behaving in a Behavior-Based Interview Using the STAR Technique

One of the most effective means for a recruiter to evaluate a candidate’s competencies is through behavior-based interviewing. Behavior-based interviewing is built on the premise that past behavior predicts future behavior. Thus, an interviewer will ask you questions about your past and will be looking for specific examples of your performance. To be successful in this type of an interview, you must prepare. Preparation includes:

Be as specific as possible, including names (if appropriate) and dates. When describing actions taken, be sure you include the actions that you took, not just others.

Teamwork

Potential Question: Tell me about a time when you worked with a group that was particularly successful in completing a project or assignment.

Response: I have worked on several team projects throughout business school, but one team project I am most proud of is my Oracle database class project from last semester. With a team of seven people, we were charged with designing an enterprise-wide financial system for a restaurant chain. The project required a significant amount of in-depth, detailed work in a short period of time. [Situation/Task]

Drawing upon my experiences from previous team projects, I suggested that we assign specific roles based on people’s strengths. (Since I had worked with many of these classmates before, I paid particular attention to their strengths.) Everyone agreed with my suggestion, and the roles of project manager, technical analysts, non-technical analysts, floater (team member who can assist any assigned role as needed), editor and presenters were assigned. I also suggested, and the team agreed, that conference calls and e-mail would be used to track progress whenever it was impossible for all team members to meet in one location at the same time. [Action]

The project was completed on time, we received an "A" grade, and I received positive feedback from my team members on my contributions. Specifically, they commented that my work was on target, comprehensive, and that I was a strong team player because I offered to serve as an additional floater once my portion of the project was completed. [Result]

The STAR Technique can be applied to both behavior-based and traditional-type questions. Refer to "Common Interview Questions" section for samples of these types of questions.

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Scheduling and Other Tips

When the company’s interviewer calls you to schedule an appointment, follow these tips:

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Dressing for Interview Success

As Will Rogers said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Your personal image extends well beyond the interview. Every contact with the interviewer (résumé, cover letter, telephone calls, information sessions, etc.) must reflect your professional image. Your appearance tells people how you feel about yourself as an applicant, as well as how you feel about the interviewer(s), the company, and the process of interviewing itself. The correct image at an interview will give you a real edge over your competition, and it will add to your own sense of self-esteem and confidence.

Within the first five seconds of meeting someone, you are generally evaluated on your appearance. It is important that your appearance matches the culture of the company. One way to do this is to visit the company to see how people who work there are dressed or ask people that you know in the professional workplace. For example, in most public and private accounting firms women wear skirted suits. Therefore, interviewing in a pantsuit would most likely be unacceptable for such accounting positions. Many companies do have business casual dress one or more days a week. Business casual dress is still inappropriate for interviewing.

Invest in your interviews as you have invested in your education. If you need a book for a class, you buy it. If you need a suit for interviewing, buy it. Buy the highest quality suit you can afford. We recommend a lined, all-season wool suit. It will pay off in the long run.

Below are a few interview dressing tips for your reference.

General Tips

Men

Women

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Interview Formats/Styles

The format and style of the interviews you will experience in your job hunting will vary widely; usually this is a reflection of the individual and company conducting the interview.

Most first interviews last about 30 - 45 minutes and occur face-to-face, but don’t be surprised if an employer decides to conduct a first interview or "pre-screen" on the telephone or via videoconference. Keep in mind that you need to be just as prepared for these types of interviews as you would a face-to-face interview. Be careful not to let your guard down because of the lack of physical presence.

Interviewers may use behavior-based questions, traditional questions, case questions or any combination during an interview. Behavior-based questions focus on the results or outcomes based upon your past performance in a particular situation.

Example:

Traditional questions focus more on your background, interests, goals, etc.

Example:

Case questions are increasingly being used by interviewers (particularly for consulting positions) to analyze your logic and thinking process. The focus on this type of question is the method that you use to reach a conclusion. A sample question for a "mergers and acquisitions case" might be:

The interviewer is looking to see if you apply useful concepts such as market assessment, supply chain analysis, competitor analysis, structural analysis, etc. The CRC Library maintains the book Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation should you require further information on case interviews.

Refer to "Common Interview Questions" section for sample behavior-based, traditional and case questions.

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Parts of the Interview

The standard on-campus interview is typically 30-45 minutes, depending on the company. For off-campus interviews, the timing will be more flexible, but you should normally expect to spend less than an hour.

Be sure to come to the interview prepared with additional résumés, a list of references (which includes name, address, telephone number and relationship to interviewee), both on bond paper, and a pen and notepad. Make sure you have an idea of how long the interview will be so that you can prioritize the information that you wish to convey to the interviewer. The phases of the interview are:

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Interview Follow Up

Write a thank you letter right after the interview and mail it that day if at all possible. The thank you letter is another opportunity to sell yourself and cover any areas that you don’t feel were adequately addressed during the interview. (It could also be that during the excitement of the interview, you had forgotten a great response to a question.) After a company visit where you may have interviewed with more than one person, it is a good idea to send a thank-you letter to each individual who interviewed you. This means you must get the names and titles of all who interviewed you. This is where requesting a business card from each interviewer comes in handy. Suggested format:

  1. Thank the employer for his/her time, letting the interviewer know how much you enjoyed the meeting.
  2. Identify the specific position for which you were interviewed and the date/place of the interview.
  3. Mention a key point of your conversation with the interviewer. When writing letters to multiple interviewers, differentiate letters by referring to something specific you learned from the interviewer.
  4. Express enthusiasm for the job/company and reiterate why you fit well with the organization.
  5. Close with your telephone number and indicate that you look forward to hearing from the employer at the time they specified during the interview.

If you haven’t heard anything from the interviewer after the time frame for follow up discussed in the interview, make a telephone call to the interviewer to inquire on the progress of the search and about your current status. If you don’t get the job, ask for some feedback. Suggestions from past interviewers can help you strengthen weak areas and polish up for future interviews.

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Second Interviews

Second interviews generally occur at the company’s place of business. If you are invited back for a second interview, you clearly did something right the first time around and were well prepared, well mannered and well dressed. You now need to give a repeat performance. This time, however, you will be meeting with more people and for a longer period of time, perhaps over the course of the day. A series of individual interviews is the most common format, usually comprised of your prospective peers and superiors. They are looking to see if you can explain how your abilities and experiences would qualify and enable you to do the job. They are also trying to determine whether you would be a "good fit" with the company. The second interview is also an opportunity for the recruiter to further educate you about what the company has to offer.

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Dining Tips

During the second interview process (or perhaps even the first, if an off-campus interview), you may be invited to lunch or dinner with the recruiter and others from the company. General rules of thumb for dining:

DO

DON’T

For further information on business dining etiquette, refer to "Don’t Slurp Your Soup" by Elizabeth Craig in the CRC Library.

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Interview Expenses

Some interviews may require out-of-town travel. If the company does not communicate its expectations about who will bear the expenses (e.g., airfare, hotel, meals), it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask the recruiter. A good way to broach the subject is to ask who will make the travel arrangements. At this point, the recruiter will talk about expenses. For those expenses the company has agreed to reimburse, keep accurate records. How you report your expenses will also leave an impression on the employer, so make the impression a good one.

DO

DON’T

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Interview Ethics

DO

DON’T

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Common Interview Questions

Whether behavior-based or traditional, remember to use the STAR Technique whenever possible in answering interview questions. Refer to "Behaving in a Behavior-Based Interview Using the STAR Technique" section for guidance.

Examples of Behavior-Based Interview Questions

Tell me about a time when you…

Please describe a situation where you had…

Traditional Interview Questions

Introductory Questions

Introductory questions are usually asked to put you at ease and provide a start for the interview.

Assessment Questions

These questions give you the “green light” to sell your skills. Prepare each of the above questions, and answer in positive terms when possible. It is important here to know the skills and qualities the employer is looking for by analyzing the job posting. When asked to tell about yourself, tell about your background, experience, choices about education, etc., which will lead the interviewer to conclude that you are right for the job. Provide a couple of examples that demonstrate your skills and abilities as they relate to the job. Use the STAR Technique when providing your examples.

When asked about your strengths, select one or two strengths that are most relevant to the position. When asked about a weakness, avoid mentioning a weakness that is important to the job. Tell how you are working to overcome that weakness or how it has been of benefit in some situations. Do not mention "killer" weaknesses like, "I’m not very punctual" or "I have difficulty dealing with others.”

Experience and Goal Questions

Education Questions

Questions regarding academics are crucial for students who have little to no work experience. For these individuals, selling academic achievements is an important part of the overall interview process. Besides the "A" you got in accounting, make sure that you emphasize leadership and team-building skills that you developed through group projects. Use specific examples whenever possible.

In addition, you must "accentuate the positive" when discussing your academic experience. By denigrating a particular class or professor in any response, you are in fact putting the whole value of your education in doubt in the interviewer’s mind. Ensure that you understand this and prepare your answers that will put your school in a positive light, which will also reflect favorably on you. For candidates with a strong GPA, questions regarding your GPA are an opportunity to sell your strengths to the interviewer. Although GPA isn’t a crucial factor in all fields (with a notable exception of accounting), a poor GPA is certainly a stumbling block when competing against stellar academic performers. Remember, most recruiters will accept a reasonable explanation, so think of one. Be proactive and use truthful explanations that help advance your candidacy. For example:

Company and Industry Specific Questions

This is where your company, industry and position research pays off. Recruiters look for candidates who understand how their business operates and how the candidate will fit into the organization. Effectively communicating your knowledge of the company’s business and the position you are interviewing for will convince a recruiter that you have a strong desire to work for them.

Reward Questions

First rule of thumb: you should never bring up salary-related questions. In general, salary questions are viewed as inappropriate during an initial interview, mainly because both the company and the interviewee do not yet know enough about each other to determine whether an appropriate "match" exists. (The interviewee does not know enough about what the exact job requirements/responsibilities/work environments, etc. are, and cannot completely gauge what the position is worth to the company, and the interviewer has not checked references, discussed the candidate with co-workers, etc.). Although salary discussions generally aren’t brought up by an interviewer in first interviews, you should still be prepared with an answer. In these cases, the interviewee should show strong interest in the position (if that is the case), and state something to the effect of paying a competitive salary as compared to other firms in their industry. You will need to do salary research before you can make this comment, however.

To prepare for salary questions in second or third interviews, the interviewee must conduct research (CRC salary surveys are a good start) on salaries to determine if the position makes sense given the interviewee’s personal requirements. Remember that the initial salary is not the only element in a compensation package. Insurance, retirement plans, flex time, childcare, bonuses and future pay increases are all elements of compensation. Refer to the CRC’s Web-based workshops on Compensation Negotiation and Managing Job Offers for further assistance.

Closing Questions

If you are at all interested in the job, ensure that the interviewer understands this through your response. You should respond positively and with some enthusiasm so that the interviewer believes that you are truly interested in the position. Part of the close is an additional sales pitch to emphasize your strengths and show how you would be a good match for the position. Be sure to ask for a business card. Not only does it show interest, but also it provides you with an accurate name and title reference for preparing your thank-you letter and for any follow-up questions you might have.

Case Interview Questions

There is no right answer. The interviewer wants to see how logically you answer the question. Even if you had just read a Forbes article on the number of gas stations and knew the exact total, the interviewer won’t care.

Again, there is no right answer. The interviewer is looking to see how you draw upon your analytical abilities, business experience and deductive reasoning to arrive at an answer to the case.

For more information on case interview questions, refer to the book "Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation" in the CRC Library.

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Questions to Ask the Interviewer

The questions that you ask do as much to differentiate you from the competition as the ones you answer. Questions related to the industry, company, and/or positions are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and interest in the firm.

While it is important for your questions to occur spontaneously and appropriately in each specific interview conversation, it is helpful to think through and plan out some questions ahead of time. The purpose of these questions is to help you assess whether you really want the job, help you understand what the employer needs, and to build a working relationship grounded in give-and-take communication. Research and preparation are required for asking questions as well as answering them. For small and private companies, very little public information is available, so asking questions is a crucial component of determining your own interest in working for a company.

Sample questions include:

For more ideas on questions to ask the interviewer, see the Job Mob website or other online resources. Be careful when asking about advancement or professional development opportunities. You do not want to seem focused only on yourself and what you can gain. 

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Illegal Questions

Under federal laws, certain personal questions relating to sex, age, race, national origin, religion, marital status, are illegal for interviewers to ask. The purpose of the law is to protect certain classes of people from discrimination. Sample illegal questions include:

Inquiry Area

Illegal

Legal

Age How old are you? Are you over the age of 18? (Any inquiry limited to establishing that applicant meets any minimum age required by law)
What is your birth date?
Affiliations What clubs or social organizations do you belong to? A request to list any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job?
Arrest Record Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been convicted of (the crime named should be related to performance of the job)?
Birthplace/National Origin/Citizenship Are you a U.S. citizen? Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?
Where were your parents born? What languages do you read/speak/write fluently? (This questions is ok only if this ability is relevant for the job)
What is your native tongue?
Disabilities Do you have any disabilities? Are you able to perform the essential functions of the job? (This question is ok only if the interviewer has thoroughly described the job.)
Please complete the following medical history After a job offer has been made, you will be required to undergo a medical exam.
How is your family's health?
Marital/Family Status What's your marital status? Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
Do you plan to have a family? When? Would you be willing to travel as needed by the job? (only ok if asked of all applicants for the job)
How many children do you have? Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary? (only ok if asked of all applicants for the job)
Military If you've been in the military, were you honorably discharged? In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?
Personal Questions about height and weight, unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job. Are you able to lift a 50-lb weight and carry it 100 yards, as part of the job?

If you are asked an illegal question, you have three options:

References:

Barker, John and Kellen, Jim, Career Planning: A Developmental Approach, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1998.
Carter, Carol and Izumo, Gary, The Career Tool Kit: Skills for Success, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1998.
Cosentino, Marc P., Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation, Ivy Productions, Inc., Boston, MA, 1999.
Hirsch, Arlene S., National Business Employment Weekly: Interviewing, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, NY, 1994.
Krannich, Caryl Rae and Krannich, Ronald L., PhD, Dynamite Networking for Dynamite Jobs, Impact Publications, Manassas Park, VA, 1996.
Kaplan, Rochelle, Planning Job Choices: 1999, "Handling Illegal Questions", National Association of College and Employers, 42nd Edition.
McBride, James, Planning Job Choices: 1999, "Job Search Strategies to Begin the Next Millennium", National Association of College and Employers, 42nd Edition.
Yate, Martin, Knock ‘Em Dead 2000, Adams Media Corporation, Holbrook, MA, 2000.

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