As a candidate, the interview allows you to assess your interest in the position, the company, the people and the opportunity. At the same time, the company interviewers are assessing your qualifications, your interest in the work and whether or not you have the interpersonal qualities required for success in their organization.
During the initial stages of the interview process, you should be much more focused on what the company thinks about you rather than the other way around. If not, there may not be a second interview, and of course, no offer. If the employer is interested in you, you will have ample time to get answers to your questions during the latter stages of the interview process.
Prepare to make a good impression
The first interview is the most critical step in job-hunting, and preparation is the key to a successful first interview. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for the all-important first interview:
Research the company. The Internet and the library are excellent resources for finding relevant facts about the company, such as ownership, annual sales revenue, principal lines of business, and the nature and scope of local operations. Friends or acquaintances who currently work or recently have worked for the company can provide useful information about the company's culture.
Look your best. Even if the company is "business casual," dress professionally for the first interview, unless you are specifically told to come "business casual." Polish your shoes, wear tailored and pressed clothing that is conservative yet current, and moderate your use of cosmetics, fragrance and jewelry. Blue or black two-piece suits are the safest bets. Bright and multi-colored clothing may tend to detract from the substance of your interview.
Plan to arrive 15 minutes early. Ask where to park when arranging the interview.
Know the exact time and place of the meeting, the full name and title of the interviewer and the correct pronunciation of his or her name.
Review your own resume. You can expect several specific questions about what you've done in each position. Bring copies of your resume and a list of business references.
Greet the interviewer with confidence. Use attentive posture, good eye contact, a firm handshake and an engaging smile.
Approach every interview as if it is your only opportunity, showing enthusiasm about the job and the company. Keep an open mind throughout the entire interview. For example, you may hear something in the first part of the meeting that is not appealing to you. If you close your mind at that point, the interviewer will sense it. Then, when you hear good things later in the interview, you already have ruined your chance for the position. You probably will miss out on other job openings or referrals you might have gotten from this hiring manager. People want to hire employees who project interest, enthusiasm and a positive attitude.
Most experienced interviewers are interested in both what you say and how you say it. Most employers prefer employees who answer questions concisely and stay on track.
Prepare for the "tricky" questions
Many questions are asked with the underlying objective of exploring your attitudes and motivations. Following are some questions whose answers may appear simple at first glance, but could "trick" you if you don't think about them ahead of time.
Why are you looking, or why did you leave? Answer this question in both a positive and a forthright way. The most common mistakes made when answering this question are either a vague response, which implies you are hiding something, or a negative, defensive reply. Be very careful about complaining about your current job or employer. It throws up red flags!
What do you want to be doing in five years? The best way to answer this question is to communicate what your goals are without being overly specific. Those who don't have an answer to this question appear not to have a sense of direction, and those who are too specific may not fit into what the company has to offer long-term. If you are in search of rapid advancement, be sure to point out that you understand the commitment necessary to achieve your objectives.
What do you know about our company? Be prepared to tell the interviewer three things you learned from your research about the company, such as what the company does, what the sales volume is and a brief observation about a recent, positive news story about the company.
Tell me about yourself. This request is sometimes phrased as "Tell me about your background," or "Tell me about your accomplishments." Regardless of how the question is asked, we suggest that you create a one-minute sales pitch that describes your professional background, accomplishments, strengths and career aspirations. Then take it one step further and relate how these make you a good fit for this particular position.
What are your strengths and weaknesses? Be prepared to talk about two or three functional strengths and one or two intangible characteristics that you regard as strengths. It helps to frame your comments by saying: "My supervisor said…" or "I feel that.…" It is best to address the weakness by saying: "I'm working on…" or "I would like to learn more about…" or "In my last performance review my supervisor suggested.…" The "I can't think of any weaknesses" response may give the interviewer the impression that you are afraid to admit weaknesses or you are not coachable.
What salary are you looking for? The later in the interview process you are, the more specific you should be. If this is asked during the first interview, you probably don't know the nature of the long-term opportunity and the overall benefits yet, so you are not in the position to give a specific number. However, you must answer the question rather than avoid it. One way to answer might be:
"My current base is in the low $60s, and I am eligible for up to 10 percent in incentive compensation. Of course I would like to move forward, but my primary motivations are the experience I will get and the opportunity to keep learning and growing."
Note that the interviewer now has an idea about the range of salary you would entertain, but you have left your options open to accepting a higher or lower offer, depending on how interested you are in the overall opportunity. In addition, you minimized the chance of shutting yourself out of the job, because you didn't give a specific number that was outside of their hiring range.
Why are you interested in our company? Provide a specific reason why the position fits your career plan, and point out something about the company that appeals to you.
Tell me what you like to do outside of work. Many employers ask this question to be friendly and break the ice. In addition, they may use it to see what kind of work/life balance you are looking for and to determine whether your outside interests will conflict with your job. At the same time, it is important to describe a couple of activities to show that you are well rounded.
If you don't understand a question, ask for clarification.
Be careful not to give too much detail in answering questions. If the interviewers wants more detail, they will ask for it. At the same time, there are very few if any questions where a simple "yes" or "no" answer is sufficient, so give examples or explain briefly whenever possible.
Prepare to ask questions
Asking pertinent questions during the interview is every bit as important as answering questions and will leave hiring managers with a favorable impression. In addition to helping them determine whether or not you are the right match for the job, insightful questions demonstrate that you are organized, prepared and serious about the position. The following are some questions that you might ask:
Why is the position open?
What are the greatest challenges offered by this position?
How is success defined for this position?
Do you have any reservations or concerns about my qualifications for this position?
Note that asking questions about compensation, vacation and benefits is generally not appropriate during a first interview.