Job Interview Tips

Preparing for an Interview

Congratulations, you have been selected and invited for an interview! Now you want to do your best. Preparation is essential to a successful interview. Taking a few minutes now to get ready can give you the edge you need.

  1. Research the Position
    Make sure you understand the details, requirements and responsibilities of the job you are applying for. This information can be typically found by reviewing interview bulletins, recruiting information, and company literature. Additionally, conducting your own informational interviews can often provide valuable information. Finally, be able to relate your skills and qualifications to the stated job responsibilities.
  2. Research the Organization
    How long has it existed? What is its mission? What does it produce? Who does it serve? Size? Location? Visit the organization’s website or use the links from The Career Center’s website, www.careercenter.uiuc.edu/ to help you research companies and organizations. Our Career Library resources include employer directories, annual reports and videos. Public libraries, and your local Chamber of Commerce may have additional information on select organizations and companies. In addition, expand your search by conducting informational interviews.
  3. Prepare and Practice
    Refer to Part 2 on the reverse side to familiarize yourself with possible interview questions. Reflect on how you would answer the questions. Develop specific examples that highlight your skills. Make sure that you can answer each question honestly and sincerely without sounding like you prepared them. But remember, this is not an exhaustive list of possible interview questions, but rather some general samples to help you begin thinking about what may be asked during an interview.
  4. Anticipate Difficult Questions
    Can you explain your low grade point average? Why did you change your major three times? Do not try to avoid these questions or “beat around the bush.” Explain the situation honestly and in a positive manner. Try to turn a weakness into a strength, i.e., “Yes, my GPA is low, but this is because I worked thirty hours a week to put myself through school.”
  5. Prepare Questions for Your Interviewer
    Describe your most successful employees. What are the educational opportunities? What training will I receive? The end of the interview is usually reserved for your questions. Do not just ask generic questions, and do not ask questions that could easily be found in company literature. Ask questions that will help you determine if you are a good match for the position and organization, such as the questions above.

Sample Job Interview Questions

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What do you want to do with your life?
  • Do you have any actual work experience?
  • How would you describe your ideal job?
  • What are your long and short term goals?
  • How do you plan to achieve your career goals?
  • How do you evaluate success?
  • Why did you choose the career for which you are prepared?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in this career?
  • What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction in your life?
  • If you had to live your life over again, what would you change?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weakness?
  • How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
  • How do you think a professor or employment supervisor would describe you?
  • If you were hiring for this position, what qualities would you look for?
  • Would your rather work with information or with people?
  • Are you a team player?
  • What motivates you?
  • Are you a goal-oriented person?
  • Why did you choose your university major?
  • Do you have plans for further university study?
  • How has your education prepared you for your career?
  • What were your favorite classes? Why?
  • Do you enjoy doing independent research?
  • Who were your favorite professors? Why?
  • Why is your GPA not higher?
  • How much training do you think you’ll need to become a productive employee?
  • What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?
  • Do you handle conflict well?
  • What personal strategies do you use to deal with stressful work situations?
  • Tell me about a major problem you encountered and how you dealt with it.
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • Are you willing to spend at least six months as a trainee?
  • Will you relocate? Does relocation bother you?
  • Do you have a geographical preference? Why?
  • Why did you decide to seek a position with this company?
  • In what type of work environment are you most comfortable?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • What is the biggest project you ever had to plan? How did you organize the situation?
  • What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
  • What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful in this company?
  • Describe a volunteer, work, or school experience where you held a leadership position.
  • What have you learned from participation in extracurricular activities?
  • Is money important to you?
  • How much money do you need to make to be happy?
  • What kind of salary are you looking for?

BEST QUESTIONS ASKED BY APPLICANTS

What have been some of the best questions asked of you during your experiences with interviewing prospective job applicants? When listing some of the best questions asked of them by job applicants, employers provided several excellent examples. Their questions are categorized into the following groups: general topics, career motivation, anticipated job responsibilities, work environment, affirmative action, quality of work, personality factors, products and services, employment trends, measures of work performance, salary and benefits, and interview closure items. When graduating students are preparing for interviews with prospective employers, this list could be very helpful.

GENERAL TOPICS

  • What is the financial stability of this company?
  • What future changes do you see for this company?
  • What direction do you see your company going in the future?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • How successful have you been with marketing your company’s products?
  • What plans does the company have for becoming more competitive in this industry?
  • What is the biggest negative about your company?
  • What makes your company different from others?

CAREER MOTIVATION

  • Why did you accept work with this company?
  • How long have you been employed with this company?
  • Why do you continue to work for XYZ organization?
  • What do you like most (or least) about your company?
  • Would you want your son/daughter to work for this company too?
  • What makes your association with this employer enjoyable?
  • What are you really hiring me to accomplish?
  • Graduating students are really wanting to get past the recruiting jargon to learn what is truly expected of them. Why should I take this job for (or . . . work for your company)?

ANTICIPATED JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

  • If I were hired by your organization for this position, what duties would I be performing?
  • What will be expected of me in this position?
  • How does my job fit with the mission of the organization, company performance, or profitability?
  • How do you know when to hire additional staff?
  • How much responsibility will I have?
  • Why is this job important to you?
  • What will I be contributing to the organization?
  • What do you wish you knew about the company before you started?
  • What would you change about this position, if you could?

WORK ENVIRONMENT

  • What is your corporate culture?
  • How would top management describe the corporate culture, and how does this compare with things in the organization as they really are at the lower levels?
  • What were your personal experiences on this job?
  • Will I be on a team, or in a group?
  • How much freedom am I given to solve problems with my own methods?
  • What help is available to me when my methods fail?
  • Is this a new position?
  • Why did the other person leave?
  • What is your company really like?

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION/EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

  • What is the standard of living among minorities in your local community?
  • What minority programs do you have?

QUALITY OF WORK

  • What differentiates your company from your competition?
  • Do you get repeat business from your customers?
  • What are the ethical and environmental philosophies of your company?
  • What has been the history of turnover among recent hires in the company?
  • What is this company’s philosophy towards their employees?
  • What is the relationship of this organization to the local community?

PERSONALITY FACTORS

  • What can I do with my education and training for your company?
  • What values are sacred to this company?
  • What would cause me to leave the company?
  • How mobile can I be?

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

  • Has the company thought of going in the direction of xyz?
  • What impact will the clean air legislation (or other current topic) have on the company?
  • What impact did your recent service (or logo, product, market blitz, etc.) change have on your business?
  • What do you see as the biggest areas of needed improvement within the company?

EMPLOYMENT TRENDS

  • What significant changes has the company experienced in the past year?
  • What are short- and long-term strategic directions of the company?
  • What have been the successes (or failures) of the company?
  • What is the company doing to change for success in this changing global economy?
  • What are the company’s goals for the future?
  • What is the greatest challenge, from your perspective, that the organization faces during the next year?

MEASURES OF WORK PERFORMANCE

  • How would you describe the most successful employees in your company?
  • Can I expect opportunities for advancement with the company, if I work hard to prove myself?
  • If I do well, what will I be doing in five years?
  • How will I be evaluated in my job?
  • How often will I be evaluated?
  • Who supervises this position?
  • What is the chain of command for this position?
  • Where would my career progress from my first assignment?
  • How does your company encourage their new hires to keep pace with advancing technologies?
  • What characteristics do you possess that have made you so successful?
  • What can I do within my first five years to help ensure my success within the company?
  • What was your career path within the company?
  • What feedback has been given to your company by recent new hires?

SALARY AND BENEFITS

  • What is the pay for this position?
  • What are advanced educational opportunities with XYZ organization (MS, MBA, etc.)?
  • May I someday invest in the company?
  • What training would I receive if hired?

INTERVIEW CLOSURE

  • How did I do?
  • Do I get the job?
  • How soon will I hear from you?
  • What does your company want from successful candidates for this job?
  • What would distinguish one candidate over another for this job?
  • How do I prove myself and my commitment to the company?
  • When would you want me to start in this position?

Source: Scheetz, L. Patrick. 1991. Recruiting Trends 1991-92. East Lansing, MI.: Collegiate Employment Research Institute, Michigan State University.

 

How to Research an Employer

WHY RESEARCH

An employer representative will quickly know if you have researched the organization by the way you act. There is no quicker way to turn an employer off than by not reading the material employers have provided prior to interviews.

Researching an organization is an important factor in an employer’s evaluation of an applicant — it positively displays your interest and enthusiasm. Your research of an organization is a valuable way of showing, in an interview, that you understand the purpose of the interview. It also establishes a common foundation of knowledge from which questions can be asked and to which information can be added.

HOW TO RESEARCH

The first place to look is the card catalog in the Career Development Center to determine if material is available such as annual reports, employer notebooks, videotapes, etc. Review all material, and before making copies, check in the Co-op Office to see if extra materials were sent for distribution.

For each organization, try to locate the following information:

  • Services and/or products
  • Competitors
  • Age and growth pattern
  • Media articles and reputation
  • Divisions, subsidiaries, location and size
  • Number of employees
  • Sales, assets and earnings
  • New products or projects
  • Number of locations
  • Foreign operations and products

Since printed material may only be updated every few years by the employer, information provided can be somewhat dated, (from several months to several years old). You are unlikely to find much information on very recent developments (within the last 6 weeks) unless they were newsworthy enough to be covered by national newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. This information is available on computer programs in the library. Hard copies of some of these articles are available in the library.

LEARN ABOUT THE JOB

Review the job description if available. Or talk to a person who is employed in this type of work or a related field. If possible, talk to the person you are replacing or other people who work for the same organization.

ANNUAL REPORTS

Compare the annual reports of the past several years on the following:

  • Balance Sheet. The difference between current assets and current liabilities is net working capital. Dividing the long-term liabilities by stock holders’ equity will give you the debt-to-equity ratio.
  • Certified public accountant report. Watch for the phrase “subject to …”, this could mean the accountant is not happy about that area. Footnotes which may contain insightful information should always be read.
  • Are earnings down? determine if they are and why from the report.
  • Are earnings up? determine why — it may be just a fluke.
  • Read the organizations letter to the stockholders. This will tell you how the company fared; use of words like “Except for…” and “Despite the …” could indicate problems.
  • Check the stockholders’ equity and the long term debt of the organization.
  • Check the income statement for consistency of net sales.
  • Net earnings per share — check the footnotes.

OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Read everything the business press has been saying about the organization. The MSU Library and the Business Library have computerized search and microfiches systems for information on specific subjects. This will give you inside information on the organization that you would not find in an annual report.

Get information from the local community by visiting the public library, chamber of commerce, government offices; contact business and trade associations, local newspapers, etc.

Visit the organization and request information. Talk to key employees in person or by phone and get to know them. If the opportunity presents itself, a small portion of your conversations can be about nonbusiness matters.

Ask acquaintances in the industry for information. If you haven’t tapped into the network of your field of interest, start working on it now.

Check with professors who are involved in that organization’s area of interest.

Ask the organization’s neighbors, customers and competitors for information. Be cautious about this; but if you are able to talk to someone who has the time, you can learn much while also expanding your network contacts.

Call the organization and request materials they can collect for you to pick up before your interview or items that you can review.

All people you visit and/or talk with are potentially network contacts. Impress them; ask advice on how to find employment, and keep in touch with them.