Young Alumni Job Search Part V: Interviews

By Dave Isbell and Kim Medlock

You made it to the interview stage – congratulations! Taking the time to prepare properly and thoroughly can provide you with a serious leg-up on your competition.

Remember: The interview is about them. Be prepared to verbally focus on what you can do for them. Use your time afterward to think about what they can do for you.

Scott’s All Star Interview post Tips and insight to nailing the interview.

How to prepare

Preparation for an interview is as crucial as the interview itself. Ensure you’re prepared for the interview by taking the following steps

Research the company you’re interviewing with: It seems like a no-brainer, but too often interview candidates enter an interview having little to no true knowledge about the company. Scour the websites, search for news releases and articles, and become familiar with any current public activity surrounding the company. Knowledge about the company and industry shows interest and excitement, two crucial qualities in a potential employee.

This list is modified from Michael Schell’s Human Resource Approved Job Interviews and Resumes

  • How many locations do they have, and is this the head office?
  •  Is the company private or public? Is there a parent company? 
  • Have they or are they acquiring new companies or being acquired by a larger company? 
  • Have they recently been in the news, or had major publicity? 
  • Who are their competitors? 
  • Who are their major or target customers? 
  • What is their annual revenue? 
  • What are their major product/service lines? 
  • What are their major challenges? 

Certainly you are not expected to spend weeks researching and documenting information about the company, but a good few hours of preparation is vital to actively participating in the interview. Additionally, it helps you realize what type of company they are, so you have the chance to determine and articulate why you are a good fit as an employee.

Tips for a Successful Interview Quick cut-and-dried explanations for the whats and whys of basic interviews

Body Language Do’s and Don’ts

Wisebread.com: A list of the 23 most common, generic interview questions – many of these questions (or variations on these questions) will likely cross your path during the process of interviewing

Interviewquestions.org: A powerhouse resource covering every imaginable interview scenario, concern, or question you may have.

A note about phone interviews Phone interviews are a common method of preliminary screening and often occur when interviewer and interviewee are separated by a long distance. Just because you aren’t facing the interviewer doesn’t mean there aren’t several points of etiquette and behavior you should be aware of

  • Clear a section of time (15 minutes or so) before and after the scheduled interview. You want to be prepared in case they are early or the interview goes longer than scheduled. 
  • If possible, be alone in the room or location from which you choose to conduct the interview. Background noise or additional conversation can be extremely distracting for both you and the interviewer. All distractions need to be eliminated. 
  • Create a preparative checklist of the job description and how your skills lend to the requirements. This will be extremely useful if, by chance, you lose your train of thought or find yourself getting off track. 

Great articles on phone interviews:

Do’s and Don’ts of phone interviews

Common phone interview questions

At the end of the interview, you will likely be asked “do you have any questions for us?” ALWAYS ask a question. The worst possible response here is, “no.” Ask about specific job tasks or their expectations of an ideal employee. You could also ask about the culture and dynamic of the office or work place. Whatever questions you may have, be certain of one thing: to ask them! (And no, this is not a time to inquire about vacation time or bonus packages.)

Follow up:

ALWAYS send a thank you: Immediately following the interview, take 15 minutes to type (or write) a simple thank you letter, making sure to address the interviewer by their name. Take the opportunity to remind the interviewer of your qualifications and ability to serve the position well.

When to call? If the interviewer provides you with a time frame, wait the entirety of that guideline plus one full week before contacting them. Calling beforehand could be perceived as eager or desperate.

Whatever you do, remember that every question at every interview is trying to understand three things: Can you do the job?; What are your motivations for working with them to do the job?; and, do you fit in with their culture? Everything you do before, during, and after the interview must be aimed at helping the employer to understand the answers to those questions!

Next Week: Portfolios and Work Samples

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Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU.  When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.

Kim Medlock is a Michigan State University alumnae with degrees in Professional Writing and English. She works as a marketing writer by day, but fancies herself a creative writer by weekend. As a Lansing native who has always preferred writing as an artistic medium — she remains passionately in love with both of these things. 

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