Interview Tips – Before the Interview

Researching the Employer

Who are you selling too? You may have gathered information while networking. That is good, but still expand on it. The Internet may be your best resource for researching the employer. You could try the library or the local Chamber of Commerce for additional information.

Sometimes there is an overwhelming amount of information. What do you need to know? The answer is anything that could be relevant. Focus on the employers place in their market, past accomplishments and future goals. Many employers ask, “What do you know about our employer?” If you had not prepared by doing research, you would be in a very awkward position. If an employer is large you should concentrate your research on the group or division that you are applying to. Be sure to know:


  • What products or services do they provide?
  • Who do they do business with?
  • Why are they hiring?
  • Have they just launched/released a new product/service?
  • Who are you interviewing with? What is their position?
  • How does your background fit into the employer?


Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer

You may or may not be asked these questions, but if you practice your answers before the interview, you will be better prepared to talk about yourself. Be sure to relate your answers to the employer and position that you are interviewing for and always be positive.


  • Tell me about yourself. Tough question? Give a 1 to 2-minute response describing how your skills, education, and goals relate to the position. Explain how you could bring value to the employer.
  • Tell me your greatest strengths. Give a confident response identifying personal strengths that relate to the position and could bring value.
  • Tell me about your weaknesses. Identify a weakness that could be turned into a strength or a past weakness and what you have done to improve on it.
  • What motivates you? Identify things that personally motivate you to do a good job. For example, completing a project ahead of schedule or with no errors, mentoring, or learning new skills. Avoid money, time off, recognition, or any other external motivators.
  • What did you enjoy most about your last job? Be positive, this is a good time to bring up your accomplishments.
  • What did you like least about your last job? Avoid speaking negatively of any person.
  • What are your five-year career goals? Relate your answer to how your goals impact the employer’s business plans.
  • What are your short-term career goals? Again, relate it to the employer’s plans.
  • How do you get along with your peers? As always be very positive and professional. This is not a time to express disappointment or to share after-hours gossip.
  • Why do you want to change jobs? If you are unemployed, you should explain the circumstances without being emotional. If you are employed, then you should express the positive reasons that you would like to join the employer instead of focusing on any negative feelings regarding your current employer.
  • Why do you want to work for this employer? Your research pays off here. Stress the positives about the employer and how you can make an impact.
  • How do you work under pressure? Be positive and give an example from your past experience.
  • How do you feel about working overtime? Watch out for this question. The best answer may be to express that “your top priority is to get the job done right and you intend to manage your time wisely.” Be careful not to indicate that some overtime would be a problem.
  • Would you be willing to relocate? You need to be honest. If it is not out of the question then let them know that if the opportunity were right then you would consider it. Be sure you know your timeline when considering relocation.
  • Would you be willing to travel? Again, be honest. You should never flat out say no. Most people are willing to travel at least once or twice a year. If you are not willing to travel on a regular basis you should indicate that you could only travel on a limited basis and define what you mean. If you are open to being a road warrior then you should let them know.
  • What would your former employer say about you? Stress positive things about your job performance, attendance, and work habits. Be sure that what you say will be consistent during a reference check.
  • Why do you want to work for this employer? Here is your chance to show off the research that you have done. Include how you could make an impact.
  • What do you consider to be your outstanding accomplishments? Yep. Time to brag. Think this out so you don’t ramble. Think of a couple of outstanding achievements that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for. Be sure to relate them as to how you can impact this employer.
  • Have you ever been fired? You’ve got to be honest. If you have been fired it is best to admit it and explain why. Don’t become emotional or assign blame.
  • What was your last salary? You need to be honest and include the entire package. Many people have lumped their entire package into one sum. For example if their base was 53K and they had 7-10K in bonuses and profit sharing, they would answer low 60’s. This is a big mistake. If the employer asks for salary history during reference checks, your answer could come across as misleading. Be sure you break the total package down in their relative components when answering.
  • What salary are you looking for? Always be ready to answer this one! Your best response is that “I am looking for the right opportunity and I will consider your best offer.” That won’t always be enough though. If they push you for a dollar figure then you need to go back to your research on the position. Give them a range such as low to mid 50’s, never give exact numbers. This way you can create the gray areas that you are willing to negotiate within.
  • Tell me about a time that you set a goal and did not accomplish it. Weird question, right? It is common in behavior-based interviewing. They are looking for the steps you took in order to achieve your goal and how you handled the situation when you didn’t accomplish your goal.
  • Tell me about a time when you felt something could be accomplished more effectively within your employer. Again, they are looking for how you handle situations. Were you able to influence others to see your perspective and some up with ways to implement come changes, or did you sit back and watch?

 

Once you can answer all of these questions effectively you are almost ready to interview. Almost you say? You still need to be prepared to ask the interviewer insightful questions. Many people are excluded from consideration because they have no questions for the interviewer. Unfortunately, if you don’t have any questions, you appear to be uninterested.


Questions to Ask the Interviewer

The questions you ask during the interview are just as important as the answers you give. Your questions show the employer your knowledge and understanding of their company, your thought process when making an important decision, and also allows you to set the stage to direct the conversation so that you are able to show how you would impact the employer. For example, if you ask what are the short-term goals or most pressing needs for the position, you can use the information in their answers to tell them how you would accomplish the necessary tasks.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:


  • What are the most critical issues facing your department?
  • What are some of the objectives that you would like to accomplish in this position?
  • What are your most pressing issues?
  • What would you like to see accomplished in the next two or three weeks?
  • What long-term objectives do you have for this position?
  • What traits do your most successful employees possess?
  • How would you describe your management style?
  • When do you plan to make a decision?
  • What career path options have you defined for this position?

Now you need to rehearse. Practice answering and asking all of these questions.

You should think of several (5 or more) special accomplishments that you are proud of. When have you gone beyond the call of duty? Did you save the employer money? Did you increase sales? Did you save time? Were you recognized for special achievements? Be sure you are able to bring these special accomplishments up smoothly during the conversation. The employer probably won’t ask you to list your major accomplishments; it is your responsibility to make them known. Being comfortable discussing your past successes is very important in your interviews.

Practice, practice, and practice! Prepare, prepare, and prepare!

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