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Job Search Guide: Strategies for Professionals

Chapter Eight

Employment Interviewing

[Types of Interviews] [Before the Interview] [During the Interview] [After the Interview] [Negotiating Your Compensation Package] [Salary Negotiations] [The Negotiation Meeting]


Types of Interviews

There are several different types of interviews which you may encounter. You probably won't know in advance which type you will be facing. Below are some descriptions of the different types of interviews and what you can expect in each of them.

Screening Interview. A preliminary interview either in person or by phone, in which a company representative determines whether you have the basic qualifications to warrant a subsequent interview.

Structured Interview. In a structured interview, the interviewer explores certain predetermined areas using questions which have been written in advance. The interviewer has a written description of the experience, skills and personality traits of an "ideal" candidate. Your experience and skills are compared to specific job tasks. This type of interview is very common and most traditional interviews are based on this format.

Unstructured Interview. Although the interviewer is given a written description of the "ideal" candidate, in the unstructured interview the interviewer is not given instructions on what specific areas to cover.

Multiple Interviews. Multiple interviews are commonly used with professional jobs. This approach involves a series of interviews in which you meet individually with various representatives of the organization. In the initial interview, the representative usually attempts to get basic information on your skills and abilities. In subsequent interviews, the focus is on how you would perform the job in relation to the company's goals and objectives.

After the interviews are completed, the interviewers meet and pool their information about your qualifications for the job. A variation on this approach involves a series of interviews in which unsuitable candidates are screened out at each succeeding level.

Stress Interview. The interviewer intentionally attempts to upset you to see how you react under pressure. You may be asked questions that make you uncomfortable or you may be interrupted when you are speaking. Although it is uncommon for an entire interview to be conducted under stress conditions, it is common for the interviewer to incorporate stress questions as a part of a traditional interview.

Targeted Interview. Although similar to the structured interview, the areas covered are much more limited. Key qualifications for success on the job are identified and relevant questions are prepared in advance.

Situational Interview. Situations are set up which simulate common problems you may encounter on the job. Your responses to these situations are measured against pre-determined standards. This approach is often used as one part of a traditional interview rather than as an entire interview format.

Group Interview. You may he interviewed by two or more company representatives simultaneously. Sometimes, one of the interviewers is designated to ask "stress" questions to see how you respond under pressure. A variation on this format is for two or more company representatives to interview a group of candidates at the same time.

The interview strategies discussed below can he used effectively in any type of interview you may encounter.


Before the Interview

Prepare in advance. The better prepared you are, the less anxious you will be and the greater your chances for success.

Role Play. Find someone to role play the interview with you. This person should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and with whom you can discuss your weaknesses freely. The person should be objective and knowledgeable, perhaps a business associate.

Use a mirror or video camera when you role play to see what kind of image you project.

Assess your interviewing skills.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Work on correcting your weaknesses, such as speaking rapidly, talking too loudly or softly and nervous habits such as shaking hands or inappropriate facial expressions.

Learn the questions that are commonly asked and prepare answers to them. Career centers and libraries often have books which include interview questions. Practice giving answers which are brief but thorough.

Decide what questions you would like to ask and practice politely interjecting them at different points in the interview.

Evaluate your strengths.

Evaluate your skills, abilities and education as they relate to the type of job you are seeking.

Practice tailoring your answers to show how you meet the company's needs, if you have details about the specific job before the interview.

Assess your overall appearance.

Find out what clothing is appropriate for your industry. Although some industries such as fashion and advertising are more stylish, acceptable attire for most industries is conservative.

Have several sets of appropriate clothing available since you may have several interviews over a few days.

Your clothes should be clean and pressed and your shoes polished.

Make sure your hair is neat, your nails clean and you are generally well groomed.

Research the company. The more you know about the company and the job you are applying for, the better you will do on the interview. Get as much information as you can before the interview. (See Chapter 4, Researching the Job Market.)

Have extra copies of your resume available to take on the interview. The interviewer may ask you for extra copies. Make sure you bring along the same version of your resume that you originally sent the company. You can also refer to your resume to complete applications that ask for job history information (e.g., dates of employment, names of former employers and their telephone numbers, job responsibilities and accomplishments.)

Arrive early at the interview. Plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. Give yourself time to find a restroom so you can check your appearance.

It's important to make a good impression from the moment you enter the reception area. Greet the receptionist cordially and try to appear confident. You never know what influence the receptionist has with your interviewer. With a little small talk, you may get some helpful information about the interviewer and the job opening.

If you are asked to fill out an application while you're waiting, be sure to fill it out completely.


During the Interview

The job interview is usually a two-way discussion between you and a prospective employer. The interviewer is attempting to determine whether you have what the company needs, and you are attempting to determine if you would accept the job if offered. Both of you will he trying to get as much information as possible in order to make those decisions.

The interview that you are most likely to face is a structured interview with a traditional format. It usually consists of three phases. The introductory phase covers the greeting, small talk and an overview of which areas will be discussed during the interview. The middle phase is a question-and-answer period. The interviewer asks most of the questions, but you are given an opportunity to ask questions as well. The closing phase gives you an opportunity to ask any final questions you might have, cover any important points that haven't been discussed and get information about the next step in the process.

Introductory Phase. This phase is very important. You want to make a good first impression and, if possible, get additional information you need about the job and the company.

Make a good impression. You only have a few seconds to create a positive first impression which can influence the rest of the interview and even determine whether you get the job.

The interviewer's first impression of you is based mainly on nonverbal clues. The interviewer is assessing your overall appearance and demeanor. When greeting the interviewer, be certain your handshake is firm and that you make eye contact. Wait for the interviewer to signal you before you sit down.

Once seated, your body language is very important in conveying a positive impression. Find a comfortable position so that you don't appear tense. Lean forward slightly and maintain eye contact with the interviewer. This posture shows that you are interested in what is being said. Smile naturally at appropriate times. Show that you are open and receptive by keeping your arms and legs uncrossed. Avoid keeping your briefcase or your handbag on your lap. Pace your movements so that they are not too fast or too slow. Try to appear relaxed and confident.

Get the information you need. If you weren't able to get complete information about the job and the company in advance, you should try to get it as early as possible in the interview. Be sure to prepare your questions in advance. Knowing the following things will allow you to present those strengths and abilities that the employer wants.

Why does the company need someone in this position?

Exactly what would they expect of you?

Are they looking for traditional or innovative solutions to problems?

When to ask questions. The problem with a traditional interview structure is that your chance to ask questions occurs late in the interview. How can you get the information you need early in the process without making the interviewer feel that you are taking control?

Deciding exactly when to ask your questions is the tricky part. Timing is everything. You may have to make a decision based on intuition and your first impressions of the interviewer. Does the interviewer seem comfortable or nervous, soft-spoken or forceful, formal or casual? These signals will help you to judge the best time to ask your questions.

The sooner you ask the questions, the less likely you are to disrupt the interviewer's agenda. However, if you ask questions too early, the interviewer may feel you are trying to control the interview.

Try asking questions right after the greeting and small talk. Since most interviewers like to set the tone of the interview and maintain initial control, always phrase your questions in a way that leaves control with the interviewer. Perhaps say, "Would you mind telling me a little more about the job so that I can focus on the information that would be most important to the company?" If there is no job opening but you are trying to develop one or you need more information about the company, try saying, "Could you tell me a little more about where the company is going so I can focus in those areas of my background that are most relevant?"

You may want to wait until the interviewer has given an overview of what will be discussed. This overview may answer some of your questions or may provide some details that you can use to ask additional questions. Once the middle phase of the interview has begun, you may find it more difficult to ask questions.


Middle Phase. During this phase of the interview, you will be asked many questions about your work experience, skills, education, activities and interests. You are being assessed on how you will perform the job in relation to the company objectives.

All your responses should be concise. Use specific examples to illustrate your point whenever possible. Although your responses should be prepared in advance so that they are well-phrased and effective, be sure they do not sound rehearsed. Remember that your responses must always be adapted to the present interview. Incorporate any information you obtained earlier in the interview with the responses you had prepared in advance and then answer in a way that is appropriate to the question.

Closing Phase. During the closing phase of an interview, you will be asked whether you have any other questions. Ask any relevant question that has not yet been answered. Highlight any of your strengths that have not been discussed. If another interview is to be scheduled, get the necessary information. If this is the final interview, find out when the decision is to be made and when you can call. Thank the interviewer by name and say good-bye.

Illegal Questions.

During an interview, you may be asked some questions that are considered illegal. It is illegal for an interviewer to ask you questions related to sex, age, race, religion, national origin or marital status, or to delve into your personal life for information that is not job related. What can you do if you are asked an illegal question? Take a moment to evaluate the situation. Ask yourself questions like:

How uncomfortable has this question made you feel?

Does the interviewer seem unaware that the question is illegal?

Is this interviewer going to be your boss?

Then respond in a way that is comfortable for you.

If you decide to answer the question, be succinct and try to move the conversation back to an examination of your skills and abilities as quickly as possible. For example, if asked about your age, you might reply, "I'm in my forties, and I have a wealth of experience that would be an asset to your company." If you are not sure whether you want to answer the question, first ask for a clarification of how this question relates to your qualifications for the job. You may decide to answer if there is a reasonable explanation. If you feel there is no justification for the question, you might say that you do not see the relationship between the question and your qualifications for the job and you prefer not to answer it.


After the Interview

You are not finished yet. It is important to assess the interview shortly after it is concluded. Following your interview you should:

Write down the name and title (be sure the spelling is correct) of the interviewer.

Review what the job entails and record what the next step will be.

Note your reactions to the interview; include what went well and what went poorly.

Assess what you learned from the experience and how you can improve your performance in future interviews.

Make sure you send a thank-you note within 24 hours. Your thank-you note should:

  • Be handwritten only if you have very good handwriting. Most people type the thank-you note.
  • Be on good quality white or cream-colored paper.
  • Be simple and brief.
  • Express your appreciation for the interviewer's time.
  • Show enthusiasm for the job.
  • Get across that you want the job and can do it.

Phone Follow-up. If you were not told during the interview when a hiring decision will be made, call after one week.

At that time, if you learn that the decision has not been made, find out whether you are still under consideration for the job. Ask if there are any other questions the interviewer might have about your qualifications and offer to come in for another interview if necessary. Reiterate that you are very interested in the job.

If you learn that you did not get the job, try to find out why. You might also inquire whether the interviewer can think of anyone else who might be able to use someone with your abilities, either in another department or at another company.

If you are offered the job, you have to decide whether you want it. (See "Negotiating Your Compensation Package" later in this chapter.) If you are not sure, thank the employer and ask for several days to think about it. Ask any other questions you might need answered to help you with the decision.

If you know you want the job and have all the information you need, accept the job with thanks and get the details on when you start. Ask whether the employer will be sending a letter of confirmation, as it is best to have the offer in writing.

Who Gets Hired? In the final analysis, the employer will hire someone who has the abilities and talents which fulfill their needs. It is up to you to demonstrate at the interview that you are the person they want.


Negotiating Your Compensation Package

Do not discuss your specific compensation package, especially salary, with the employer until you have been offered the job and you think it is an offer you should seriously consider. During salary negotiations, you are not only talking about your monetary salary but your entire compensation package. This includes vacation time, sick leave, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and other benefits the company may offer. Your base salary and performance-based raises are probably the most negotiable parts of your compensation package. However, many companies do have a cafeteria approach to benefits where you select from a number of benefit options based on a total monetary cost. In other words, the company will spend a certain amount of money on each employee for benefits, and employees have some flexibility on which benefit options they select. For example, employees with children might select child care reimbursement benefit, while employees interested in going back to school might choose tuition reimbursement. When negotiating your compensation package, it is important to keep in mind the total package. Make sure you consider all benefits the company has to offer, not just salary. Before you begin negotiating your compensation decide which benefits are most important to you so you are ready to talk to the employer.


Salary Negotiations

Like other parts of the job search process the key to salary negotiations is preparation. It is very important for you to do your research before you begin salary negotiations. In order to determine the salary you are willing to accept, investigate the salary range someone with your skills and experience can expect to receive.

How do you find salary information?

The Library. Your local library should have a number of references to use to find out the salary ranges for the occupation which you are considering. One reference book is:

American Salaries and Wages Survey (Gale Research, Detroit). Detailed information on salaries and wages for thousands of jobs. Data is subdivided geographically. Also gives cost-of-living data for selected areas, which is very helpful in determining what the salary differences really mean. Provides information on numbers employed in each occupation, along with projected changes.

Online resources for wages by area and occupation include:

America's CareerInfoNet, under "Occupation Information" find "Wages by Occupation and Local area."

Ask the reference librarian for assistance in locating other salary information resources.

Professional associations. National and regional professional associations frequently conduct salary surveys. They ask people in the "profession" what compensation they are receiving. Contact your professional association and ask if they can provide you with salary information.

Your network. Talk to colleagues in your professional network. Although people frequently don't want to tell you what they personally are making, usually they are willing to talk about salary ranges. Ask colleagues, based on their experience, what salary range you might expect for the position.

Job search centers. These centers (which can he found in schools, libraries, community centers, or as part of federal, state or local government programs) frequently keep salary information on hand.

Your past experience. If you are applying for a job in a field in which you have experience, you probably have a good idea of what someone with your skills and abilities should be paid. Think about your past salary. Unless the job you are applying for requires dramatically different responsibility then your former position, your previous salary is definitely a starting point for salary negotiation.


The Negotiation Meeting

Once you have a good feeling for the type of salary and benefits you are willing to accept, it's time to negotiate with the company. Don't sell yourself short during these negotiations. Usually, when a company is ready to make you an offer, they have invested a lot of time and money in their search for a qualified employee. You don't want to be overly aggressive with the employer, but you do want to receive a fair compensation package. If the employer makes you an offer that does not seem equitable, discuss your concerns with the employer. Present your concerns about the benefits package in a constructive, non-threatening manner. Focus on the reasons why you have concerns, as opposed to making general statements about what you deserve. For example, it won't be productive to simply state that "I must have more money." It would be more productive to explain that the company's offer is less than you were making previously and you would like them to match your previous salary. In most situations employers do have some flexibility in what they can offer an applicant. They might be able to offer you more money or compensate you with additional benefits (e.g., more vacation leave). Some companies can offer a signing bonus to compensate for other "weaknesses" in their compensation package.

When you are considering the offer, make sure you are taking into account the entire benefits package. Sometimes excellent benefits can compensate for a lower salary. If you really want the job, but the offer still seems low after negotiations, see if the employer will consider a salary review three to six months from your starting date. Also, usually you don't have to make a decision about the offer immediately. Ask the employer for a couple of days so that you can carefully consider the position and the offer.

If you do come to an agreement with the employer, find out when you can expect to receive the offer in writing. It is very important to get the official offer documented. An official letter usually means that the "higher ups" at the company have approved your offer.

Go to Table of Contents, Handling Your Job Loss, Managing Your Personal Resources, Assessing Your Skills, Experiences and Interests, Researching the Job Market, Conducting the Job Search, Networking, Writing Resumes and Cover Letters, and Employment Testing.

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