Last week I posted an extensive article on tips for new graduate resumes. This week we’re going to shift gears a little as we now assume that your resume was shortlisted, you were called, and you now have to prepare for an interview. Now the real fun starts.
Last spring/summer I attended multiple interviews and had many different styles and personalities to contend with. I wish I could say that by following the 12 interview tips below you were guaranteed to knock the proverbial ball out of the park, but anyone who is honest about the hiring game knows there is a bit of luck involved. That being said, these 12 interview tips are time tested and make a lot of sense to me. Good luck out there Tiger!
Interview Tips – Be Yourself
1) The interviewer(s) will not necessarily hire the most qualified candidate, but the one that thinks the most like them.
This was a tip I got from a friend of mine and it definitely changed my perspective on the interview process. My goal used to be to impress the interviewer(s) so much that they would have no choice but to hire me. With all of the competition out there these days it is important to realize that there will be other well-qualified people applying for your job, chances are that the position will go to the person that makes the best personal connection to the person(s) interviewing them. Therefore your goal should be to appear to think like the people interviewing you because that is ultimately who they want to work with, and who they will determine, “Is the best fit for the job.” A great example of this is during the interview for the job I eventually got hired for one of the interviewers agreed with one of my answers and summed it up with a quote from a college basketball coach. I mentioned that I knew the source of the quote and quite suddenly my interviewer engaged me in a brief tangent about college basketball. I’m sure that this stuck in his mind and subconsciously his opinion of me as someone he would like to work with probably rose quite substantially.
2) The casual time at the beginning of an interview is extremely important.
Everyone will tell you that first impressions are important, but the first 5 minutes of an interview go beyond this. In fact, if you’re really good, first impressions can begin before you even meet your interviewers. In most cases there will be someone to greet you such as a secretary or receptionist. By being polite with these people and striking up casual conversation not only can you leave a great impression on them, but you may learn something about the job/company/position that you might be able to work into the interview.
Once you’re in the interview there is usually a casual introductory period while everyone gets situated and acquainted. Try to take stock of the little things during this brief stretch of time. You want to act like a poker shark picking up on subtle details. For example, maybe you realize that they have been interviewing all day, you could preface one of your answers with, “I realize you all have had a long day, so I will keep this succinct and to the point.” Another example is picking up on a hobby or a hometown that you can work into an answer later. I often will look for a sports or music analogy if I can tell that’s what they’re into.
3) Do some preliminary research.
Doing preliminary research for an interview used to be a time consuming and tedious process. You would have to casually visit a business, search past news clippings, or rely on a broad connection net to get information about the company and person(s) that were in your interview. These days you literally just have to use that handy search engine in your right hand corner! A quick search of where you’re applying, and who will likely be in the room with you can’t hurt. When I was applying with school divisions I would look up their motto, what schools were in the division (other than the one I was applying to), check out what they liked to highlight on their website, and maybe even skim the last school board meeting minutes to see what issues were relevant at the time. Then I would run a quick Google search on the Superintendent of the division, and Principal of the school I was applying at. Often you could find snippets or quotes of their views on education etc. You can also find out if they are part of a golf club, or were awarded a medal for music. This can really help in your quest to find common ground. To be blunt, this will tell you want they want to hear whether you are stretching the truth or not.
4) Answer honestly and use specific situation examples as opposed to vague clichés.
One of the easiest ways to separate a serious candidate from a wannabe is to see who uses canned, clichéd, vague answers that reveal little actual concrete information about themselves. Those who cite specific instances and prove they can think critically about a situation they were in stand in stark contrast. I’ve unfortunately seen many times where people prepare for an interview by memorizing answers off an internet site and subsequently saying something like, “My biggest weakness is that I am a workaholic, I give too much to my job.” A clichéd answer like that might make the rest of the interview moot. Instead, look up some of the common questions asked in general and in your field, and think of relevant experience you can call upon from previous jobs or volunteer positions. This will let you reply with much more confidence and substance behind your answer.
5) The time at the end of the interview for your questions can be what separates you from the pack.
If your interviewing in a competitive field chances are that at least a couple of the other candidates have done their homework and know what they are doing. This means that it’s the little things in an interview that can make the difference. Often it becomes the less formal aspects of the interview such as the standard, “Any questions?” at the end that make the difference. This is your chance to show you took the initiative and know something about the place you were interviewing. I have also heard that asking about a mentorship program and other supports in your first year show that you are serious about succeeding long term at the position and are not merely attracted by a paycheque. A standard question I used in interviewing for teacher positions was, “I am fairly familiar with some of the schools in this division (insert anecdote here), but what would say are the real strengths of (insert school division name here), what sets them apart?” Inevitably the answer would be some BS jargon answer that had no real relevance to me, but I could see from the looks on their faces the question had scored points. It showed I had a real interest in the bigger work picture and was not just desperate to get hired.
Interview Tips – Don’t Be Late!
6) As my high school basketball coach would say, “If it begins at 3, your late as of 2:51.”
This is common sense to me. If I am an administrator who has worked my way up the food chain, have 101 things to do, and multiple interviews to get through in a day, I am rarely if ever going to hire someone who shows up late. My basketball coach never took no for an answer and it was a positive life lesson. What I will often do for job interviews is give myself one hour slack time from ideal driving conditions. This way if I encounter any bad weather, traffic problems, or detours I should still be fine. If you get there early just use the time to go over your resume, portfolio and any other relevant information. Get ‘in the zone’ if you will. I usually walk in 15 minutes early so that I’m not a nuisance by being too early, yet show the acceptable level of respect that the process deserves. It also gives me an ideal amount of time to make small talk with the secretary/receptionist and leave a positive impression, yet not be a hindrance to their work.
7) Dress appropriately.
Duh. I hesitated to even include this tip because if you have taken the time to read this far you’re probably not the type of person to go to an interview wearing board shorts and a T-shirt. Feeling underdressed can sap your confidence quickly. If you’re interviewing for a professional position at least where a collar and tie, likely a sport coat or suit jacket wouldn’t hurt, but for most entry-level positions you’d probably be ok with the slacks, shirt and tie combo.
8 ) Your body language should communicate confidence and sincerity
While studies differ slightly on just what percentage of human interaction is unspoken there is definitely consensus that it is way more than most would believe. Take advantage of this knowledge during your interview. Posture is one of my weaknesses, I tend to slouch forward. This can give a negative or aggressive impression. Instead, I consciously reminded myself to sit up straight, it shows confidence and competency without appearing too aggressive. If you are being panel interviewed don’t cross your hands in front of you, this will communicate that you want to hide something. Instead, leave your hands on the arm rests and situate yourself with a very open orientation to everyone at the table. When questioned by someone, initially look them in the eye, but make sure to search the table as you answer in case some of the other interviewers were paying close attention to you. You never know who might have the most say in who gets hired.
9) Use the professional vocabulary associated with your job.
Before an interview when you are mentally preparing because you got there 40 minutes early, it might be helpful to review some of professional jargon of your profession. This is especially true if it’s your first time through the hiring process. Using the appropriate vocabulary confidently gives the impression that you are capable and knowledgeable about the job (regardless of if you actually are or not). It gives your presentation a truly professional feel if you can, “Talk the talk.” Of course, this doesn’t mean you should try to force buzzwords awkwardly into the conversation. Just answer as you normally would, but if you know the information well and have prepared properly, you should see opportunities to show off that knowledge a little.
10) Bring extra copies of your resume.
As I stated in my resume article, you should bring extra copies everywhere with you when your job hunting, but especially into a job interview. Setting your briefcase (invest in a nice one, it creates a very important professional first impression and is relatively inexpensive) on the table and asking if anyone needs an extra resume before you begin is a great way to assertively show that you are prepared for the interview. Make sure you know your resume thoroughly and can reference it in your answers. Any confusion or mix-ups can quickly give the impression that you were not fully honest about your qualifications on the resume.
11) If you bring a portfolio, make sure you know what you want to do with it.
In Manitoba, the academics of the teaching world are extremely high on the idea of using professional portfolios as showcases to be used during your interview. Unfortunately they have absolutely no connection to the administrators who have no interest in paging through an intimidating binder full of the same stuff they seen from the last guy/girl. If you are going to bring a portfolio into a job interview my advice is that you had better know how to use it, and how to quickly locate an item while looking at it upside down (as you will be showing it to somebody). I would often start the interview by simply stating that I had a portfolio and that it would be coming around if anyone wanted to look at it. If I wanted to use a document from the portfolio I would simply reference where people could find it, and that way if they were interested they would look at it when it came to them.
I have heard multiple theories about portfolios, but to be honest I truly believe they are overrated. In most cases those administrators have seen so many portfolios they likely all blend together. The best portfolio tip I got was to include pictures from all aspects of your life that you can relate back to teaching. The reasoning behind this is once again to up your chances of making the personal connection. If an interviewer is flipping through your portfolio and they see a relevant picture, that might actually stand out from the blur. In one my interviewers I had a picture of a basketball camp I had coached at. It happened to be located in the one of the interviewer’s hometowns and he was a big fan of it. Cha-Ching!
12) Follow up with a thank you within 24 hours.
I saved the most underrated interview tip on this list for last. If you want to stand out as the one person that really wants the job and isn’t just treating the interview as another in a long line, then make sure you give a quick courtesy call back or email. Just keep it short and sweet thanking them for the opportunity and possibly dropping a casual reference to something discussed in the interview such as, “Good luck with provincials this weekend,” if the interviewer was a coach. Remember, they hire the person that thinks the most like them! Focus on that personal connection that will set you apart.
I can’t say for sure which of these interview tips was absolutely key in landing myself a job this year. I will tell you the relevant statistics in my job market. Out of my graduating class at the U of M (some three hundred or so) I am probably in contact with 100-150. Out of the people I know, less than a third got full-time work. Maybe another third got part-time work, and the final third are still chasing down leads and substitute teaching a year later. Out of the third that got full time work about 90% are on term positions that leave no guarantee for next year. I am only aware of myself and maybe 5 or so other teachers that received full-time permanent work status. Part of that definitely has to do with the fact I was willing to work rurally, but I have to believe that some of my hard work learning the art of the resume and the interview helped my cause.
Do any of you have other interview tips to add to the list?
interview tips (image credit)