Mastering the art of the interview


Gunter Kleist

Beth Walsh, Coordinator of Career Development

Throughout this past year, unemployment rates in America have dropped to 5 percent, which means more people are out there being hired. The first step in being able to get one of those jobs is mastering the interview.

But even before the interview, one must get a foot in the door. “When you create a really nice résumé, the only thing it is supposed to do is get you an interview,” said Beth Walsh, coordinator of career development at Johnson State College.

In a seminar on Nov. 19, Walsh provided a wide range of practical advice and strategies for obtaining and mastering the job interview.

“An interview isn’t just when one person asks the questions and the other person answers,” said Walsh during her presentation. “It is a mutual exchange of information.”

According to Walsh, the first step towards mastering the interview is dressing for success. You will only get one chance to make a first impression. Use that chance to make it a good one. One of the first things prospective employers see upon meeting is the outward appearance.

In those first couple of minutes, or seconds, interviewers can tell a lot about you, just by looking. “They can tell a lot about your attitude and your appearance, what you know about yourself, and what you know about their company,” said Walsh.

“You want it to be clear to them how much you want this job,” she added. “Dress more formally than would be expected for the job. You need to wear clothes that aren’t too loose or too tight. Leggings aren’t pants, I tell young women all the time; put a skirt over it. No undergarments should ever be visible, and if you think you look sexy, change. It is not appropriate for a job, or an internship, or an interview. Transgender job seekers should dress professionally for the gender they choose to present, or in a gender neutral attire.”

Another critical component for mastering the interview is being prepared. Practice responses to any and all questions you think might be asked. Do some research on the company, so that you may ask better questions of the interviewer.

“There’s lots of ways to prepare for an interview,” said Walsh. “One way that you could prepare for an interview is come into a mock interview with me; you would send me your résumé, you would send me the job description and you would come in and I would act as if I was the one interviewing you. You would respond, and afterward we would debrief. We would talk about what worked, what didn’t work.”

While it is important to practice answering the questions that you think you might be asked, it is also important to ask perceptive questions of the interviewer, questions that make it clear you have studied the company.

“Look at the website for the company, and prepare some questions for the interviewer,” said Walsh. “Something that reflects your knowledge of the company. You also don’t want it to be something so hard the interviewer doesn’t know the answer. That makes them feel stupid, and they don’t want to work with someone that makes them feel stupid.”

According to Walsh, careful listening is also a crucial skill. “Let the interviewer take the lead, and listen carefully to the questions,” said Walsh. “If you don’t understand them, ask them to repeat it in a different way, or repeat it back to them. ‘So what I think you’re asking me is this.’ Take time to think, it’s not a race, so it’s okay to think for a minute. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t undersell your qualifications either.”

Be prepared to take notes during the interview, “because something might trigger an idea of something you’d like to talk about,” said Walsh.

While taking notes, or perhaps before the interview, write down three things you want to share with the interviewer, three things you’d like to know and the answer to the question you don’t want them to ask you.

“There is always a question you don’t want them to ask; make sure you have a really great answer,” said Walsh. “You don’t want to appear nervous at all, you want to have practiced it so it comes naturally.”

Talk about your transferable skills, because those are what employers are hiring for. “When you ask an employer ‘What qualifications do you hope a person has?’ They’ll say ‘I want them to be a good communicator, I want them to be able to work as a team, I want them to do some problem solving, I want them to be able to manage their time,”’ said Walsh. “Those aren’t things you learn out of a textbook; they aren’t necessarily things you were taught in your degree. They’re things you learn as a student, but you need to be aware of them, and be able to talk about them.

Another important aspect according to Walsh is honesty. “It’s important to be authentic, during the interview, as much as you can,” she said. “It’s nerve wracking, but try and be authentic. And when you can bring humor into it, it really helps a lot. It just brings down the nervousness a little bit, it helps.”
The interviewer will ask lots of questions, which can range from your educational background and prior work experience, to the reasons why you wish to work at this particular company. To answer that question, “you don’t want to tell them why that job is perfect for you, but rather why you are perfect for that job,” said Walsh.

When asked about past work experiences and previous bosses, it is important not to burn a former employer, colleague, teacher or institution. “It makes you come off as whiny, and you don’t want that to happen,” said Walsh. “If they ask you about working with people, be general. Try not to be so specific, especially if… some people are interviewing for a job within their own company. You want to be careful about bad mouthing anybody.”

Remember, this interview isn’t a one-way street; you are allowed to ask questions of the interviewer. Make sure that your questions are ones that they will be able to answer. “Don’t ask about salary or benefits until after you receive an offer,” said Walsh.

Immediately after the interview is done, “send a follow up thank you letter or email to each interviewer,” said Walsh. “Furnish any further information, work samples or recommendations, and address any questions you feel you didn’t adequately answer.”