Resume Help/Interview Prep
Dear Dr. Converse
I recently sent out some applications and a couple of days ago I got an invitation to interview. This will actually be my first interview for a real job since my recent graduation. I have researched some to find out what I should do to prepare but I can't find very much in the way of consistent advice. What kind of things do you recommend that somebody like me should do? Thank you for you help.
Congratulations on your interview invitation! Sounds like you have done a lot of things right so far; let's keep that going!
Your main task is to do your homework; do a lot of research on the employer. There is a systematic way of going about this that will use your time in the best possible way. First, do a general google search on the institution itself. How long have they been there? What does their main focus seem to be? How are they regarded nationally or regionally? What is their reputation based on? What are the names of the main officers or leaders of the institution? Have they, or the institution itself, received any awards or citations of recognition? Find out everything you can about them in local news coverage or (if applicable) national publications. Who will be your supervisor? Find out everything you can about that person. Your goal here is NOT to go into the interview and recite everything you know or everything you have found out. Your goal is to have the information you might need at your fingertips. You may find no occasion to use this information in the interview, but it's certainly a lot better to have it and not need it than to need it and not know it.
Allow me to give you an example of what I mean. Several years ago I was given an interview at a university. My research told me that there was a significant gap in the programs they were offering. I found this out by downloading their degree plans, course schedules, and other information readily available on the Internet. This was one of the pieces of information, among many, that I simply noted and considered what I might suggest as additions to their programs after I was hired. As it turned out, one part of the interview involved a writing sample. They obviously wanted to know I was literate enough to write a clear and convincing essay (this is part of the application process at some places) but they didn't indicate what the topic was to be. When I got to the interview, I was escorted into a room with a desk, chair, computer, and school catalog. There was a strict time limit given for the essay to be written. On the desk was the essay topic. Guess what it was? "If you were hired, what program would you want to see added to our existing curriculum?" Now, the purpose of having the catalog there was for people to see what they already offered, and then decide what their response was going to be. You can tell that I already knew what I was going to write since I had researched this topic before I ever got there. All I had to do was use the allotted time writing. If I had not prepared, I would have had to wade through the catalog, think up a program to add, and then decide how I was going to describe it. Obviously I had a great advantage over those who had not done their research, so I could use the time to simply write.
You will find that if you do your research properly, you will discover all kinds of things that you may need in response to interview questions or may be of use to you in all kinds of ways. Again, your job is not to try to demonstrate that you have done a lot of research and so want to show off what you know. Your job is simply to do the preparatory work in case you DO need it. Suppose, for example, you were asked that same question about program addition not in an essay but as a question during the interview proper. If you didn't know what programs the institution already had, how could you possibly know which one to suggest they add? I've been on the other side as part of an interview committee where this question was actually asked. One of the responses we got was "Well, I don't know what programs you already have so I wouldn't know what to suggest." Not a good response. That person was dead in the water from that point forward. They were saying, in effect, "I haven't done my homework, so I don't have an answer." Never a good thing.
Your second big job is to prepare for the interview questions. Use some slips of paper or index cards, write the questions on one side and your talking points in response on the other side. Sit down with a trusted friend or relative and have them grill you until you are comfortable with your answers. This should be a person who you trust to give you truthful feedback. How do you appear? - relaxed and confident or do your eyes shift and your answers seem unsure (the fillers "uh" and "ya' know" are two of the worst). How do you determine what questions you might get? Re-read the job announcement and pay very close attention to the things they expect you to do on this job. If they will want you to do X, what question might they ask that would give you the opportunity to demonstrate the things you have done that qualify you to do X? The goal here is not to learn or recite a response like a robot; the point is to have two or three talking points that you want to be sure to cover in your answer. The answer can be somewhat different each time and appear improvised so long as you are able to deliver the main points that demonstrate your ability to do the job for which you will be hired.
If you are unsure of of what questions you might get, drop me a line at the email address below and I will send you some of the most common. You didn't specify what the job is, so I can't be much more help in that regard without knowing what field you'll be working in, but if you need more help, let me know.
Best of luck ... let me know how it goes!