Puentes Abroad Interviewing Guide

PURPOSE

If an employer contacts you for an interview, it means that your résumé had a successful review and the employer is interested in learning more about you as a potential candidate for the job. The interview, usually lasting 30-60 minutes, allows the employer to hear more about your qualifications as well as gain important impressions of your character traits and personality. On your end, it offers you the opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications to the employer and learn more about whether the job is right for you.

GOAL

As an interviewee, your objective is to present yourself as a self-aware, confident young professional whose interests, experiences, and skills qualify you for the position. Preparedness for an interview rests on being able to effectively relate your skills, experience, and attitude to those sought by the employer. Your responses to questions should seek to go beyond simply restating your résumé, bringing it to life with relevant examples and details of past experience and current skills. Your responses and questions at the end of the interview should moreover demonstrate your interest in and enthusiasm for the job, always striking a professional tone. Because the interviewer has a set list of questions s/he would like to go through, your responses should be direct and organized while still complete. Practicing your responses is key to building confidence and a natural and smooth delivery.

INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Employer research

To craft intelligent interview responses that demonstrate your interest in the position, you must first thoroughly research the workplace and the open position. Read the job description thoroughly, looking for links between your skills and experience and their stated or likely expectations for a candidate. Scour the organization or company’s website to become familiar with its mission, goals, current projects, industry position and current structure. Stay updated on industry news that pertains to the workplace and position, and follow its publications or social media pages to understand what audiences they are trying to reach and what information is important to them.

General interview questions

Before preparing for specific questions, it is best to be very familiar with your résumé. Identify the experiences most relevant to the position and outline the top things you would mention about each one. It is possible an interviewer will not explicitly reference your résumé, so be ready to answer general questions with specific experiences and skills when possible. Designate your most important and relevant experiences as nonnegotiable so that you certainly mention them at some point during the interview.

Interviews very often begin with a simple but broad question: “Tell me more about yourself.” This question and its variants allow you the opportunity to tell your professional story, adding a face and narrative to the qualifications on your résumé. Moreover, it is your chance to make a strong first impression on the interviewer by presenting yourself as a confident and self-aware young professional. You should include basic information (“I’m a junior at X University majoring in Y, etc.”), but avoid too much detail in your answer. Your response should be a quick and organized pitch, no longer than two minutes, that narrates the development of your academic and professional interests and explains how they motivated you to seek the position. In highlighting your relevant professional experiences, remember to mention skills you have gained along the way. Practice your story, but avoid having a script; you want it to sound natural and tailored for the interviewer and position.

Another common set of questions center around your strengths, weaknesses, and past accomplishments and failures. Besides wanting to learn more about your qualifications, employers use these questions to gauge your self-awareness and honesty about the areas in which you can improve. For ‘strengths and successes’ questions, be sure to offer concrete examples from the past that clearly explain the skills you used to accomplish that goal. You should prepare by thinking of three strengths and successes relevant to the qualifications for your sought position. While you should not be shy to share your accomplishments, be sure to do so in a balanced and professional tone.

For ‘weaknesses and failures’ inquiries, briefly describe the past failure or area for improvement and outline your efforts to correct them. Avoid getting too personal or descriptive. On the other hand, avoid cliché responses such as “My worst trait is that I’m a perfectionist and work too hard!” Employers appreciate seeing that you have put thought and time in self-improvement. Identify and prepare responses about two weaknesses and failures to have them on-hand during the interview.

Relatedly, interviewers may ask behavioral questions that examine how you make decisions and deal with challenges, such as “Tell me about a tough decision you had to make.” To prepare an effective response, outline scenarios with the STAR method (Situation or Task, Action, and Result). Your response should describe the key components of the situation or task, the steps you took to respond to the challenge, and the outcome of your decision. Responses can draw from professional experience or past leadership positions in clubs or organizations, for instance.

Interviewers will commonly ask “Why our company/organization?” or “Why this position?” to gauge an interviewee’s enthusiasm for and interest in the employer. For you, they are opportunities to demonstrate your familiarity with their work and deliver a thoughtful response. Mention a specific aspect of the workplace that interests you and sets them apart from other similar employers, such as their innovation in a certain field. With regard to the specific position, demonstrate your understanding of the responsibilities of the role gained from research and explain how your interests and experience prepare you for them.

Preparing questions for the interviewer

The end of interviews is usually saved for your questions for the interviewer. It would be a sign of disinterest if you did not ask anything, so prepare about 6 thoughtful questions to have on-hand in case some get answered during the interview. This is both your last big impression during the interview and your chance to learn more about whether the position is right for you. Avoid questions about salary, benefits, and vacation, as these would seem presumptuous. In addition, avoid basic questions that could be answered through research on their website. Feel free to ask the interviewer about their experience at the company/organization. Questions about how success and goals are defined within your potential position, the atmosphere in that department (do coworkers get lunch together and collaborate frequently?), and possible training and mentorship are all good options.

DURING THE INTERVIEW

Being at the interview

During your interview, how you present yourself is possibly as important as what you say. Aim to dress close in formality to the dress code of the workplace, erring on the side of too formal. Do not wear anything distracting. Showing up well groomed (as understood by the target industry) is a given. Make sure your breath is fresh and do not wear strong fragrances. Arrive around 10 minutes early to give yourself time to briefly prepare, and look into the route ahead of time so you do not get lost on the way. Bring two copies of your résumé with you in case the interviewer does not have one with them, and be sure to have a pen and notepad to take notes during the interview (another way to show interest). You may also want to bring a bottle of water. Consider bringing your items in a briefcase or purse rather than something like a canvas backpack. Above all, your presentation should be sharp, professional, and prepared.

Behavior during the interview

During the interview, it is important to make eye contact and maintain good body language. Crossed arms can communicate defensiveness, whereas vigorous gesticulation can be distracting. Proper posture while sitting is also important: a straight back, perhaps slightly bent toward the interviewer, is ideal. In your responses, avoid filler words and phrases such as like, um, yeah, sure thing, etc. Practicing your responses will help you avoid relying on such fillers.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

Before walking out of the interview site, be sure to get your interviewer’s business card. This will show interest and give you the contact information for you to send a thank you note. The thank you should promptly follow the interview: an email the same day or a handwritten note that is sent the same or following day is a great way to leave a good last impression.

Receiving offers

If you receive an offer, you should ask for a few days to think it over. This will allow you to consider the terms of the internship or employment more seriously after you’ve basked in the excitement of the offer. If you decide to accept, respond enthusiastically to the offer via email or phone, and confirm all details for the next steps. Then decline any offers elsewhere, expressing your appreciation and not mentioning any negative reasons for why you are not choosing to work with them. Once you accept an offer, you are ethically bound to your response; to renege is highly unprofessional.