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MCC Career Central

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Interviewing Skills

The employment interview is an exchange of information between you and the employer to determine if there is a "match" or "fit" between the two. While the employer is evaluating your personality, ability, and qualifications: you should evaluate the employment opportunity, the company, and your desire to work in the position for which you are interviewing.

What are employers looking for in a new employee?

  • What can this person do for my organization and me?
  • Why does this person want to work for my organization?
  • What is this person like? Is this person motivated? Pleasant? Will this person fit in here?
  • How much will it cost me to employ this person?
    Traditional Interviewing:
  • Understanding Traditional Interviewing

    The interview is normally conducted in the employer's office by one to two people. Questions are typically common and straight forward and may be the first in a series of screening interviews to obtain the best candidates for the next hiring manager.

  • Sample Questions

    Tell me something about yourself.

    This question means, why you are the qualified candidate. Talk about your skills, experience training/education related to the job. Don't mention personal information, marital status, children, health issues, or hobbies.

    Why did you leave your last job?

    Do not talk negatively about your last job: company or supervisor. The employer is trying to determine whether you had difficulties that may also arise with them. Say as many positive things as you can, and talk about the skills you obtained from that job that are transferable.

    Why do you want to work here?

    This is one tool interviewers use to see if you did your homework. If you have done your research this question gives you an opportunity to show initiative and demonstrate how your experience and qualifications match the company's needs.

    What are your weaknesses?

    Talk about a weakness that could be a positive for the company. Demonstrate a weakness that you have overcome. Use caution when answering this question. Do not share your worst experience or attribute. Do not describe any weaknesses that may be essential to performing effectively on the job and avoid making negative comments. Talk about things you have improved and the steps you took to do so.

    What are your strengths?

    Choose a strength that is related to the job to which you are applying.

    Behavioral Interviewing:
  • Understanding Behavioral Interviewing

    Behavioral interviewing emphasizes past performance and behaviors based on the idea that: The most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.

    To prepare for a behavioral interview, applicants should anticipate which skills are required in the job they are applying for and then develop specific, behavioral responses which indicate they have those qualities.

    Using the three-step STAR process, applicants can frame their responses with the following method.

    • Describe the situation or task.
    • Describe the action they took.
    • Give the result/outcome.

    Applicants should also identify an unsuccessful example for each probe because they may be asked to give an example of a time when things didn't work out as planned.

    The interviewer may probe for more specific details. What were you thinking at this point? Lead me through your decision process.

    Applicants should listen carefully to each question and ask for clarification if necessary.

    NOTE: Applicants need to realize that it is okay to take some time in formulating their responses during the interview. As they are developing a behavioral response (accessing information from their memory), they may often look away from the interviewer - this is normal. The interviewer is encouraged to wait in silence while the applicant is thinking.

  • Questions

    Leadership: Did you ever feel that you've had an important impact on a group to which you belong? What was the situation? How did you achieve that impact?

    Problem Analysis: Describe the biggest problem you've faced in the last few months. How did you handle it?

    Planning and Organization: I am interested in your various activities. Could you outline your major work-related and non-work-related activities of last week? Just start with Monday and tell me how you spent your time last week.

    Career Ambition: How have you capitalized on your strengths? What are you doing to overcome your weaknesses?

    Initiative: Give me some examples of your doing more than what was required I your job.

  • Additional Questions

    *Note the second question in each category would probably be more suitable for more experienced candidates.

    Oral Presentation: Have you ever done any public or group speaking? Can you give me an example? How did you prepare? Were you successful? What kind of feedback did you get?

    What are some of the biggest or most demanding groups you have made presentations to?

    Job Motivation: What do you like best about your current job? What do you like least about your current job?

    All jobs have their frustrations and problems. Describe some examples of specific job conditions, tasks, or assignments that have been dissatisfying to you. Why were they dissatisfying?

    Work Standards: Tell me about a time when you weren't very pleased with your performance. What did you do about it? What personal factor do you consider most important in evaluating yourself or your success?

    Initiative: Describe a situation in which you found your results were not up to department/company expectations. What did you do to rectify the matter?

    Tolerance for Stress: What is the highest-pressure situation you have been under in recent years? How did you cope with that situation?

    What conditions at ___________ are most frustrating to you?

    Attention to Detail: Can you give me an example of a time when you found errors in your work? Why did you make these mistakes? How did you handle this situation?

    We have all had times when we just couldn't get everything done on time. When and why has this happened to you?

    Controlled Demeanor: What was your reaction the last time a customer lost his or her temper or became irritated?

    Describe the times in the last year you have been most upset with yourself.

    Sensitivity: We have all tried different ways of showing consideration for others. What are some things you've actually done at work to show consideration of others?

    What unpopular decisions have you made recently? How did your subordinates (peers) respond? How did that make you feel?

    Tenacity: What were the biggest problems you encountered while completing a project (or completing college)? How did you handle these problems?

    Have you ever submitted good ideas to your superior and he or she did not take action on them? What did you do?

    Adaptability: Which bosses have been the hardest to work for? Why?

    How many times have you changed jobs? Which move caused you the most difficulty and why?

    Independence: Tell me about some rules, policies, or approaches at work you didn't agree with and what you did about them.

    Give an example of a project or idea you have taken action on in spite of considerable opposition or organizational constraint.

    Analysis: Have you ever recognized a problem before your boss or others at your workplace? Please describe the situation.

    What problems are you currently working on that came as a surprise to you? How much advance notice did you have of the problems? Why did this problem come as such a surprise? What steps did you take after you identified this problem?

    Judgment: What is the biggest decision you have made in the last year? Tell me how you went about making this decision. What alternatives did you consider?

    Describe an occasion when you included subordinates in your decision making. To what extent did you incorporate their input?

    Innovation/Creativity: Have you ever done anything creative or innovative on the job? Please describe that action.

    Describe the last problem I your organization that was solved in a highly imaginative manner. What part did you play?

    Proficiency: Sometimes it's easy for us to get in over our heads. Describe some situations in which you had to request help or assistance on a project or assignment.

    How successful were you as a _________________? How did you know that?

    Career Ambition: What people or events have been most important in your self-development?

    In what areas do you lack qualifications? What are you doing about them?

    Self-development Orientation: What are your career goals for the next five years? What have you done to accomplish these goals?

    How do you keep informed about important changes in your field?

    Self-organization: How do you schedule your time? Set priorities?

    What are your objectives for this year? Who else knows them? What are you doing to see that they are reached? How are you progressing?

    NOTE: Additional information for this handout was obtained from the following sources:

    St. Louis Community College at Meramec, Career and Employment Services
    Union College Career Development Center
    SUNY Brockport, Office of Career Service
    UM-Columbia, The Career Center
    The Targeted Selection Administrator Manual by William C. Byham
    How You Really Get Hired by John L. LaFevre

    Informational Interviewing:
  • Understanding Informational Interviewing

    Students often say, "I really don't know what I want to do; what should I be doing to find out?" and "I do not know how to get started - where do I begin?" After you have read about different occupations, jobs and industries, the informational interview is an excellent way to answer these kinds of questions. You are asking the questions and controlling the agenda; you are the "interviewer."

    Why conduct an Informational Interview?

    Conduct an informational interview to acquire valuable information for use in your occupational planning and job hunting.

      Specific advantages include:
    1. It allows you to obtain additional information about an organization/company, occupation or industry.
    2. It helps you decide on a career path, especially if you are uncertain. You can learn more about a variety of occupations.
    3. It helps locate growing occupations, industries and related opportunities.
    4. It helps you become more adept and comfortable at interviewing.
    5. It increases your self-confidence in dealing with people.
    6. It will enlarge your circle of contacts and allow you to generate more referrals.

    The informational interview is an excellent way to verify what you have previously only thought about, read and heard. The person interviewed can offer information that is more:

    • Up to date
    • Specific and related to the local situation
    • Personal and subjective
    • Reflective of the "on-the-job" atmosphere

    How does an Informational Interview compare with a Job-Hunting Interview?

    Like a job-hunting interview, an informational interview is a two-way conversation. However, it generally is slightly more relaxed and informal than the job-hunting interview. Additionally, the informational interview occurs in a context of extraordinary freedom and control: as the interviewer, you define its focus and structure, and you conduct it entirely for your benefit. You decide what information is needed and your questions should hone in on those needs. Your questions should help answer the following (among others): "What information about myself, an occupation and/or an industry do I need in order to make some decisions?"

  • How to Conduct an Informational Interview

    Essentially, any individual can be of interest for an informational interview/discussion. Do not assume that potential employers are the only ones who possess good information. Look for those who:


    • Share a common interest, enthusiasm or involvement in some activity or lifestyle that appeals to you (i.e. recreation, children, the environment, music)
    • Work in settings you like (e.g., hospitals, politics, business, theatre)
    • Work in occupational areas in which you are interested (e.g., broadcasting, stockbroker, criminal lawyer, market researcher)
    • Work in specific jobs in specific organizations (e.g., a newscaster in a local radio station, a stockbroker at a well-known brokerage firm, a criminal lawyer in a legal aid office, or a market researcher at a large corporation)

    Where to find these people

    The most obvious individuals include friends, family, neighbors and MCC alumni. You will also want to contact faculty, former internship and summer job acquaintances, and the Student Employment Services staff to generate potential contacts. Additional sources include trade and professional organizations and community service agencies (e.g. American Medical Association, American Bar Association, The National Association of Social Workers, Chambers of Commerce, etc.)

    What are you looking for?

    Who you approach depends on the type of information you seek. Is it concrete career information about a particular field or company? If so, then go to two kinds of people: those "insiders" who know you well enough to be candid, and strangers who will inevitably give more of a public relations spiel but may possess a broader perspective than your company "pal." Is it feedback about you? If so, go to people who know you well enough to give it to you.

    Are you seeking insight into the future direction of an industry? If so, then go to a recognized industry expert. Is it help in identifying additional people to interview? If so, then go to those who are well connected and can lead you to others. This may include the Career Center.


    Know exactly what kind of information you want. Generally, do not ask something routine that is readily available elsewhere. Know your own interests, skills, values, and how they relate to the person you are speaking with. Know as much as you can about the organization for which the person works, as well as the industry in which it operates. Read the materials in the Career Center, the campus and public libraries and the company's own website.

    How do I initiate contact?

    It is preferable for the initial contact to be made by letter. However, if you already know the person or can mention a strong mutual acquaintance, initial contact by phone may be appropriate. Usually you should enclose your resume with your initial letter; in roughly a "30-second snapshot" this allows the reader to learn what you have been doing the past few years. Certainly the follow-up contact to your initial letter should be by phone.

    Post-Interview follow-up

    ALWAYS follow up with a thank-you letter, preferably within 2 or 3 days of your meeting. You might want to reiterate something discussed that particularly helpful or informative. In addition, maintain a record of names, dates, comments and referrals for future reference. Keep these people posted on your progress. Write or call them periodically to let them know what you are doing. They will be glad to know if they have been instrumental in helping you make decisions; and besides, you may want to contact them later for more information.

  • Helpful Hints
    • First impressions count heavily. Be on time, shake hands firmly, smile, look professional and maintain good eye contact.

    • Ask answerable open-ended questions that start with words like how, what, why and in what way.

    • Focus on the person you are meeting with.

    • Do not make the mistake of using your informational interview as a pretext for getting a job. It will not work and it can be embarrassing when it becomes obvious.

    • If you are interested in someone's particular organization, subsequently follow up with him or her after your initial contact/informational interview (i.e. 10 days to 3 weeks later).
  • Sample Questions

    Sample questions you could ask someone in discussing their occupation and your career plans


    1. How did you get into this field? (How did you get to where you are today?)

    2. What advice would you give a person interested in this field?

    3. What skills, qualifications and other credentials are essential to be hired for this position? What skills and other credentials are desirable?

    4. Are there any courses I should take, books I should read, or other experiences I should gain to prepare more fully for this type of work?

    5. What are some job titles for entry-level positions in this field?

    6. Would you describe a "typical" workday? (or two-week period?)

    7. What do you value (like) about your work? Why?

    8. What do you dislike about your work? Why?

    9. What are the organizational problems faced by people in your position?

    10. What type of training is available in the industry/field?

    11. What is the salary range for entry-level positions and what do the salaries look like over the longer term?

    12. What advancement opportunities exist?

    13. What are the future trends in this field?

    14. Who are your major competitors?

    15. What sets your organization apart from competitors?

    16. What are some of your interests, hobbies and leisure activities?

    17. What personal characteristics do you perceive to be critical to succeed in this field?

    18. How did your education help you in your career?

    19. What is the "typical" career path of someone in this field?

    The questions you ask and the way you ask them will depend on the information you seek, the person you're speaking with, the organization for which he/she works and the tone of the discussion. Some questions will be more appropriate than others, depending on the situation.
    Note: This information was provided by DePauw University Career Services, Greencastle, Indiana

Last Modified: 9/30/11