"The Power Interview...in a Changing Employment Market"

You've all heard the saying "knowledge is power". This is especially true when applied to the interview process. You will have the power it takes to win the job if you enter the interview process prepared!

HRS has proudly released for viewing the revised adaptation of a well-received HRS Career Strategies Quickguide. After extensive research and partnership with thousands of world class corporate hiring authorities plus the successful guidance of tens of thousands through the job search process, we know we've answered here the most critical and frequently asked questions.


Volumes of excellent materials have been written about the interview process. However, most job seekers don't have time to read volumes of material, and if they do, it's difficult for them to have prepared the following brief overview, which presents the most important information you need to know regarding your interview.

If you want to "wield your power" and win the job, you must know and apply the following essential information regarding:




Identify Your Job Target

Know Yourself / Know Your Job Direction

You will need to do some preliminary work before the interview period if you are not certain about your job direction.

Identify your own skills, capabilities, and characteristics. Consider how these may add value to the position or company for which you intend to interview.

Consider your shortcomings and improvement goals and how these may be overcome at the prospective new position.

Know your career goals and personal motivators!


Research the Company

Before you interview, try to learn as much as possible about the company. Look for information regarding the firm's products, markets, employees, growth patterns, and current and projected sales. Internet, library or direct sales literature/annual report research is appropriate.

Your level of research beforehand will not only help you respond appropriately and easily to interview questions, but also will be a direct demonstration of your research skills and interest in the position.

For most positions, employers today seek commitment and longevity. It is important to reinforce interest in the company and position at all stages of the screening process. Your first impression is critical!


Anticipate Tough Questions

Practice Answers to Tough Questions

There are a number of tough questions that you should anticipate being asked. Before the interview, it is essential that you practice answering these questions aloud either to yourself or in role play with another person. It is one thing to know the answers and another to effectively verbalize them. Listen to how you sound and practice aloud until you're comfortable with what you hear.

Consider the level of communication skills required for the position. And, consider that tone and delivery are as important to your message as the content. At a minimum, you need to at least answer questions with confidence and credibility.

Examples of tough questions for you to practice answering are listed later. Add to this list any other questions that may directly relate to anything negative in your academic or employment background, i.e. poor grades or termination from a job. Answer all questions honestly and as positively as possible. We'll give example answers later.


Determine Questions

Make a List of Questions To Ask the Interviewer

The interviewer will expect you to ask questions and will probably be disappointed if you don't. Have with you a prepared list of questions based on your goals, expectations and abilities. (Refer to the examples of typical questions, which are listed later.) During the first interview, do not ask questions regarding salary or benefits unless the interviewer introduces the subject.


What to Bring

• Resume


    An effective and professionally presented resume is recommended. Any position requiring written communication skills typically dictates the need to present an error-free, clean, effective and accurate resume as a demonstration of those skills. If you absolutely do not have a resume, it is recommended to at least bring with you or have memorized dates of employment, position titles, education, and any details necessary to complete an accurate application prior to the interview.

    A resume is typically the tool designed to secure the interview for you. If you have already submitted a resume, it is wise to bring another clean and well-presented resume for the interviewer. In today's world of electronic filing, please inquire as to the interviewer's preference between electronic and hard copies, or both.  Multiple resume originals or clean copies are recommended to have with you if you are expecting to interview with more than one individual.


• List of References

    A list of employer and personal references is optional. The most important point we can make here is this:  be careful not to offer your references unless requested. Many employers today will contact anyone and everyone except those references you direct them to call, understanding that you may have "set up" your references or at least provided only the names of those trusted to provide positive feedback on your ethic, performance and character. In fact, to provide a reference name may be the same as disqualifying that reference!

    A preprinted list of references should only be provided to the prospective hiring authority at his or her request.

    Think before the interview regarding your former supervisors and what they might say about you if asked. This line of questioning by an interviewer is growing in popularity. Additionally, if you are provided indication that a former supervisor may be contacted and you suspect potentially negative feedback from that supervisor, it will help your chances to "come clean" and present your side of the story at what might be your only opportunity.


• Letters of Recommendation

    Letters of recommendation are treated similar to references. Most employers today are questioning the legitimacy of these letters and will contact the alleged letter author for verification. Mixed feelings exist regarding these letters. If you have letters, however, be certain to have them with you at the interview stage, and provide them upon request.


• Sample Work/Portfolio

    Clearly, certain professions and position types do dictate a need for portfolio at interview, e.g. advertising, modeling, photography, artist. Any sample work which provides favorable demonstration of your competence and talent can accompany you to the interview, provided it is your work. Be careful not to bring work you have done at a former employer which remains the property of that employer. Every employer is concerned with confidentiality, trade secrets, employee discretion, copyrights and overall intellectual property infringements.

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Recognizing different interview styles and understanding their process will allow you to remain calm and confident during the interview. Particular attention should be given to the first four of the following six listed interviews. You will most likely encounter either one or a combination of these styles.


Pre-Qualification (Structured) Interview

Generally conducted to "screen" applicants by someone other than the person responsible for the actual hiring. It is a highly structured and impersonal process used to determine skill levels and qualification requirements.


Informational (Non-Structured) Interview

More conversational in nature. The interviewee has probably already been assessed for skill levels and now the interviewer will try to determine level of job interest and probability of desirable personality traits. As an interviewee, the goal is to listen for critical position information and be yourself to determine if the personality/cultural match exists. Two-way conversation is important here.


Stress Interview

Specifically designed to make interviewees uncomfortable so they can be observed in stressful situations. This interview style is seldom used for entry level positions. Dealing with this style is much easier if you understand that this is a planned strategy and not a personal attack. The important thing to remember is to keep your composure. Smile, listen carefully, and answer questions honestly and concisely.


Selection Interview

The final interview.  Generally a combination of the non-structured interview plus some very direct questioning regarding your ability to handle the job.


Board Interview

You may be interviewed by two or more persons at the same time. Generally the interviewers are looking for definite abilities and characteristics, and their questions are very structured and direct.


Group Interview

You may be one of several persons being interviewed at the same time by one or more interviewers. Employers may use this technique when looking for multiple persons to fill the same type of positions. Most often a structured interview format will be used.


Behavioral or Behavior-Based Interview

Questions starting with "Tell me about a time" and similar formats are used by an interviewer to assess job-specific personal traits. Such questions are designed to predict how a candidate might behave in a workplace situation. These questions are used to identify (among others) critical thinking, diplomacy, interaction skills, team skills, self-motivation, champion change, manageability, customer service, loyalty to policy, etc.


Other Interviewing Styles:

Goal-Based, Competency-Based, Interest Based, Skill-Based

Each exists just as it sounds and refers to a line of questioning designed to best "live up to" its name. As this phraseology increases in popularity with today's employers, it is important to know that you may need to interview with several people, each with their own agenda. Please remember that interviews are your opportunity also to screen the position and company.

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Appearance & Wardrobe

You must convey as much positive information as possible to the interviewer in a very limited amount of time. The initial impression will have the single greatest effect on your interview results. Be sure this first impression is a positive one. Proper attire, hygiene and a well-groomed appearance are critical to the success of the interview.

You may wear make-up, cologne or after-shave: however, apply it sparingly. If, however, you are applying for a position within the cosmetics or beauty industry, you may want to create a "demo" of your appearance.

Dress for success, but dress appropriately to the position for which you are interviewing. Attire yourself the same (or slightly better) than you would attire yourself for a workday at that position. Look the part. For example, if you are applying to a conservative legal or CPA firm, a blue suit with white shirt may be most appropriate. If, however, you are applying to a blue collar position, a suit would be entirely inappropriate. A creative marketing or design position would necessitate a bit of fashion sense and imagination in the wardrobe…but be careful not to dive too far over the creative edge! You never know whom you might meet. Acceptance by others will increase your chances of an offer, and sometimes during the interview process, to keep your application moving, you must be accepted by individuals you would never even interact with on the job!

Jewelry is another topic of mixed appropriateness. Less is always safest. Men are advised not to wear earrings or non-conservative jewelry. Everyone is advised to refrain from controversial body piercing jewelry. Tattoos have also been known to provoke interviewer biases.

Have breath mints handy.


Upon Arrival

Plan to arrive five minutes early. Only true emergencies will be sufficient reason to be late or absent from the scheduled interview. If you are detained by an emergency, then call the interviewer either before the interview or as close to the designated time as possible to explain the problem.

Politely and respectfully announce your arrival to the firm's receptionist or greeter. Wait patiently and quietly for your interviewer. "Raters" can pop up anywhere, casually paying attention to your conduct as they walk by or sit at a nearby work station. A friendly smile and demonstrated interest in your surroundings is most appropriate. Without staring or disrupting others, notice them as well. However, if you are going to judge the culture and morale, please remember that the short time of observation may not be typical of the overall environment.

When approached by and introduced to your interviewer, a firm (but not overpowering) handshake will give you a good start.

Do not smoke or chew gum during the interview. Beverages are not recommended, nor is food.


Listen to the Interviewer

Allow the interviewer to lead the interview and be careful not to interrupt. Careful listening will be your best aid in answering questions effectively. Be sure you understand the questions and ask for clarification if something is not clear.

If you must bring a cell phone or pager into the interviewer, be certain these are turned off and concealed if possible.


Asking/Answering Questions

Treat the interviewer with respect and demonstrate respect, not insubordination, for the company's directed interview practice. Do not monopolize conversation. Accept questions, answering them in a manner which demonstrates job-related professionalism. 

If you are applying for a position which requires a great deal of sales tactics, assumption of control and persuasion, assume a stronger role in the interview direction; however, do so with balance to ensure you are not disrespecting company practice and authority.  If you are applying for an entry level role, posture yourself as a respectful listener with learning commitment and initiative to develop. 

Remember, while you are being screened for the job, you are expected to be screening the job for you. The company wants to be sure that you will be making the right choice, too. Ask questions, be articulate, courteous and assertive. Remember, you will have made a list of your questions. Now is the time to ask them.

When answering questions be the version of yourself that would best accomplish the goals of the job.  In most cases you will want to be brief and to the point. If an uncomfortable subject is brought up, answer as honestly and as simply as possible. (We'll deal with answers to tough questions later.) Be sure you do not ramble on or monopolize the conversation. Emphasize accomplishments without bragging. Be careful to state them simply and factually. Never criticize anyone, especially past employers. The bad-mouthing of and blame-shifting to past employers or coworkers is an absolute red flag, if not deal-breaker, for prospective employers. Stay positive and own responsibility while presenting your value and your learning in a positive light. Sometimes, the less said the better. Bring your "filter" to the interview.


Body Language

Use body language to reinforce your interest. Sitting erect and leaning slightly forward, good eye contact and attention show careful listening and convey interest and enthusiasm.

Observe the interviewer. Looking away while you're talking, fidgeting, and sitting straight or with crossed arms are all negative signs and ones to which you should respond. Most often, negative interviewer reactions are caused by continuously lengthy and/or irrelevant answers. If you know you've been "rambling on," stop and make an effort to answer carefully and concisely.


Interview Conclusion

The interviewer will begin to conclude the interview after he or she has enough information to make a decision. At this time you may be asked if you have anything to add or further questions to ask. This is your last opportunity! Be sure to bring up any relevant strengths that haven't been discussed or questions you might still want to ask. If the job sounds great, say so! Be enthusiastic! Tell the interviewer that you are definitely interested in and excited about the position. Thank the interviewer for his or her time.  

Before you exit, inquire regarding follow-up.  Although interviewers are unique individuals, most will respond favorably to your inquiry as to how/who should receive the follow-up contact. Present this as your desire to send a "thank you" and reinforce your interest. Listen carefully to the company's preference on this and every point. Top employers will design the follow-up as a screening step, and this protocol may differ according to the specific job description and its relevant requirements.  Most will prefer e-mail or other written communication. Some will prefer phone call.  Directing the contact to the wrong party or by the wrong form of communication can be disastrous. You are expected to ask the interviewer permission to follow up directly with him or her.  If you've worked with several other individuals, it is also appropriate to thank/follow-up with the others. If you agree to a certain time frame for follow-up, be precisely prompt. If a window is provided, be within the window on the early side.  If an exact time is discussed, be 0-10 minutes early but not sooner or later.  Respect the follow-up as you would any scheduled appointment during the job acquisition process.

It is possible that the "thank you" and the "follow-up" stages will allow you 2 separate contact opportunities post-interview. When phrasing your inquiry, please make note of this. A "thank you" will typically be permissible by the company and should be sent in written form within 1 business day of the interview. The status "follow up" may or may not be permissible and should be performed exactly according to the company's wishes. If the company chooses to leave that up to you, we recommend you state that you'll follow up in 3 business days by phone. If that is rejected, respectfully keep at it until you agree upon another time frame and means of contact. Then, do exactly as agreed. Many companies will document your pledge to follow-up and will screen your dependability in doing so.

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Immediately after the interview, and while everything is still fresh in your mind, write an objective synopsis of the interview. List pro's and con's about the interview discussion. If you forgot to mention something or wish you had answered differently, write it down. Be sure you have the correct spelling and titles of all the people with whom you've met or interviewed. Document job specifics and those aspects that were most exciting to you. Lastly, record what the interviewer said to you during the last few minutes of the interview including the next planned action regarding the position. All of this information is necessary for your follow-up efforts.

Unless you've determined a different time frame with the interviewer, send your thank you note within one business day. Use the agreed upon media, typically written communication.  Phone calls are almost always appropriate for a telemarketing job, but should otherwise be avoided without advance permission.  More and more, phone calls are becoming considered pushy, disrespectful or too time invasive, unless the phone discussion is inappropriate for written exchange, mutually agreed upon and/or scheduled in advance. Written communications can be received and attended at the preferred time frame of the receiving party, often gaining more favorable conscious and subconscious reaction.

Portray yourself in a manner which aligns with the job requirements, shows gratitude for the opportunity, demonstrates respect for company procedure and reinforces your interest. It's an opportunity to get your name before the selection team one more time also to enhance your candidacy. It could be your last chance to restate major positives and rebut negatives. If you forgot to mention something of importance during the interview, the thank you note can also be used to introduce new information. And if appropriate, mention the names of other people with whom you've met. Convey your message with enthusiasm and stress your interest in the position, confidence in yourself, and appreciation for the opportunity to interview.

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Q.      Why do you want to work here?
A.      Here's where your research comes in handy. Say something positive about the company that you can relate to your own goals, philosophy or work style.

Example:  My long-term career interest is to work in printed circuit board technology. I have researched your company and recognize that you are an industry leader with and outstanding reputation for quality and service. I think it would be extremely motivating to be a part of this team and be able to learn and grow with the company.


Q.    Why should I hire you?
A.    Answer briefly and to the point, listing the skills and personality traits that qualify you for the position.

Example:   Because, this position requires someone with an electronics background and ability to perform well under pressure. I can offer education, experience and excellent record of performance. I'm accustomed to working under pressure, and I actually prefer a fast work pace. I am an enthusiastic worker with a desire to do an excellent job for you.


Q.    What would you like to be doing five years from now?
A.    The safest answer is to portray yourself as a contributor and team player.

Example:  Well, I would hope to learn and grow over the coming years so that if my supervisor would get promoted, he or she would believe that I've contributed sufficiently to be recommended for the job. I realize I have a lot to learn and I hope I'm lucky enough to work for someone who will help me develop professionally.


Q.     What is your opinion of your last employer?
A.     Whether you believe it or not, you must say something positive. Never say anything negative about a former employer, associates, or the job.

Example:  He/she is a dedicated business person. I respect his/her knowledge and appreciate his/her guidance.


Q.     Tell me about yourself.
A.     Ask the interviewer if he/she would like to hear about your professional or personal background. Whatever the answer, your response should relate to key personality traits that would most likely be important to this position: e.g. teamwork, honesty, ability to perform well under pressure, and enjoyment of challenges.

Example:  I throw myself into everything I do.   I gain tremendous satisfaction from a job well done whether it is a sport activity, my job or a volunteer commitment. I enjoy working with others. I like challenges and I like to achieve.


Q.     What is your greatest weakness?
A.     Be careful to turn this question into a positive answer.

Example:  I'm a hard worker and a team player.  I believe each employee has a responsibility to consistently do his or her best in all situations. This includes recognizing emergency situations and helping co-workers meet their deadlines. I really get frustrated when I see my associates just sitting around gabbing while the next person is going crazy trying to get everything done. I've learned to handle my frustration by realizing that sometimes others really aren't aware there is a problem, and if asked politely, many people are more than willing to pitch in and help.


Q.     What is your salary requirement?
A.     Unfortunately, you must answer this question.

Example:  Naturally, I'd like to earn as much as my background and experience permit. I am currently earning $X at my present job and I'd like to receive and increase over this amount. If a step backward in compensation is necessary, I'd certainly consider that provided the long term potential exists.  (You can certainly ask at this point if the position bears a specific pay scale or defined wage.)


Q.     Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
A.     Tell the truth.  If you cannot come up with acceptable reasons, then admit your mistakes and promise to be better.

Example:  I realize I was wrong to move around so much, but I was immature and not prepared for responsibility or commitment.   I believe I'm now ready to accept the responsibilities of a job and I'd like the chance to prove myself.  (Be ready to convince the interviewer as to why and how you have changed.)


Q.     Why were you fired from your last job?
A.     Tell the truth. If you cannot come up with acceptable reasons, then admit your mistakes and promise to be better.

Example:  Before now I didn't really know how to choose the right job for me. I realize now that I didn't really like the work I was doing and I lost interest. I know I didn't perform as well as I could have, and I don't feel very good about that. But there were some good results, too. I learned more about myself and the kind of work I do and do not want to do.


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• What are the keys to success in this position?
• What typical training is provided for this position?
• What do you consider to be the most challenging facets of the position?
• What is the overall structure of the department in question? (size, chain of command and distribution of responsibilities)
• Is the company seeking someone to remain and grow in this position, or is there a preferred career path which might involve a future job change?
• Is it company policy to promote from within?
• Without revealing trade secrets, can you tell me about the company's plans for future success?



• Why do you want to work here?
• What interests you most about this?
• What training/qualifications do you have for this job?
• Why should we hire you?
• How long would it take for you to make a contribution to this firm?
• In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to this firm?
• Can you work under pressure and with deadlines?
• What are your greatest accomplishments- professional and personal?
• What are your career goals? When and why did you establish these goals? How are you preparing yourself to achieve these goals?
• Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor.  What did you do?
• How do you feel about your progress to date?
• What are the most important rewards you expect in your career?
• What kind of decisions are most difficult for you?
• What do you expect to be doing five years from now?
• If you could create your own "dream job," what would it be and why?
• What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful?
• What two or three things are most important to you in a job?
• What led you to choose the occupational field you're in?
• If you could start again, what would you do differently?
• What criteria are you using to evaluate a prospective employer?
• Describe a major problem you have encountered and how you dealt with it.
• What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
• What do your co-workers/subordinates/superiors think of you?
• Do you believe you have management/top management potential?
• What causes you to lose your temper?
• What have you learned from your mistakes?
• Who has the greatest influence on you? Why?
• Do you have plans for continued study? An advanced degree?
• Why are you leaving your present position? What is wrong with your present firm?
• How would you describe your own personality?
• Tell me about yourself.



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Please also see "A Winning Resume... 7 Seconds to Success!"