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Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2016

Preparing for Interview Success: Tips to Impress
Hilarie Longnecker, MEd, DePaul University (IL)
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For this issue, our Wisdom From the Workplace columnist Dr. Paul Hettich (DePaul University, IL) welcomes guest author Hilarie Longnecker.
In the Fall 2015 and Winter 2016 issues of Eye on Psi Chi, we discussed the importance of identifying your skills and experiences, and articulating them concisely on a resumé, a key document for determining if you will move on to the next stage in your job search, the interview. (Hettich & Longnecker, 2015; Longnecker & Hettich, 2016). Through interviews, employers aim to determine whether you are the best candidate to meet their needs. Beyond exploring your skills and knowledge, they seek to understand how you might fit within their organization’s culture. Such a high-stakes conversation can be stressful, but with proper preparation, you will be well-suited to leave your interviewer with the impression you desire.
There are several types of interviews:

Phone: Typically a screening where the employer confirms that you possess the minimum qualifications. Your communication skills and enthusiasm are also assessed.

One-on-One: A face-to-face conversation with a single interviewer—the traditional interview.

Panel: An in-person setting with two or more interviewers who often take turns asking questions. Be sure to acknowledge each via eye contact when responding.

Group: A scenario where you are assessed alongside one or more additional interviewees. Employers observe how you operate in a group including leadership, communication, assertiveness, and collaborative skills
You may encounter a series of interview types in a single day or as part of a multiphase process. However, employers will typically share the format in advance.
Before Your Interview
Plan to spend substantial effort researching the industry, organization, and your potential role. Have a strong sense of trends and major players within the industry, as well as the organization’s structure, services, products, and leadership. Learn whether they have been in the news, won awards, launched new lines, and so forth. LinkedIn, news outlets, company websites, professional associations, and your networking contacts are great resources for this information. Additionally, conduct a critical read of the job description so that you understand the skills required and duties to be performed.
Finally, inquire into your interviewers. Review their profiles via the organization’s website, LinkedIn, and Google to learn about media mentions, publications, professional leadership roles, and more. Tactfully complimenting recent achievements or having an understanding of how they have progressed through their career paths can be helpful in making a positive impression.
With the information you gather, take some time to craft a profile of yourself as you wish to be received by your interviewers. Your goal should be to connect yourself to what you have learned through your research. What skills, knowledge, experiences, and values do you have that will allow you to best meet the needs of the organization and fulfill the goals of the position? Brainstorm specific examples of occasions when you have successfully demonstrated these qualities for possible inclusion in your conversation.
Answering Three Common Questions
Because there are certain questions that you will be asked in almost any interview, be well-prepared to answer them. Doing so can set the stage for a positive interaction with the interviewer and help you feel more confident at a time when being nervous is the norm. Below, a few of these popular questions are discussed along with strategies for crafting strong responses.
Can you tell me about yourself?
This is the most common way to begin an interview. It allows the employer to obtain an overview of who you are, and is also a warm up to get the conversation going. Do not recount your life story. Rather, respond by describing yourself with an emphasis on your education, experience, and professional interests. A personal interest that illustrates desirable characteristics (e.g., running marathons = persistence and dedication, or painting = creativity) can be briefly mentioned.
Why are you interested in this position?
Alternatively, an employer might ask “Why should I hire you?” Essentially, they want you to summarize your fit for their needs. Explain not only how you meet the qualifications, but also how you are prepared to add value that other candidates may not possess. Additionally, speak to how this position fits into your path. Why is this a logical step in your career?
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Interviewees often identify this question as the most difficult. Talking about your strengths is an intuitive part of the interview process, but which strengths should be highlighted? Meanwhile, addressing weaknesses feels like a trap! Will the information divulged be held against you? Regarding your strengths, the best option is to pick something that will allow you to contribute to the organization. Be sure to have specific examples of how you have successfully utilized that strength in an impressive and relevant way. Weaknesses can be trickier. You might have been advised to attempt to disguise a strength or neutral quality as a weakness. For example, “I’m such a perfectionist. I’ll never leave the office until all of my work is completed accurately.” Consider though that you are not fooling the interviewer with such a response. Rather, you convey disingenuousness and/or an inability to be truly self-reflective. No one wants to work with individuals who cannot recognize or admit their growing edges.
Instead, give honest thought to your weaknesses. Select one that does not disqualify you for the position and that you have developed a strategic plan for addressing. For example, “I know being bilingual would be a benefit to me as I grow in my career. Although I took Spanish in high school, I am not truly functional in the language. However, I recently purchased a self-study computer course as a refresher.”
The STAR Method
Beyond these basic questions, the majority of interviews emphasize behavioral interviewing, an approach maintaining that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. For example, the employer may say “Tell me about a time when . . . ,” and you are asked to insert a desirable skill, characteristic, or experience in order to investigate your ability to lead, collaborate, or problem solve. You are charged with telling a story that illustrates your competencies. The competencies to be explored can typically be gleaned from the job description and your research.
Employ the STAR method (Whitacre, 2007) to frame your
response:
Situation: Provide context by explaining the situation and objective.
Task: Name your specific role and what you were charged with.
Action: Detail what you did, emphasizing actions relevant to the question’s topic.
Results: Describe the outcomes of your actions.
This method helps you to tell a complete story, while focusing on how your previous successes prove your qualifications.
Additional Pointers
Your interviewer won’t be the only one expected to ask intentional questions. Craft a minimum of five questions in advance that will allow you to assess how the employer and role might fit with your own goals. Tap into your research to develop questions that allow you to demonstrate your knowledge while also learning more. Also, inquire about the hiring timeline, so you can plan your follow up appropriately. Finally, avoid questions about compensation and benefits until an offer is made.
Remember that you will communicate with the employer in ways that extend beyond the questions you answer or ask. Here are three keys to making the impression you desire:

Body Language: Keep an open posture, sit up straight, and be intentional in your gestures.

Eye Contact: Make it but temper it with breaks to avoid staring.

Level of Enthusiasm: The volume and cadence of your voice should convey genuine professional enthusiasm.
At the conclusion of the interview, thank everyone you have interacted with for their time and consideration both verbally and in an e-mail within a day of the interview. Although formal letters and cards are also appropriate, e-mail ensures that your message is received promptly. If you are told there will be a significant delay between your interview and the next step, you might call closer to the estimated decision timeframe to inquire if you can provide any additional information (and ensure your interviewer has a fresh impression of you come decision time).
Most college career centers offer opportunities to engage in practice interviews. Take advantage! Verbalizing your answers and receiving feedback on your body language and overall presentation will help you prepare and build confidence.
References
Hettich, P., & Longnecker H. (2015, Fall). Identifying and communicating your skills from college to career: Part I. Eye on Psi Chi, 20(1), 10–11. Retrieved from http://www.psichi.org/?201EyeFall15bHettich
Longnecker, H., & Hettich, P. (2016, Winter). Identifying and communicating your skills from college to career: Part II. Eye on Psi Chi, 20(2), 4–5. Retrieved from http://www.psichi.org/?202EyeWin16bLongneck
Whitacre, T. (2007, June). Behavioral interviewing—Find your STAR. Quality Progress, 40(6), 72–73. Retrieved from http://rube.asq.org/quality-progress/2007/06/career-development/behavioral-interviewing-findyour-star.html

Hilarie Longnecker, MEd, has over 12 years of experience in university career services. As an assistant director at DePaul University’s (IL) Career Center, she designs and delivers one-on-one and large-scale career development services through coaching, events, and resource development. She currently advises the university’s science and health-oriented students, as well as manages the center’s Peer Career Advisor Program.

Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a “real world” foundation for his career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to write about college-to-workplace readiness issues by graduates and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and practices. You can contact Paul at phettich@depaul.edu

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Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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