TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEWING
Much of this information is geared for recent graduates and
entry-level individuals, although experienced professionals and
career public administrators may still find the information
The more you know about a position and the employer, the better
your chances of preparing your resume in away that best
communicates your background and qualifications, and the better
your chances of having a successful interview.
When you do your initial research, your objective should be to
develop an understanding of the type of community, the nature and
history of the position, and the particular issues the
organization and the department is facing. No one will expect you
to be completely knowledgeable about these matters. However,
gaining insight into them will put you in a more competitive
position (not to mention your decision as to whether to apply in
the first place).
You can gain information about a position in a variety of ways:
1. Visit the organization;
2. Make telephone calls to key individuals in the organization;
3. Contact former employees or officials;
4. Request printed materials about the organization.
A key to success is careful research about the job and the
organization, agency, or company with whom you are interviewing.
Use your personal network to discover the names of current
employees you might call prior to the interview. Knowing about
the job will help you prepare a list of your qualifications to
match the position profile. Knowing about the employer will help
you prepare an interview strategy, appropriate questions to ask,
and points to emphasize.
Purpose of Interviews
The job interview is a strategic conversation with a purpose.
Your goal is to persuade the employer that you have the skills,
background, and ability to do the job and that you can
comfortably fit into the organization and its culture. At the
same interview, you should also be gathering information about
the job and the organization to determine if the job and work
environment are right for you.
You can more likely influence the interview process if you
realize that an interview is not an objective process in which
the employer necessarily plans to offer the job to the
"best" candidate, based on knowledge, ability and skill
alone. More often than not, an interview is a fairly subjective
meeting in which the interviewer or appointing authority may
offer the job to a qualified person whom he or she likes best.
You need to understand that personality, confidence, enthusiasm,
a positive outlook and excellent interpersonal and communication
skills count heavily.
One key to success is to use every means at your disposal to
develop effective interviewing skills, including selective
presentation of your background, thoughtful answers to typical
interview questions, well researched questions about the
organization, and an effective strategy to market yourself. There
is no magic to interviewing. It is a skill that can be learned
and developed with practice.
The Interview Structure
Before receiving a job offer, you will typically have a series of
interviews with an employer. The first interview may be a
screening interview that could be conducted over the phone or at
the place of employment. Screening interviews are rather brief,
usually lasting 15-30 minutes. During that time the employer may
describe the nature of the position, and will want you to
elaborate on experiences outlined in your resume or application,
and may ask you a few questions. If the employer is sufficiently
impressed with your performance in this interview, you may be
invited to a second (and perhaps third or fourth) interview.
The second interview process is longer, lasting anywhere from an
hour to a whole day. It could include testing, lunch or dinner, a
facility tour, as well as a series of interviews with various
The third interview (if held) may be more to discuss particular
points, concerns, issues, or approaches. Salary and benefit needs
may be discussed.
Most interviews follow a rather predictable communication pattern
of "warm-up," information exchange, and
"wrap-up". During the first few minutes of the
interview (the "warm-up"), an employer will be
formulating a first, and perhaps lasting, impression of you. How
you greet the employer, the firmness of your handshake, the way
you're groomed and dressed, will all be a part of this initial
To help you feel at ease, a practiced interviewer might ask
"common-ground" questions about shared interests or
acquaintances, or your travel to the interview. Some interviewers
might start by saying, "Tell me about yourself," an
opening for you to concisely describe your background, skills,
and interest in the position.
The information exchange will be the primary part of the
interview. It is when you will be asked the most questions and
learn the most about the employer. Typical interview questions
include such inquiries as: "Why are you an ideal candidate
for this positon?", "What are your
strengths/weaknesses?", "How would your past
supervisors describe you?", What are your long-term career
goals?". More typical questions can be found in the section
entitled "Questions Often Asked by Employers".
Since many traditional interview questions elicit responses that
can be answered by opinions, feelings, and "text book
answers" that may or may not reflect how the employee will
actually behave or the job, many employers are now asking more
"behavior descriptive" questions. Behavior descriptive
question have been demonstrated to more accurately predict
success on the job. Behavior descriptive questions assume that a
person will behave on the next job in similar ways to behavior in
the current or previous job. The more recent the behavior, the
more likely it will be repeated. Thus, an employer may ask such
"Describe the most difficult budget (or personnel,
etc.) decision you have made this year? How did you go about
analyzing the issue and making a decision?
"On your present (immediate past) job, in which situation
did you make the best use of your technical or problem-soving
skills? Please describe a specific challenge that brought out the
best in your skills.
"Describe a situation in which you needed to solicit the
cooperation of others in order for a project to proceed, but you
had no "authority" over the persons involved. How did
you go about gaining cooperation?"
If you are prepared for the interview, you will be able to
promote your qualifications effectively as you respond to
questions. With practice, you will gain confidence and become
more polished in your presentation.
Eventually the employer will probably say, "Do you have any
questions?" This is the cue that the interview is moving to
the "wrap-up" stage. Always ask questions because this
demonstrates your prior research and interest in the job. Your
questions might be direct, logistical questions such as,
"When can I expect to hear from you?" (if that has not
been discussed); a question to clarify information the employer
has presented; a question regarding the employer's use of new
technology or practices related to the career field; or a
question to assess the culture and direction of the organization
such as "Where is this organization headed in the next five
years?" or "Why do you like working for this
organization?" Do not ask specific questions about salary or
benefits unless the employer broaches the subject first.
The employer may also ask you if you have anything else you would
like to add or say. Again, it's best to have a response. You can
use this opportunity to thank the employer for the interview,
summarize your qualifications and reiterate your interest in the
position. If you want to add information or emphasize a point
made earlier, you can do that, too. This last impression is
almost as important as the first impression and will add to the
substance discussed during the information exchange.
Because a job interview is a communication process, your skills
will become more polished over time. It is helpful to remember
Speak clearly and enthusiastically about your experiences and
skills. Be professional, but don't be afraid to let your
personality shine through.
Listen carefully. You may be asked multi-part questions, and your
ability to recall all the parts of the question may be part of
the examination. Thus, you need to focus and concentrate on what
is being said, both explicitly and otherwise. Your answers should
be concise and to the point.
Be positive. Employers do not want to hear a litany of excuses or
bad feelings about a negative experience. If you are asked about
a sudden job change, or a weakness in your background, don't be
defensive. Focus instead on the facts (briefly) and what you
learned from the experience.
Pay attention to your nonverbal behavior. Look the interviewer in
the eye, sit up straight with both feet on the floor, control
nervous habits (cracking knuckles, drumming fingers, etc.), and
smile as you are greeted.
Don't be afraid of short pauses. You may need a few seconds to
formulate an answer. The interviewer may need time to formulate
an appropriate question. It is not necessary to fill up every
second with conversation.
Plan to arrive for your interview 10-15 minutes prior to the
appointed time. If you are earlier than that, go for a walk,
brush up on information about the organization, go to the
bathroom, or sit in the lobby preparing for the interview.
Arriving too early may confuse the employer or create an awkward
situation. By the same token, arriving late creates a bad first
impression. Ask for directions when making arrangements for the
Carry a portfolio notepad or at the very least a manila file
folder labeled with the employer's name. Note: this is generally
not expected of persons interviewing for executive positons.
Bring extra resumes and a list of questions you need answered.
You may refer to your list of questions to be sure you've
gathered the information you need to make a decision. Do not take
notes during the interview.
Be prepared to market your skills and experiences as they relate
to the job described. Work at positioning yourself in the mind of
the employer as a person with a particular set of skills and
attributes. Employers have problems that need to be solved by
employees with particular skills; work to describe your
In many career fields, the lunch or dinner included during the
interview day is not only employer hospitality, but a significant
part of the interview process. Brush up on your etiquette and
carry your share of the conversation during the meal. Often
social skills are part of the hiring decision.
After the interview, take time to write down you impressions,
remaining questions and information learned. If you are
interviewing regularly, this will help you keep employers and
circumstances clearly defined.
Follow-up the interview with a thank-you letter. Employers regard
this as evidence of your attention to detail, as well as an
indication of your final interest in the position. Reconfirm your
interest in the position.
Many employers are well-trained to interview potential employees.
Others, however, may not be skilled in the art of interviewing.
Maintain your professionalism and use effective interviewing
techniques, whatever the skill level of the interviewer.
Interviewers adopt different techniques for each interview and it
is valuable for the job seeker to recognize these styles in
preparation for interviews.
Directed - A directed interview has a definite structure. The
will usually have an agenda and a list of specific questions.
Nondirected - A nondirected interview tends to be less
structured. The interviewer may ask broad, general questions and
not take charge of the interview.
Stress - A stress-styled interview is not as common as other
interview styles. It is used to determine how the applicant
reacts under pressure. There are many possible forms of stress
interviews, which may include timed and problem-solving tasks.
Group - A group interview is one where several candidates are
interviewed at once. this style is often used to determine how
candidates interact as team members, or may be used if the
organization hires in large numbers.
Panel - A panel-style interview involves more than one
interviewer questioning a candidate. While similar to the
directed interview, it is necessary to establish rapport with
each interviewer. Direct eye contact is extremely important.
Questions Often Asked By Employers
1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What are your long-range and short-range career goals and
objectives, and how are you preparing to achieve them?
3. Why did you choose your career?
4. What do you consider to be your greatest strengths?
5. How would you describe yourself? How would you current
supervisor describe you?
6. How has your experience prepared you for this position?
7. Why should we hire you?
8. How do you determine or evaluate success?
9. In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our
10. Describe a situation when you had to use your creativity to
the fullest to complete a project.
11. Describe your most rewarding (or difficult) work experience.
12. If you were hiring for this position, what qualities would
you look for?
13. What led you to choose this line of work?
14. How do you work under pressure?
15. Describe the ideal job.
16. Why did you decide to seek a position with this organization
and what do you know about us?
Behavior Descriptive Interviewing
Traditional interviewing and hiring
methods center on the education, qualifications and experience of
the candidate. If an applicant meets the educational
requirements, appears to have the experience and personal
characteristics, and responds as expected to traditional
interview questions, this candidate is judged qualified for the
The problem is that traditional methods
merely elicit responses that address credentials, opinions and
feelings. Rarely will traditional interview questions prompt the
candidate to tell the interviewer about actual performance on the
job, or about job experiences and accomplishments in specific
situations. Answers given by candidates do not focus on what a
person actually did in a specific situation on a previous job,
how it was done, and under what circumstances it was done. As a
result, traditional interviewing does a poor job of helping
employers predict how a candidate will behave in specific
situations. This poor predictive ability has been proven
repeatedly in many research studies.
In summary, a recent review of all
published research (over 150 studies) on interviews found
one-on-one unstructured interviews averaged only 19% predictive
Structured panel interviews only rose to
35% accuracy. Research-based behavioral interviews, however,
achieved an accuracy of over 80% - a four-times improvement. Even
the three single studies that directly compared Behavior
Description with traditional interviews found an uncorrected
accuracy of 72%. This represents the highest hiring accuracy
found in science and the best chance organizations have today to
build a strong human-resource base.
The best predictor of future performance
is past performance in similar circumstances. More specifically:
- The more recent the past behavior, the greater its
- The more longstanding the behavior, the greater its
A Behavior Descriptive approach to
interviews focuses on past performance. By focusing on past
performance, employers greatly increase their ability to predict
whether a person will be the "top performer" the
organization is looking for.
The following are examples of Behavior
Descriptive interview questions:
1. Tell me/us about a situation in which
you were responsible for overseeing a major capital facilities
project. What issues did you face in planning, financing and
siting the project? How did you resolve them? How did you go
about managing the project once approved? What problems arose on
the project and how did you handle them?
2. Tell me/us about a situation in which
you were expected to make a professional recommendation to a
board about a major policy action, and you were aware that
several of the board members had diverse and conflicting opinions
about the course of action to take. How did you go about
formulating and communicating your recommendation?
3. Describe a difficult budget decision
you were required to make? How did you go about analyzing the
issue and making a decision?
4. Tell me/us about the most difficult
personnel action with which you have been involved. What were the
issues? How did you respond? What resulted from your actions?
5. What actions have you taken over the
years to assure that your workforce was representative of the
community at large?
6. Thinking back over the past few years,
in which situation did you make the best use of your technical or
problem-solving skills? Please describe a specific challenge that
brought out the best in your skills.
7. Tell me/us about the most difficult
citizen you dealt with last year. How did you respond?
8. Think about a time when you noticed
the early warning signs of an emerging issue or problem. When did
you first notice the problem? What was the first thing you did to
correct the problem?
9. Describe a situation in which you
needed to solicit the cooperation of others in order for a
project to succeed, but you had no "authority" over the
persons involved. How did you go about gaining cooperation?
10. Describe the budget process you have
found most successful in your past work? What was your part in
making it a success? What obstacles were encountered and how did
you resolve them?
Since Behavior Descriptive interviewing
is becoming more popular and commonplace among employers, you
should prepare answers to possible behavior descriptive questions
such as those listed above.
Other Important Interview Tips
Perhaps the most important things to remember in the interview
process are these three items:
1. Be Prepared. Know the job and the employer. Do your home work.
2. Emphasize success. People want to hire a winner. Show them you
3. Show interest. Employers want to know you are interest in
them. Show interest; act enthused. Be positive.
Before the interview, you should learn everything you possibly
can about your prospective employer and the people conducting the
interview. You should arrive at the interview with a good
understanding of the particular requirements of the position,
knowledge of the issues currently facing the organization, and
insight into local politics. Use personal and professional
contacts, contact the recruiter directly, explore issues likely
to be covered in an interview.
Do extensive background research. Source materials include budget
and financial reports, city charters, annual performance reports,
bond official statements and local newspapers.
Plan and rehearse your "verbal resume." You will almost
always be asked , "Please tell us about yourself," so
be prepared with a good response, tailored to the job at hand.
Prepare a written list of likely interview questions and job
requirements. See the List above for examples. Prepare key points
you need to make to demonstrate your specific accomplishments in
Although you may not be given much time to ask questions of the
interviewer, prepare to do so. Ask good questions. If you are
asked what questions you have, and you don't have any, the
interviewer may get the impression you haven't done your
homework, or aren't seriously interested in the position. Prepare
your questions in advance and phrase them to demonstrate your
insight and ability to handle the position. Often, the most
successful applicants are those who simply out-work their
The single best indicator of future performance is past success.
City Councils, City Managers, and other hiring officials want
leaders and achievers in their organizations. As such, your
interview performance must convince the decision makers that
hiring you adds value to their organization.
Develop your verbal communications skills. Having great
management or technical skills and a strong record of
accomplishment is not helpful if you can't verbally convey you
Answer questions directly. Then elaborate with examples. Choose
examples that highlight past successes and relate it to the
projects or issues that interviewer is facing, but avoid
excessively lengthy responses. Remember, interviews are
time-limited, so use that time to focus the interviewer's
attention on your strengths and successes.
Public administration at all levels is a difficult, demanding
job. Successful performance requires dedication and high energy.
You should recognize the interview as your best opportunity to
display the energy, initiative and commitment that you will bring
to the position when hired. Be sure you are really interested in
the position,. It is a waste of your time and the employer's for
you to interview simply for practice or as part of a
"fishing expedition". If you can psychologically commit
yourself to the job, withdraw as a candidate.
Don't forget to ask for the job. Don't beg, but do tell the
prospective employers that you want to work for them.
Dress appropriately and professionally. For men, this means a
dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, polished shoes and a
neat haircut. For women, muted colors are usually best,
conservative dresses or suits, minimal jewelry and subtle makeup.
Use humor appropriately. Don't go out of your way to get laughs,
but a little bit of light humor can put everyone at ease.
Be aware of your volume and animation. Speak clearly and audibly;
avoid rigid postures and "stiffness."
Use names. Remember the names of the interviewers and use them.
People like to hear their names. As Andrew Carnegie said,
"The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own
Maintain eye contact. This shows self confidence.
Finally, relax and enjoy yourself and the process. Tell the
interviewer, with both your words and demeanor, that you
appreciate the opportunity the interview presents.
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