Successful interviews combine persuasion, presentation

By Saher Khan

The Interview: a nerve-wracking ritual for all who are applying for jobs. For the nervous, it is their demise, and for the overconfident, their foil.

Steven Conaton, the mock interview program coordinator at the University’s Career Center, said that the interview, however daunting it may seem, is the most important part of the job search process. It is extremely rare to hire someone without an interview, he said, and it is very hard to tell who would be a great fit based on resumes.

“You could be the greatest expert in the world in your field, but if you can’t convey that in the right format in the interview, then you’re not going to get the job,” he said.

Conaton recommends the mock interview program at the Career Center, which teaches students how to interview correctly. He said that while a resume will get a candidate in the door, it becomes crucial to ace the interview.

Here are some of the essentials for having a successful interview:

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Be prepared

People spend a lot of time preparing their resumes, but once someone gets an interview, they need to spend the same amount of time preparing for that interview as they did preparing their resume.

Bring in a resume portfolio, so if the interviewer does not have it, it will show preparedness.

Do research on the company.

“If they’ve taken the time to go through hundreds of resumes and pick you, you owe it to them to spend a few minutes doing some research on them. Because at the end of the interview you’re going to have an opportunity to ask questions, and you want to ask questions that show you know a little bit about the company,” he said.

Be aware of the “standard questions.” According to Conaton, some common questions usually are asked about leadership positions, conflict management, strengths and weaknesses, and why the candidate is the best fit for the position.

Be convincing

Selling oneself is a very important aspect of the interview. It is the one time that a person can embellish their skills and flaunt their best qualities. However, Conaton stresses that it is important to remember that interviewers can be skeptical.

Think of at least seven to 10 stories, and give specific examples. The best way to authenticate credibility and skill set is by telling stories and giving specific examples.

“Anyone can walk in and say ‘I’m a great leader,’ but that isn’t enough, you have to tell examples from your life in your history of when you were a great leader,” Contaton said.

Be presentable

While the expectation is that one must go into an interview dressed in business formal or business casual attire, body language is also important.

Sit up straight and look confident.

“It’s also really, really important to smile,” Conaton said, “you have to make a connection with the interviewer, and if you’re serious all the time you’re going to struggle with that. So smile, Make eye contact, and don’t do anything distracting with your hands, no fidgeting.”

Don’t get too comfortable. While creating a comfortable and friendly rapport with the interviewer can help make the process easier, remember that everything is still being evaluated.

What not to do

Do not tell stories about a decision or skill that is in the ethically gray area. Conaton said that even if it is believed to have been correct, do not risk it and avoid anything that might make the interviewer have a negative attitude.

Stray from questions about salary. Some companies and employers may find that presumptuous.

Do not talk about social life, partying or going out with friends. Think about what an interviewer wants to do, and tell them stories that highlight professional and relevant skills.

What to expect

The interview starts as soon as the candidate enters the building.

“Everybody in the place you’re applying for is evaluating you. So at the front desk when you introduce yourself desk and say ‘I’m here for an interview,’ the interviewers are going to have conversations with the receptionist, they know each other, they work together, so make a good impression right from the get go,” he said.

In the interview, be friendly, confident, warm and establish a good rapport with the interviewer.

Have a clear agenda.

“You know what you’re best skills are, you know what you’re really good at, and you know and you think and you believe that you’re the best person for the job and your goal is to convince them,” he said.

Present your answers in the “STAR method.”

The STAR (Situation. Task. Action. Result.) method helps keep the story focused, said Conaton. It is one thing to have great stories, but rambling as you tell them will make great stories lose their impact. The STAR method is a step-by-step way to tell the story. After the candidate explains the situation, then they will discuss the task needed to be done, talk about the action taken and then mention the result of that action. This allows the interviewer to clearly understand the connections someone is trying to make.

Write a “Thank You:” Within 24 hours, a candidate should send a short email to the interviewer thanking them for the opportunity.

What the Career Center and Mock Interview Program can do for you

Conaton said the program’s 24 interviewing team members will look at students’ documents, resume and job description before preparing an individualized interview for them.

They also help with interviews for specific tailored jobs. For example, if a student is preparing for medical school interviews, the mock interviewers will change the format and ask relevant case study questions.

For additional tips and counseling on how to prepare and what to expect in an interview, students can also go to the Career Center and meet with a career counselor.

To schedule mock interviews with the mock interview program, students can call the Career Center at 217-333-0820. There are 53 time slots offered and the mock interviews are an hour long. The slots fill up very quick before career fairs, so it is best to schedule one a week in advance during that time. The Mock interview center is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saher can be reached at [email protected].