Interview Do’s and Dont’s: Part One
Want to know what it takes to coordinate a successful interview? Below are my thoughts and tips on what to DO during an interview..
1. Plan ahead. A certain amount of stress is inevitable, but a little prep before your interview can go a long way to making sure that the day runs as smoothly as possible. Save the address of the interview site on your phone’s map application or into your GPS the night before the interview, and remember to factor in the time of day, usual traffic patterns, and road constructing when selecting a route. Make sure you know where you are going to park when you get to your interview site and how to get from your parking space to the correct building. If applicable, be sure to bring cash and/or coins with you to pay for structure, lot, or street parking.
2. Know your interviewer and your interview. Take the time before your interview to do a little research on the institution/company/program and on your interviewer (obviously the last part is only applicable if you know his or her identity beforehand). It doesn’t have to be incredibly in-depth, a Google search or two is fine, but doing your homework prior to your interview can give you a better idea of what questions you are likely to be asked as well as what qualities and qualifications the interviewer is looking for.
3. Dress the part (and dress comfortably). When picking out an outfit for an interview (or really any event requiring professional attire), I like to use something I call the “Grandparent Test”. It seems like grandparents are always telling you girls that your shirts are too low-cut, your skirts are too short, and your pants are too tight. Or for guys, your shirt isn’t tucked in, your shoes aren’t tied properly, or your pants are too loose. If you don’t think your grandparents would approve of your outfit, chances are it probably isn’t appropriate for an interview. It is always better to err on the side of dressing too conservatively and too formal than to arrive dressed inappropriately and/or too casually. That being said, dressing comfortably is just as important as dressing appropriately. Odd are that you’re going to be at least a bit nervous, and you don’t want the added stress of worrying about your clothing. Dress in layers – offices are notorious for being either too cold or too hot. Ladies, even if they are the accessory that absolutely makes your outfit, resist the urge to don those 4-inch heels that cut up your feet and/or make walking at a normal pace an impossible feat. If you end up having to park a block or two away from your interview site and are then forced to run up three flights of stairs because there is no elevator (this definitely happened to me), you’ll be glad you wore comfortable shoes. Gentlemen, if the buttons on your shirt are straining at the neck, or your tie feels like a paisley printed noose, wear, buy, or borrow a different shirt or tie. You really don’t want to be literally choking on your words during your interview.
4. Bring a notebook. Notebooks can be used for a wide variety of purposes during interviews. Receive some constructive criticism during your interview? Write it down. It will show your interviewer that you are serious about their suggestions and about improving yourself. Obtain additional contact information for your interviewer or another influential person? Write it down. It will show that you are prepared and ambitious, and save your interviewer from having to write it down for you or remember to email you the information. Even if you don’t end up needing to write anything down during your interview, you’ll look dedicated and prepared just by bringing your notebook with you.
5. Bring a copy of your resume. Most likely the interviewer already has a copy of your resume, but people misplace things, printers run out of paper, and emails mysteriously vanish from inboxes. Bringing along an extra printer copy of your resume saves your interviewer the headache and embarrassment of tracking down his or her copy and makes you look extra prepared.
6. Stay up to date on (relevant) current events. I’m not saying you have to take out a subscription to The New Yorker, watch the news every night, or begin religiously reading The Detroit Free Press, but knowing even a little bit about a few current events could be a life-saver during your interview. Case in point: during my Top 50 interview for MedStart, my interviewer asked myself and the four other students in my group about our opinions on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Judging by the expressions on the other students’ faces, none of us knew very much about it (and to be honest, most people don’t know the details of the legislation). Those of us who knew even a little about the ACA were able to present significantly better answers than those who didn’t. You don’t have to become an expert about ongoing NIH studies or the details of the Obamacare legislation, but for health care-related interviews, just glancing through a few news or journal articles prior to your interview could make a major difference. (Personally I recommend the “Health” tab on the CNN app or website).
7. Have a firm handshake. I know, I know. This sounds like the kind of advice your dad repeats to you anytime you’re going to meet someone remotely influential. But it’s good advice. Especially if your interviewer is considerably older than yourself (though this rule holds regardless of age), a firm handshake is one of the quickest and most immediate ways to make a good impression. A strong handshake and good eye contact during your introduction shows that you’re confident and serious about the opportunity that is being presented.
8. Be mindful of the type of interview being conducted. Group interviews have a very different set of dynamics than do individual interviews, and there are pros and cons to both types. In group interviews the interviewer is putting less pressure on you as an individual, but there’s the added stress of hearing the responses of others and having others hear your responses. If you feel someone else has a better answer or more experience than you do, it can make you feel very insecure because you’re being directly compared to someone else. Likewise, if you give a response that you feel isn’t very strong, you might feel as if all the other interviewees are judging you. However, as long as you aren’t chosen to answer a question first, you may have more time to think of a good response while waiting for other interviewees to present their answers. Individual interviews are about you. While your responses aren’t being directly compared to those of y our peers, you are not afforded any extra time to compose responses. Something else to keep in mind: group interviews tend to stick to more “traditional” questions, while individual interviews offer more flexibility in terms of topics.
9. Know your strengths and weaknesses. This is a big one. Many interviewers will directly ask you what you deem your strengths and weaknesses to be, but even if the question is not explicitly stated you may still be asked related questions. Flashback to my MedStart top 30 interview. So far the interview is going well; as expected, my interviewer and I have discussed a few of the experiences listed on my resume and I have been asked “standard interview questions”. Then, he shuffles through some of the papers on his desk, pulls one out, and says something along the lines of “I see you did very well on the ACT, and your GPA is good, but I noticed that your ACT math score and your AP calculus grade are somewhat incongruous with the rest of your grades.” Um… WHAT? I had no idea that my interviewer even had my ACT scores and high school transcripts, let alone had read them in detail and realized that I’m really no that good at math. Mercifully I was able to recover from the shock of this discovery within a few seconds, and was then able to put together a decently eloquent response: I acknowledged that although I’m good at memorizing things, I have a harder time understanding processes and concepts (such as mathematical concepts). I was very careful not to blame any of my math teachers, nor declare my hate of the subject (even though it’s true) or overstate my mathematical… difficulties. There was no way to escape my score or grades, but I honestly think the way I maturely discussed my own weaknesses went a long way towards the success of that interview.
10. Know your resume. This seems like a no-brainer, but it really is important to know your resume in detail. Be able to accurately describe and meaningfully reflect upon all of of your pertinent experiences – you never know when your interviewer might bring up that summer camp you went to the summer before ninth grade or the nursing home you forgot you even volunteered at.
11. Bring up strengths/experiences that are not reflected by your resume. Remember that the only information the interviewer has about you is the information on your resume, transcripts, etc. If there is anything that is not included in your resume or that your resume does not accurately reflect, bring it up. You want the interviewer to have the most accurate picture of your qualities and accomplishments.
12. Accept compliments (and critiques) graciously. This is similar to the humble brag. If the interviewer compliments you on your qualities or accomplishments, accept his praise with a genuine “thank you”. Avoid sounding cavalier about your accomplishments, but also avoid demeaning yourself: if the interviewer compliments you on your leadership position in a student organization, don’t respond with anything along the lines of “I really didn’t have to do that much” or “It really wasn’t that difficult of a position”. Responses like those just mentioned show that you feel you aren’t worthy of praise, or the opportunity for which you are interviewing, and if you feel that way, why should the interviewer think that you are a worthy candidate?
13. Be yourself. Cliché, I know, but it’s still important. If you’re naturally bubbly and outgoing, don’t feel like you have to squash your true personality behind a mask of stiff formality. Likewise, if you’re naturally more reserved, don’t try to be falsely outgoing – just be polite. Giving thoughtful, insightful responses will go a long way. Above all, the interviewer wants to know that you are a normal, friendly individual who can hold a decent conversation – something that con’t be assessed just by reading your resume.
14. Send a thank-you note. Although the art of writing thank-you notes seems to have gone somewhat out of vogue, this one is really important. Especially for big interviews like college and scholarship, the interviewer has to read your resume and related documents, think of questions to ask, take time out of his or her (usually very busy) day to actually conduct the interview, record your responses, and send his or her comments to the person (or committee) making the final decision. For free. The very least you can do is send them an email thanking them for their time. Try to be more specific than just writing “thank you for interviewing me blah blah blah”, but really just sending a thank-you note is more important than the details. If you’re sending her an email, do it the day of your interview, before you have a chance to forget. Even if you’re going to send a card (preferably hand-written), it might be a good idea to send off a quick email expressing your appreciation, in case it takes you a while to track down an address.
I hope you all found these tips insightful! Stay tuned for Interview Do’s and Dont’s: Part Two where i’ll be discussing what NOT to do. Happy interviewing!
– Diana Svinarich
Interested in reading Part Two? Click here