The Job Interview: Strategies for Success
by Corporate Relations and Business Strategy Staff
August 30, 2005 — Whether you are just beginning your job search, considering transitioning into a staff position at a hospital, consulting firm or community-based agency, or thinking of adding some part-time work to your existing professional activities, the job interview is a critical part of the employment process. This article reviews important tips for skillfully handling each step of the job interview.
Preparing for an interview takes time. The less familiar you are with a particular job market or prospective employer, the more time you should allow yourself to prepare.
Know what you want.
Identify the job characteristics and benefits that are most important to you (e.g., specific population or service, geographic location, healthcare or financial benefits, job autonomy, supervision) and what features are preferable, but not essential.
Know the market.
What changes are occurring, what new skills are important to have and what opportunities and challenges are likely to emerge in the near future?
Understand the needs of the employer.
Browse the organization's website to familiarize yourself with its mission, core values and leaders. Skim any relevant publications, including the organization's annual report and articles or books by key staff members. Additionally, talk to any colleagues who are familiar with the organization to get an insider's view of the company's culture and priorities.
Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Think about the personal characteristics that help make you successful, as well as the professional skills you bring to the table. Be able to describe how these skills and attributes relate to the job you are interested in.
Be prepared to discuss your weaknesses.
Avoid using the typical, "I'm a perfectionist" response. Choose a relatively benign area in need of development, acknowledge your awareness of the weakness and be able to describe what you are doing to actively address the shortcoming.
Tune up your CV.
Include the most updated information and tailor it to the position you are seeking. Consider which clinical or research experiences are most relevant to the job and elaborate on them. If the position has a supervisory or administrative component, take care to include professional activities that helped you grow your skills in these areas.
Prepare several pertinent questions.
Be ready to ask questions about both the position and the organization during the interview. Show that you've done your homework by integrating information you have read about the organizational culture, the services offered, and the current job opening into your questions.
Based upon your understanding of the culture and needs of the employer, anticipate the kinds of questions they may ask you. Prepare answers to these questions, but don't worry about memorizing them. It will be easier to build rapport with the interviewer if you allow yourself to speak naturally during the real interview. Finally, grab a friend or colleague and do a mock interview.
Telephone the administrative assistant or office manager a few days before the interview to confirm the appointment time and ask if there are any materials the interviewer wants you to bring to the interview.
Have a tested travel plan.
Take the time to map out directions to the interview site and do a test run to determine your travel time and parking location before the interview day. On the day of the interview, remember your directions and your contact person's name, address and phone number.
Whether it's a morning workout or a good breakfast, do whatever will set you at ease and put you in a positive frame of mind going into the interview. Arriving early and giving yourself enough time for a restroom break will also help to put you at ease.
The first few minutes of an interview are typically the most important. Below are a few tips for starting out on the right foot:
The rule in terms of interview attire is to dress at least one level higher that the position you are interviewing for. For many positions in the field of psychology, a suit is most appropriate on interview day. Project a professional image and be conservative in terms of your hair style and accessories. You want them to remember your personality rather than your blouse or tie.
The interviewer will be more at ease with you if you are at ease yourself. Trust that you are well-prepared, and project confidence without coming across as arrogant.
In American culture, good eye contact, a firm handshake, and a smile are typically viewed as signs of honesty and professionalism in the workplace. When working in multicultural contexts, be aware of cultural factors and social rules that govern appropriate social interaction.
Use your skills as a psychologist.
Quickly assess your interviewer's mood, body language, tone and rate of speech, and personality style, and adjust your interactions in a way that increases the comfort level in the room.
Remember, even though you are being interviewed, you are also interviewing the organization to see if it is a good fit for you. Begin to look for clues about the work environment and organizational culture. How are you greeted when you arrive? What does the reception area look like? How do coworkers relate to one another as they pass in the hallway?
Tailor your communication.
Is your interviewer a psychologist? Would this person be your direct supervisor or is this an interview from an outside human resources company? Based on the answers to these types of questions, think about the language you use and the kinds of questions you will want to ask the interviewer.
Seek input. Remember the questions you prepared.
Early in the interview, ask about the position and the type of person who would be most successful in the job. This key information will help you to best sell your strengths later on in the interview.
Be positive, but be honest.
Promote your strengths when the opportunities arise, but don't dance around your weaknesses. It's best to be honest and professional when fielding tough questions that may come your way.
Close the interview.
Remember three important points: be ready to ask a few questions when given the opportunity; thank the interviewer; and inquire as to what the next step in the process will be.
The interview process doesn't end when you walk out the door. Following up appropriately can help you seal the deal.
The thank you letter.
Within a day or two of interviewing, send a letter to personally thank your interviewer. In the age of e-mail and overloaded voice-mails, letters send a message that you took the time to think about the interview and the position. Your letter should generally be no longer than one-typed page and provides an opportunity to not only thank the interviewer, but also to restate how your expertise would benefit the organization.
Be visible but not a nuisance.
If you still have not heard from the organization after about two weeks, consider sending an e-mail or making a follow-up call to show continued interest in the position.
A successful job interview requires a considerable amount of thought and preparation. However, devoting the necessary time and energy to each of these stages in the interview process will help you put your best foot forward when meeting prospective employers.