Academics

Interviewing

One person will usually interview you, either an engineer or a human resource representative. Check with ECS business cards for the recruiter’s job title and department. This will typically help you be prepared for what type of interview you might have. It is less common, but sometimes two recruiters will interview you at the same time. This can be more stressful. Try to relax. Maintain eye contact with each recruiter as you answer their questions.

Remember that the interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about the employer as well as for the employer to evaluate you as a potential employee. Keep in mind that you are not an ideal match for every employer’s needs, so it is important to understand early that a “match” between employer and candidate is imperative, not only for the employer, but also for you. Individuals on “both sides of the table” should evaluate each other, discuss needs and interests, and honestly determine the “fit.”

Provide specific examples with all answers. Ask questions (see previous pages for suggested questions) either during the interview or at the end. Be prepared to supply a 2- to 3-minute summary of your qualifications and interests. Dennis Guthrie, of Dow USA, suggests that you prepare a 2- to 3-minute summary to close the interview. “Briefly discuss your major strengths with short and specific examples. You should be able to write everything you plan to say on the back of a business card. Only highlight areas of strengths you feel are especially important or unique to you that were not discussed completely in the interview.”

Ask if you can supply other materials (transcripts, letters of reference, project summaries). Also ask about the employer’s “timeline” for making hiring decisions. Obtain a business card for your records so you may accurately address a thank you letter. ECS also collects business cards for your use. Shake hands, continue making good eye contact, and thank the recruiter for her/his time, mentioning your strong interest and enthusiasm to work with the employer.

Before you prepare for the interview, stop and take a step back to review the interview from the recruiter’s viewpoint. Think about why each question is asked—some say to analyze the question behind the question— and try to understand what skills or attributes are actually being evaluated in your response. If you can understand this process and prepare accordingly, you will not only survive, but also succeed in interviews.

Interviews are business meetings. Prepare accordingly. Know what you want to talk about; know your resume thoroughly; be able to cite examples of skills, lessons learned or goals met all across the resume page. Dress like you care. Give the impression that this is an important meeting for you.

Recruiters will not try to embarrass you or cause you stress. They have a difficult task in conducting 10 to 15 interviews daily. Help them select you by being prepared. Ultimately, recruiters must find from 1–5 candidates who “fit” their needs. The quality of candidates referred for second, on-site interviews is a direct reflection on the recruiter’s ability to know and choose talent. His or her job is a difficult one.

This is where all your work ultimately pays off—skills assessment, resume development, and communication with targeted employers. Preparation and practice are key to successful interviewing. A lack of thorough employer research is often interpreted as poor preparation and a lack of interest in the employer.

  1. Know your resume “inside and out.” Be able to thoroughly and comfortably discuss any item on the resume thoroughly by citing specific examples.
  2. Understand that the resume emphasizes your skills and accomplishments; it will serve first as a deciding factor leading to an interview. Once an interview is scheduled, the recruiter will often direct the interview using the resume as an outline.
  3. Verbally practice answering questions (Yes! Out loud!) and talking about your skills and accomplishments. Recall how in Skills Assessment, we emphasized the importance of spending time writing descriptions for skills, strengths and accomplishments. Now is the time to practice again!
  4. Review and organize facts found in employer research. Demonstrate your knowledge of the employer’s products or services. Take it a step further by clearly drawing the link—the match—between your skills and the employer’s needs. Do not leave this important step open for employer interpretation. Show them the match!
  5. Attend employer information sessions on campus. Introduce yourself to the recruiter(s) and mention that you are looking forward to your interview the next day. Ask intelligent questions and show enthusiasm.
  6. Prepare your portfolio, clothing, and transportation the night prior to the interview. Check the weather forecast for any contingencies you will need to make. Get plenty of rest. Set dozens of alarm clocks, if necessary. You will not be able to recover if you are late.
  7. Dress with respect for the importance of the interview. Show you care!
  8. Every answer requires a specific example to support your claim; never provide a simple one- or two-word answer.
  9. At the end of the interview, it is extremely important for you to ask questions. Lack of questions indicates lack of interest. Finally, summarize your interests and qualifications for the position

Now is your time to talk about yourself. After all this preparation, you should know what to say! If you are thoroughly prepared, you know skills employers are seeking, what strengths and accomplishments you have developed, and what this particular employer needs in new engineering hires! You know your resume and do not need to refer to it throughout the interview. You have practiced talking about your skills and have reviewed lists of potential questions. You are ready and able to talk.

Before you go through an actual interview, you should first go through at least one mock interview, offered through ECS and other resources. Practicing interview responses is key to understanding how to improve your interviewing skills.

The mock interview is more than an opportunity to work out interview jitters; it is an opportunity to practice and improve your interviewing technique and answers. It is also a chance to hear constructive feedback from someone with experience in the field. It is not enough to look at an interview question and say, “Yeah, I know the answer to that one.”

Being prepared is one thing. Bringing a portfolio filled with your preparations is another! Do not arrive at the interview empty-handed. Develop and bring a portfolio of materials as “supportive evidence” of qualifications. It should include papers and examples of work that illustrate and describe your skills, experiences, and qualifications. Use a folder or a 1-inch, three-ring binder with page protectors. Include copies of your resume, transcripts, references, photos or graphs of projects, thesis abstracts, lists of publications, presentations, patents, photos of on-the-job or academic projects, and job performance evaluations.

Resumes: Include several copies of your current resume. Provide one to the recruiter as you are sitting down to the interview. ECS provides employers with a current copy of your Datasheet (not a resume) and list of courses/grades to the employer. Your complete resume will provide more detailed information for the recruiter and indicate a sense of preparedness.

Transcripts: Today, this very minute, go to your My UW account and print several unofficial copies of your transcripts. Employers will want them! Do not be scrambling to print them at the last minute. Or, go to the Registrar’s Office, Peterson Building, 750 University Ave., to obtain copies.

References: Bring your reference list and any evaluations of work performance.

Other: Reference letters, evaluation forms, photos/illustrations of projects (Future Truck, Concrete Canoe, Bridge Building, Engineering EXPO, Schoofs Prize for Creativity), articles, abstracts, publications.

The key element to successful interviewing is not your experience, your grades, what classes you took, your extracurricular activities, or any of the other basic necessities. Those skills are what got you the interview. The key element to successful interviewing can be summed up in one word: attitude. If you want to rise above others with better experience, better grades, or better anything, you will need to work on developing a highly positive work attitude.

Your attitude determines whether you will “make the cut” or be discarded. Remember, there are plenty of competitors with the ability to do almost any given job—especially at the entry level. The way most employers differentiate at the entry level is by candidates’ attitudes toward the job. Your attitude is often what recruiters will remember when the dust has settled after reviewing 10, 20, or even 100 candidates—the one who was sincerely willing to put forth [his or her] very best effort. If you have the attitude of wanting to do your very best for the company, of being focused on the company’s needs, of putting yourself forth as the person who will be committed and dedicated to fulfilling their needs, you will likely be the one chosen.

Why is attitude so important? Because most companies already have their full share of multi-talented superstars who care about no one but themselves. Ask any manager who the most valuable member of his team is, and he will point not to the overrated superstar, but to the person who has the “can do” attitude, the person who can be counted on in any situation, the person who truly strives for excellence. Give me a team player who is achieving at 99% and I will take her over a flashy superstar who is running at 50% efficiency any day of the week. And so will 99% of all hiring managers. So don’t worry if you are not “superstar” quality. If you can show me, in your words and actions, that you are ready to put forth your very best effort toward achieving excellence, you will be chosen over the superstar.

You can show your winning attitude in the way you present yourself. Incorporate the actual words “positive attitude,” “excellence,” and “striving to be my best” into your interview language. Then show by your stories and examples how these words positively affect your life. Show me when and where and how you have put forth extra effort above and beyond the call of duty. Show me how you beat a deadline, how you excelled in a project, or how you made a difference by going the extra mile. If you can show me, by words and examples, your “can do” attitude, it is you I will hire, while all of the superstars will receive polite rejection letters to add to their growing collections.

Source: collegegrad.com, 2003.

Different Types of Interviews

Behavioral Interviews

“Tell me about a team experience in which one member did not meet expectations.” This question demonstrates the type of question common in behavioral interviews. Based on the premise that the best way to predict future behavior is to evaluate past behavior, this form of questioning allows the recruiter to assess your abilities based on what you have already done.

Typical Behavioral Interview Questions

  • Tell me about an obstacle you have overcome.
  • Tell me about the most unethical situation you’ve observed or experienced.
  • Tell me about your last experience with success.
  • Tell me about a goal you have met.
  • Tell me about a time you criticized the work of another.
  • Tell me about a time you motivated a dysfunctional team to excel.
  • Tell me about the biggest risk you have taken.
  • We all break rules. Tell me about a time when you broke a rule.
  • Tell me about a team project in which you assumed a leadership role.
  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • Tell me about a former supervisor with whom you did not agree.

S.T.A.R. Response Style for Behavioral Questions

S.T.A.R. Response Style for Behavioral Questions

In responding to behavioral questions, first set up the Situation or Task which probably stems from an item you have listed on your resume (i.e. team project, work experience, community volunteer project, class project or other experience), then describe the specific action you developed or took because of the situation or task, and close with the a description of the results—good or bad—including what you learned from the experience.

Prepare to provide detail regarding what-where-why of past performances:

  • Expect probing question: “peeling the layers from an onion.”
  • Expect to provide details, not theories or generalizations about several events.
  • Expect a structured interview concentrating on areas that are important to the interviewer, rather than allowing you to concentrate on areas that you may feel are important.
  • Expect that recruiters will take notes throughout the interview.

The behavioral interviewer has been trained to objectively collect and evaluate information, and works from a profile of desired behaviors that are needed for success on the job. Because the behaviors a candidate has demonstrated in previous similar positions are likely to be repeated, you will be asked to share situations in which you may or may not have exhibited these behaviors. Your answers will be tested for accuracy and consistency. If you are an entry-level candidate with no previous, related experience, the interviewer will look for behaviors in situations similar to those of the target position.

  • Recall recent situations that show favorable behaviors or actions, especially involving course work, work experience, leadership, teamwork, initiative, planning, and customer service.
  • Prepare short descriptions of each situation; be ready to give details if asked.
  • Be sure each story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Be ready to describe the situation, your action, and the outcome or result.
  • Be sure the outcome or result reflects positively on you. If the result itself was not favorable, talk about what you learned or would do differently next time.
  • Be honest. Don’t embellish or omit any part of the story. The interviewer will find out if your story is built on a weak foundation.

Case Interviews

“Simply put, a case interview is the analysis of a business plan or situation. Unlike most other interview questions, it is an interactive process. Your interviewer will present you with a business problem and ask you for your opinion. Your job is to ask the interviewer logical questions that will permit you to make a detailed recommendation. The majority of case interviewers don’t have a specific answer that you, the candidate, are expected to give. What the interviewer is looking for is a thought process that is both analytical and creative (what consultants love to call “out-of-the-box” thinking). Specific knowledge of the industry covered by the case question is a bonus but not necessary. An understanding of the business models and processes as well as global business experience is helpful for success.”*

“Many management consulting firms, especially the strategy firms (such as McKinsey and Bain) love to give prospective employees a problem to solve during the course of an interview. The “case questions” are designed to help the interviewer screen candidates and determine which people really have what it takes to be a real, live, card-carrying management consultant.”**

Question categories can be identified as:

  • Market-sizing questions focus on determining the market size for a particular service or product.
  • Business operations questions refer to running a business and getting a product out the door. The focus may include purchasing and transporting raw materials, manufacturing processes, scheduling of staff and facilities, product distribution … the day-to-day running of the business.
  • Business strategy questions deal more with the future direction of a firm. Good strategy questions may have a market-sizing piece, a logic puzzle, multiple operations issues, and a dose of creativity and action. These types of questions tend to be quite complex.
  • Resume case questions come directly from the candidate’s resume. One example may be, “I see that you play rugby. Describe all the different positions on a rugby team, and the play strategy for each.”**

* Source: Vault Guide to the Case Interview, 5th edition, Mark Asher, Eric Chung, and the staff of Vault, 2002.
** Source: Ace Your Case III – Practice Makes Perfect, WetFeet Insider Guide, 2nd edition, 2003.

Brainteaser Interviews

Part of the philosophy behind “brainteaser” interviews is that “IQ is all that matters.” Bill Gates’ hiring philosophy is based on the fact that a smart person can be trained to do anything. Intelligence is valued over skills or experience. Therefore, logic puzzles, riddles, hypothetical questions and trick questions have become commonplace in computer industry and the fast-paced consulting business interviews.

Questions may include:

  • How many times a day do a clock’s hands overlap?
  • Why are beer cans tapered at the top and bottom?
  • If you could remove any of the fifty U.S. states, which would it be?
  • Why do mirrors reverse right and left instead of up and down?*

“It’s all about thinking outside the box—just make certain you know what kind of box.”** Other recruiters will ask unique brainteaser questions during a “typical” interview. It is important to stay focused and be adept at answering all types of questions. Keep your poise and sense of humor … and think carefully about the question. Recruiters are often evaluating your skills, creativity, and ability to think on your feet.***

* Source: How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle – How the World’s Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers, William Poundstone, Little Brown & Co., 2003.
** Source: Paul Boutin, Wired.
*** Source: How to Ace the Brain Teaser Interview, John Kador, McGraw-Hill, 2005.

Follow-up the Interview

This is where most students end the process—interview is over—now just wait for a response. No! Take initiative and responsibility for pursuing this employment opportunity further! It is imperative for you to indicate your appreciation for the recruiter’s time and to continue to express your interest in the position. A very small percentage of students actually send a thank you message and follow-up the thank you message with another statement of interest. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. Employers are interested in hiring people who are interested in the position! Indicate your interest by continuing to communicate with the recruiter until a decision has been made. Use discretion regarding frequency—do not become a “pest.”

The interview is not the end of the job search process; follow-up is required. It is important not only to evaluate your interview presentation, but also to continue a dialogue with the recruiter. What does this mean? It means that it is in your best interest to follow-up the interview with a thank you e-mail or letter and maintain a regular follow-up schedule (approximately every 2 weeks) until the employer or you has made an employment decision.

Within one to two days, send an E-mail message thanking the recruiter for the interview, clarifying topics discussed in the interview, and re-emphasizing interest in the employer’s opportunities. A well-written, well-timed thank you message will not “get” you a job, but it can “tip the scales” if all other factors are equal.

By sending a thank you message, you will:

  1. show common courtesy and appreciation
  2. stand out from the crowd
  3. reiterate interest in the opportunity
  4. make points you forgot during the interview and
  5. demonstrate your writing skills.

Regularly contact the recruiter after the thank you letter; do so approximately every 2 weeks until a decision is made. Be persistent without being pushy. Offer to provide other materials, such as transcripts or samples of your work. Keep copies of your communication; maintain business card file. Develop a spreadsheet with employer names, recruiter contacts, interview dates, and follow-up dates. Maintain a current, efficient follow-up routine.