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How to handle interviews: A general guide to dos and don'ts during interviews

Interviews usually make or break job offers. There are a couple of factors, which when kept in mind, help make interviews highly successful.  (credit: Anabelle Lee/Copy Staff) Interviews usually make or break job offers. There are a couple of factors, which when kept in mind, help make interviews highly successful. (credit: Anabelle Lee/Copy Staff)

Even if your résumé is a meticulously crafted piece of art detailing an unbroken chain of accomplishments, most potential employers ultimately rely on interviews to confirm that you are as impressive as the résumé states.

“The purpose of the résumé is to get the interview. The purpose of the interview is to get the job,” said Lisa Dickter, associate director in the Career Center.

After the Employment Opportunities Conference on Thursday, many students will be invited to interviews with potential employers.
Here is some advice on what to do and what not to do during these interviews and how to make the interviews turn out for the best.

Make good first and last impressions

This is true for almost any social interaction or relationship.

“The beginning and ending of an interview is when a recruiter decides whether or not they think personally the student is [a] good fit for the company.... [The recruiters decide whether the student is] a pleasant person to be in that particular culture,” said Claudia Kirkpatrick, associate teaching professor at the Tepper School of Business.
Compared to the other parts of an interview, making good first and last impressions is relatively easy.
A big smile, a firm handshake, and good posture are usually enough.

Match the tone

In almost any social interaction, how one speaks is at least as important as what one says. Interviews can be tricky, though, because they can range from highly formal and structured to very casual and relaxed, depending on the company and position.

“Assume it’s formal, but then take the lead from the interviewer,” Dickter advised. “But no matter how informal the recruiter, keep a level of professionalism. You don’t ever want to feel that they are your buddy.” Kirkpatrick also added, “If the recruiter asks the student why they are interested in a certain company, and the recruiter is being very formal and very stiff, the student would want to be very explicit about the job requirements as they were posted.... However, if the recruiter is very relaxed ... then the student has the opportunity to be more creative, but also remembering at the same time to talk about things relevant to the company.”

Stay positive

It is important to maintain a positive outlook during the interview. Never speak negatively about anything during the interview. You cannot throw mud without first getting your own hands dirty, and in this job market, you probably can’t afford to be anything but spotless. “[Employers] don’t want to hear outrage. They don’t want to hear anger and that you couldn’t deal with it,” Dickter said. “An employer will start to think the student is a negative person that will be critical of other people when they are actually on the job.”

Know yourself

The employer probably already read your résumé, but the employer will also expect you to be able to articulate why you feel your accomplishments are noteworthy.
“[Students] need to know their strengths and their skills, and they need to be able to confidently explain each of their experiences in an organized way,” Dickter said.
“Students need to weave into their answers to the employers’ questions ... their strengths and skills.” Kirkpatrick emphasized that students should be aware of how their accomplishments were useful and added value. “A résumé will state what the student did, but the interviewer will want to know more about what difference that made and what results are still there,” she said.

Know the company

“At the very least you need to know what they do, what they make, who their clients are, and why they exist,” Dickter said. It really is just common courtesy, since the employer probably also took the time to read your résumé. Dickter advised that a short visit to the company’s website should be sufficient.

Be enthusiastic about the job

Don’t just pretend to show enthusiasm. Actually be enthusiastic, because it is a rare and exclusive honor that you are even being considered for a position at all.
As Kirkpatrick advised, “One of the things that any student going [through] the interview process should remember is that if they take the job, he or she will do it passionately.” She also added that it is important not to have pre-conceived notions about any job. “A student should not pre-judge whether or not he or she will take the job until the company offers it,” Kirkpatrick said.