Interviewing Guidelines

5 Keys to Successful Interviewing

This is perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of the job search process because it is common to walk into an interview feeling as though you are at the mercy of the interviewer. Although difficult, it is beneficial to view the interview as a two-way process. You must evaluate the setting, people, and position to know whether the fit will be a good one. If you are prepared to do that and to talk about yourself and what you can bring to the agency or organization, you are ready and need not worry. Refer back to the skills, values, and interests section to formulate the kind of information you want to take away from the interview and the kind of information you want the interviewer to know so he/she will be convinced you know yourself and what is right for you.

Below are basic guidelines that will allow you to relax in knowing you are ready to go!

1. Be prepared:

Do your homework. Know yourself. Complete the skills, values, and interests assignments if you have not already done so. Know which of your skills, values, and interests are useful, relevant, applicable and/or essential to the job opening and organization. Know what the agency does, the kinds of services provided, the populations served. Give serious thought to why you want to work in that agency and with that population delivering those particular services.

You cannot know everything about the agency, but learn what you can. Most organizations have websites where you can research the agency. For companies that do not have websites, see if you can get an annual report and any materials used for outreach and advertising. Use LexisNexis at Mugar Library or other reference sources to search for information on the agency or on social issues, policy decisions, etc., that might affect the agency. Talk to faculty, staff, and alumni about the agency and the issues related to it. Figure out what you don’t know and formulate questions based on the gaps in your information. A list of questions you may want to ask is included at the end of this section. Knowing all that you can about the agency will help you talk about your goals and demonstrate how they are in line with the goals of the agency.

2. Packaging:

Your appearance is a sign of respect for the interviewer, the agency, and the field. Although social work staff at many agencies may dress casually on the job, do not take this as a sign you can present yourself casually at an interview (no jeans, shorts, or sandals). Keep your appearance simple and appropriate for the job, i.e., if the job involves contact with corporate clients and board members demonstrate that you understand the business culture, including attire. Save the latest trend-setting fashions and accessories for social occasions.

3. Enthusiasm goes a long way:

Your voice and body language say a lot about your interest in the job and about your energy level. In this case, being yourself means answering questions the way that you would if you were not in a job interview. You should speak as if having a conversation with another professional who is trying to learn more about you. You will be more relaxed if you aren’t trying to sit, speak, look, and sound like someone else.

Your best opportunity to show enthusiasm is in asking questions. Whether throughout the interview or at the end, be sure to have questions ready for the interviewer(s). Show that you are thoughtful and that you make careful choices regarding your job search. Show that you are curious. Do not, however, just fill the air for fear of silence. When you run out of questions and relevant information to share, let the interview be over. Silence is generally the greatest fear for interviewees. Extended and repeated silences may indicate that you have both shared what you needed to and have come to an appropriate ending of a meaningful exchange.

It will help if you practice with someone else or at least practice in front of a mirror. Mock interviewing, or practicing with someone else, is preferable because the other person can point out habits you may have, such as saying “uhh”, slouching in your chair, shaking your foot, etc.

4. Ease of the interview:

As crazy as it sounds, try to put the interviewer at ease. Use familiar and appropriate humor and seem self-assured. The greatest fallacy of the job search process is that interviewers always know what they are doing and that they try to be intimidating. The majority are not professional interviewers. Most are human service professionals who have a full-time job and have been asked to lead the recruiting process in addition to other responsibilities. They do not necessarily know how to access the best and most useful information from candidates and know that the wrong choice of a candidate will be their responsibility. You might say that interviewers have a reason to be nervous. If you can make it “easy to be with you” and you seem sure of yourself, the interviewer is likely to enjoy the interview and being with you. Your major task will be to give the interviewer the information you think is most important and applicable to the job opening.

5. Be honest, positive, and thoughtful:

Although it is difficult when nervous, listen to the questions carefully before responding. Taking a second to think shows you are a thoughtful person and will allow you to answer honestly with relevant information. Silences will seem longer to you than they do to the interviewer.

A list of improper questions, that is questions that are inappropriate or illegal for the employer to ask, follows. You should give serious consideration to how you will handle it if asked one of these questions. You may wish to ask if the employer feels that information is important and/or crucial to fulfilling the position. Because not all persons with whom you will interview do it professionally, they may not be aware of the legal guidelines. You may choose to reveal information to the following questions, but know that employers are not supposed to ask. It is up to you to decide how you will handle such questions.

Improper Questions

Interviewers should not ask about:

  1. Age
  2. Date of Birth
  3. Previous Address
  4. How Long at Present Address
  5. National Origin
  6. Religion
  7. Name of Priest, Rabbi or Minister
  8. Father’s Surname
  9. Mother’s Surname
  10. Maiden Name
  11. Age(s) of Child(en)
  12. How Many Children
  13. Marital Status
  14. Who Will Care for Children
  15. Spouse’s Place of Employment
  16. Spouse’s Residence
  17. Parents’ Residence
  18. Parents’ Place of Employment
  19. Whether Residence Is Owned or Rented
  20. Loans or Financial Problems
  21. Wage Attachments
  22. Personal Bankruptcy
  23. If Ever Arrested
  24. Legal Convictions, Unless Relevant to the Job
  25. Foreign Languages Spoken, Unless Required by the Job
  26. Race
  27. Memberships in Social Organizations
  28. Attitudes Towards Geographical Relocation, Unless Required by the Job
  29. Height and Weight, Unless Required by the Job
  30. Type of Military Discharge

It is important to think about how you will respond if asked one of the above questions. There is no right or wrong answer; your approach should be based on your individual style. One possible response might be, “could you tell me how that question is related to the job?”

Remember that there are numerous questions, some of which may feel intrusive, that the employer may legally ask. Some of these questions follow.

Proper Questions:

  1. Reasons for termination of previous employment
  2. About references
  3. Work schedule
  4. Previous work experiences
  5. Job-related feelings about previous assignments or present position
  6. Career interests
  7. Job duties
  8. Education and training
  9. Job-related professional associations
  10. Qualifications for duties related to the job
  11. Citizenship

In the course of being honest with your answers, try to be positive. Even if a question is posed in a negative way, practice turning it around so that your response takes on a positive light. The following example demonstrates how you might do this.

Question: What is your greatest weakness?

  • Negative answer: I would say that I haven’t had much experience making DSM-IV diagnoses.
  • Positive answer: I would say the thing I am most excited about is building on my experience making DSM-IV diagnoses.

5. Have examples of the skills you claim:

Your explanations of why they should hire you will be more powerful if backed up with objective facts. No one knows your history better than you. Think about the skills you have and when you have used them. Consider difficult tasks and conflicts that you have had to deal with and how you handled them. Consider challenges to your values and what keeps you interested in a job. Be ready to give examples in response to commonly asked questions. A list of these questions is included in this section.

6. Ending the interview:

Try to sense when the interview is over. Be sure you understand the next steps in the process before you leave. Do you need to furnish more information? Will they call or write or should you contact them? If there is to be any discussion of salary and benefits in the first interview, it should come near the end. This discussion usually takes place in subsequent interviews. Use the first interview to express your sincere interest in the agency and job. Always send a thank you letter or card to all who interview you.

7. Second interviews and call-backs:

Organizations do not call all candidates back for a second interview. They simply do not have time. So, if you get asked back, they are interested in you. This time around, you will probably be introduced to more people within the agency and will be asked similar questions about why you want the job, about your skills, etc. They are trying to finalize their decision and they are giving you serious consideration. Only go to a second interview if you are serious about the position.
Sometimes you will have a round of interviews on the first day or sometimes you will be called back. Whatever the format, be prepared. Practice, get a good night’s sleep the night before, carry extra resumes.

Most Commonly Asked Questions In Interviews

  1. What are your long- and short-term goals and how did you come to have them?
  2. How are you preparing yourself to meet these goals?
  3. What do you see yourself doing in five years?
  4. What would you be if you could be anything?
  5. What are the rewards you expect in the career path you have chosen and in this job?
  6. What do you expect to be earning in five years?
  7. Why did you choose this career?
  8. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  9. How would your friends describe you?
  10. What motivates you to put forth your best effort?
  11. How has your education prepared you for this work?
  12. How has your work experience prepared you for this work?
  13. Why should I hire you?
  14. How do you define success for yourself?
  15. What is success to you?
  16. What kind of contributions can you make to our organization?
  17. What do you look for in a supervisor?
  18. Describe the qualities of a good manager.
  19. What have been your three most satisfying accomplishments?
  20. If you were hiring someone for this position, what would you look for?
  21. Why did you select BUSSW? What was good/bad about your experience?
  22. Do you have plans to continue your studies?
  23. Are your grades a mark of your professional aptitude?
  24. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
  25. In what kind of environment do you like to work?
  26. How do you handle stress and pressure?
  27. Why do you want to work for this organization?
  28. Which criteria do you use to evaluate an organization?
  29. Are you willing to travel if the job requires it?
  30. What have been the greatest challenges and how have you dealt with them?

Suggested Questions for You to Ask of An Interviewer

  1. How long have you been here and how did you come to work here?
  2. What do you like most and least about your job and this agency?
  3. What would you change about this organization if you could change one thing?
  4. Which qualities do you feel are most important in the person who may take the job?
  5. What has your career path been like?
  6. What do you think the most difficult aspects of this job are?
  7. What do you think the most rewarding aspects of this job are?
  8. How much opportunity is there for autonomy and for teamwork?
  9. How much interaction is there amongst staff persons during and after work hours?
  10. How did this job come to be available at this time?

Review skills, values and interests and inquire about the capacity for meeting your prioritized skills, values, and interests within the current position for which you are applying.

List provided by the Career Services Office of the Bryn Mawr College School of Social Work.