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The following notes apply to selection interviews that may follow a campus interview, written application, previous informal telephone call or face to face conversation.
This section will cover:
What is an interview? Why is it used?
An interview is a conversation with a purpose - and not just for employers. The interview enables the employer to learn about you, your personality, social skills, general abilities, potential and whether you will "fit in" the organisation. A written application and/or CV is generally submitted prior to the interview, and will contain relevant facts and information about your academic and other achievements. The interviewer(s) may seek to verify these during the interview. Remember it is not so much a matter of right or wrong skills but certain skills will be more desirable and appropriate for particular positions.
For you, the interview enables you to learn more about the organisation, the position, and the people within the organisation.
Often an interview will be conducted by more than one person. There are several good reasons for this:
An alternative to the panel interview is a number of separate interviews with different people in the organisation. They will compare notes thereafter in the same way as a panel. So in reality they function as a panel although they do not all talk with you at the same time.
The ideal interview will have three stages, but remember, just as all applicants are not well prepared and skilled in the interview situation, likewise some interviewers are not. Interviewers do not necessarily have any formal/informal training for this task.
First Stage - Opening:
Usually the interviewer's aim at the opening of the interview is to set you at ease with open ended questions to help you relax. The questions may or may not be relevant to the position. The interviewers are making initial assessments based on - appearance, attitude, manner, tone of voice, etc. The first five minutes can set the stage for the rest of the interview.
Second Stage - Information Exchange:
Interviewers try to find out more about your skills, qualities, your interests/motivation for the position, how you fit in with others in the organisation etc. Remember they are seeking the most suitable applicant for the position. The most suitable applicant is not necessarily the best qualified academically. Academic achievement is only one criteria, others include work experience, social skills, potential and enthusiasm.
Third Stage - Conclusion:
At this stage the interview is drawn to a close. It is important for you to leave a final positive impression - this is just as important as the initial impression and once again includes non-verbal as well as verbal messages that you give.
What To Take To The Interview
A copy of your application, any reports/projects of relevance, pen and paper plus anything you have been asked specifically to take by the organisation, e.g. original academic transcript, samples of your written work, design work, etc. It is not generally advisable to take notes during an interview - this will distract your attention from the interviewers but pen and paper can be handy in case you feel you need to note anything immediately after the interview.
It is a good idea to take a list of any questions you would like answered - there will usually be an opportunity to raise these at the end of the interview.
Knocking Other People
In a panel interview it is important to identify the chairperson. Usually this person takes an early lead into the interview. They may introduce you to other panel members, and/or outline the format for the interview. Regard this person as your chairperson, and when in doubt about what will happen next or whom you should address an answer to a question, refer to the chairperson for guidance. At other times when asked a question by a particular panel member start by addressing that person then let your eyes/gestures take in the whole of the panel.
Remember that panels are not always well organised - try not to be disconcerted by strange glances passed between panel members. They may still be clarifying their own roles. Generally, before beginning a number of selection interviews, panel members will have determined who will take the lead at various stages of the interview and the areas they will cover - for example, one may ask you about your university background, and another outline the duties of the position etc. Sometimes as the number of interviews proceed a panel member may be bored with their assigned role and therefore adopt another one. This will disconcert the other members of the panel involved - who will react in some way.
Sometimes one member of the panel is appointed to act as devil's advocate, firing all the difficult questions at you. It is easy to assume this person is a devil's advocate at all times. This won't necessarily be the case. They may have been assigned this role because it enables others to sit back and observe your reactions.
If the interviewer(s) are skilled they will signal the end of the interview by outlining the procedure for follow-up afterwards. If you sense an interview is finishing and this aspect has not been covered - ask! Ensure that you know before you leave the interview what will happen next. This includes details of when the interviewer(s) will be finishing the interviews, the time that will pass before a decision is made, and how all applicants will be notified the result of the interviews. Also establish who you should contact after the interview if there has been no news after a reasonable time period, and also who to contact if after the interview you want to provide any additional information about yourself, or ask any further questions.
Give yourself a break, then try to assess the interview for future reference. There are two aspects to this assessment:
Do not confirm acceptance until an offer is made in writing. Check that the letter includes starting date, salary, any other allowances or award under which you will be employed and other conditions of appointment including hours of work, sick/annual leave and period of notice required by you and the employer in the event of termination.
If the offer received is not your preferred one and you have had an interview with another organisation which interests you more, (a) do not accept the offer right away, but ask for time to consider the offer carefully, and (b) contact the preferred organisation to explain that you have been offered a job elsewhere and would therefore greatly appreciate their advice as to where you stand in terms of a job offer. Generally in this situation the second employer will give you a pretty fair idea of your chances.
Note: You should not give the name of the firm which has made the offer.
If two offers are made at the same time and you are unsure as to which one to accept, assess your priorities carefully in terms of future development, the environment in which you prefer to work, and how work fits into your life. You may need to go back to the organisation to clarify some points before making your final decision.
Remember it is preferable to take the time to consider carefully before accepting offers, and it is quite permissable at this stage to turn a position down. What happens then is that the employer will most likely go to the next person on the list and offer them the position. What should be avoided is to accept a position in writing and later on turn it down. This is unprofessional, and may have repercussions. Once somebody has accepted the position, then those who have missed out are all notified.
If you change your mind, it then becomes difficult for an employer to appoint somebody else from the schedule of applicants. However, until somebody has accepted the position it is rare for anyone to be told they have missed out. So at this stage, while you are waiting to make your decision, other people are still being kept under consideration and no harm has been done.
Keep applying for positions while you wait to hear the outcome of those you have applied for already.
If you happen to miss out on a job offer, it does not necessarily mean you were unsuited for the position or interviewed badly. The employer may have simply decided that somebody else was even more suitable. Where possible contact the interviewer or a panel member to thank them for their time. Ask for feedback on how you interviewed, what went well and what you need to work on for next time. You can also take this opportunity to confirm your continuing interest in the organisation in case other positions come up that match your skills and background more closely.
Remember the employer usually sees how you handle the interview as an indicator of how you will handle the job. A passive, dull, unimaginative applicant who appears to equate interviews with a session at the dentist will most likely be perceived as an unmotivated and disinterested employee.
Everyone gets nervous before interviews. There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed you probably need the extra adrenalin. Use your breathing to help you relax.
There is no such person as the perfect candidate. On the other hand there is no such person as the perfect interviewer. All candidates can build skills to improve performance. Even if you are not initially successful, the interview should be a positive and useful learning experience.
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Updated: 10 October, 2012 © 2005 Victoria University of Wellington