It goes without saying that making positive first – and last – impressions in a job interview are crucial to being considered for the position. Because of this, we often are extremely nervous during these parts of the interview process. For example, how should one answer the loaded question, “Tell me about yourself,” and what kind of questions should you actually ask at the end of the interview when they ask what questions you have?
Be strategic during the beginning and end of the interview with these tips:
Beginning the Interview
Most interviews will begin with a question that allows you to introduce yourself and provide a summary of your background, skills, and experiences. An interviewer may say, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Walk me through your résumé.” Although there are no right or wrong answers to this common question, there are some general guidelines that you should follow:
- Keep your response approximately 2-3 minutes. Responses that are longer than this usually provide too much information and can lose your listener. Remember, you’ll have more time to share your story later in the interview.
- Deliver your story in chronological order. This approach is easiest for your listener to follow. Generally, it works well to begin at your undergraduate education, and end with your reasons for interviewing for the current position, and how that will allow you to fulfill your career goals.
- Focus on delivering a high level summary of your experiences and accomplishments, particularly as they relate to the position for which you’re applying. Try to make a connection between your past experiences and your future career goals.
- Don’t get too personal.
- Focus on your competitive advantage. What makes you the ideal candidate? Always be prepared to answer this question!
Ending the Interview
At the end of the interview, you will usually have an opportunity to ask a few questions of your interviewer. Be sure that you have a number of questions prepared in advance (usually five to seven questions is sufficient, but you should not expect to get through all of these). Be sure that you are not asking questions that were answered during the company’s information session, or that you could have answered by visiting the company’s website. The questions that you ask should reflect those things that you are truly curious about. What information do you need to decide if the position and the company is a good fit for you? Examples of the types of questions that are appropriate include:
- What do you think the most challenging aspects of the job would be for someone with my background just starting out in the company?
- What do you find most satisfying about the job and the company?
- What does the company do that is different and better than its competitors?
- How will my skills fit in with the skills of the other members of the department?
- Could you tell me briefly about the people I will be working with?
- How would you describe your management style (asked to the person you will report to)?
Once you have asked your questions and the interview is coming to a close, you should prepare your “final sell” or closing to the interview. There are some general guidelines that you should follow:
- Restate your interest in the position and in the company. If possible, draw on some of the research that you’ve conducted in advance to demonstrate your knowledge of the company.
- Try to make a clear connection between what they’re looking for in an ideal candidate and what skills and experiences you have to offer.
- Try to leave the interview on a high note. You will want to appear positive and upbeat in order to leave a solid lasting impression on your interviewer.
Make sure you get a business card from each person you interview with for writing thank you letters. After the interview, determine whether this position is a “fit” for you. For example, ask yourself whether the people you met with represent the kinds of people you would like to work with. Does the organization seem dynamic and energized or do the employees seem lethargic?
Are you an expert interviewer? What additional tips would you have to master the beginning and ending of an interview?