Over the years, I've given a lot of successful advice regarding interviews for both the employment setting and for academic admission panels. Having been on all sides of the coin, I thought this would be a very useful post to those who are expecting to re-enter the job market or are considering the next level of education.
First, I owe a couple of #DPTstudent(s) my story of how I interviewed for graduate school. First off, you have to know that at the time, I owned precisely one suit - the same suit I wore for senior pictures in high school. The same suit I chose for the "fashion" of "sagging" pants of the 90's. The same suit which I chose from Burlington Coat Factory which had the cheapest price tag... a way-out-of-date european suit with a single button jacket. So really, I looked like a penguin with MC Hammer parachute pants.
I showed up BARELY on time (after a 2.5 hour drive) - and - was promptly shuffled over to the "essay writing room." What!? Yeah... they wanted two on-the-spot essays to be written up... something about why I wanted to be a physical therapist and another something about the most influential person in my life.
The first essay was really convoluted. I really panicked in the moment and have no recollection what I wrote. I just remembered that my handwriting was so bad that they actually mentioned it later in the panel interview as an academic "concern". As for the most influential person in my life: I actually had too many people in mind. I remembered from my writing classes that its best to have these types of essays circulate upon a story which demonstrated your character. At the time, I had nothing off the top of my head. I simply began writing. This lead to me mentioning how I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and how it got in the way of my early school work.
Okay. So now I'm done with my essays. I'm dressed ridiculously - redeemed by a really nice tie my uncle gave me. Finally, I'm called in for the panel interview. They ask all the usual things: "Why do you want to be a physical therapist?" "Why this school?" - THEN - they asked the personal questions... like "Why did you have such a bad GPA in college?" "So... you have ADHD; are you sure you can handle PT school?" *Doh*... them essays... them grades... why did I mention any of it?! I must have answered in some satisfactory fashion.
When it came time for them to ask me if I had any question for them, my mouth blurted: "So.. what do you think of me??" - One professor said "I like your tie..." - Another professor said "You know, after an entire day of doing this, I appreciate your genuine responses. You didn't really rehearse anything and I like seeing personal responses rather than prepared responses." - Yeah... he had NO idea how unrehearsed my responses were.
Despite all this, the fact that I was a Bioengineer coming into the physical therapy profession must have piqued some interest. They gave me a chance - and - I am very grateful they did. I put my mind to making them proud of their choice and graduated with honors.
Fortunately, since then, my abilities of interviewing and being the interviewer have tremendously matured. Nevertheless, it goes to show that even the worst interview may be exactly what you need. Still... it's good to be prepared. Having been the interviewer in the restructuring of an entire department, I've garnished quite a bit of what is going on our there and am combining some tips just for you!
So, now that that story of embarrassing hilarity is out of the way...
Here are my Top 5 Interview Tips!
1. Look The Part! Act The Part! Like The Part!
In my experience of reconstructing a department, I conducted a lot of interviews in the hiring process. Recalling how other interview experiences went for myself as well as for people I've coached, the consensus is that the people that interview strongest, indeed, look the part. Being sharply and professionally dressed is never a bad thing. For me, I always interview in a suit. Overdressed? Possibly. I chalk it up to tradition. For what its worth, typically am complimented by whoever is interviewing me. Dressing sharp also shows that you are taking the interview seriously. This almost sounds like something silly to talk about, however, I can't tell you how many people interviewed for jobs with me who were dressed in any casual way they felt was adequate.
Acting the part is also very important. If you are interviewing to become a graduate student, you must act it; sit tall, make good eye contact, and converse in a manner which projects a spirit of learning. If you are interviewing for a company which is all about the bottom line, be sure that you project being business savvy and understand the need to be profitable. If you are trying to get in with a nonprofit hospital which is all about the "caring" of patients, be sure you mention that you always try to see situations from a patient's perspective.
Finally, liking the part is a point of failure for many who interview. If the interviewer is sensing that you don't even like what you are interviewing for... why even bother? An aura of dedication, passion, and interest must be demonstrated if you wish to get the part. And, while this first tip seems to be self-evident, I would say that most of the people who didn't make it to the 2nd round of interviews with me failed right here. Interviewing for the sake of interviewing is a fail.
2. Interviews Go Both Ways
These days, interviews go beyond trying to impress the interviewer. Selling yourself and how good you are for the job/school/profession/degree/etc. isn't enough these days. Interviewers want to know that you are also actively discerning if this job is right for you. Interviewees who give off that sense of "I'm going to get as many offers as I can possibly get then pick the best one" usually interview poorly. Why? It's business! You have to give to get. It is important that you ask questions and converse in a manner which sincerely communicates that you are just as invested in making sure the job is right for you as much as they are making sure you are the right person for the job. In essence, it tells the interviewer that you are a team player. You see the big picture, and, if the fit isn't best - everyone respectfully moves on. No hard feelings.
3. Always Ask Questions
Not that my interview for graduate studies is the best example... Still! Asking questions is an overt way of demonstrating you have true interests in what you are interviewing for. Whether its asking about the culture of the program/department/company, how campus life is like, or if you will be eligible for benefits - asking questions when asked "Do you have any questions for me?" is critical. Interviewees tend to come across as being uncertain or as being too passive if no questions are asked. Again, interviews go two ways. This is probably the one time when asking a canned question is okay - at least you fill this gap. Better yet, ask one canned question and then follow up by requesting the lines of communications remain open if you come up with questions later.
4. Never Make Day-Of-Decisions
Companies are moving quicker and quicker these days. HR recruiters are pressured to find good talent in record time. However, a huge red flag warning sign is when a company representative is pressuring you - whether overtly or covertly - to make a day-of-decision. Companies that are willing to get you in fast are just as willing to get you out in the same manner. Just be careful... it's getting weird out there.
5. Never Mind The Question. Mind How You Answer!
99% of the time, the question(s) you are asked are either part of a spiel, or, are the "tough questions" which interviewers love to ask with no good answer. Really, they don't care about what your answer is. Why? They've heard it ALL! These tough questions are not about the answer. They are about HOW you answer. Typically, they are looking for a stress response - how do you do under pressure... when no answer is a good answer.
For those of you fellow SciFi geeks of mine... this is your Kobayashi Maru. Truly, what the interviewer is looking for is your interpersonal dynamics when placed in a pressured, uncomfortable, no-win-scenario. The best way to attack this type of question (or line of questions) is to very calmly, confidently, and SLOWLY go over the situation with your interviewer. In an act of active listening, repeat the question in your own words. Analyze the situation. Demonstrate you understand that this is a no-win-scenario (if it is truly that). And finally, take the most reasonable course (not the one with least damage/easiest) with justification on why you took that direction. When you get grilled for other possibilities, affirm that other possibilities exist, however, stick to your guns in that the choice you made presented itself to be the most reasonable choice of the moment.
Remember, interviews are no longer a charade of impressing people. It is an experience of getting to know people. Be natural in your posture, confident in what you can contribute, humble of what you can continue to learn, and realistic about the expectations you carry into the experience. The people that most strongly interviewed with me treated the interview as a conversation; not a test.