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Dimondale, Michigan, United States
My passion is workforce development! I've been actively networking with Lansing professionals over the past year - trying to build relationships with employers and job seekers alike. I would like to see talented folks get connected with businesses that are looking for them. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @tiffenator

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Interviewing Tips

Congratulations! Your resume and cover letter worked and now you have an interview with a company that you are interested in working for. But what now? Have you practiced your interview responses to those dreaded common questions such as, “tell me about yourself,” “what are your strengths/weaknesses” and even the behavioral based interview questions.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you prepare for some of these questions and to help you prepare and wow the interviewers.

Tell me about yourself.

While it is tempting to jump in with a great little autobiography, remember that employers aren’t interested in hearing about the fact that you grew up in a small town, that you have three kids or that you have a dog named Bobo. Employers want to know what skills you have and how having you on their team is going to benefit their company.

If you are relatively new to the field that you are interviewing for, it’s important to show what transferrable skills you possess and back it up with examples. You also need to keep the answer short and sweet – a two minute rule is a good rule of thumb.

Some people tell me that they aren’t quite comfortable in “bragging.” I don’t mean to go in with the egotistical arrogance, but you want to portray that you are confident in your skills and abilities. Here’s an example to this dreaded question for a person interviewing for a medical assistant position that has worked in home health:

“I have three years of hands on medical experience within the home health field. During this time, I have had the opportunity to provide assistance with not only activities of daily living, but also more clinical duties. One of the patients that I assisted needed to have intermittent catheterizations and several of my patients were diabetic. Some of the patients had physical and occupational therapeutic exercises to complete and I would assist them with those. During the past nine months I completed my schooling and certification as a Registered Medical Assistant and completed my externship at Dr. Who’s office here in Lansing. I’m able to perform both the front office and back office duties and am capable of performing within the role as a medical assistant, receptionist and billing professional.”

Behavioral Based Interview Questions

Some of these questions include:

• Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.
• Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
• Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
• Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
• What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
• Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
• Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.
• Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
• Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).

There are multiple online resources on how to effectively answer these questions, the easiest way is to remember STAR or PAR. STAR stands for

S – Situation
T – Task
A – Action
R – Result

PAR is a simplified version which is:

P – Problem
A – Action
R – Result

Your main goal is to give an example of something and keep to the STAR/PAR format. You will need to think of yourself as a story-teller. Don’t make something up, but think of examples and have them ready to use in interviews.

Each question has one skill that the interviewers are looking for. As an example, to uncover your true time management skills, interviewers may ask you, “When your calendar is too full, give me an example of how you make decisions about what to focus on” or “Tell me how you stay organized.” What the interviewers are listening for include; uses time effectively/efficiently, values time, concentrates efforts on more important priorities, gets more done in less time than others, can attend to a broader range of activities. If you answer the question using PAR/STAR, don’t be surprised if you still get probed further. For example, they may ask you, “how did you approach it? How did you do it?” They want to hear what specific action steps you used. They may also want to know why you selected that approach. They are really trying to find out what rationale and consideration you gave to the alternatives. They may also probe you further for not only the results, but also the impact.

What the interviewer wants to hear include:
• Clear sense of priorities
• Shifts priorities as needed
• Plans ahead
• Systematic, orderly, blocks time for different activities
• Values time and avoid time wasters

What they don’t want to hear includes:
• (Overuse) Upset when planned schedule is disturbed
• Underestimates how long things take to complete
• Can’t say no
• Disorganized; works on whatever comes up; distractable
• Poor planner, hurries others
• Only concentrates on one thing at a time

To get a better idea of how Behavioral Based Interviews work, I would recommend visiting the State of Michigan’s Civil Service website to see a sample interview and review how the STAR/PAR methods are incorporated.

Do you have any questions for me?

Do NOT say “no.” There are tons of things you can ask and by asking questions, you are telling the interviewer that you want to know more about working for them. When you say no, it’s kind of like saying, “I’m just showing up here because I want to say I had an interview.” A word of caution though, don’t ask about days off, health insurance or other benefits as this is in poor taste. However, if the interviewers bring it up, it is okay to talk about them.

Remember that it’s not just the interviewers holding all of the cards, you will be devoting several hours in a week with these people if you are selected. What do you want to know about the culture, working conditions and people?

Here are some sample questions:

• What is the best thing about working for your company?
o If they give you a blank stare, run for the hills…
o It should be beyond pay and benefits
• Do you provide mentors for the training period or is there a classroom type training program for new hires?
o Are you going to spend the first month in training?
o Will you be on the job with a more experienced co-worker?
• What are the next steps for you?
o Will there be second, third and/or fourth interview rounds?
o When will they be making the final offer?
• What reservations do you have about hiring me?
o This will give you a chance to clarify anything that they may be concerned with.
o It shows that you are truly interested in their company.
• Do you have any small work assignments that I can take with me to showcase my skillset for you?
o This often will take the interviewers by surprise.
o It shows you are motivated and have a drive for working within their company.
• Would it be possible for me to come in for a few hours and complete a working interview?
o Again, this takes interviewers by surprise.
o It shows you are interested and ready to start working for them.

If you want to see how you are interviewing, check out Interview Stream. It’s a free online service where you can use a webcam/microphone to record a mock interview and then critique yourself. Capital Area Michigan Works can assist you with these items if you don’t have them. In the mean time, feel free to check out one of my sample interviews.

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