Stages of a typical interview

Each interview is unique; however, there is a general format that is commonly used, particularly for the first, formal interview.

Typically, an interviewer will come to you, introduce her or himself, and walk you back to the interview room. First impressions will be made at this time. While only lasting a few seconds, your dress, eye contact and handshake will set the tone for the interview. Make good eye contact and have a firm handshake (no wet noodles, but also don’t pull an arm out of a socket!). An employer may ask you how parking was or comment on the weather. Engage in small talk during this period, but keep comments short; don’t start a long and drawn out story.
Once you get into the interview room the interviewer will show you where to sit. If there are other people in the room, the interviewer will typically introduce them at this time. Say hello to everyone and, if possible, try to shake each one’s hand depending on the seating arrangement.
The interviewer will then do a quick introduction to the interview process. If you have any questions feel free to ask. For example, if you were not given any time duration, you can ask how long the interview is and approximately how many questions in order to gauge the amount of time you need to respond to each question.

Discussion of your Background, Education, Work Experience, Activities, Interests and Goals
This is the stage when a standard list of questions will be asked for you to answer back to the interviewer(s). This is typically the longest stage of an interview.
Listen carefully to each question and answer directly. Don’t be tempted to answer if you don’t fully understand the question; it is always evident when a candidate doesn’t understand the question and tries to make something up. Do not be afraid to ask for a restatement or clarification. If your mind blanks at that moment, politely ask if you can go back to that question later in the interview, or if you may have a few moments to think about the question. It is perfectly acceptable to pause for a moment before “launching” into a response.
Give concise answers. Provide specific and concrete examples rather than generalities. Don’t be afraid of pauses. A silence of a pause can by very positive and powerful. Avoid filling what you may feel is an uncomfortable silence with “you know” or “uh.”
Stay positive and emphasize your strengths. Interviews, by their very nature, should have a positive focus, even when you’re asked to venture into “negative territory” (e.g., “What is your greatest weakness?”). Always strive to highlight the positive in a situation, or to communicate what you learned from a negative experience. Keep answers to “negative questions” brief, and elaborate on your answers to “positive questions” that ask you to talk about your skills and strengths.
Eye contact is important. However, avoid extreme behavior like never looking at the interviewer or never looking away.
Do what feels natural in a professional conversation.

Discussion of the Position and Company
An interviewer might take time to discuss the position and the company in more detail than from the job description you received. This is a great time for you to put your two cents into the conversation and demonstrate you skills, knowledge and personality that demonstrates a “good fit.”

Your Questions
At this time an interviewer will typically ask if you have any specific questions. Many times questions have arisen during earlier stages of the process; particularly in the discussion stage. Feel free to ask questions anytime during the interview; however, know that time has usually been allotted for you to ask questions at the end. A good candidate will ALWAYS have questions to ask. Your questions will show an interviewer you have done some research on the company and the position, and are serious about the job. This is not the time to ask questions about vacation time or benefits – your questions should demonstrate an earnest interest in the position (if offered the position, you will have a chance to discuss those details at that time). Write down your questions ahead of time and bring them into the interview. Always have more questions than needed since an employer will generally answer many of your questions during an interview.

Next Steps in the Interview Process
At this point the interview is wrapping up. The interviewer will typically give you some type of time table in terms of the interview schedule and hiring timeline. Will there be second interviews or will a decision be made from the initial interviews? Is the interview process finishing up or are you the first candidate to be interviewed? These questions are very important, and if the interviewer does not provide this information, you have every right to ask. Do not leave the interview without an idea of when a decision will be made. Usually, the employer will contact you; however, a good candidate will confirm this or ask if you should call them and at what date.
Thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration. Briefly reiterate your interest in the position and the company, and concisely summarize you skills and career objectives as they apply to the position. Confirm the interviewer(s) name, title and address. The easiest way to do this is to ask for a business card. Send a thank you letter within 48 hours.

Follow Through
After leaving the interview, you should send a thank you note within 48 hours to every individual you interviewed with. If you cannot remember the names of everyone you interviewed with (which underscores the importance of getting everyone’s business cards), it is appropriate to send a letter to the “lead person” who coordinated your interview day that states, “Please extend my thanks to the interviewing committee on my behalf.” Of course, if you only interviewed with one person this will not be a concern. Thank you letters can be typed or handwritten (but only the latter if you have neat penmanship). An e-mailed thank you letter should only be sent if they have indicated to you that a hiring decision will be made within the next 24 hours, which is not enough time for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your letter. Your thank you note should, of course, express your thanks. However, it is also an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the position, as well as highlight a few of your key strengths or experiences that were discussed during the interview. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to notify your references and let them know that they may be  receiving a call from your prospective employer. This is most typically the phase where reference calls are placed. You will get a better reference if you provide your references with some information about the position and the organization.

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