Going on a job interview can be intimidating for anyone. As a military spouse, you may have to interview for a new job every time you move. Knowing what to expect at the interview, how to field the questions and how to follow up will help you land the right job at your next duty station.
Planning for the interview
The interviewer will be looking for a good match between your skill set and the company's needs. More importantly, the interviewer is looking for someone who can be a productive team member and is compatible with the work style of the company. Your goal is to effectively demonstrate that your abilities, as well as your work ethic, are a good fit for the company. With the right kind of preparation, you can go to the interview feeling secure and confident. Before going to the interview, be sure to complete the following:
- Research the company. By researching the company, you'll learn about its history, corporate culture, sales trends and management style. Most important, your research will help you come up with intelligent, solid questions to ask during the interview.
- Review your resume. Be prepared to expand on your resume - particularly about your accomplishments. Remind yourself of some of the things you may not have covered in your resume. Think back on your successes at your previous positions.
- Get your references together. If you have letters of reference from previous employers, bring copies in case the interviewer asks for them. Make a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for both your personal and professional references.
- Prepare your portfolio or work samples if it's appropriate in your line of work. Make copies of work samples or any items that might be relevant to the position. Review your portfolio and be ready to discuss the items in it.
- Plan what you will wear. First impressions can have a positive - or negative - effect on your interview. Plan to dress conservatively and appropriately for the type of organization you are interviewing with. Avoid excess in jewelry, makeup, perfume or cologne, and clothing - nothing too trendy or revealing. Be sure your hair and nails are well groomed.
Types of interviews
Your interview may be conducted in one of several ways. These are the most common types of interviews:
- One-on-one interviews are most frequently used by hiring managers. The conversational style lets the interviewer get to know the candidate and allows the candidate to get to know the company and the job.
- Panel interviews are common for government jobs. They are more structured than one-on-one interviews - and more intimidating. The panel, usually consisting of three or more interviewers, has a prearranged set of questions for each applicant.
- Telephone interviews are sometimes conducted to screen potential applicants. Avoid using a cell phone for the interview and find a quiet place to take the call.
- Employment tests are sometimes conducted by companies to judge your ability to handle the job. Tests vary depending on the type of job and can include aptitude tests, skill tests, such as typing, and agility tests.
Your success largely depends on how you conduct yourself in the interview. These tips can help you handle the interview effectively:
- Arrive early and be polite to everyone you meet, including the receptionist. Make sure your cell phone is turned off. Shake hands with confidence and a smile.
- In response to questions, listen carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked. Don't hesitate to ask for clarification if you don't understand. Be positive about your past jobs and experience, and never speak negatively about a former supervisors or co-workers. Take a minute to gather your thoughts before you answer a difficult question and resist the urge to fill silences with irrelevant information.
- At the end of the interview, offer your thanks, restate your interest in the job and ask when you can follow up.
You can't prepare for all the questions you'll be asked during the interview. But you can go to the interview feeling confident if you've taken the time to prepare for the most predictable questions. It's important to think about these questions before the interview, but make sure your answers sound real and not over-prepared.
- Common questions: Many interviewers have a script that includes versions of these questions:
- Why did you leave your last job?
- What do you like about your current position?
- What do you dislike?
- What professional mistakes have you made?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- How do you handle deadlines or job stress?
- What is your biggest accomplishment?
- What is your biggest failure?
- Where do you see yourself in five years (or one year, two years)?
- Why should I hire you?
- Tell me about yourself: This interview question is your chance to sell yourself. Focus on your professional accomplishments - and don't go into detail about your personal life. Draw from your research on the company and talk about how your skills and character make you a good fit for the job and the company.
- Situational questions: Many interviewers ask questions that draw from your past experience, such as, "Tell me about a time when you accomplished something you didn't think you could," or "Describe a time when you didn't get along with a supervisor and what you did about it." You can also expect questions that will involve how you might handle a sticky situation, including, "What would you do if you found out a co-worker was doing something illegal at work?" These questions help the interviewer determine how you handle yourself in the workplace.
- How to answer: The interviewer is trying to find the candidate who best fits the job, with both technical ability and professional character. You can convince the interviewer you've got the right abilities by illustrating them with your past experience. Think of times when you've gone the extra mile or when you've worked with a team for a successful outcome. You could also talk about volunteer work if it's relevant to the job.
- What to ask: Your questions should help you determine if this job is a good fit for you. You'll want to clearly understand the job responsibilities and the organization's corporate culture. By researching the company before the interview, you'll have a list of questions about the company and the job. During the interview, you may come up with additional questions. Remember that carefully researched questions also have the advantage of letting the interviewer know you've done your homework.
- Salary questions: Your research should have given you a good idea of the salary range for similar jobs in your area. Try to avoid asking questions about salary before the interviewer brings it up - or a job offer has been made. Don't commit yourself to a certain salary before you know all the details about the job. Benefits, such as tuition reimbursement, may have a bearing on your decision about the position.
After the interview
Following up after the interview is another important step in your job search. Even if you don't receive a job offer, the interview experience will be valuable as you continue your job search.
- Write a thank you note. A thank you note is an important part of the interview process, but many applicants overlook it. The thank you may be a typed business letter or a simple, handwritten note. In it, restate your interest in the position, thank the interviewer for their time, and provide any relevant information you may have forgotten to mention at the interview.
- Follow up. At the end of your interview, ask the interviewer when a decision will be made and if you may call to follow up. Be sure to make your follow-up call on or after the day the interviewer suggested - not earlier.
- If you get a job offer. Before you make the decision whether to accept the job, consider the work environment, location, growth potential, job security, salary and benefits. Remember to talk with your family, too.
- If you don't get a job offer, don't get discouraged. There could be any number of reasons you didn't get the job - including reasons not necessarily related to your performance at the interview. Look at the interview as a learning experience. Take the time to analyze what you did right - and what you might have done wrong - as you prepare for your next interview.