A Guide to Interviewing

Introduction

The interview process is a crucial step in landing your dream job. It’s an opportunity for both the employer and the candidate to determine if there’s a good fit between them. This chapter will help you understand the purpose of an interview, describe a typical interview process, decode a job ad/position description, and demonstrate effective interview responses using the STAR and ABC techniques. By mastering these skills, you’ll be better prepared to showcase your abilities and increase your chances of success.

1. The Purpose of an Interview

An interview is a two-way street. It allows the employer to assess your skills, experience, and cultural fit for the role, while also giving you the chance to evaluate the company and determine if it aligns with your career goals and values. Interviews are designed to go beyond your resume, providing a deeper understanding of your capabilities and potential fit within the organization.

From an employer’s perspective, the primary goal of an interview is to identify the most suitable candidate for a given position (or one which may not yet exist). This can involve assessing your technical skills, problem-solving abilities, and interpersonal skills, which are crucial for success in the role. Employers also aim to gauge your motivation and enthusiasm for the job, ensuring that you are genuinely interested in the position and the company. Perhaps most importantly, the interview process allows employers to evaluate the candidate’s cultural fit, which is essential for maintaining a cohesive and productive work environment.

The interview process is equally important for YOU. It provides an opportunity for you to showcase your skills, experiences, and personality traits that may not be immediately apparent from your resume or cover letter. By effectively articulating your qualifications, achievements, and work ethic / philosophy, you can set yourself apart from other applicants. Additionally, the interview process provides you with an opportunity to ask meaningful questions about the company, its culture, and the role itself, enabling you to make a more informed decision about whether the position aligns with your career aspirations and personal values.

Notably, the interview process serves as a platform for both parties to establish rapport and build a professional relationship. By demonstrating a genuine interest in the company culture, asking thoughtful questions, and sharing relevant experiences that showcase your interpersonal skills, you can create a positive impression and establish a personal connection with the interviewer. Remember, hiring managers are not only looking for someone who can perform the job tasks but also someone they would enjoy working with on a daily basis.

Sidenote: Whether resulting in a job offer or not, a positive interviewing experience can form useful connections which you may benefit from in the future.

2. The Typical Interview Process

Stages in the interview process can take various forms, including phone screenings, in-person interviews, technical interviews, and group interviews. Each format serves a specific purpose in the hiring process, allowing employers to assess different aspects of a candidate’s suitability for the role. For instance, phone screenings are often used as a preliminary step to identify candidates who meet the basic requirements for the position, while in-person interviews allow for a more in-depth evaluation of the candidate’s skills, experience, and cultural fit.

The interview process can vary depending on the company and the role, but it generally follows a series of stages designed to progressively assess a candidate’s suitability for the position. Below is an example of what a typical interview process might look like.

a. Phone Screening

The first stage of the interview process is often a phone screening, conducted by a recruiter or hiring manager. This initial call serves as a preliminary assessment of your qualifications, experience, and interest in the role. At a basic level, the company is aiming to validate whether you intend to participate equally in the interview process and to check for any obvious red flags that may impact your application. 

Some of these red flags may include: not answering the phone, interrupting the interviewer, spending an inordinate amount of time on a single question, offering one-word or curt answers, plainly dodging or avoiding questions (instead of utilizing the ABC method to redirect), not having an answer for why you’re interested in the position. 

During the phone screening, your interviewer may ask you to explain your background, how you heard about the position, and your reasons for applying. If one of your reasons for applying was a positive conversation with a current employee, or you were encouraged to apply by an employee, you may want to mention this. 

Creating a meaningful narrative around your resume begins with understanding your unique career journey and how each role or experience has contributed to your professional growth. Start by identifying the key milestones in your academic and professional life, such as significant projects, internships, or leadership roles. Then, weave these milestones into a cohesive story that demonstrates your skills, achievements, and how you’ve overcome challenges. This narrative should not only chronologically outline your experiences but also highlight your personal growth, resilience, and adaptability.

When an interviewer asks about your background, this narrative becomes your powerful tool. Use it to connect the dots between your past experiences and the role you’re applying for. Show how each step has prepared you for this new opportunity. For instance, you might talk about how a college internship sparked your interest in a particular field, how a specific project honed your problem-solving skills, or how overcoming a professional challenge demonstrated your resilience. Remember, your narrative should be more than just a list of jobs and education; it should reflect your journey, your growth, and your readiness for the future.

This stage is also an opportunity for you to ask clarifying questions about the company and the position.

To prepare for a phone screening, research the company and review the job description to ensure you can speak confidently about your fit for the role. Be prepared to discuss your resume and have examples of your relevant experience ready. Make sure you are in a quiet, distraction-free environment during the call, and have a pen and paper handy to take notes.

At a minimum, take notes about the following: the questions you were asked and how you answered, skills / responsibilities which come up frequently during the conversation, additional information about the job beyond what is on the job description, and any next steps that the interviewer mentions.

b. In-Person / Longer Form Interviews

After passing a phone screening, you will likely be invited to one or more in-person or longer form interviews. These interviews can be conducted at the company’s office, via video conference, or even on Colby’s campus. In-person interviews may be one-on-one or involve a panel of interviewers, and they typically delve deeper into your skills, experience, and cultural fit for the organization.

During in-person interviews, you may be asked a combination of behavioral, situational, and technical questions. Prepare for these interviews by reviewing the job description, researching the company’s culture and values, and practicing your responses to common interview questions. Be ready to provide examples of your accomplishments and demonstrate how your skills align with the role’s requirements.

c. Final Round Interview

The final round interview is typically the last stage of the interview process and may involve meeting with managers, executives, or other key decision-makers within the company. This stage is designed to confirm your suitability for the role and assess your potential for growth within the organization.

In preparation for the final round interview, review your previous interview responses and any feedback you may have received. Be prepared to discuss your long-term career goals and how they align with the company’s objectives. This stage may also involve discussing specifics about the job offer, such as salary, benefits, and start date.

Throughout the entire interview process, it’s essential to maintain a professional demeanor, dress appropriately, and demonstrate enthusiasm for the role and the company. Being well-prepared will increase your chances of success.

3. Decoding a Job Ad/Position Description

To prepare for an interview, it’s essential to analyze the job ad or position description. Look for key skills, qualifications, and responsibilities mentioned in the posting. This information will help you tailor your responses to demonstrate how your experience aligns with the role’s requirements.

To effectively analyze a job ad, try the following:

Carefully read through the entire job ad, paying close attention to the sections outlining the responsibilities, qualifications, and skills required for the position. Make a list of the key requirements mentioned, as these will be the main points you’ll want to address in your application and interview. It’s important to note that some job ads may use industry-specific jargon or abbreviations, so be sure to research any unfamiliar terms to ensure you fully comprehend the expectations of the role. 

Prioritize the listed requirements based on their importance to the role. This can be done by identifying the most frequently mentioned skills or qualifications, or by noting which requirements are listed first, as these are often the most critical. Use this prioritized list to showcase your most relevant experience and skills during the interview. Additionally, gather some information about the company’s culture, mission, and values, as these can provide insight into the soft skills and personal attributes that may be highly valued by the organization. You can often find statements about values / mission on a company’s website, in the press, or through some light networking.

Reflect on your own experience and skills to identify examples that demonstrate your ability to meet the key requirements of the role. For each requirement, think of specific situations where you have effectively demonstrated or applied the relevant skill or qualification. Prepare to share these examples during the interview using the STAR technique.

4. The STAR Technique

The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique is a structured method for answering behavioral interview questions. It involves describing a specific situation, outlining the task you were responsible for, explaining the action you took, and detailing the result of your actions. This approach helps you provide concrete examples of your skills and experience, making your responses more compelling and memorable.

Example:

Question: Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict within your team.

Response

(Situation) At my previous job, two team members had a disagreement over the direction of a project. 

(Task) As the team leader, it was my responsibility to address the issue and ensure the project stayed on track. 

(Action) I arranged a meeting with both team members to discuss their concerns and find a solution. I encouraged open communication and active listening, which helped them understand each other’s perspectives. 

(Result) Ultimately, we reached a compromise that satisfied both parties, and the project was completed successfully.

You can use a template like Yale’s Accomplishment Stories Worksheet to develop your STAR responses.

5. The ABC Technique

The ABC (Acknowledge, Bridge, Control) technique is another effective method for answering interview questions. It involves acknowledging the question, bridging to a related topic or experience, and controlling the conversation by steering it towards your strengths and accomplishments.

Example:

Question: You don’t seem to have much experience in social media marketing. How would you handle this aspect of the role?

Response: 

(Acknowledge) You’re right, my background is primarily in traditional marketing. 

(Bridge) However, I’ve always been eager to learn new skills and adapt to new challenges.

(Control) In my previous role, I took the initiative to attend workshops and online courses on social media marketing. As a result, I was able to develop and implement a successful social media campaign that increased our brand’s online presence and engagement.

Interviewing Mastery

Interviewing is a skill you’ll develop for the rest of your career. Each and every time you interview for a job or conduct an interview with someone else, you’ll sharpen your abilities and hopefully learn something new. That being said – if you can exhibit each of the elements below in your next interview, you’re well on your way to interviewing mastery.

What?How?
Communicate a strong sense of self (grounded in your personal and professional narrative), and explain the ways in which you align with the role’s needs and aspirations.Excellent sense of self is built from narratives (from the past & present). Once you have established principles, pillars, or philosophies, SHOW how those are put to work in the present and how you will apply them in the future.
Demonstrate alignment / familiarity with the industry, field, or company’s professional ethics and processes, or showcase your ability to learn and master these competencies.To gather material to demonstrate the above, reflect on past work experience, distill the knowledge of industry mentors, and make sure you understand where the role fits in the company / greater industry. (i.e. make sure you know “where the money comes from” and why your role exists). 
Deliver interview answers that are highly relevant to the role and inspire confidence in your ability to succeed.Exhibit knowledge of news / current events in the field. Having a surface level knowledge of various related or tangential topics can often inspire confidence. 
Be flexible and adaptive during the interview process, continually adjusting your responses based on changing context and information provided.Make sure you understand the problem / question before you attempt to answer it. Don’t waste your effort by over-committing to a half-baked answer or going down a rabbit-hole. Before answering a question, think about why the question is being asked.
Stay up to date with industry knowledge and interview techniques to build a solid foundation for interview preparation.Familiarize yourself with industry specific interview types for your field of interest.

For computer science students, ensure you have practiced for technical interviews. Watch plenty of example technical interviews to familiarize yourself with the format before jumping headfirst into LeetCode questions. Make good use of diagramming to promote understanding (UML, Sequence, Flowcharts). Don’t forget to comment your code and employ good naming conventions. 

For students pursuing consulting roles, ensure you prepare for case questions. Watch example interviews from major consulting firms on YouTube. Practice case questions with your peers or with a DavisConnects fellow. Employ a tool like Yoodli.ai to practice your speaking.

By focusing on these elements, you’ll be better equipped to present yourself as the ideal candidate for the role, increasing your chances of success in the interview process.