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The Job Shop's Advice to Recent Grads Looking for Work

The Job Shop did a Zoom meeting with a group of soon to graduate SF State students recently. In it we focused on how to prepare for interviews, what to remember before heading in, and how to handle some of the toughest questions. Social distancing won't stop us from helping the next generation of workers in any way we can!

Here's some of the information we shared with the students. Hopefully, you (and they) find it helpful!

Preparing for the Interview:

  1. Go through your resume and make sure you know it forwards and backwards.

  2. Know why you left each position. If you’ve been let go, end your answer with a positive spin.

  3. Always be positive. Never speak negatively about any employer or coworker.

  4. Always interview for the job. Employers want candidates who know what they want.

  5. NEVER give out or talk about information the interviewer doesn’t need to hear.

  6. Get on the client/company web site and do your homework!

  7. When your interviewer asks you if you have any questions, ALWAYS ask. Ask something thoughtful, a question you prepared (example: What does a typical day look like in this position?)

Remember the STAR method of answering behavioral interview questions:

S – Situation: Describe a specific situation that you were in.

T – Task: Follow with the task that you needed to accomplish the situation.

Do not give a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give detail for the interviewer to understand. It can be from a previous job, a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.

A – Action: Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you.

Even if you are discussing a group project, describe what you did -- not the efforts of the team.

R – Response: What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

Behavioral-based interview sample questions:

  • Describe a situation where you used persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.

  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.

  • Give a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic to solve a problem.

  • Give 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 use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.

  • Give a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree to.

  • Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.

  • Explain a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.

  • Describe a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.

  • Give an example of a time when you had to make a split-second decision.

  • What is your typical way of dealing with a conflict? Give a specific example.

  • Describe a time you successfully dealt with a person that may not have liked you (or vice versa).

  • Talk about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.

  • Give an example of a time when you tried to accomplish something and failed.

  • Describe a situation when you showed initiative and took the lead.

  • Describe a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.

  • Give an example of a time when you motivated others.

  • Talk about a time when you delegated a project effectively.

  • Give an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.

  • Explain a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.

  • Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.

  • Tell about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.

  • Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low)

Reminders for Candidates When Going on an Interview

  • Keep attire simple. Dress for the environment. Men - If it is a conservative company, always wear a well-pressed, solid-colored shirt, tie, and business suit. For less conservative companies, a well-pressed shirt and nice slacks are appropriate. Women - Nice business suit is always recommended. No short skirts. Do not wear a lot of jewelry. Do not put on too much or wild make-up.

  • Most companies are fragrance-free environments. Be aware of using aftershave or perfume.

  • Do research on the company. Look at the company’s web site and familiarize yourself with everything and anything you can. And be sure to prepare questions for the interview.

  • Bring several copies of your resume. The resume should be the same that was submitted to the company. Bring a list of references, but first, make sure to get permission from your references to use their names and contact information.

  • Arrive at your confirmed appointment 5-10 minutes early. Bring directions to the interview site so you won’t get lost and guarantee a less stressful travel situation.

  • Smile. Make eye contact. Give a firm handshake.

  • Be focused. Interview for the position. Relate past experiences directly to the job description. Be prepared to name your greatest strengths and have examples of how you have used those qualities in a work situation.

  • Be positive. Do not speak negatively especially of past employers and supervisors.

  • If interview travels “off track”, direct the interview back to the position that is open.

  • When talking about salary, do not narrow to a set figure. If asked, give a salary range (within a 5K range).

  • Obtain business cards before leaving. Then send thank you notes (cards) immediately after the interview; Bonus for handwritten thank you notes.

Keep in mind that:

40% - is your Skill Set. What skills you bring to the position.

60% - is you. Your energy, personality, ability to demonstrate strengths/qualifications/ experience.

How to handle tough interview questions

What do you say when an interviewer asks Tell me about a time you had a conflict on the job?”.

How should you answer?

A) Dish the dirt about your previous employer or co-worker.

B) Tell the interviewer that you’ve never had any conflicts.

C) Say, “If I have a conflict, I would sit down with the person I am having a conflict with and discuss how we can resolve it.”

D) None of the above.

If you answered A: The employer may think you’re a difficult person who will create conflict.

If you answered B: This can sound like you are either not answering honestly or you don’t have a lot of experience working with people.

If you answered C: This may sound like a good way to respond. However, most employers don't want to hear what you would do in a hypothetical situation -- they want to hear how you have actually handled a real situation in the past.

Correct Answer is D, none of the above. Before going in for the interview you should prepare for that question and be ready to provide a strong example of a past job where you had a conflict and how you resolved it.

The Interest in Conflict

The purpose of asking about a past conflict is not to see if you have ever had a conflict (the interviewer assumes you have). The goal is to see how well you resolve difficult situations, and if something did not work out in the past, they want to know what you learned from it.

Asking applicants about past experiences is known as behavioral interviewing. Behavioral interviewing involves asking about specific past behaviors in an attempt to determine how you would likely behave if you got the job.

Expect Behavioral Questions

To ensure you're a good fit for the job, many interviewers will ask behavioral questions relating to the particular position.

You may hear questions such as:

"Describe your most successful project so far and what did you do to make it a success?" or "Describe a project where something went wrong. How did you solve the problem?"

How to prepare for behavioral questions

Spend time before the interview thinking about your past experiences so you can answer questions by:

1. Describing the situation.

2. Explain what you did and what the outcome was.

3. Finish with the experience you acquired, or what you learned if the situation didn't turn out the way you had planned.

Evaluate Your Answers

If you have the chance, do some role-playing with a friend to practice responding to tough questions. Ask your friend for feedback about how you answer. Do you get to the point or give too much information? Do you sound natural or do some of your responses sound rehearsed?

Most importantly, could any of your answers raise a red flag with the employer? For example, if you are asked to describe a conflict you experienced and respond with examples of three conflicts you were involved with, the interviewer may think you don't get along with anyone!?

Your purpose during the interview is to show that you will be an asset to the company. Being prepared can help you show your best qualities and that you are the ideal person for the job.

The 'Future' Question

Otherwise known as the "big picture" question, the future question goes something like this: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

The best tactic: Talk about your values.

Don't get too detailed about your specific career plan. Instead, discuss things that are important to you professionally and how you plan to achieve them. If growth is a goal, mention that. You can also talk about wanting a challenge, which is another value that employers prize in their employees.

The 'Salary' Question

Most people will tell you that whoever answers this question first loses. But that's not necessarily true.

When an interviewer asks your salary requirement, first try to gently deflect the question by inquiring about the salary for the position.

If the interviewer presses you for a number, give a range.

To decide on a salary range: think about the salary you want, your salary at your most recent position and the industry-standard salary for the job.

The bottom line: The salary question is one of the most important, so you should prepare and plan what to say.

The 'Why' Question

There's a fine line between boastful and confident. And you need to learn it.

When an interviewer asks you why they should hire you, you're going to have speak confidently and honestly about your abilities. But you should avoid sounding overly boastful. Aim for earnest and prepare this by practicing.

The Seemingly Silly Question

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? What if you were a car? Or an animal?

These types of questions can bring your interview to a screeching halt.

First, don't panic. Pause and take a deep breath. Then remind yourself that there's no "right" answer to these questions.

Interviewers usually ask these questions to see how you react under pressure and how well you handle the unexpected.

In the end, it is just an interview so just be yourself, prepare, and relax.

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