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On Interviewing

Interviews provide the opportunity for you and the interested organization to learn more about each other. While most obviously a chance for employers to investigate your experiences and skills, the interview is also an excellent opportunity for you to find out more about the organization in terms of its activities and its working environment. Interviews take one of two forms. Employment interviews are conducted to fill a vacancy in the organization. Informational interviews are conducted to give the applicant a better understanding of the organization.

In order to get the most out of an interview, you will need to do a little homework. Research the organization. Develop some thoughtful questions you can ask the interviewer about the organization's mission, staffing structure, and current job openings. You should also think through the types of the questions that you may be asked.

Employment Interviews: Interviews for employment in an organization may be quite stressful. Of course, the basic rules are to dress in an appropriately professional manner and to be on time or about 10 to 15 minutes early. In addition, be prepared to be interviewed by more than one person, either concurrently or consecutively.

Try to give full answers to questions, i.e., relate your experiences to the job or cite a class you attended where you learned helpful hints. Focus on what you know or what you are interested in. Put a positive spin on your abilities. Remember all the dimensions of the job and try to address them in your answers. Emphasize your strengths, such as organizing ability, working with people, research experience, writing ability, creativity, or some of the "extra" items on your resume (public relations, media, or computer experience). Show the organization why you stand out from the crowd. It is also helpful to bring copies of materials submitted (resume, cover letter, etc.) and other information the interviewer may be interested in seeing.

Informational Interviews: While similar in many ways to employment interviews, informational interviews focus on the exchange of information rather than on evaluation. This process allows you to learn more about a particular organization or field and gain experience in interviewing without the stress of being evaluated. It is important to remember that informational interviews are conducted almost exclusively for the benefit of the interviewee. As with employment interviews, be prepared with the questions you would like to ask the interviewer. Doing your homework will help the meeting flow smoothly and will impress upon the interviewer that you consider her or him a valuable resource person and appreciate their time.

The Interview

During an interview, you will be asked a series of questions so the interviewer can get to know you and have an idea of your abilities. In both employment and informational interviews, there are some standard types of questions that you should be prepared to answer:

Your background, both academic and extracurricular. This will tell the interviewer the ways in which your academic, volunteer, and professional skills and experiences would benefit the organization. Such questions may address your favorite (or least favorite) job or project, the ways in which you describe yourself, and your strengths and weaknesses.

Your interest in the organization and the position. The interviewer will want to know why he or she should hire you. These questions may focus on your reasons for wanting to work there, the elements of the job description that most appeal to you, and what aspects of the job would challenge you.

Your career goals. The interviewer will want to get a sense of how you see your future. Don't worry if your goals are vague, just have some ideas. Be prepared to show how your goals relate to the position in question. Likely questions may touch on your aspirations for the future (graduate school, start your own business, teach, do research, etc.), your vision of yourself in five or ten years, and the ways in which you expect to benefit from the job and the organization.

Traits that you possess. The interviewer may ask some questions about your work style to get an idea of how you would fit in with the rest of the staff. Questions may address the ways in which you deal with stress, your time management and prioritizing skills, and your ability to manage the details without losing sight of the overall picture.

You may want to ask some questions, too:

About the position. Among the issues you may want to address–the duration of the position, the average length of stay for employees, potential opportunities to stay on longer or advance within the organization, salary and benefits (such as health care, educational opportunities, and investment possibilities), information about the supervisors, and when you might expect to hear from them about their decision.

About working in the organization. Questions to help you get a sense of the office atmosphere include descriptions of an average day, the educational and experiential requirements for other positions, the most enjoyable part of the interviewer's work, the reasons why the interviewer likes working there or one thing they would change about the organization.

About the organization. In order to better understand the organization, you may ask about the primary focus of their work, to see publications (newsletter, issue brief, or annual report), the number and target group of their membership, and a list of their supporters and board of directors.

There are also questions you cannot be asked in an interview. For example, you cannot be asked direct questions about your religion, balancing career and family, or your health. However, indirect questions are allowed when posed to all applicants. For example, "Are you Jewish and therefore unable to work on Saturdays?" is not allowed, however "This job may require working on weekends. Is that acceptable?" is appropriate when posed to all candidates. If you are interested in finding out more about the legal aspects of interviews, there are resources that deal with these issues in most bookstores.

Following the interview, you will want to send a letter of appreciation and call to see if there is any additional information required. However, keep in mind that the hiring process is time-consuming. Be efficient and brief. Before you call, make a list of questions you want to ask or points you would like clarified.