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By John Noble

What is the key to an effective interview?


What are the elements to preparation?

Company and industry knowledge, pertinent questions, professional focus, and self-marketing skills.

An exit survey of corporate recruiters reveals that Harvard students were lacking in four areas in their interviews:

1. Students did not research the companies beyond the company-provided materials. Their understanding of the field, industry trends, the company, its culture, and potential career paths was weak.

2. Because their research was weak, students did not ask pertinent questions.

3. Students were not completely focused on the industry, company, or department.

4. Students did not market themselves well.

Research. Too often job hunters put all their efforts into getting interviews and forget about preparing for the interviews they worked so hard to get. Having a detailed knowledge of the position, the employer's firm, and the employer's industry is essential to a successful interview. A successful interview is one that accomplishes one of three things: being offered a job, a second interview, or a referral to another opportunity. Giving some thought to an upcoming interview and preparing for it can often mean the difference between success and failure in the job hunt.

Questions. Do not ask questions which are answered in the recruiting material or the Fact Sheet. However, you may wish to investigate some aspects of the position/training program in greater depth. If you have done extensive research on the company, you may have come across an issue you would like to discuss. Your questions should reflect an understanding and concern for the industry and company for which you hope to work.

Make a list of ten questions. Rework and reword them so they are short, clear, definite, effective, and open-ended. You are aiming to accomplish four objectives: (1) to show that you have done your research; (2) to gain information; (3) to demonstrate that you can take control and ask intelligent questions; and (4) to allow the interviewer to talk.

Don't be afraid to take your list of questions into the interview. It shows that you are well organized and it will eliminate the possibility of forgetting a question. With a list of ten questions the chances are slim that the interviewer will answer all your questions in the course of the general interview.

Focus. Every company that you interview with is your number one choice. In addition, you must be prepared to tell them why they are your top choice and what you have to offer them.


Marketing yourself well means being enthusiastic, having a positive attitude, being focused, and substantiating what you tell me about yourself with accomplishment. Do not be afraid to point out your strengths; however, confidence -- not arrogance -- is the key.

You can begin your preinterview research in the OCS library. Useful directories include Standard and Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives, Dun and Bradstreet's Reference Book of Corporate Managements, and the Wall Street Index Binder. OCS also receives Institutional Investor, Business Week, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal, as well as housing a collection of company information such as annual reports. In addition, each recruiting company fills out a fact sheet about positions or training programs, location of employment, and required concentrations. Those are kept in a binder in the recruiting room.

You should also know such basic information about a company as: what its products and services are, where its offices are located, what subsidiaries it has, what its growth has been, and how it views its futureprospects.

Show up 10 to 15 minutes early for yourinterview. This will give you a chance to get afeeling for the atmosphere of the employer'sworkplace. How are people dressed? What's the workatmosphere like? Here's where you can get insightsthat will help you during your interview.

If interviewing at OCS or Hilles Library duringrecruiting, arrive 10 minutes early and check theinterviewing bulletin board for the appointmentschedule, the location of the interview, and thename of your interviewer. If there is more thanone representative from the company, be sure youare looking at the schedule on which your nameappears. There will be an OCS representativestationed at Hilles to help you with the aboveinformation, so please check in with her.

Personal Appearance: In a short,30-minute interview, it's definitely a big factor.Dress appropriately for the role you're aspiringto fill.

Interview Format: It can range from avery structured, direct interview in which theinterviewer has prepared questions, to an indirectinterview in which the interviewer sits back andlets the conversation follow its own course.

Initially, the interviewer may try to break theice by talking about anything but the job - suchas sports, the weather, or current events. OneHarvard senior encountered an interviewer whospent the entire 30-minute interview talking aboutfootball. They had a great conversation - but thestudent didn't get a second interview.

If you see this happening to you, ask questionsabout the job they have available, and discussyour qualifications for it. Don't be passive.Don't answer questions in monosyllables. Beinformative, direct, and succinct in yourresponses. Steer the interviewer into discussionof your interest in the company.

Basically, the interview consists of twosegments. In the first phase, the interviewer willprobably try to determine your interest in thejob, your qualifications, and whether yourinterests and those of the company are compatible.In the second phase, she will usually give you anopportunity to ask questions. Necessarily, thefirst phase is the longer of the two.

In your answers, demonstrate how your past andpresent accomplishments qualify you for theavailable position. Answer questions wheneverpossible with specific and concrete examples. Citeinstances of your contributions to a group oractivity that got results. Try to pick out thespecific functions of the job that you can relateto your own experiences.

Emphasize the positive in an interview.One employer told students never to apologize fortheir concentrations. Stress the value of yourliberal arts education - you have learned tothink, to communicate, to analyze problems andpose solutions. Don't downgrade any menial workexperience you may have had. Some work experienceis better than none; at the very least, you havebeen part of an organization and learned how itfunctioned. If you worked your way throughHarvard, that effort itself will win the respectof many employers.

Salary usually isn't discussed untilsubsequent interviews. But if the interviewer asksyou what you expect to earn, you can respond byasking what the salary range is for that job. Thecompany usually has a certain number of jobs to befilled in definite salary brackets. An OCScounselor can tell you the average starting salaryfor such a position. You may also wish to lookover the Salary Survey, published by theCollege Placement Council, or look in the U.S.government publications entitled TheOccupational Outlook for College Graduates.Both are in the OCS library.

At the conclusion of the interview, askabout the next step in the selection process. Theinterviewer should tell you when you can nextexpect to hear from the company. Follow-up lettersare usually mailed within two to four weeks afterthe initial interview. It is unusual for someoneto be invited for a second interview at the timeof the first interview. You put the interviewer inan awkwardB-2

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