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Job Interview

A job interview gives you the opportunity to showcase your qualifications to an employer, so it pays to be well prepared.

  1. Why is a job interview so important?
    A job interview is a conversation which occurs between a potential employer and a job applicant. During the job interview, the employer hopes to determine whether or not the applicant is suitable for the job, while the applicant tries to learn more about the position while also impressing the employer. As a general rule, a job interview is an important part of the process of applying for a job, and it may range in formality from a casual conversation to a series of serious discussions with an assortment of people working within the organization. If a job applicant manages to land a job interview, it indicates the employer has at least some interest.
  2. How can I prepare for my interview?
    • Research
      - Yourself, your personality, skills, interests and experiences
      - Organization/company – use the Internet to gather background on the employer including its
      mission, services provided, past performance and future plans (you can also review press
      releases and read Google News/Company Alerts)
      - Job – re-read the job description and know what’s happening in the field/industry and how
      it’s affecting that company/organization – be “current” on current events in the field
  • Network
    Contact any alumni or friends who work for the company. Recent graduates can tell you about the hiring process and early experiences on the job. Older alumni can share insight about the company culture and career paths.
  • Review Your Skills
    Match your skills to the job specifications for the open position. Be prepared to give examples from your previous jobs, especially ones that match the employer’s needs.
  • Practice
    Review practice interview questions and rehearse with a friend. Know how you will answer why you are you interested in this field, this company and this position. Also be prepared to answer questions you don’t really want to answer, including those that probe your weaknesses, lack of experience, low GPA or record of job-hopping. You should also create a list of questions to ask that reflect your research on the company and position.
  • Select and Notify References
    References are individuals who can speak about your work ethic, internship/work performance and overall character. Identify three to five references who have supervised your work (field instructors, supervisors, volunteer coordinators, professors or advisors). Always ask contacts if they approve of you listing them as a reference. Provide each reference a copy of your resume and coach them right after your interview if you think the prospective employer will call them.
  1. What are some tips for the day of the interview?
    • Arrive early. Allow extra time for traffic, weather, parking, walking, etc.
    • Review your resume before the interview and talk to yourself about it, including how you made resume bullets; remember the pitfalls and how you dealt with them.
    • Relax, take a deep breath and have a conversation – be yourself!
  1. What are some tips during the interview?
    • Ask the interviewer to describe the position early in the interview.
    • Highlight your achievements – what makes you different.
    • Use your assessment skills throughout the interview.
  1. How should I dress for my interview?
    • Women
      - Suit with knee-length skirt and tailored blouse or pantsuit
      - Keep accessories and make-up simple (keep perfume to a minimum)
    • Men
      - Two-piece suit with tie (solid colors vs. prints or patterns)
      - Tie pattern should be simple
  1. What does the interviewer want to know from you during the interview?
    • Are you professional and qualified to do the job?
    • Do you “fit” into the workplace culture and with the team?
    • Did you care enough to research the company?
  1. What is a general strategy I can utilize to answer behavioral interview questions?
    The “short-story technique” (EAR) is a great way to help you answer behavioral questions that seek to assess how you handled situations in your current/past experiences. This technique helps you highlight your strengths and qualifications. The “short-story technique” (EAR) makes you memorable and keeps the interviewer interested. You can use this throughout the interview.
    • Describe the Environment where it took place
    • Describe the Action(s) you took
    • Describe the Results you achieved
  1. What are some basic interview questions and how might I approach them?
    • Tell me about yourself. Provide education, work experience and related passion.
      Sample answer: “I am a Spanish bilingual and bi-cultural problem solver who will be graduating in May with a Master of Social Work degree from USC. I am currently interning 20 hours a week at XYZ agency. There, I contributed program design, evaluation and management ideas to the agency’s largest community program that were actually adopted. I also am getting experience in community outreach efforts, planning and strategic relationship-building. Last year, I interned at ABC agency. I was also involved in student government and have been able to maintain a 3.8 GPA.”
  • Why should we hire you? (Perfect time to use the short-story technique!)
    Highlight skill/requirement – Verbal and Written Communication Skills
    Example: “As a case management intern at XYZ organization, on top of my C.M. duties, I conducted community trainings for the ABC program. (Environment) It was my responsibility to notify all potential attendees of the details of the trainings (phone, email), coordinate the meeting facility, prepare required material and present the training. (Action) Because of my activities, I was able to assist the agency in increasing its outreach efforts by 20%, which resulted in them surpassing their grant requirements. (Results)”
  • Why do you want to work here? Why this job?
    • Why this organization?
      Demonstrate that you researched the company (Internet or networking) and discuss why you are interested in the organization (i.e., values, area of expertise, specialty, reputation)
    • Why this job?
      Show that you understand the job and how it matches your needs/wants. Be honest.
  • What are your strengths?
    • Go back to dissecting the job description
    • Select three to five skills required for the job
    • Use short-story technique (see previous example)
  • Describe a challenging situation and how you resolved it.
    • If possible, research challenging situations you might encounter in the job you are applying for
    • Identify and rehearse examples resembling possible challenges
    • Use the short-story technique (see previous example)
  • What are your weaknesses (opportunities to learn and grow)?
    • State your challenge and then discuss what you are doing to alleviate it
    • Be real. Give a real weakness, but rehearse your answer beforehand
    • To identify examples, ask yourself, “What can I change/improve about my work habits, performance and/or knowledge base that will make me more effective at my profession?” (Jim Gagne, Retirement Specialist, LinkedIn)

      Example: “Speaking in front of a large audience. To become more comfortable at public speaking, I have read books, attended workshops and/or reviewed online material on how to improve my presentations. In addition, I volunteer to speak publically at our student caucus meetings. I still get nervous presenting, but I usually receive good feedback about my presentations.”

  • What salary were you making in your previous job?
    • Try to put salary aside
    • Sometimes you have to provide a salary history on the application. If you do not feel comfortable providing your salary history, indicate that you can discuss during the interview.

      Example: “Would it be okay if we discuss this further after we have talked about all aspects of the position? What is your range for this job?”

  • What are some questions you can ask the interviewer?
    Interviewers are very observant regarding the types of questions a job applicant asks during the interview. For example, questions you ask can indicate how “engaged” you are in the interview, how serious you are taking the interview and how interested you are in the job. Here are some sample questions you can ask throughout the interview or at the end when you are asked, “Do you have any questions?”
    • What are the three most important attributes for success in this position?
    • What are the opportunities for growth and advancement for this position?
    • What is the best piece of advice you could give me if I were to get hired for this position?
  • What kind of clinical vignettes should I be prepared to answer?
    Be prepared to answer vignettes about clinical risk factors such as depression, suicidality, child/adult abuse and neglect, substance abuse, psychosis and danger to others. Discuss strategies with your field instructor and/or professors, and consider doing an online keyword search for “clinical vignette social work.”
  • What are some tips for closing the interview and following up?
    • Feel free to ask, “Is there any reason why you feel I would not be the best candidate for this position?”
    • Get interviewer’s business card, thank them and express interest in the position
    • Always follow up with a handwritten “thank you” note within 48 hours, emphasizing the skills/qualifications you bring
  • How do I evaluate a job offer?
    When you receive a job offer, take the time to carefully evaluate it so you are making an educated decision to accept or reject the offer. Consider the entire compensation package – salary, benefits, perks, work environment – not just your paycheck. Weigh the pros and cons and take some time to mull over the offer. It is perfectly acceptable to ask the employer for some time to think it over. Make sure you are getting paid what you are worth and that you are satisfied with the compensation. Before accepting a job, be sure you are clear on the hours and schedule you need to work and confirm if any travel is required. You may also want to consider the job responsibilities, commute, parking, potential for growth and flexibility. You can counter the offer, but be realistic about expectations and be prepared to justify why you deserve what you’re proposing and back up with examples.
  • What kind of clinical vignettes should I be prepared to answer?
    Be prepared to answer vignettes about clinical risk factors such as depression, suicidality, child/adult abuse and neglect, substance abuse, psychosis and danger to others. Discuss strategies with your field instructor and/or professors, and consider doing an online keyword search for “clinical vignette social work.”
  • What are some general tips on salary negotiation?
    • Research salaries in your field
    • Know and document your value
    • Study offers based on your prior situation, your present needs and your expectations for the job
    • Look at total package including benefits, holidays/vacation, tuition reimbursement, etc.
    • Be flexible … you can always transfer departments/divisions
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