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Interview workshops aid job search

Why should I hire you?”

This is the question every employer asks when students go to interview for a job. Mary Vance, career counselor at Portland State’s Career Center, takes students through workshops designed to help them meet employer scrutiny.

Vance conducted one such workshop Tuesday. In a conference room designed for perhaps 10 people, four attended. She attributed the attendance to the competition of midterms and the first day of the book sale in the Smith Memorial Center Ballroom.

Three of the attendees were women, all majoring in computer science.

Illustrating her points with a slide presentation, Vance covered some standard ground but injected some more unusual notes into her counsel.

Almost every applicant finds the mind going blank while trying to answer a question from the interviewer, she said. The important thing is not to panic or flounder.

“Look up to think,” she said. The interviewer will realize you’ve broken eye contact in order to reorient yourself. Don’t continue to stare blankly at the interviewer’s eyes and don’t look down, she advised. It’s all right, if you’ve lost the thread of the conversation, to say, “Will you repeat the question please?”

She also emphasized positive body language, being careful about gestures and being sure to keep smiling. She had the students practice their handshakes. Handshakes need to be neither too vigorous nor too limp, she emphasized.

Women may tend to shake hands too softly. “It’s unusual for women to have a firm handshake,” Vance said, yet in today’s working world it needs to be firm enough to denote self-confidence.

If an interviewer says, “Tell me something about yourself,” don’t go into a biographical sketch about how you grew up in a small town and had a dog named Bruno. Relate your biography to subjects and events that indicate your fitness for the job.

Some applicants today have fallen into a negative pattern that doesn’t help get a job, she said. When the interviewer asked what kind of job the applicant is looking for, the applicant tends to go into a list of things he or she does not want in a job. These may be exactly the things that the job requires and failure to be hired can almost be guaranteed.

She also recommended that applicants prepare a number of real life stories about their experiences that have positive applications to the job being sought. Interviewers tend to remember stories more vividly than mere repetitions of qualifications because a story creates a visual image.

The story, she said, should start with describing a situation which the applicant faced. It should move to the action the applicant took to meet the situation. It should end with the results of that action. The results should be quantifiable. The applicant should state if the action taken was the right action. The same story can be applied to answer a number of the interviewer’s concerns: the potential quality of the applicant’s work, the ability of the applicant to handle stress, the initiative of the applicant or the general background of the applicant.

“Have your stories ready when you go into the interview,” Vance advised.

Every question the interviewer asks contains the question, why should I hire you? The applicant’s reply needs to bear on that question.

Vance supplied the students with summary of effective interviewing techniques. The process starts with a critical self-assessment. Applicants need to know their own abilities, strengths and skills. They need to be able to draw logical conclusions between their past experiences and the job being applied for.

She advocated studying the company as well as the career field or position. She reminded the three women in computer science that their field changes rapidly. Applicants need to demonstrate an ability to shift into different jobs or types of job within the category.

She listed four qualities interviewers are looking for. They are qualifications for the positions, leadership, initiative abilities, motivation and goals and communications skills.

Take responsibility for presenting your interest and enthusiasm, as well as you qualifications, she advised. Don’t wait for the employer to probe for information.

A good idea is a voice check. Ask if the interviewer can hear you, if you have a soft voice.

She advised to appear dressed for an interview not necessarily for the job. At Intel, workers may walk around in jeans and Intel shirts, but that attire is too casual when applying for a job at Intel.

Employers want to know if you’ll fit into the organization. You may be asked, or find it helpful to your cause, to describe your best boss, your worst boss and if you had a bad boss, how you dealt with it.

Nobody’s perfect and it’s not deadly to have some weaknesses in your background. In those cases, you may admit your weakness but appear eager to fill in that gap with training or education. Think of your weaknesses as things easily and quickly remedied.

When discussing your own personality, don’t use such general terms as “perfectionist.” The interviewer may see such qualities as potential sources of trouble on the job.

Employers will want to know about extracurricular activities. Stick to two or three maximum, in areas you’re particularly proud of. Group activities indicate a willingness to work in a team effort. Too many outside activities may mean you have too many competing demands outside the job to do quality work.

The material Vance distributed to the workshop participants included a list of questions most frequently asked by employers. A special section list 20 actual questions asked in interviews by specific employers, among them Boeing, Intel and Deloitte and Touche.

A typical question, posed by Menlo Logistics, was, “Please describe for me a time when you demonstrated your ability to balance multiple, competing responsibilities.”

The workshop moved to some practical experience. Students practiced interviewing each other. They also received a work sheet exercise to help them summarize the points they need to emphasize when interviewing.

The Career Center is located at 402 University Services Building.