Secrets to interview success

Aug. 1, 2002

The questions and the answers you need to know

By Colleen Malloy

Where do you see yourself in five years? If your answer is something like, not in this job, you'd better pay attention and read on to brush up on your interview skills, because when it comes down to getting the job or getting the boot the little details can make all the difference in the world.

Landing the interview
Before you ever have to worry about what kind of questions they'll ask or what you should wear to the interview you need to worry about actually landing the interview in the first place.
Jeanine Martini of Big Horn Air based in Sheridan, Wyoming, will look at dozens of resumes before she passes a select few on to the hiring manager. "I'll only give him the cream of the crop," says Martini.
You need to write a resume that stands out and shouts, "Hire me!" Fitting everything that makes you perfect for the job into just one page is no easy task, but if done right it can land you an interview in no time.
Both your resume and cover letter need to be targeted to each job opening you are applying for. It is important to understand what the employer wants and it's up to you to make the match.
Do as much research about the company as possible before you write your resume. The Internet is a great resource. Many companies have websites that detail their company history, their mission statement, and their plans for the future. Look for keywords and integrate them into your cover letter and resume. If you don't have one already, call the company and ask for a detailed job description and then be sure to include all the key skills you have that are listed in the job description on your resume.
As far as aesthetics go, keep your resume simple. Don't go crazy with fancy fonts and formatting. A clean, easy-to-read resume printed on white or ivory stock will keep the focus on you and your accomplishments, instead of on your word processing prowess.
Avoid using company specific titles like Level 2 Mech, use a more generic term like Inspection Crew Supervisor.
Be sure to include all of your licenses and certifications and list any training you have done that might be applicable to the job you are applying for.
Have someone else look over your resume before you send it in. A typo or a misspelling will land your resume in the trash bin faster than you can say unemployment.
Taking the time to do your research and retarget your resume to each specific job opening will not only increase your odds of landing an interview, it will also leave you more prepared for the interview.

Practice makes perfect
You wouldn't run a marathon without training, so why on earth would you jump into a job interview, something that could change the course of your entire life, without a little prep work?
A great way to prepare for an interview is to formulate a list of probable questions. (Can't think of any questions? Don't worry I've got that covered, one step at a time.) Some companies even have a standard list of questions that they ask, call the company and find out. Think about how you would answer those questions and even write them down if it helps.
Enlist the help of your spouse, best buddy, mother or son, whoever you feel most comfortable doing a little role playing with. This is bound to feel a little silly, but trust me, it works. Give your loved one a copy of the questions you've come up with and run through all the questions a few times. Don't do it in front of the TV or with a bag of chips in hand. Try to make the scenario as real as possible. A good way to simulate the nerves you'll feel come interview time is to switch on a camcorder and record your mock interview sessions. Not only will this make you nervous, you can also watch the tape and find any verbal ticks or fidgeting you need to eliminate.
If you need a little extra help, give your A&P school a call. Most schools have placement offices that help alumni with the entire job search process from resumes to mock interviews for little or no fee.
Bob Rosswog, the placement director at the Pittsburg Institute of Aeronautics, says that the school offers lifetime placement for all graduates. "It's pretty extensive," Rosswog says. "We help a lot of alumni with 10, 15, 20 years out."

First impressions count
Now that you're mentally prepped for the interview, it's time to work on that first impression.
"We have a policy here, it may be a dumb cliche, but dress for success," Rosswog says. "We've gotten tremendous feedback from companies about how our graduates present themselves."
Rosswog suggests that men wear a shirt and tie and that women wear a nice business suit. This attire may seem a bit much for some positions, but it's always better to be a little bit overdressed than a little bit underdressed. Now, I'm not saying you should run out and break the bank on a brand new suit, but pulling out the old ironing board wouldn't be a bad idea.

Watch the clock
Being late is a sure-fire way to make a bad impression. Plan to arrive about 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled to begin. Make sure you know where you are going and take factors like traffic, construction, and parking into consideration when planning your route. Make sure you know where you're supposed to go when you arrive and who you're supposed to see. Be polite to the receptionist (if there is one) and be patient if you are asked to wait. Never schedule an interview over your lunch hour or make plans directly after your interview. You've already got enough to worry about, the last thing you need on your mind is a ticking second hand.

The interview
Greet your interviewer with a strong handshake and a smile. If he asks how you're doing don't tell him about the jerk who cut you off on the way over, just tell him you're doing fine. If you're offered a beverage be sure and take it, when you get nervous a bit of water for a case of dry mouth can be your best friend.
Remember that the interview begins the moment you walk in the door. Everything you do and say matters (no pressure here). Every question counts. If he asks you to, "Tell me a little bit about yourself." Be sure to relate your answer to the job at hand. Say something like, "I've worked at xyz aircraft for the past five years as a line mechanic and I'm ready for something a little more challenging." Don't say, "My name is Darryl and I like fishing and the WWF."

The questions
First impressions do count, but if all you've got is a nice tie and a handshake that impression won't last very long. Knowing how to answer some basic questions will give you the competitive edge.
So what are they going to ask?
"Oftentimes in our field job candidates think technical, technical, technical, and they do ask that. But they're also looking at the attitude, work ethic, people skills, things that oftentimes mechanics don't factor into it. Try to prepare for an interview taking those things into consideration because the people skills and the team player concepts really count," Rosswog says.
Make sure you are prepared for any technical questions that might fly your way, and be sure you have answers ready for these questions targeted at attitude, work ethic, and people skills:
o What's your greatest strength?
o What's your greatest weakness?
o Tell me about how you have handled an ethical dilemma.
o How do you deal with multiple projects?
o Tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker or supervisor. How did you resolve the conflict?
o Tell me about a time you failed to meet a deadline.

The answers
These are only a sampling of behavior based questions that you might be asked. These are a few simple guidelines to follow that will help you answer any questions:
1. Be positive: Focus on your strengths. Even when asked about your weaknesses you can talk about how you are always growing and learning.
2. Be specific: Illustrate your answers with real life examples.
3. Be focused: Stay on track. Don't go into a long story that doesn't relate to your ability to perform the job at hand.
4. Be honest: Don't lie or embellish, you will get caught!

Your turn to ask the questions
The last question you will be asked is, "Do you have any questions?" Don't pass up this opportunity! Not only can you gain a little more knowledge about the company you may someday work for, this is another opportunity to show how prepared you really are.
Come up with questions ahead of time and either type them up or write them very clearly so you won't be struggling to read your own penmanship. Bring them to the interview in a portfolio or a nice folder. You should also bring extra copies of your resume, a list of your references, some paper to take notes on and a pen.
Good questions to ask include:
o What's the next step in the interview process?
o Why do you enjoy working for XYZ Company?
o What kind of training does the company offer?
o What are the work hours?
o Can you describe a typical work day?
o How often will I be reviewed?
Do not, I repeat DO NOT ask about compensation. Avoid questions about money like the plague. The same goes for questions about insurance, 401K, and vacation time. Wait until after an offer is made to negotiate your salary and benefits.
In most cases you will not be offered a job on the spot. If by some chance you are offered a job immediately do not accept right away. Tell them you need some time to think it over, unless this is your dream job and they have just offered you gobs of money, in that case take it, by all means take it! Taking time to think about an offer gives you more leverage when negotiating salary and also lets you decide if this is the job that's right for you.

Do not leave the interview without knowing what the next step in the process is. Make sure you know when and how they will be getting back in touch with you.
Send a thank you note as soon as possible. A quick e-mail reiterating your interest in the job can work wonders.
If you haven't heard back from the company two days after the agreed upon follow-up time call back and follow up yourself. Don't sit back and wait for a job to come to you, go out and grab the job you want before somebody else beats you to it!

Illegal Questions
Federal law prohibits employers from asking questions designed to discriminate in any fashion. If you are asked an illegal question you have several options. If you feel comfortable you can go ahead and answer the question, you can refuse to answer the question, realizing that doing so can hurt your chances of landing the job, or you can give an answer to the illegal questions legal counterpart. The key is to do what feels most comfortable for you. If you are uncomfortable in the interview, just imagine how you'll feel on the job!

Here are some illegal questions and their legal counterparts:

Illegal Questions Were you born in the United States? How old are you? Are you married? Have you ever been arrested? How's your health? What religion are you? Legal Questions Are you authorized to work in the United States? Are you over the age of 18? Are you willing to relocate? Have you ever been convicted of __________? (must relate to job qualifications) Are you physically able to perform this job? Can you work evenings and weekends?