Congratulations—you’ve landed an interview! It might be for your very first position out of school, or it could be an opportunity to advance your career. In either case, the interview is your first chance to make a lasting impression on the practice manager or owner.
The interview process is a time to demonstrate your skills and abilities as much as it is an opportunity to learn more about the practice, the position and the organization’s culture. The entire process should help you determine whether the job is the right “fit” for you.
Depending on the practice location, your interview might be an in-person meeting, or it could be conducted online or over the phone. Regardless of the platform for first-round or subsequent interviews, the following tips from Stacy Pursell, the founder and CEO of the VET Recruiter, will help you prepare for your next interview and give you the confidence needed to stand out from the other candidates.
Do Your Homework
Learn as much as possible about the practice and its owner before the interview. “The worst thing you can do is show up without knowing anything about the practice’s services or specialties,” Pursell said. Spend time on the practice’s website. “Read every word of the mission statement and the ‘About’ section. Read the history, services offered and staff biographies pages,” she said.
If a practice doesn’t have a website, it might have one or more social media accounts. Check for a Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram profile for an inside look into what’s important to the practice and its clients.
If you live within the same geographic location as the practice, drive by the office. This will give you a feel for the route you’ll travel that day and a firsthand look at the facility.
In advance of your meeting, network with people who might know the practice, the owner or other employees. “If you know people that have worked there previously, ask them what it was like to work there,” Pursell said.
The more you know in advance, the more comfortable you’ll be during the interview, which will allow for a more natural conversation. Arriving armed with background knowledge also demonstrates initiative.
Choose an outfit that is neat, clean and professional. Even though the day-today attire is much more casual, dress to impress during your first interview.
No detail is too small. Wear clean, polished shoes, trim any loose strings from clothing hems and get a fresh haircut. These might seem trivial, but people do notice the tiniest details.
“Look the part; know what you’re going to wear and be sure you appear professional and polished,” Pursell said.
The interviewer will be observing your actions for clues about your organizational skills. Set the tone by bringing an orderly portfolio or bag/purse that is free of excess papers, wrappers or garbage. The last thing you want to do is dig through unnecessary stuff to find a pen or paper.
Also, bring three to five additional copies of your résumé.
“I’ve had many clients express disappointment when an interviewee shows up without a fresh copy of his or her résumé,” Pursell said. “Even if you submitted it electronically, they may not have had time to print it out before the interview.” Offer a list of three to five references who will speak to your abilities and character. Make sure you’ve contacted these references ahead of time to confirm their willingness to speak on your behalf.
“Don’t forget to bring a pad of paper and a pen,” she said. “You may want to take notes or jot down details during the meeting.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Interviewing is not something most of us do very often. “The average person changes jobs every three to five years, and millennials change a little more often than that,” Pursell said.
Although you might interview more frequently than previous generations, it’s not something you do regularly. The interview process can be nerve-wracking or downright overwhelming. The best way to keep these emotions in check is to practice. Ask a friend or family member to participate in a mock interview. Have that individual pose questions so you can respond. Speaking your answers out loud helps you become more familiar with what you’re going to say. Standing in front of the mirror and rehearsing your responses is another option.
Plan your responses in advance. Avoid writing detailed answers that might sound like a scripted message; instead jot down notes to keep you focused and on topic.
Anticipate the Questions
Unless the interviewer shares his or her questions with you in advance, it’s impossible to predict every question a potential employer is going to ask. But there are ways to anticipate the general types of questions that will be asked.
One of the most common interview questions is “Tell me a little about yourself.” There are a million and one ways to respond. The interviewer is hoping you will reveal details that offer insight into your fit for the position.
“Focus on what you have accomplished in your career,” Pursell said. “More often than not, people talk about their personal life, how long they’ve been married, how many children they have, etc. That’s not what employers are looking for.”
The majority of interviewers will ask behavior-related questions rather than skills-related questions to develop a feel for how you might handle interactions in the field.
“Employers are looking for characteristics or traits that make an applicant a good fit for the practice,” she said. Behavior-related questions may sound like this:
• “What is the most difficult business decision you have made in the past year?”
• “How did you go about making the decision, and how did it turn out?” A similar question might be:
• “Tell me about a time you offered a creative solution to a problem between co-workers.” Some interviewers pose abstract questions to gauge how well you think on your feet, such as:
• “If you had to describe yourself as a shape, what shape would it be, and why?”
• “If you had to describe yourself as an animal, what animal would it be, and why?”
Other interviewers want to see how you approach and solve problems. On The Muse (themuse.com), a website that offers free career advice, you’ll see sample questions that are designed to be difficult to answer but are asked on interviews; search for “4 Insanely Tough Interview Questions (and How to Nail Them)” by Suki Shah.
Among the posted questions are some from Google (“How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?”) and Hewlett-Packard (“If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?”)
Shah pointed out that employers aren’t looking for a correct or a precise answer. They’re looking for your approach to solving problems and handling a challenging task. The reality is that regardless of how good you look, how much research you’ve done or how many skills you have, if you aren’t prepared to answer the toughest interview questions, you won’t get the job.
Pursell recommended the book “101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions,” by Ron Fry. “I’ve had candidates read this book while they are on a plane, flying to an interview,” she said.
While you’re preparing to answer the expected and unexpected questions you’ll likely receive during an interview, take time to familiarize yourself with questions that employers should not be asking.
Questions about your age, whether or not you smoke or drink, and your religious affiliation hold no bearing on your ability to perform the position advertised. The federal Civil Rights Acts prohibits employment discrimination, but does not explicitly identify a list of questions that cannot be asked.
Decide in advance whether you’ll attempt to tackle these questions head-on or redirect the conversation back to the skills and accomplishments related to the position.
Send the Right Message
It might seem trivial, but go to bed early the night before the interview. The more alert you are, the better you’ll be able to respond to any question, expected or not. Being well-rested also means that you’re more alert and fully “present” during the entire interview conversation.
It’s important to be prepared and to dress professionally. Above all, remember that the interviewer is looking for an employee who is confident, authentic and capable of responding well under pressure.
After the interview, even if you determine the position isn’t what you’re looking for or you think you “bombed” the meeting, follow up with a thank-you within 24 hours. Email is of course the fastest method for showing appreciation for the interviewer’s time. A handwritten note adds a personal touch and goes a long way toward showing your willingness to go the extra mile—not only for the interviewer, but for a client down the road.