Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report

Preparing for Interviews

Watch streaming video of Jeff Summers

Jeff Summers, Wal-Mart Canada, Western Region

Jeff Summers gave a brief description of his employer, Wal-Mart Canada. Wal-Mart is a large employer, with 316 stores and 83 supercentres. Founder Sam Walton’s philosophy is based on “inclusion that creates one family in a store”; his basic belief is “respect for the individual.” Wal-Mart looks for “unique associates and for differences in each other,” Summers said.

Summers talked about three steps to prepare for an interview: research, prepare, and plan. “Research is essential for the interview”, he said. A common mistake people make when going to an interview is “not being prepared and not knowing the prospective employer.” It is important to ask informed questions about the employer. Applicants should research “what the company does, how it is run, the financial state of the company, and who the major competitors are.” Summers said that researching the company will make the job seeker “more at ease, more knowledgeable and more comfortable” during the interview.

Researching a prospective employer helps applicants understand the goals and culture of the company. “If you have an interview at MacDonald’s and tell them you don’t eat meat and are president of a ‘do not eat meat club’ it may not be a good fit because MacDonald’s sells meat.”

To research a company, job hunters should check websites and Google the company. They should also ask friends and acquaintances what they know about the company, and talk to someone in the store.

Summers also suggested researching the position. Job seekers should know what they are being interviewed for, and what the expectations for the position are. Most interview questions will be specific to the position. Research the salary range “so you are informed before making decisions about the job and about what you can expect from a company, and the position in terms of salary.”

“After research, you rehearse,” Summers said. Rehearsal involves practicing questions that will come up in an interview. Potential employers may ask “why do you think we should hire you?” or “tell me about your experience as it relates to the position.” Part of rehearsal is “knowing your resumé and your experience.”

“Make sure your resumé is up-to-date, and check spelling and grammar. The small things can make a difference,” Summers said. Rehearse with friends and family by doing mock interviews. “The more you practice the more confident you will sound,” said Summers. “Even if you do not have much experience, the confidence you show during an interview could get you the job.”

Preparing for an interview involves having questions ready for the employer. Be prepared to ask the interviewer what a typical day is like in this position or again what the most important qualities in this job are. Asking questions “shows interest in the job.” At the same time, be careful not to ask inappropriate questions.

“Ask nice questions, because it is all about getting the job,” Summers said.

Job seekers should bring a hard copy of their resumé and references to the interview. Summers said there is no need to have references on a posted or sent resumé, the job seeker should have them available on a separate page during the interview. Make sure the referees’ contact information is correct, and that they know they may be called to provide a reference. “Most resumés go through scanning software so the resumé you write won’t be exactly what the company sees. The software scans the basic information for key words that fit a position.” Choose key words that will stand out for specific positions, and have family and friends look at the resumé. Summers told participants to spell correctly; misspelled words may cost you the job. “Make your resumé is specific for a job and for that company. The more specific you are on the resumé for a job the more likely you are to get called for an interview. ”

“Planning for an interview includes looking professional, being on time, and knowing who you are going to be meeting with,” Summers said. “Make sure your wardrobe is comfortable and professional. It is better to be overdressed than underdressed.”

Arrive for the interview 10 to 15 minutes early. “Being too early for an interview can make you seem too anxious,” Summers said. “If you are 20 minutes early (or more), don’t go in and say, ‘I’m ready’; instead wait outside five or 10 minutes before going in and announcing yourself.” Before the interview job seekers should get the names of the people they will meet with, so they greet them correctly. Personal contact right away with the employer is important and an applicant who makes a connection right away will be remembered.

Summers described a number of interview types that participants can expect to encounter in their job search.

The exploratory or informational interview is an “interview that you set up when there is no job open. It takes place because you want to find out more about a job or a field. Ideally this type of interview can help you find a position even if there is nothing available.” Summers described this type of interview as one that applicants can use for networking and gathering information.

“To set one up, look for a position you want and tell them you are interested in finding out about jobs but not asking for a job. Let them know up front you want to ask questions about the company and positions. This sets the person at ease,” he said. The main reasons for requesting an exploratory or informational interview is that it helps to expand networks, find out about a company and a position. This type of interview “builds confidence because you are the interviewer and you become comfortable asking questions about a position.”

Be polite when requesting an informational interview and be sure to say thank you, Summers said. “It is great to have networks all over, and it won’t be a waste of your time.”

Prospective employers use behavioural interviews to gain “the most accurate indicator of your behaviour” in certain situations. “In a behavioural interview you may be asked about what you’ve done in other positions or at school,” Summers said. Prospective employers may ask what a job seeker would do in a situation that comes up in their company. “Listen carefully to all questions and if you are unsure it is better to ask for clarification before answering,” he said. If you are asked to talk about yourself, you should take this as an opportunity to describe a successful situation you had in another job or at school.

Scenario-based interviewing is an approach employers use to find out how a prospective employee would respond on the job. For example, “what would you do if you have a task and you don’t have enough time or resources to fulfill the task?” Summers pointed out that “different companies could ask you different questions,” so researching the company and position can help the job seeker prepare to answer scenario-based questions.

Panel interviews are structured. They consist of a number of people from the company—for example, the hiring manager, someone from Human Resources, a potential co-worker, and a supervisor. All have different points of view about how an interviewee reacts and how they respond to the person. Summers told participants not to get nervous. “Many times this type of interview begins formally but becomes informal as the panel and you relax,” he said.

A group interview is not common. It is done mainly with applicants who are hired on the spot for warehouse positions or lower-level positions. “A group of interviewees are brought together and hiring managers or supervisors talk to the group, then they may hire half the group on the spot for a job.”

Summers talked about unstructured versus structured interviews. In a structured interview all applicants are asked the same open-ended questions. After the interviews the employer can compare applicants. In an “unstructured interview” applicants may be asked only one or two questions, and their answers generate follow-up questions for more information.

“Interviews usually start out structured and then become unstructured. The more you talk the more information we get from you. The idea is to get an idea of you as a good candidate,” he said.

Summers described the “Situation, Task, Action, and Result” (STAR) approach, which can help applicants who are nervous in an interview situation. The approach can help an applicant recall and describe “a situation or task in a previous job or at school, what action you took, and the results of your action.”

For example, an employer may ask, “Tell me about a situation or task in another job where you showed leadership.”

Summers said, “The situation may be that a customer was unhappy with a product. You then describe your action; you gave them their money back and helped them find another product. The result of your action was that the customer returned and their family also began shopping at the store. This increased sales by x%.” Summers said describing specific results that demonstrate the success of a person’s action in terms of increased sales is a positive way to impress an employer.

Summers encouraged participants to be confident and prepared. “Everyone has something special to offer, it is important to present that in the interview. That is what will get you the job.”