Chapter 9: Interviewing in Organizations

9.5 Applicant: Performance during the interview

The interview day has arrived. The following are strategies for a successful employment interview.

  1. Act professionally. Recognize that you start the interview process at your first interaction. Be polite with everyone you encounter, not just the interviewer(s). What you choses to wear to the interview, and whether you arrive on time are also indicators of your professionalism. During the actual interview, make sure you maintain eye contact when responding to questions, avoid casual or slang language, and avoid behaviors that may signal inattention (e.g., looking at your watch, phone, out the window, etc…).
  2. Craft responses that focus on the organization’s needs. When asked a question in the interview, look for its purpose as well as its literal meaning. “Tell me about yourself” may sound like an invitation to share your award for last year’s poetry competition, but it is not. The employer is looking for someone who can address their needs. Businesses hire people to solve problems, so you want to focus on how your talents, expertise, and experience can contribute to the organization’s need to solve those problems.  You need to be prepared for standard questions about your education and background, but also see the opening in the conversation to discuss the job duties, the challenges inherent in the job, and the ways in which you believe you can meet these challenges. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the fact that you have “done your homework” researching the company.
  3. Be honest and emphasize the positive. You may have heard that the world is small and it is true. As you develop professionally, you will come to see how fields and companies are interconnected in ways that you cannot anticipate. Your name and reputation are yours to protect and promote. If asked about a skill or an experience that may not be your strength, be honest and provide a positive context, if possible.  For example, if an interviewer says,”I noticed you’ve held several jobs, but you havent had any experience in banking,” you might respond by saying “Yes, I’ve worked in a number of fields and have been able to learn each one quickly. My adaptability will help me learn this job  quickly and adjust as technology changes. I’m excited to be part of your Hampton banking team.”
  4. Respond to the question asked, providing concrete details. It is important to recognize that a skilled interviewer will have planned their questions, thus you should respond to the question as posed. If they ask a closed ended question (e.g., “Do you have experience with web-design?”), you should answer it in the way asked (e.g., “Yes I do”). If you come to realize (either through awkward pauses or  follow up questions) that the interviewer didnt plan their questions well, you should adapt at that time. When asked to explain or describe something, make sure to provide details that give  a clear picture of your skills and experience. For example, if an interviewer asked “What strengths would you bring to this job?”, you might say “I’m a self starter who can work without supervision. For example, in my last job my immediate supervisor was away from the office on and off for 3 months. During that time we switched over to a new accounting system and I worked with the software company to…..” This response would be better than simply responding by saying “I’m a self starter.”
  5. Consider ways you may respond to illegal or off-topic questions. If faced with an interviewer who asks an illegal or inappropriate question, its important to consider how you might respond. One choice is to answer the question, regardless. If you don’t want to answer it, you might respond to the essence of the question by redirecting back to content that would be more appropriate. A third option is to seek clarification about the purpose of the questions. And, of course, you have the right to refuse to answer the question. Here’s how each of these responses might look if aske the question “How old are you?”
    • Answer the question: I’m 18
    • Redirect: I’m old enough to drive the company van.
    • Seek clarification: Is there an age requirement to be able to do this job
    • Refuse to answer: I’m not comfortable answer that.

Once the interview is over, your performance as an applicant has not yet ended.  Remember that feedback is part of the communication process: follow up promptly with a thank-you note or email, expressing your appreciation for the interviewer’s time and interest.  

Hopefully, you will be contacted with a job offer. It is at this point you can celebrate your accomplishments, and ask any benefits or compensation questions before accepting the offer.

If, however, the organization chooses to go with another applicant, don’t focus on the loss or all the hard work you devoted to the process. Instead, reflect on your experience and consider if there are any ways you can improve your chances for the next interview.  

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Organizational Communication Anthology by See each page for attribution information. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.