Interview Guidelines and Tips

It takes just one great employer search, one great resume, and one great interview to find yourself in the perfect job.-- simplyOPT

The information that follows is presented with a focus on international OPT students seeking employment in the U.S. If you are a member of this demographic, then you're in luck. You have stumbled upon a treasure trove of wisdom that will guide you down the perfect path to successful interviews in the U.S. job market. Let's get started

U.S. INTERVIEW PROCESS

The interview process typically begins with a preliminary telephone or online video screening to quickly determine how you will answer a few basic questions. Most recruiters will send you an email to arrange the time of this meeting, while others may simply pick up the phone and call. It is not uncommon for an employer to arrange several phone interviews where each is designed to assess different characteristics. For example, one interviewer may examine your job skills, while another may determine whether you are a good fit for the company. If all goes well in the preliminary interview, you will receive a follow-up phone call or email indicating the company's desire to learn more about you, and you will be scheduled to participate in a face-to-face interview located on the company site. Though the process typically ends with a series of face-to-face interviews, there are circumstances when online video and conferencing are the preferred method

Most employers conduct a series of interviews over a one to four hour period. A single interview is typically a half hour long and rarely exceed an hour. The number of persons conducting the interviews can range from one to many throughout the day and during any given interview. When multiple interviews are scheduled, they are usually designed to explore different attributes about the candidate. Employers commonly provide an itinerary (interview schedule) via email that lists the times and names of the persons who will be interviewing you

As a rule of thumb, larger organizations introduce candidates to more employees leading to a tiered interview process that involves a greater number of interviews. For example, you may be scheduled to interview with your prospective HR representative, VP, directors, managers, direct co-workers, as well as other employees you will be working with throughout a normal business day

If you are interviewing for a technical position, you will likely be asked questions that explore your skills. You will likely be asked to solve a problem to showcase a particular set of skills. Oftentimes, recruiters won't expect you to come up with perfect solutions; rather, they simply want to learn the process used to arrive at the solution. Fresh graduates are typically expected to demonstrate reasonable understanding of the skill sets expressed on their resumes. Where there are gaps in understanding, recruiters are looking for a strong desire and capacity to learn

PREPARING FOR INTERVIEWS

The path to confidence

Interviews can be scary. With the proper preparation, you can turn your fear into confidence. Take the time to study our interview guidelines and tips and you will overcome the pitfalls that are common to international students seeking jobs in the U.S

Study the company

There is no better way to show your enthusiasm for a company than to know all about it during an interview. Go to the company's website and learn about its products and services. Find their marketing materials to learn about any new features, products or services they are planning to roll out in the near future. And be prepared to bring these topics up during the interview. Your knowledge about the company will go a long way toward making a favorable impression on your new employer

Study the job description

An invitation to interview for a job is almost always accompanied by a job description. Study the job description and make sure you fully understand what the role entails, what tasks are expected, and what skills are required for that position

Relate your skills to the job

Now that you've learned about the job and its tasks, identify the skills that support each task. Be ready in the interview to discuss how your knowledge and skills can be applied to successfully perform these tasks. The more your explanation relates to the company's needs, the better your chances of landing the job

Manage your presence on social media

Employers leverage the power of the world wide web to learn about their candidates. They search and find links to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, and other sites (well-known and obscure). It is important that you update these sites to reflect the information on your resume. In addition, remove anything on these sites that could limit your chances of getting hired

Manage your credit scores

For certain jobs, employers may run a credit check to examine a candidate's credit scores. Candidates with higher credit scores are considered to be more financially responsible than those with lower credit scores. In case you apply for a job that leads to a credit check, research your credit scores and make sure they favorably represent you

Network with individuals in the field

If you have questions about a particular job, your best resources are persons who have either performed that job in the past or those who are currently employed in that position. Reach out to members of our student Community by submitting your question in a Forum or by creating a Group in our Chat Service. Learn more about these services by selecting Community Services under Learning Center

Imagine yourself doing the job

Imagine yourself in the role and performing the tasks described for the job. Take into account how your knowledge and skills can be applied to these tasks. This visualization will build your confidence going into the interview. It will also encourage you to discuss the job on a personal level and in terms that are meaningful to the interviewer. You will win the job at the moment the interviewer sees you in the role

Anticipate interview questions

Imagine the types of questions interviewers will ask you during an interview and make sure you can comfortably answer them to your satisfaction. These include questions of a general nature that interviewers ask all candidates as well as those more specific to your field of study or target job. We provide a comprehensive list of general questions under Learning Center > Interview Tips. Use our list and search online to quickly identify those that give you the most trouble, and then devote time to work through them

Practice mock interviews

There is separation in the preparation. If you want to separate yourself from the field of candidates vying for your target job, then find someone who is willing to act as an interviewer and have them ask you a list of questions you prepared from your research. Limit the session to a half hour, and make sure you include the questions that had given you the most difficulty. After the interview, allow your interviewer to critique your performance and offer feedback. Give them a list of personal attributes with rankings from 1 to 5 (where 1 indicates 'needs work' and 5 indicates 'impressive') and have them rank your performance accordingly. Feel free to modify the example below as you see fit

THE PHONE INTERVIEW

Your first contact with an employer will often occur through a phone interview. This "preliminary interview" lasts about 20 to 30 minutes is used by employers to quickly eliminate unwanted prospects. Expect to answer a few questions designed to assess your knowledge and skills on a particular job

The information below focuses primarily on the initial contact interview, but much of it applies all phone interviews. Read the tips below to help you overcome the challenges and gain confidence during phone interviews

Prepare for the unexpected

Not knowing when to expect a call leading to a phone interview can be unnerving. Yet there are ways to circumvent the unexpected call to make the preliminary screening process and other phone interviews much less stressful. Read on to learn more

Make your space

Make a space specifically designed to help you perform well during preliminary screenings and other phone interviews. This is your comfort zone. It's your 'go to' place. It's the place that gives you the greatest confidence

Avoid distractions

It is important to give the interviewer your undivided attention throughout the interview for two good reasons:1) It lets the interviewer know you are taking the interview seriously, and 2) It minimizes the chances of missing pivotal information. Therefore, do not try to conduct an interview while running errands, in your car, on a bus, or anywhere that can divert your attention from the interview or cause distractions

Choose a quiet place

Make sure you and your interviewer does not have to strain to understand one another. Moreover, the conversation with your interviewer should feel intimate. That is to say, the conditions should promote a certain amount of closeness and familiarity. Find a place that does not introduce external, ambient noise

Rally your resources

Place helpful items within arms reach when you need them during interviews. These items should include: a copy of your resume, a notepad and 2 pens, employer research info, and a list of anticipated questions with answers

Establish control

If you receive a phone call from a recruiter who wants a moment of your time to ask a few questions, politely explain that you are currently occupied and will become available at a specified time. The recruiter will honor your request and set up a time to call you later

Enforce a dress code

At the very least, make sure you are dressed in business casual attire during the interview. This will make a huge difference in the way you conduct yourself. Wearing the proper clothes helps you remain focus and maintain a professional attitude

Obtain contact information first

Find out who you are talking to and the company that person represents. Get the company name, its general phone number, email address and street address. After that, get the interviewer's name, title, phone number and email address

Don't type on keyboard

Unless the interviewer gives you a task that requires the use of your keyboard, don't use it. Your interviewer should not hear you typing in the background for two reasons: 1) You don't want to seem occupied by anything besides the interview, and 2) You don't want the interviewer to think you may be looking up answers on your computer

No speaker phone

Don't place the call on speaker phone unless the interviewer requires you to use the computer. Even so, ask if he agrees to be placed on the speaker phone. The speaker phone causes the voice to sound weak and lessens the intimacy of your conversation. You are less apt to pick up on subtle nuances in the voice which can diminish your understanding and lead to miscommunication

Disable call waiting

Not to overstate the obvious, but don't let an incoming call interrupt your interview

Smile

A smile releases signals that surge throughout your body and brain to convince you that you are happy, confident and satisfied. It changes your attitude, which influences your thoughts, and directs the things you say and do during an interview. Keep the interview upbeat and personable-- SMILE

Remain sharp and professional

During a phone interview, your casual surroundings can cause you to become less attentive or even lull you to sleep. Don't let your guard down. Visualize the interviewer sitting across from you in a work setting. Stand up and stretch. Or do whatever else it takes to remain sharp and professional

Listen closely

Phone interviews lack visual cues and require better listening skills than face-to-face interviews. During phone interviews, there is greater risk of interruption and talking over one another. You need to be more focused and attentive to know when to begin or stop talking. You need to exercise greater concentration to pick up on voice inflections that add meaning to words and phrases. For these reasons, make a commitment going into the interview to apply your best listening skills

Anticipate questions

Once you know the type of job you want, find lists of questions employers will ask and write down answers to those that seem to give you the most trouble. After compiling these questions and answers, make sure a copy is readily available during your phone interview. If necessary, refer to this document during the interview

Other considerations

To learn more interview guidelines, go to "DURING THE ON-SITE INTERVIEW" in our Learning Center

Send a "thank you" email

Don't forget to send a "thank you" email to the interviewer immediately after your interview. Learn more by going to "THANK YOU" EMAIL in our Learning Center

BEFORE THE ON-SITE INTERVIEW

Sleep well the night before

You want to be fresh, awake, energetic and lucid during the interview, so get some restful sleep the night before. Consider doing some light exercise before going to bed to calm your nerves and reduce stress

Eat light and right

Have a light, balanced breakfast on the morning of the interview, and don't eat junk food. You want to fuel the energy needed for a busy day, not the rush from a sugar high. Nor do you want to start crashing at a crucial time during the interview when you should be at your best. Eat right, and keep it light

Dress appropriately

U.S. recruiters expect candidates to wear professional business attire during interviews. When in doubt, dress conservatively. Don't take a chance experimenting with your wardrobe to show off your personality. Leave your designer jeans and sneakers at home. This applies to both men and women

Bring useful materials

There are several items you must bring with you to the interview: The interview itinerary, an official copy of your transcripts, a list of 6 references (3 personal, 3 related to work and/or education), a list of 5 questions and 5 things you want to showcase during the interview, a few clean copies of your resume, a notepad and pen, and a laptop or tablet if you intend to demonstrate something that requires it

Arrive early

Hurrying to get to an unfamiliar interview site can be stressful. If you arrive promptly on time, you may seem a bit rushed as you are led to the interview room. We suggest you arrive fifteen minutes early so you can sit, relax, and reflect. This calming period will lower you heart rate, clear your head, and allow you to refocus on your interview. Arriving early demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job. It also shows the interviewer that you are the type of person who will likely arrive to work on time

Freshen up

Take a moment to use the rest room facilities and to make sure that your personal effects are in order: wardrobe, hair, no food particles clinging to your beard or mustache, etc. This is a good time to dab some water on your face, towel off, look in the mirror, take a deep breath and give yourself a final pep talk

Learn pronunciations

Learn the proper pronunciations of all the names on your interview list. If you are uncertain about a difficult pronunciation, ask the receptionist/secretary to help you out with it. There is no shame in asking the receptionist for help. On the contrary, mispronouncing an interviewers name can tip the scale and cost you a job

Make a good first impression

Understand what it takes to make a good first impression. A job can be literally won or lost in a span of the first few seconds

Appreciate the moment

You recognize a person smiling and walking towards you, and you think to yourself, "This must be it." Now is a good time to remind yourself just how truly amazing you are! Your incredible journey has brought you to this shining moment. You've done your homework. You know the company, the job, and the value you bring to them. You stand as your interviewer approaches. It's time to extend your hand and greet the first member of your new H1B sponsorship employer

DURING THE ON-SITE INTERVIEW

A firm handshake

Extend your right hand and give your interviewer a firm handshake. Make it firm, not limp or bone-crushing

Make eye contact

Project confidence by making solid eye contact during your greeting and throughout your interview. This simple gesture exhibits your confidence and your deliberate, decisive nature

Smile

Your genuine smile will go a long way toward establishing rapport (a sense of good-will) with your interviewer. It also influences your personal attitude and causes you to be more friendly and engaging

Wait to be seated

As you enter the interview room, don't assume to know where to sit. To be respectful, wait for the interviewer to be seated and allow the interviewer to direct the seating arrangements

(Get business card(s

Ask for the interviewer's business card and do this at every interview. If you have five interviews that involve seven different interviewers, you should have seven business cards at the end of the day. Use the email addresses on the cards to send 'Thank You' emails after the interviews. Opinions vary as to how long you should wait to send your 'Thank You' emails. We suggest sometime between immediately afterward to early afternoon of the next day

Let the interviewer take charge

Allow the interviewer to define the interview guidelines, direct the flow of the interview session, and complete his agenda. You don't want the interviewer to resent his inability to finish what he had set out to do

Listen attentively

Remain in the moment and listen to what the interviewer is saying. Don't get preoccupied by something that was said a minute ago. And don't think about something you want to say later. Hang onto the interviewer's every word. Are there nuances? What does the body language tell you? By staying tuned in and capturing the essence of his intended meaning, your penetrating responses will always have significant relevance to the interviewer

Seek to understand

Be sure to satisfy your interviewer's agenda before pursuing your own. Otherwise, the interviewer may end up resenting you for limiting his effectiveness and stealing his time. Strive to understand what the interviewer has to say. If you don't understand, ask for clarification. If you're not sure, respond by paraphrasing your interpretation of his question/statement back to him. Be confident in your confusion and don't let your ego get in the way

Don't talk too much

Interview nerves and periods of silence can cause you to talk when you should be listening. Respect the interviewer's agenda by saying no more than is necessary to make your point. Catch yourself when it happens and quickly place a period on the end of your sentence. Keep your answers succinct (yet thorough) and allow the interviewer to ask for more detail if needed

Wait for the employer to make an offer

Don't ask about salary during the interview. Employers aren't interested in talking about salary until they are ready to hire you. Be patient and wait for the employer to make an offer. It will be much easier to negotiate salary once you secure the position and know that the company wants you

Be energetic

We are drawn to energetic people. Energetic people seem to energize us. So it stands to reason that your energy during an interview can cause the interviewer to become more energized too. Imagine a brainstorming session where people are feeding on the excitement in the room and bouncing ideas off one another. If this happens during your interview, chances are good you already have the job

Be intelligent and sharp

Remain intelligent and sharp throughout the interview session. Interviewers notice how well you seem to understand questions, how clearly you answer them, and whether you answer them in a logical way

Be enthusiastic

Your enthusiasm shows the interviewer how genuinely happy you are to be there. This means you will likely be happy employee if you were hired. This attitude also suggests you will be an eager learner. Your enthusiasm can only help your chances of landing the job

Be mature

Mature people are concerned about the welfare of others. Immature people, not so much. When given the choice, employers tend to hire members of the first group

Take notes

Take your notepad and pen and jot down a few notes that highlight key points you intend to reference later in the interview. You also want to write down names of projects you may be working on and people (with roles) you may be working with. This information will be useful when authoring "Thank You" email

Showcase your accomplishments

You will have chances to showcase your accomplishments and achievements throughout the interview. Try to tailor your responses to the job at hand. Nevertheless, if you are a grand master at chess or placed in a major sporting competition, these are worth mentioning as well

Ask questions

Make sure you bring a list of 5 questions with you to the interview. Wait until there is break in the flow of the conversation to ask a question. Or, wait until the end of the interview when the interviewer typically asks for your questions. To showcase your listening skills and interest, some of your questions should clarify and advance topics discussed during the interview

Avoid negativity

Refrain from negative comments throughout your interview. You have little time to make a favorable impression, so it is important to keep the interview upbeat. Moreover, your expression changes when you say something negative, and you don't want to be perceived as a person with a negative personality. In particular, avoid negative comments about individuals and past employers no matter how relevant you believe the information may be

Remain composed

Interviewers may ask a confusing question or place you in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable just to see how you react under pressure. If this happens, make an extra effort to remain calm and collected

Your willingness to go above and beyond

Describe a time when you went out of your way to satisfy a business need. Employers like to hire people who are proven to go the extra mile to meet company objectives and goals

The resolve to finish what you begin

There are several items you must bring with you to the interview: The interview itinerary, an official copy of your transcripts, a list of 6 references (3 personal, 3 related to work and/or education), a list of 5 questions and 5 things you want to showcase during the interview, a few clean copies of your resume, a notepad and pen, and a laptop or tablet if you intend to demonstrate something that requires it

Arrive early

If possible, show your interviewer that you are the type of person who finishes what you start. As a rule, employers hire people who have the resolve to complete projects no matter what obstacles get in the way

Reliability and follow-through

The dedication to follow through on commitments is a quality employers highly value in their employees. Find a way to express how this trait is deeply rooted in your character

Your ability to handle criticism

Those who don't confront their weaknesses are not apt to graciously accept constructive criticism. Interviewers want to know if you are capable of recognizing and owning your weaknesses because it is the first step toward improving upon them. This is their motive for asking "What is your greatest weakness?" Be prepared to identify a legitimate weakness that you have dealt with in the past. And don't be afraid to share a weakness you are currently working on. Keep your answer short, professional, and quickly move on to other topics

Your cooperation with others

Throughout the interview, the interviewer will judge your personality to determine how you might interact with other members of the team. You want to be seen as a person who fits well in the organization. Be social, genuine and sincere with everyone you meet, including receptionists, assistants and the facilities staff

Show interest in the company

Ask questions about the company. Examples: Ask about the company's values. Ask about the corporate culture

Show interest in the team

Ask questions about the team you will be joining. Examples: Ask about the roles of persons you will be working with. Ask what caused the job to be vacated. Ask if anyone internal is interviewing for the position

Your mission

Repeat the following sentence three times: I am the best person for the job. I am the best person for the job. I am the best person for the job. (You got it?) Now make it your mission to convince the employer that you really are the best person for the job

Showcase your hard and soft skills

Sell yourself throughout the interview by showcasing your hard and soft skills. Hard skills are teachable abilities that are easy to quantify such as proficiency in a foreign language, computer programming, and web design. Soft skills are more subjective and not as easy to recognize. These include "people skills" like communication, flexibility, and teamwork. By the time you reach the end of the interview, your employer should see you performing the whole job So don't sell yourself short by focusing on only one dimension; sell the entire package

Be clear about your requirements

Know what you want and don't be shy about expressing it. Let your employer know what you hope to gain from your business relationship. State how you would like to start your career with a company that allows you to learn and grow in your chosen profession. Express your desire to obtain H1B sponsorship. Explain why you want to live and work in the United States

Ask for the job

As the interview is winding down, tell your employer how much you enjoyed learning about the position and that you would like to begin work as soon as possible. Let him know that you will follow up by contacting the company in a few days

Post-interview arrangements

Before leaving, ask when you can expect to hear from the company and who will be your point of contact. Make sure you get a phone number and email address for this contact

Ask for the job

As the interview is winding down, tell your employer how much you enjoyed learning about the position and that you would like to begin work as soon as possible. Let him know that you will follow up by contacting the company in a few days

Post-interview arrangements

Before leaving, ask when you can expect to hear from the company and who will be your point of contact. Make sure you get a phone number and email address for this contact

Wait for the interviewer to stand

Your interview has ended. After all is said and done, gather the materials you brought to the interview, but be respectful and don't get up to leave until the employer stands

Another firm handshake

Extend your right hand and give the interviewer another firm handshake. Make solid eye contact and smile as you do this

ABOUT SALARY

Congratulations! You have received a call from the employer indicating their interest in hiring you! They are sending the terms of employment for your review, and these terms include H1B sponsorship. Finally, they schedule a meeting with you to discuss these terms at a later date. Though this is very good news, there is still more work to be done. Now is the time to prepare for your upcoming employment contract negotiations

Understand what constitutes salary

Salary in the U.S. includes benefits (401K, medical, dental, life insurance, pre-tax dollars on commute and day care expenses, etc), bonuses, stock options, vacation days, flex days for illness, and business perks such as travel expenses. Some of these may not apply and not all of these are negotiable. Candidates can always negotiate base salary and sometimes negotiate their number of vacation days

Know your market

Know what your skills are worth in your market. If you are a recent graduate, search the internet to learn the average starting salary for entry-level jobs and internships associated with persons in your field of study, for your target position, and in your geographical location. The job market is driven by supply and demand. Jobs that require specialized skills command higher salaries than jobs having more candidates to choose from. Cost-of-living is also a factor and varies by geographical location. For example, even though you may earn a higher paycheck in California than you will in Michigan, your purchase power and quality of living will be about the same

Employer point of view

From an employer's perspective, salary is based on the company's budget and your capacity to get the job done. Most jobs have pay scales based on experience that range from entry-level to senior. Every level has a salary cap. Within each level, there is wiggle room to account for differences in perceived value and actual performance. As a fresh graduate, employers will likely hire you at entry-level, and your salary negotiations will be limited to (and are not expected to exceed) the salary cap for that level

Know your minimum acceptable salary

Once you understand your relative worth in the market, it is time to define your bottom line. Commit to an absolute minimum salary you are willing to accept. Jot the number down and place it in your wallet or purse as a sign of your commitment. Be prepared to defend yourself and stand your ground

Consider the first offer

If an offer is made that doesn't meet your minimum requirement, don't turn it down immediately. Remain silent and indecisive. The employer may feel compelled to present a higher offer

Yours for a year

Remember, whatever salary you agree upon will be yours for the next year, and your salary going forward will increase incrementally (based on your performance) as a percentage of this initial amount

Be factual and composed

In the U.S., employers expect to negotiate salaries with new employees. It is merely a business transaction that defines the terms of your relationship with the company-- "payment for services rendered". Remain factual and composed throughout the proceedings. Do not become emotional, and don't bring personal reasons into the discussion

Negotiate

Knowing the salary range of your job in the market, set your target salary at a value that is consistent with your experience and accomplishments. When you are asked about your salary requirements, start high and prepare to negotiate to a middle ground. Your first offer should be an aggressive number, but should not be too unreasonable. Allow the employer to make a counter offer, always focusing on your target value. Continue to banter back and forth until you reach your target salary. There is little to risk by asking for the highest salary you can justify, but there is a lot to lose if you don't

Defend your case

Be persuasive. Companies want to hire employees who can defend themselves by clearly articulating their points of view. Prove how your salary offer matches its market value. Show how your past accomplishments relate to the job and prove your worth

Explore alternate solutions

If you and the employer are not reaching an agreement, you may want to explore other options such as a signing bonus, profit sharing, stock options, expense accounts, commission, more frequent performance evaluations that lead to raises, and other perks that can make up for a lower base salary

Have a contingency plan

requirements. No matter how promising it may appear, never rely on the intentions of a single company. Keep your options open and continue to explore possibilities with other employers

Be prepared to walk away

If things aren't going your way, you may feel the urge to give up and accept the offer as it stands. Yet, turning down the offer can be your best negotiation tactic. Showing that you are not afraid to walk away lets the employer know that you are capable of getting what you deserve elsewhere. It also implies that you are in high demand. The employer will make a counteroffer if they really want you. You can walk away with more confidence by mitigating your risk and having a contingency plan

"THANK YOU" EMAIL

Don't underestimate the value of sending a "Thank You" email to each of your interviewers after your interview. This simple gesture lets them know that you care about the position, that you are good at building relationships, that you button up your projects, and until they delete your email from their inbox, it is an ongoing reminder that you exist

The first sentence is a genera statement that thanks your interviewer for the opportunity to learn more about the company and job, as well as the opportunity to explore how your knowledge and skills can benefit their team

The second sentence specifically reminds the interviewer how you can help the team/company meet its goals and objectives. Refer to your interview notes to make it relevant to projects the employer shared with you during the interview. Try to keep it short. This section should contain no more than three sentences

The third and final sentence lets your contact know that you will be happy to answer any additional questions they may have and to feel free to contact you at any time. This shows that you are accessible and implies how important the job is to you

Make sure all of your contact information is provided at the bottom of your email after your name, including street address, email address, home phone and cellular numbers

FOLLOW-UP PHONE CALLS

your arranged point of contact. If he answers, introduce yourself, briefly mention the interview, find out about the status of your employment with the company, and ask if he has any questions. Make sure you are still in their system and they have the proper contact information to reach you


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