Category : PROspective
I have previously written a PROspective column with tips for online interviewing (https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/epi/prospective/preparing-for-interviews). Even as the COVID-19 pandemic diminishes, many organizations have kept to online interviewing, especially for first round applicants. It makes a lot of sense. Online interviewing is more time efficient, allows interviews for more candidates, and reduces the carbon footprint attached to recruiting. I suspect that online interviews will remain the norm, especially for first rounds of interviews, so these tips remain relevant. Many of them apply also to in-person interviews.
Today I have been asked for tips of what NOT to do during an interview (online or in-person). For the most part, these ideas apply to first-round interviews, and they fall into three categories: don’t be unprepared or generically prepared, don’t be presumptuous, and don’t try to stand out for reasons unrelated to the job.
Don’t be unprepared or generically prepared. To prepare for an online first interview, be sure that you have a good idea of the job description and the organization. Do some research in advance to understand both the job and the larger mission of the organization. As I wrote in the earlier column, you will almost certainly be asked what appeals to you about the position or why you think you might be a good fit for it. Since you know this question is coming (and a few others; see earlier column), you should be ready with a compelling answer. Do not just repeat back elements of the job description. Tie elements of the job description to work you have done, classes you have taken, or other experiences. Imagine the job description says that summarizing and interpreting epidemiologic data is part of the work. If you answer, “I like the idea of summarizing and interpreting epidemiologic data” when asked why you are interested, you have only repeated back to the interviewer an element of the job description they wrote. If you answer, “I really enjoyed analyzing data for my practicum on XXX, summarizing it for a poster, and then presenting it to students and faculty. I remember one conversation where we talked about YYY and it gave me ideas for ZZZ new directions. I think I can bring those skills to this position” – now you have really tied a specific experience and skill set to an element of the job description. Since you know this type of question is coming, you can be ready in advance with a specific answer that shows you are ready for the job and enthusiastic about it.
Don’t be presumptuous. One of the great hazards of first interviews is to ask questions that presume you might get the offer. Avoid asking about salary, start dates, benefits, vacation time, etc. These questions are important, but should be reserved for a second interview. The only fair question in this space is to ask what their timeline is for next steps (don’t ask about timeline for an offer – next step will often be another interview or in-person meeting). You have good reason to know their schedule so you can coordinate with other opportunities you might be pursuing. Skilled interviewers will always say when you will hear back, so keep even this question to the end and ask only if the information has not been given by the interviewer by the time the interview is closing.
Don’t stand out for reasons unrelated to the job. It is tempting to think about something memorable that will make you stand out. Do not put something clever in the background of your zoom camera or hanging on the wall behind you. Do not ask a question you might think is clever (like “What types of restaurants do you visit when you travel?” – someone actually asked it; it has nothing to do with the job). Don’t share horror stories about your previous job or supervisor – if you complain about past jobs, interviewers assume you will eventually complain about this job. Don’t search the internet to find clever questions or things to say at an interview. Be your authentic, professional, and collegial self – it’s more than enough to land the job.