Communications in Interviewing

Doug Aldrich
SDSM&T Alumnus (BS ChE62, MS ChE68, PhD Humane Letters (Hon) 2001
Dow Corning Corporation, Midland, Michigan


How important is it to know exactly what you want to do? 
Few people know exactly what they want to do, but it is important to determine your general goals and interests. Obtain counseling and input from professors and others that point out your skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Try honestly to determine your fit with R&D, production, sales, business, or teaching, so that you can interview companies that you're truly suited for.

How far in advance can one interview prior to taking a position with a company? Do you feel the job market for new graduates is going to increase or decrease in the next few years?
You may interview anytime during the academic year, but start early (September - November) if the jobs are going to be tight. In the future, you can always expect up-and-down cycles in the demand. Some years are tight; then hiring improves. Plan your interview campaigns accordingly.

To what point should I research the company before an interview?
I think that you should spend at least one hour for each company that you want to interview on campus, and twice that for one of great interest to you. Good homework beforehand will prevent your wasting time on a company that you are not really interested in. This research will also earn you a higher quality and more successful interview.

Does your company favor graduates from any one school?
We focus our recruiting on a limited number of schools which are cost-effective for our efforts, have a good geographic fit with our offices/laboratories/plants, and have supplied employees who established good track records. If a school is a source of highly productive people, we will send our recruiters back year after year, even when times are tight.

What is your company policy regarding advanced degrees (i.e., tuition assistance, time off for classes, etc.)? What is your company's policy in hiring international students?
This is the type of information that can be found out in your homework before signing up for an interview. Each company has various policies and benefits, as well as limitations on hiring foreign students, listed in its brochure. Most US companies require citizenship or a permanent visa, but this is changing as global organizations have expanded their requirements for staffing. 

I would like to know how to best emphasize previous experience or military background that one may have. How important is prior military service?
In putting together your interview approach, emphasize areas of responsibility (supervision, dollar control, or impact), and accomplishments, particularly the measurable ones. Your past experiences are often a key to obtaining responsible jobs in industry; they are part of your skills package. Communicate and sell your beneficial experiences.

Do co-operative education students get preference over regular students?
Industry is increasing its preferences for co-op students! Students with summer jobs also have a good start. Their experience and track record earn more money initially and gain the student a faster job start. It's well worth the additional time to graduate, as co-oping has great personal benefits as well. This is a significant industrial trend, so give this route careful and due consideration.

How much do you care about an applicant's personal life? Is it normally better to be married or single when interview time comes? Is age a consideration, and is the older graduate at a disadvantage?
This is your business, unless you want to bring up something that you believe will help your job consideration. Marital status makes no difference; it's part of you. (So don't do anything rash either way.) Age is not a problem! The experience and maturity are often an advantage.

How does one prepare oneself for an interview (as far as questions go)?
Define lists of typical questions that recruiters ask; many magazines and articles have suggestions. Then develop well thought-out answers for each of those that you think you might encounter. Concentrate especially on those that might be asked about your weaknesses, as well as those which allow you to expand upon your strengths. Prepare your answers, practice you answers, and be ready for those questions.

What is acceptable dress code? Is it all right to wear a fraternity pin?
Your clothes should be reasonably priced and neat; you should be personally well groomed. Many books and articles suggest the types of suit, blazer, and dresses that interviewees should wear. Jewelry in good taste is fine. Also, you might have professional society, fraternity or sorority invite owners of men's and women's stores to talk on dress. Then you will be better prepared not only for your campus interviews, but also for your plant trips. (Have somebody talk to your group about manners and etiquette too.)

Are interviewers as nervous about meeting us as we are about meeting them?
Yes, but in different ways. We don't want to make mistakes or give poor interviews, because we might miss a good prospective employee. That can happen if we say the wrong thing, get impatient or tired, and/or don't give everyone a full, fair thirty-minute interview. If the bad word gets around (and it quickly does), students will be uptight, negative, or even cancel out on us. Also, recruiters have to get "up" and be on their toes for every interview; that is nerve-racking for ten to twelve of them a day. So naturally we have some jitters; but, like practicing speeches, we strive to control them.

Is the interviewer's first impression really that important?
Not if we can help it. While a first impression (hair, dress, handshake, etc.) always exists, good recruiters reserve judgment until all the facts are in. It's important we keep an open mind so that initial impressions don't overshadow the other twenty-eight minutes of the interview. So if you get off to a bad start, don't worry; there is always time to recoup if you're prepared beyond the opening. Of course, a great opening with no substance can be misleading; interviewers watch out for that wrong impression too. A firm, friendly handshake, a pleasant smile, and an attitude of interest and enthusiasm for the interview are your best openers.

How casual can you get with the interviewer?
Generally, the interview is a serious business meeting. Some recruiters invite a first-name basis; others do not. Although telling jokes is not in order, humorous aspects of your answers are perfectly acceptable.

Should one be assertive or passive during an interview?
Be assertive, particularly when the job market is tight. Most recruiters want to talk only 50 percent of the time, and listen the other half. I also stress the importance of salesmanship: if you don't sell yourself, who will?

If the interviewer stops talking for a few seconds to jot down some notes or to think, should the person being interviewed break the silence or remain quiet?
Many interviewers will just look at you after your initial answer to a question. In the ensuing silence, you may feel compelled to elaborate, and that more complete answer is the one they want. If you feel that your answer was not fully understood, don't hesitate to add to it on your own.

What do interviewers want to hear from the student?
Basically, they want an understanding of you that is not readily possible to obtain from just an application and transcript: how you think, what makes you "tick", how you communicate, what job you are looking for, and how you respond to certain questions. Who is the person between the lines of the data sheet?

What kinds of questions are illegal for the interviewer to ask?
Any which would potentially allow for discrimination the basis of sex, race, age, national origin, religion, physical disability, marital status, or arrest record. If you are asked, you may tactfully decline. If you feel comfortable doing so, you may volunteer anything you wish on those subjects. 

What does the interviewer want when he says: "Explain your academic career"?
He/she might be asking how you chose your major, what courses you've enjoyed, or about your various activities on campus. The question may be looking for the personal impact of your work experiences, maturing growth, or self enjoyment hobbies. If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification.

When answering an interviewer's question, is it more important to respond in an immediate manner or take a short moment to organize one's thoughts?
Either approach is fine; it depends on the question. For instance, I could answer quickly why I chose my major, but more thoughtfully on my career goals. You should respond naturally, not as though you are playing a role. 

What type of an answer does an interviewer want when he or she asks: "What have you learned from your mistakes"?
An honest one! Feel free to say what you really learned from some of your mistakes. (I hope you learned something!) I look for your attitude in dealing with mistakes, as well as the specifics of what you learned.

Do the questions you ask the person being interviewed reflect your interests or company interests?
The company interests. I am here to determine whether or not you will be a good prospect for my company. But I will ask questions that I am comfortable with, that reflect my own style of interviewing and that are appropriate for the students being interviewed

What should I do if the interviewer asks a question that I can't answer?
Say "I don't know; I hadn't thought of that." Maybe you should respond to the interviewer "Why did you ask that"?

What kind of questions does the interviewer like to be asked about the company? Should I ask questions of the interviewer? If so, what kind of questions should I ask? What are some good questions for the person being interviewed to ask (of the interviewer and his company)?
Yes, you should ask questions. This is a good way to demonstrate your interest and preparation. We like questions that concentrate on job responsibilities, types of assignments, career option, performance appraisals, measurements of success, and opportunities for contribution.

What is a tactful way to bring up the question of how much a job pays?
Don't bother. Starting salaries for new graduates are within 35 percent of a national average. Most companies and colleges participate in the salary surveys, which are available at the Placement Office. Experienced interviewees may receive more unique considerations of salary, and they are in a position to negotiate; new college hires seldom are.

Will questions about the prospective company's level of involvement in an area of business/technology better one's chances with the company?
Yes. If you have done your homework, you should be able to ask questions to better understand your job options, to communicate your interest in that area, and to show how you can be a specific contributor. 

Would an interviewer care if you asked him about the fishing or skiing at the work location?
To do so for opening "chit chat" is fine. You should not take much time to do this, as you have more important questions to ask. 

Is it proper to ask about the competition for a particular job for which one is interviewing?
This is not useful. Of course competition exists from a number of schools and students. If you ask, then what would you do with the answer?

If you are interested in working for the employer only one or two years, would you tell him this during the interview?
There is good reason to discuss your thoughts of returning to graduate school. However, you will lower your chances of getting a job by telling a recruiter that you want to work only two years before going to a family business back home. 

Do interviewers try to trap the student with technical questions? What are some of the tricks interviewers use?
Good interviewers don't try to trap students with technical questions or tricks, but they often use tough questions or silence to draw out the "real" you. Students are just as capable of trapping recruiters too, but there is no gain for either party in playing that game.

What should I do if an interviewer harasses me or the interview turns into a pressure interview?
It's been my observation that a true harassment interview gets the recruiter on the evening plane. Talk to your Placement Director if one occurs. However, you might expect more pressured interviews in a tough job hunting year. Recruiters may be harder to sell, ask tougher questions, or have more demanding criteria for their decisions. (I can also remember many years when the jobs were plentiful, and the pressure was on the recruiter.) 

How often do interviewers check on references?
Most recruiters verify some references while they are on campus. They use class advisors, professors, and/or department heads. Other people that you have put down as references are also contacted occasionally. A prospective employer may not contact the supervisor of your summer job, if the two firms are competing for you. (Ministers and relatives are never contacted, as they are always positive.) Once a recruiter returns to his company, there are seldom reference checks, unless a specific issue comes up.

How much emphasis is put on grades when selecting job applicants? Are extracurricular school activities important when you look at the student's credentials? What are the things interviewers are looking for? What are the kinds of thing that bother interviewers in evaluating a prospective employee? How much emphasis do companies put on good writing skills? If a person has good grades, but limited outside or school activities, and another person has average grades but is very active, who has the better chance for the job you're offering? What impresses an interviewer most during an interview (as far as the job applicant is concerned)? In an interview how much does a person's personality sway an interviewer in comparison to grades? Weigh or rate the following in the eyes of the interviewer with respect to one another: appearance, grammar and/or communication in general, work experience, GPA, and spontaneous reaction to questions.
What a barrage of related questions! When I evaluate a student during and after the interview, I will look at many things: application, transcript, references, interview impressions, answers to my questions, and communication skills. There is no question that judgment comes into my thinking as I weigh extracurricular activities, grades, work experience, and those intangible personality aspects that come through in the interview process. I try to assess what skills the person has that will make him/her an effective contributor. Over the years, the recruiter can achieve a surprisingly good feel for the quality of the interviewee as compared to his/her peers, or students that have been hired in the past.

There is no question that grades are a strong indicator of your ability to do professional work. It illustrates your capabilities in solving problems, handling assignments, and in some courses "pulling the whole picture together". If your grades are not strong, then I am interested in what are the trends, how you did in your major courses, and what are the other factors involved. Your academic track record is more important in technical jobs. Interviewers will often put reasonable expectations on grade levels; for example, upper half or B average is a typical minimum requirement for many corporations. This does not mean that recruiters have undue emphasis on grades. It is reality that you (and your grades) are going to be competing with applicants from other schools, and all the schools we go to are academically sound.

Recruiters are bothered by trivial questions, poor preparation, lack of understanding about what we have to offer, and non committal attitudes. We obviously enjoy interviews which are precise, focused, personable, challenging, and have good exchanges of thoughts and ideas. Spontaneous reactions are not important. Appearance can be a detriment, but is seldom a big plus. It is often difficult for a recruiter to evaluate a student's writing skills; sometimes clues can be obtained from the application form, letter of application or professors. We usually assess oral communication skills in the interview.

How much does a letter of application plus a resume sent to the company influence interest in an individual over just a data sheet? Do follow up letters help?
I personally believe that a letter of application with a resume can better influence a company's decision. Sometimes the additional information and degree of interest exhibited by them are helpful. When most recruiters leave campus, they have made three classifications of the students: yes for the plant trip, no further consideration, and possible trip invite, depending on the qualifications of students from other schools.

If one gets a trip to the company, how should one dress?
The same as for the interview process.

How do you feel about a graduating senior who wishes to vacation before going into industry?
Personally, I recommend it; it's a good break. Most of the time a student who graduates in mid-May will not come to work before July 1.

Why did you choose Dow Corning over other companies to work for?
I interviewed extensively in 1968 after graduate school, with two years of military and three years of industrial experience. I concentrated almost exclusively on the initial position, career options, and the opportunity to achieve recognition/reward for doing a good job. The salary offer was my third highest, but I accepted it because of the above factors.

How did you acquire your present position (Global Manager, Laboratory Facilities)?

That's a tough question! During my first five years, I held primarily technical positions, but then broadened out into project leadership roles, particularly for new product development. I personally concentrated on (a) taking on new areas of responsibility, (b) learning new skills in communications and people interactions, and (c) carefully considering and accepting/rejecting job opportunities that were presented to me. I also developed a reasonably honest understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and tried to capitalize on the former while minimizing that later. I established a career plan (which I update every year); this helped considerably when I was offered jobs in various areas within the corporation. Finally I developed a reputation for being effective in certain situations. When those types of jobs come along, I was usually one of the people asked. Then I "plunged" into a steep learning curve with each position until it shifted into a "contribution" one. This is my story through thirteen jobs in thirty-eight years.

Out of all the people you interview how do you know you have chosen the right one for the job?
After thirty years, you acquire an intuition about how the interviewees will work out in your company. Sometimes I am disappointed when an individual does not "pan out", but these have been rare. On the other hand, it is personally gratifying to see people that I have hired progress technically, get promoted, and earn excellent compliments. (I have high regard and a parochial interest in every person that I have brought into my company.)