Navigating the Interview Maze - A Personal Reflection from a Career Center Staff Member
August 30, 2023
Whether you’ve been in a professional interview already or have yet to experience the joy that is interviewing, there are some big “no-no’s” when it comes to preparing for and excelling in an interview.
I happen to have some exemplary personal experience in the “what not to do” category that will hopefully help you avoid some of my mistakes.
Picture this: I am a 20-year-old business major, trying to find a summer internship, which is required for my degree. I find a summer internship opportunity with Microsoft that sounds interesting. I apply and am asked to come in for an interview. Great! Things are looking up.
Spoiler alert, this is the point where things start to go wrong.
I go to the interview and, after a few minutes of introductory chit chat, one of the three interviewers says to me, “Imagine you are in a boat with Steve Ballmer in the middle of the ocean. You have a length of rope and a bowling ball. How would you figure out how deep the water is below you?”
Uhhh….I’m like a deer in headlights. I stammer. I start sweating.
The interviewers gently tell me to use the whiteboard in the room to write down any assumptions, formulas, or other pertinent information that might help me figure out this problem. I write down very, very little, trying to remember any physics formulas that come to mind. Working through this question while three people stare at me makes time almost stand still. I finally came up with a solution in which the bowling ball is carefully put in the water with the holes facing down and I count how long it takes for the bowling ball to hit the seafloor, causing the ball to shift and any air that was trapped in the finger holes to float back to the surface. I then use my probably-incorrect physics equations to calculate the depth. Not at all realistic, but at this point, I just want this interview to be over.
There are a few more questions, and, when the interview finally wraps up, I run out of the building with tears in my eyes and very low expectations for any type of internship offer. Not surprisingly, when I reach out three weeks later, I find out I was not selected for the internship.
What are some of the takeaways from my experience?
- Research the company before your interview. If I would have Googled “Microsoft interviews,” I would have quickly discovered that they are known for asking “impossible questions” in their interviews and, at least, I could have been less “deer in the headlights” when they posed the question. I also had no idea who Steve Ballmer was, and I admitted that in the interview! He was the CEO of Microsoft in case you didn’t know.
- Be honest in your interview. At the end of my horrendous interview, one of the three interviewers asked how I felt it went and if I were a bit nervous. I immediately told them that I felt it went well and that, nope, I wasn’t nervous at all. Not only was my statement painfully untrue; it also showed that I was comfortable lying to my potential future colleagues. I said what I did because I thought that is what they wanted to hear when I really should have been a bit vulnerable and told the truth. Almost everyone who has a job had to be the interviewee at some point, and showing my human side might have helped me build a relationship with the interviewers.
- Follow up directly after the interview. I waited three weeks to follow up, and, when I did, I contacted the administrative assistant. My actions most likely indicated that the internship wasn’t a top priority for me and put me even lower on the list of applicants
I did finally land a summer internship that year, and you better believe I Googled the company for hours in preparation for the interview. I also talked to the student intern from the previous summer about his experience and was able to start to build a relationship with my future supervisor by name-dropping said intern. Finally, I hand-delivered a hand-written thank you note to the interviewer/future supervisor the day after my interview. A few days later, I received and accepted the internship offer and happily concluded my first experiences in professional interviewing.
It is my sincerest hope that my experience can help you avoid some of the painful mistakes that I made. Our staff at the ISU Career Center provide mock interviews so that you can work out the kinks in your responses before you get into the real interview. Set up an appointment through your Handshake account or call (208) 282-2380.
Emily Jahsman, Associate Director, ISU Career Center