Back to the Basics: Interviewing 101

If you’ve been working steadily over the years, your last interview may have been when you graduated from art school. It’s no wonder, then, that your interview skills are rusty.

The good news is that, with additional experience under your belt, you’ll have more to talk about than your class projects or that first internship. Following are basics that can help you parlay that experience into a new job.

Do your homework. Learning about the company, the industry and, if possible, the person who will be interviewing you demonstrates your interest in the business and the job, as well as your aptitude for research. You’ll use what you learn to prepare responses to possible interview questions and to formulate questions of your own. Study the company’s Web site and search for articles related to the business.

Prepare intelligent questions. Once you’ve completed your research, come up with some questions to ask about the company, the department and the job responsibilities. For instance, if you’re interviewing at an advertising agency, you might mention you read about a client they recently won over from another agency and ask how the new campaign is coming along. You also might want to describe the firm’s long-term goals and opportunities for growth with the company. Avoid asking about vacation time, bonuses and other perks during the initial meeting.

Understand how you can help the company. Find out what the firm needs and highlight your strengths in those areas. You may think that, as a creative, you can win the position based on talent alone, but in today’s market, you need to demonstrate how your skills match the company’s needs. For instance, you find a job description for a visual designer that requires candidates who can "create pixel-specific artwork in both Illustrator and Photoshop; juggle the demands of brand requirements while successfully creating new and compelling designs; and document and organize all visual assets." Be prepared to discuss how your qualifications specifically match those job requirements. In this case, you should emphasize not only your expertise in Illustrator and Photoshop, but also your organizational skills and ability to manage multiple projects. Be sure to include items in your portfolio that demonstrate relevant skills.

Practice your answers. Although you don’t know the exact questions you’ll be asked, you can prepare for common interview queries, such as "Tell me about your background," "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" and "How do you work on a team?" Consider how you’ll respond to these questions before you arrive for the interview. The best answers include examples that illustrate pertinent skills.

Remember the "don’ts." There are lots of do’s when preparing for interviews, but it’s also good to keep in mind what not to do:
• Don’t be late. Map your route to the company and leave with plenty of time to spare in case you get lost or encounter traffic.
• Don’t overlook attire. You’re marketing yourself at an interview, so make sure you’re wearing the appropriate clothing for the company culture. When in doubt, it’s better to overdress than to underdress. It’s also OK to ask what’s appropriate when you’re initially contacted for the interview.
• Don’t bring your cell phone or pager into the interview. You’ll risk having one go off in the middle of a discussion with the hiring manger, and you don’t want him or her to think you have other priorities.

Now you know how to prepare for the in-person interview, but how about navigating the interview itself? Next month, you’ll learn how to put all your groundwork to good use. We’ll tell you how to stand out from the crowd, prepare for multiple interviews and respond to surprise questions without losing your composure.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.