Preparing for Your Interview
Step 1: Preparation
You will not be able to fool the employer. If you have not researched the position and the company, the employer will be able to recognize it within the first few minutes of your interview. Before an actual interview you should…
- Be able to identify the full names and job titles of each person who will be participating in your interview; what type of interview (ie: screening or behavioral) you will be having; when you interview is and how long it will be; and the location of the interview.
- Before an actual interview, schedule a mock interview with Career Services to help you polish your professional presentation skills and address any nervousness you may be feeling.
- Research Yourself, Research the Company and Research the Position. You will continue to research the company, examine the position description, anticipate potential questions and plan questions to ask.
- Prepare answers to potential questions. Questions such as “What skills and qualifications do you possess,” “What sets you apart from the other candidates who have the same skills as you,” and “What personal qualities make you a successful candidate” may be asked in some form during your interview. You will be able to provide a more confident answer if you have practiced.
- If you are traveling for the interview, make sure you will have plenty of time when you arrive. Work out all travel arrangements prior to the interview so you know how the costs of travel will be handled. Make sure you have the employer’s contact information in case your travel plans are delayed.
- Bring extra copies of your resume, your portfolio (if applicable), your planner, reference list, pen, paper, and questions you have prepared. Make sure you have extra cash and credit cards just in case there are unexpected expenses.
- Know the salary range for your degree level and field, BUT do not bring up salary until the employer does!
- Dress for the interview is business professional.
Step 2: The Interview
- The first impression can make or break your interview. Arrive 10-15 minutes early and have a firm handshake.
- Be confident and aware of the messages you are sending with your body language and tone of voice. Use voice inflections and limited gestures to keep the interviewer’s attention.
- Turn off your cell phone and other electronic devices. You may consider leaving them in the car or at home.
- Treat everyone you meet as if they are interviewing you. They probably are!
- If the interview involves a meal, avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, try and avoid dishes or foods that are messy or considered finger foods. Remember the focus is on the conversation – not the food.
- Each question has a purpose. Listen closely and answer the questions directly in a straight forward manner.
Step 3: Closing and Follow-up
- Ask questions about the position/company, but avoid prolonging the interview once the employer signals its completion. Ask about the timeline for the hiring process. End the interview with a firm handshake.
- Thank the interviewer(s) and ask for business card(s) to follow-up.
- Write a thank you card or letter to confirm your interest and to inquire about the next step in their candidate selection process. Send the card or letter 24-48 hours after the interview to everyone you spoke with during the interview. This will distinguish you from the other candidates.
- Consider each interview a learning process, whether you are offered the job or not. Take thorough notes of what you did well and what you could improve for the next interview.
- If you are offered the position, ask the employer for time to make your decision. Employers will work with you to set a deadline for when you must communicate your decision.
- If you are not offered the position, you may professionally ask the employer how you may improve for your candidacy and interview style for future opportunities.
Typical Interview Questions
During the interview, you will be asked questions designed to help the interviewer identify your personality characteristics and how you may add value to their company. A list of the common interview themes are below.
1. Personal Questions: These questions target your interests, qualities, goals, strengths and weaknesses.
Focus on sharing relevant information such as your experiences, skills, and achievements that will be important to the employer.
Tell me about yourself. (Keep your answer career oriented).
What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
How do you think a friend who knows you well would describe you?
2. Employer Information: These questions are about your knowledge and interest in the employer/organization.
Do your research beforehand!
What do you know about our company/organization?
What do you know about this position?
What can you contribute to our organization?
3. Education: These questions focus on your classes and campus involvement.
Anticipate difficult questions regarding your academic record and preparedness. Be ready to elaborate on anything on your resume.
How did you decide on your career/field/major?
What classes have you enjoyed the most/least during college and why?
How have the activities that you have been involved with during college influenced you?
4. Experience: These questions allow you to discuss your work experiences, community service experiences, leadership roles, student organization involvement, or any other experience that is relevant to the position.
Use specific examples to support your answers and avoid talking negatively about previous employers or supervisors.
Give me an example of a time you made an important decision and how you handled it.
Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult person and how you handled it.
Give me 3 reasons why I should hire you.
5. Case/Technical Questions: These questions usually involve a business scenario or logic problem, to which you are asked to respond. There may even be role-playing involved, with the interviewer role-playing the client.
Ask for a moment to gather your thoughts before you answer; your thought process is more important than the end result so talk them through your approach to solving the problem.
What would you do if…?
Estimate the market for light bulbs in Australia. (focus on the process, not the result).
6. Atypical Interview Questions: Employers occasionally add unusual questions to see how well interviewees are prepared to think on their feet.
Be flexible and don’t act surprised; this is your chance to be creative!
If you could be a fork, knife, or a spoon, which would you be and why?
Why are manhole covers round?
Sell me something in this room.
7. Questions for the Interviewer: Always have questions for the employer at the end of your interview.
Ask 2 or 3 questions to find out information not posted on the company’s website.
What is an average day like for someone in this position?
What are the three top goals for the position for the coming year?
What is the next step in your candidate selection process?
Illegal Interview Questions: Laws in the United States of America forbid employers from discriminating against any person on the basis of sex, age, race, national origin, disability or religion. Please see below for more information on how to handle illegal questions if asked during an interview.
Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral interviewing is based on the presumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Employers look for patterns of behavior and common responses to problems and work situations. The questions are related to certain themes of leadership, tolerance of ambiguity, organization and planning, problem solving, decision-making, follow-through, team focus, service and ethics.
Answer the questions as specifically and with as much detail as possible. Organize your response in three steps:
- Situation/Task– briefly describe the specific problem situation
- Action – emphasize steps that you took to solve the problem
- Result/Outcome – describe the positive result or outcome
- Give me an example of a time when you used facts and reason to persuade another person to take action.
- Describe the steps you’ve taken to stay familiar with problem areas in your job.
- Sometimes it is necessary to work in unsettled or rapidly changing circumstances. When have you found yourself in this position? Tell me exactly how you handled the situation.
- Time management has become a necessary factor in personal productivity. Give me an example of any time management skill you have learned and then applied at work. What resulted from the use of this skill?
- Give an example of when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
- Give an example of an important goal you set and how you reached it.
- Can you tell me about a time you worked as part of a team? What role did you take within that team?
- Tell me about a time in which you 'bent the rules'? Tell me about a time or situations in which you would never bend the rules.
Looking for more great interview questions? Check out this great resource for interview questions.
Illegal Interview Questions
Questions about any of the following topics are illegal and should not be asked during an interview.
|Gender||National Origin||Religion or Creed|
Most interviewers (especially Human Resources) are aware of illegal questions and hopefully you will not encounter these questions. If you are asked questions about any of these topics, it is probably because the interviewer has not been appropriately trained to know that these are illegal questions. You have several options for responding…
Option 1: Refuse to answer or ask for the relevance of the question. The risk of refusing to answer is the possibility of embarrassing the interviewer and negatively impacting your candidacy.
Option 2: Answer the question. The decision to answer the question is a personal one. Consider your comfort level with the question, as well as the implications of answering the questions.
Option 3: Answer the real question behind the question. This is not always easy to identify. By asking if you plan to have children, perhaps the employer is trying to assess your commitment to your career by determining what other responsibilities you have. Rather than responding to the direct question, you could assure the interviewer that you prioritize your career and have been successful at balancing your career with your other responsibilities.
Job candidates must be prepared for a variety of interview formats. The one-on-one interview format is the most common of all interviews; however, candidates may be faced with different levels of communication and relationship building as employers and candidates progress in determining if they are a good match. The following are common types of interviews, other than the one-on-one interview, that you may expect.
Telephone interviews screen potential employees, find out if one can communicate in a professional manner, and preview individual(s) to invite into the office for a face-to-face interview.
Phone interview tips:
- Focus on what you can offer to the company
- Sound positive with a high level of self-confidence
- Prepare a few statements about your strengths and qualifications
- Listen attentively
- Ask about the next step
- Avoid using filler words like “umm”
- Keep paper and pencil by the phone
Group interviews allow hiring experts with different perspectives to evaluate candidates.
Group interview tips:
- Practice with your family and friends prior to the interview
- Shake hands and maintain eye contact with each member of the panel
- Utilize your interpersonal skills and find a way to connect with each interviewer
- Prepare to discuss your strengths and qualifications relevant to the specific job requirements
Meal interviews help employers see potential hires in a social setting and identify if he/she would be a good match.
Meal interview tips:
- Keep the conversation professional
- Avoid exotic or hard-to-eat menu choices
- Use your host as a guide when ordering a meal
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking
- Focus on the job and your relevant qualifications
- Do not accent your dietary preferences (vegetarian, weight-loss…)
- Prepare questions you would like to ask and stay with your agenda
Second or final interviews allow both the employer and candidate identify if they are a good fit.
Final interview tips:
- Research the employer in detail (find timely articles about the company to review the operations of the organization, products or services, etc.)
- Ask questions to help you decide if this is the company and the job opportunity that will make you happy and allow you to accomplish your goals
Portions of this section adapted from “Phone Interviews for Savvy Candidates”, by Hugh Anderson www.careerjournal.com, “How to Survive a Team Interview”, by Marlene Caroselli, www.careerjournal.com and “Smart Strategies for Interviewing at Meals”, by Taunee Besson, www.careerjournal.com.
Dress for Interview Success
When dressing for the interview consider the following:
- Traditional business attire is a must. Wear a conservative two-piece business suit (dark navy, charcoal or black).
- Conservative long-sleeved shirt/blouse (white is best, solid blue is an alternative).
- Polished shoes (black or dark brown lace up or tasseled loafers are best). Never wear tennis or sport shoes. Stay away from white or tan shoes.
- Wear dark socks that coordinate with the outfit; Never wear white socks!
- Necktie should be silk with conservative pattern. Make sure the knot is neat and the tie comes to the top of your belt or slacks. Be sure the tie is wrinkle free.
- Wear a dark belt preferable black and conservative style with a clean/functional belt buckle.
- Short haircuts are best; facial hair is okay only if it is well-groomed.
- Clean, trimmed fingernails are a must.
- Always wear a conservative suit with a jacket (dark navy, charcoal or black); No dresses!
- Know your industry. Fashion, advertising and the arts allow for more creativity than more traditional careers such as finance, law and accounting.
- No high heels; Closed toes and closed heels are best. Keep shoes clean and polished. Avoid tennis shoes or sandals.
- Conservative hosiery at or near skin color
- No purses, small or large; carry a briefcase instead.
- Use a clear or conservative nail polish if worn
- Minimal use of makeup – it should enhance your appearance…not take away from it.
- Jewelry: Avoid wearing any clothing or accessories that might distract the interviewer. Wear only 3-4 pieces of jewelry (avoid dangling earrings).
- Well-groomed hairstyle. Hair should be freshly cleaned and neatly styled. Long hair should be worn as conservatively as possible.
Both Men and Women
- No gum, candy, or cigarettes
- Minimal or no cologne or perfume
- No visible body piercings or tattoos
- Empty pockets – no bulges or tinkling coins
- Pay close attention to clothing fit; avoid clothing that is too loose, too tight, or allows too much skin to show.
- Greet the interviewer(s) with a firm handshake
- Look the interviewer in the eye but do not stare
- Smile and exert confidence and friendly attitude
- Sit forward in your chair, posture communicates a message…make it positive!
- Walk into the office with a self-assured and confident stride.
- Do not fidget (touch your hair, tap your fingers).
- Be early and use your time to organize your thoughts.
- Arriving early will allow for any unpredicted difficulties (traffic, parking, etc.).
- Being punctual will allow you to relax before the interview, show an employer that you respect his/her time, speak with the administrative assistant(s) and evaluate the work setting before your interview.
- Use a natural tone when speaking; use your normal rate and volume of speech.
- Make sure that your voice and the way you talk match how you feel.
- Show enthusiasm and interest in the company and the job opportunity.
- Be honest! It is in your and the employer’s best interest to make sure it is a good fit between you and the company culture.
Portions of this section adapted from “What Your Body Language Tells Interviewers”, by Jennifer Rae Atkins, www.wetfeet.com and “Body Language Tactics That Sway Interviewers”, by Eugene Raudseppwww.careerjournal.com
An informational interview is the process of talking to professionals who have jobs that interest you. While it is different from an employment interview, it is an effective career planning tool as it is a great way to gather information and build your professional network. Conducting an informational interview requires deliberate planning and focus on your part since the professional will be taking time out of his or her work schedule to speak with you. The following information will help you to prepare for your informational interview(s).
Primary Objectives of an Informational Interview
- Investigate a specific career field.
- Gain insight into a career field.
- Obtain advice on where you might fit in.
- Learn the jargon and important issues in the field.
- Broaden your network of contacts for future reference.
Conducting the Informational Interview
- Learn as much as you can about the organization and similar organizations.
- Write down the questions you wish to ask. It is best to use open-ended questions to engage your contact in conversation.
- If possible, learn something about the person with whom you will be interviewing.
- Dress professionally.
- Bring copies of your resume, but only distribute them upon request.
- Arrive 10-15 minutes before your appointment.
- Restate your purpose and the reason you are talking with this professional.
- Be prepared to initiate the conversation, since you are the interviewer.
- Adhere to the original time request of 20-30 minutes.
- Ask for referrals to other individuals in the field or in related organizations.
- Keep in mind that this is an information-gathering and advice-seeking interview, not an employment interview.
- Let the individual you are interviewing bring up the discussion of job vacancies.
- Send a thank-you note and keep the individual you have interviewed posted on your progress.
- Keep the door open to future contacts with this person. Ask if he or she could refer you to others in the field as well.
- Evaluate your style of interviewing. What could you have done better?
- Use what you have learned when you conduct your next informational interview.
- Evaluate the information you received. How does it relate to your plans?
Sample Information Interview Questions
- How did you get started in this field?
- What is your educational background? What experiences led you to your current position?
- Would you please describe your typical work day?
- What do you like most and least about your job?
- What classes do you recommend that I take if I am interested in this career field?
- Can you recommend other organizations that I might contact should I consider pursuing this field?
- Can you recommend any specific person for me to talk with?
- What general skills are needed to successfully perform your responsibilities (i.e.: writing, technical)?
Other Sites to Help Your Interview
- InterviewUp - Is a mixture of a job board along with a community of people who share their interview experiences from different fields so that you can get a feel for what types of questions you may get when you go in, and what sort of answers work best.
- About.com - With About.com’s ever growing catalog of articles on just about every subject, it’s not surprising they have a section dedicated to job interviews. They have suggested answers for numerous questions, tips on sending thank you letters, tips for your resume and more.
- AceTheInterview - AceTheInterview is totally dedicated to about every aspect of the job hunt you can think of. Their interview section has important notes on things such as do’s & don’ts, the touchy area of salary negotiations, an interview checklist and more.
- HotJobs - Yahoo’s job search site offers numerous tips on how to prepare, how to present yourself, follow up on the interview, even how to handle an interview over a meal, and more.