The interview provides you the opportunity to sell your qualifications and abilities to the employer.
If your resume was successful in “getting your foot in the door,” the interview is your chance to prove you are the person for the job. Remember that the interview is a two-way process: it offers both you and the employer the chance to evaluate whether or not there is a match for employment.
There are two basic types of interviews:
- 30 minutes to an hour in length
- Allows employers to determine if you “match” with the company’s interests, image, etc.
- Often longer than a screening interview, possibly one or more days on site
- Usually with higher level officials
- Sometimes conducted as a panel interview with several officials asking questions
The Interview itself has three different sections:
- Opening – establishing rapport. Glance around the office for commonalities (i.e. photos, diplomas, etc.).
- Body – question and answer period. Prepare some questions to ask the employer.
- Closing – wrap-up and give you information on the continuation of the process.
Be sure to confirm the date, time and location ahead of time. Job interviews last varying lengths of time, so ask the employer how long to expect to be on-site and if you will be taking a walking tour so you can dress appropriately.
Complete a Mock Interview with Career & Professional Development
Answer questions in the mirror or on video-tape. Complete a “mock-interview” in Career & Professional Development for review and use the feedback you receive to change conversational styles or non-verbals. Look for nervous habits that may prove annoying to an interviewer.
Have thorough knowledge of yourself. Review your resume and familiarize yourself with everything you have done. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses especially as they relate to anticipated questions such as “Tell me about yourself?” and “What would you like to be doing five years from now?”
Plan your answers to these commonly asked interview questions:
- Tell me a little bit about yourself?
- Why are you interested in this position?
- Why did you choose this type of career?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- How would you describe yourself?
- What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
- How do you determine of evaluate success?
- Provide an example from your past that demonstrates the contribution you could make to our firm.
- Describe the relationship that should exist between a supervisor and those supervised.
- What are your weaknesses?
- What accomplishment has given you the most satisfaction? Why?
- Describe your most rewarding educational experience.
- If you could do so, how would you plan your preparation differently? Why?
- What major problem have you encountered and how did you deal with it?
- Cite a situation from your past that required you to respond to pressure. How did you deal with it?
- What are you long-term goals?
- Why should I hire you?
- Where do you want to be in five years? In ten?
- What is your major and why did you choose it?
- How did you choose to spend your summers while in college?
- What courses in college did you most like and why?
- What school activities did you get involved in?
- What is your ideal job and why?
- Who are the three most significant people in your life to date?
- What are some words that your friend or counselor would use to describe you?
- List of things you value most (list the top 5).
- List 7-10 skills that you have that you enjoy doing and do well.
- What do you want to achieve in life?
- List 3-5 things you have accomplished and feel good about.
- List 2-3 recent jobs.
- Describe your ideal work environment.
If you are applying for a teaching position, view these practice questions tailored for teachers.
Research the company
Make sure you are familiar with the company you are applying to as well as their products and services.
- Find the company’s website and read what they’re about. Search the internet to find articles and reviews about the company.
- The local newspaper in the company’s town might have an inside view on how the community feels about the company.
- Talk to your professors to get their impression of the company. Maybe they know of an alumnus who is employed there.
Researching can help you develop questions specific for the company.
Write down Your Questions for the Interviewer
An interview is an exchange of information. The employer wants to understand more about your skills and abilities and if you would be a good “fit” with the organization. You as the candidate, want to obtain as much information as possible about their organization, its’ goals, future outlook and prospects for advancement within the organization.
Sample questions you may want to ask employers are:
- What kind of work can I expect to be doing in my first year?
- What percentage of routine or detailed work would I do?
- How much opportunity is there to see the end result of my efforts?
- What supervisory level would review my performance?
- How much guidance or assistance is made available to an individual worker in developing his/her goals?
- Can you briefly describe your training program? How much opportunity will I have for decision-making in my first assignment?
- Can you describe an ideal employee?
- Why did you decide to go to work for XYZ Company?
- What has been your most rewarding work experience?
- Why did the person in this position leave?
- What would you consider to be an average work-week?
Plan out your Interview Attire
Be sure to dress appropriately for the organization and situation. Conservative business attire is usually best for screening or initial interviews.
Here are a few basic tips on how to dress for an interview:
- Clothing and shoes should be in good repair and should fit properly.
- Dress should reflect the level of professionalism of the organization or profession. Dress the part.
- Wear appropriate undergarments.
- Limit cologne/perfume. Wash hands after applying fragrances so that the employer will not get them on their hands.
- Be mindful of piercings and tattoos.
- No cellular phones, beepers, beeping watches etc. should be left active in an interview.
- Conservatively cut and colored suit. Pants or skirt are acceptable.
- Stockings in a neutral color.
- Conservative medium to low-heeled shoes.
- Limited jewelry/accessories-nothing that moves or makes noise is preferable.
- Nails clean and a conservative length. Nail color is acceptable in conservative colors or clear.
- Natural make-up. Be careful of overpowering colors.
- Hair clean and conservatively styled.
- Low-cut blouses, miniskirts, and tight clothing are discouraged.
- Suit or sport coat and slacks. Make sure clothing is clean and pressed.
- Conservatively cut shirt in natural fabrics and colors.
- Tie to match clothing.
- Leather shoes in good repair.
- Limited Jewelry.
- Appropriate grooming, facial hair, fingernails, hair, etc.
- Dress appropriately, neatly and conservatively. It is best to dress a notch above what
someone else working at the company would wear on a daily basis.
- Arrive on-site 10-15 minutes early to collect yourself, take care of last minute details,
ensure being on-time, etc. You may want to scout out the location beforehand and
determine any traffic or parking problems you might have. If you are going to be late,
- Bring copies of your resume and references with you. If you have developed a portfolio
that you would like to share, bring this for the employer to view. You may also want to
make a photocopy of your documents to give the employer if appropriate.
- When greeting the employer, remember to smile, maintain good eye contact and give a
firm handshake. Be polite to everyone you meet from receptionists to upper
- Sit quietly and wait for the employer in the area indicated. Do not use your cell phone. Try to relax. Make conversation with other people in the room.
- Maintain appropriate body posture and non-verbals.
- Be careful of distracting movement such as swinging or tapping your foot, playing
with hair or jewelry, looking at your watch, etc.
- Maintain good eye contact, but don’t stare.
- Limit hand motions if possible.
- Be aware of the speed and pitch of your voice. Your voice may become
higher or you may speak more quickly when you are nervous.
- Don’t chew gum, eat or smoke unless specifically told it is appropriate to do so.
- Absolutely do not use profane language.
- Turn off cellular phones or pagers when interviewing.
- Be careful of distracting movement such as swinging or tapping your foot, playing
- Responding to questions
- Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method for responding to
questions where examples are requested.
- Prepare yourself to respond to questions about education, experience,
internships, etc. in this way.
- Be positive and upbeat, this is not a place for modesty.
- Prepare for most commonly asked questions, but don’t memorize responses that
may sound “canned”.
- Listen to the question and allow yourself a little time to think before you
- Ask for clarification instead of answering a question you don’t understand.
- Sit quietly between questions; they may use silence to see how you react to
- Don’t use trite or cliché responses to questions i.e. “I am a people person”.
- Avoid speaking negatively about former employers or educational institutions.
- Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method for responding to
- Ask questions when given the opportunity. You should brainstorm questions ahead of
- Inquire about the continuation of the process.
- Express your thanks and offer any additional information you think may be important.
- Reiterate your interest and belief that you would work well within the organization.
Even though the interview is over, you are still under evaluation.
After leaving the interview, do the following things:
- Shake the interviewer’s hand and say thank you for taking the time to interview you.
- Spend a few minutes after the interview processing for yourself, making notes of things
you want to remember to ask about later, etc.
- Follow up with a short thank you note and a phone call later. This should happen no more
then 48 hours following the interview.
- Send a written “Thank You” note to the person who interviewed you within 24 hours of the interview. You can obtain their address by asking for their card. If it is past the 24 hours, send a “Thank You” note anyway.
- Take a “Thank You” note with you to the interview and write the card in your car. Mail it in the area of the company with whom you just interviewed. This will ensure that your note arrives sooner than if you would have mailed it from your home. It will also show your future employer that you are interested in the position.
- If you are interviewed by a group of people, be sure to send each of them an e-mail or hand written card thanking them for their time and that you hope to work with them in the future. Do not send a mass e-mail to the entire group. Send an individual e-mail or card to each person.
- Call the employer to remind them that you are still interested in the position if you do not hear from them by the date they indicated. For example, if they said they would contact you by the end of the week, call them on the next business day to tell them you are still interested.
Important Interview Tips to Remember
- Dress appropriately- a notch above what someone else working at the company would wear on a daily basis.
- Perfect a firm, confident handshake.
- Eye contact equals honesty- look into the interviewer’s eyes until you can see their eye color.
- Employers are typically seeking to know four things about you. That you:
- Understand the job that needs to be done
- Know how to do the job
- Want to do the job- are motivated
- Will do the job better than someone else
- Organizations hire for attitude and train for skills.
- Working is really about trading your skills for pay.
- It’s perfectly acceptable to repeat a question for clarification purposes and/or to take time to think about a response.
- Send a “thank you” note after the interview and follow up.
Telephone Interviews are very similar to regular interviews. The main difference is that you will not be able to see your interviewer. This can be both good and bad. Benefits include the ability to keep notes in front of you and the option of conducting the interview from a familiar space. On the other hand, you will not be able to present yourself as a complete package by shaking their hand or interacting with them in person. This type of interview may appear to be simple, but don’t under estimate it. You can still get just as nervous, if not more nervous than during a regular interview. With that said, we recommend the following tips.
- Determine where you want to conduct your interview. Make sure the location is quiet and you will not be interrupted by children, family pets, or other noises and distractions. A room where the door can close is helpful.
- Close the door and turn off the TV and stereo to eliminate background noise that will otherwise sound unprofessional.
- Decide which phone line you will be using. If you choose a cellular phone, make sure you have good reception and that the phone is fully charged for the interview. It may also be helpful to keep the power cord nearby in case of battery failure.
- Make sure the employer has the correct phone number.
- Prepare for a live interview. Practicing typical interview questions and researching the company will help your interview go smoothly. Make sure to follow the same procedures as a live interview such as asking questions and following up with a thank you note.
- Dress up for the interview even though the employers cannot see you. This will help you feel more confident and will influence your speech.
- Stand up. Standing during the interview will allow you to speak more confidently. Allow yourself a little room to walk a few feet if you feel so inclined. If you are uncomfortable standing, sit up straight.
- Make sure there is a flat surface available for writing and keeping notes.
- Keep notes at the table. This includes copies of the resume and cover letter you sent to the employer as well as a copy of your portfolio. You should also make notes about typical interview questions so you don’t leave out any important information.
- Have a glass of water available in case you need to wet your palate.
- Keep a pad of paper at the table to take notes on the interview.
- Speak clearly!
- Don’t speak at the same time as the employer. In fact it is better to let them talk just as much, if not more than you do.
- Be aware of your voice. If you are nervous, you may speak more quickly or at a higher pitch making it more difficult for the interviewer to understand you. Try to relax and speak slowly, clearly, and in your normal vocal register.
Video interviews are a common practice and typically one of the first steps in the interview process. This allows you to meet with an employer without the restriction of physical distance. Video interviews are either live in real-time with an interviewer or recorded to be viewed later by the employer. You should be prepared for either situation and research ahead of time to find out what the interview will be like.
Important tips to remember while conducting a video interview:
- Pick a quiet location without possible interruptions
- Coordinate the video call ahead of time for instructions
- Speak more slowly and clearly than normal
- Identify a good service reception area in advance
- Avoid other distractions in the room or outside
- Be mindful of the camera angles and how it is angled at your clothing
- Sit in front of a blank background with good lighting
- Prop up laptop and sit up tall with full view of your torso
- Be mindful about your body language (they can still see you)
- Test out the video software in advance and be online early
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- If you’re not accepted into graduate school, what are your plans?
- Why did you choose this career?
- What do you know about our program?
- Why did you choose to apply to our program?
- What other schools are you considering?
- In what ways have your previous experience prepared you for graduate study in our program?
- What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
- In college, what courses did you enjoy the most? The least? Why?
- Describe any research project you’ve worked on. What was the purpose of the project and what was your role in the project?
- How would your professors describe you?
- How will you be able to make a contribution to this field?
- What are your hobbies?
- Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it. What would you do differently? Why?
- Describe your greatest accomplishment.
- Tell me about your experience in this field. What was challenging? What was your contribution?
- What are your career goals? How will this program help you achieve your goals?
- How do you intend to finance your education?
- What skills do you bring to the program? How will you help your mentor in his or her research?
- Are you motivated? Explain and provide examples.
- Why should we take you and not someone else?
- What do you plan to specialize in?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What can be determined about an applicant at an interview?
There are some questions that employers should not ask you during an interview or in a job application according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You are protected based on gender/sex, race/ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, citizenship, disability, and marital/family status. Avoiding questions that addresses these demographics minimizes the chances of discrimination.
Sample Questions Employers Can’t Ask:
- What year were you born?
- How old are you?
- When did you graduate high school?
- Are you married?
- Do you have any children?
- Are you a U.S. citizen?
- Can you provide a birth certificate?
- What country are your parents from?
- How did you become fluent in another language?
- Do you have a disability?
- Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim?
- Do you go to church?
Note for International Students
Employers are legally able to ask two questions related to employment authorization:
- Are you authorized to work lawfully in the United States?
- Will you now or in the future require sponsorship in order to employ you?
Your Interview Checklist
Research the Company/Organization in Depth
Fairly or unfairly, your interviewer will expect you to know quite a bit about the organization. So at a minimum, browse the organization’s Web site, read as many of its marketing materials as you can and look for articles about the organization in major periodicals or industry trade journals. If you can, dig even deeper by talking to some of the company’s current employees.
Identify What You Have to Sell
What are the top three skills or experiences you can offer to the employer that other applicants can’t? Identify them before the interview, and then determine how you’ll communicate them to the interviewer.
Anyone can make claims in job interviews; far fewer people back up those claims with evidence. Be sure you fall into this latter group by thinking about some actual stories you can tell from previous work experiences to support your statements. Consider developing a career portfolio and using it as a presentation prop during the interview.
Develop Some Intelligent Questions
At some point during your interview, you’ll be asked whether you have any questions. It’s important to ask questions because they can show your level of interest in the job. So be sure you develop a few ahead of time and jot some down during the interview.
Develop Your “Close”
Successful salespeople know how to effectively close meetings with clients to win sales. Similarly, you need to learn how to close your interview to win the job – if you want it, that is.
You can sign up to do a mock interview with a career counselor. Take advantage of these helpful services so you can get a sense of what an interview situation is like. You can pinpoint specific questions you’ll be asked and work through your responses.
Be Ready for Surprises
It’s possible, for example, that you’ll be taken out to lunch or dinner as part of the interview, or you’ll have to take a pre-employment test, or you’ll end up interviewing with more than one person. Don’t be caught off guard.
You need to look your very best for the interview. So get your hair cut and styled, and buy a professional outfit or two.
Know Where You’re Going – Literally
You cannot be late for interviews – period. So, get good directions to the company ahead of time, and, if you can, practice traveling to the site.
Get a good night’s sleep the night before your interview so you’ll be as physically, psychologically and emotionally ready for it as possible.
Plan to Bring Your Resume to the Interview
In fact, bring several copies. Do not, however, plan to take anyone with you. You’re on your own for this one.
Make Peace with Mistakes
Your interview won’t go perfectly. You’ll struggle with some questions, and you may forget to make some points you’d hoped to make. Accept this ahead of time, and you’ll take some of the pressure off yourself so that you’ll make fewer mistakes and omissions during the actual interview.