An interview is basically a conversation in which both participants share and gather information.  It is the most important event of the job search process so preparation is very important.  As a job seeker, you should view an interview as an opportunity to present your qualifications and convince the employer that you are the best person for the job.  It is also an opportunity to learn more about the position, but this should be a secondary goal if time is limited.  There will likely be other opportunities to get your questions answered.

Quick Interview Tips

  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early. Give yourself plenty of time to walk/drive to the interview location.
  • Turn off your cell phone and double-check your appearance. (Answering a cell phone/looking at a text and dressing inappropriately were each identified by 67% of employers as being a top mistake according to a survey)
  • Use your best manners and be attentive to how you are being perceived. Say please and thank you, and don’t interrupt. Be mindful that your interview begins the moment you arrive until you leave. Be polite to everyone no matter where you meet them (in the parking lot, reception area, etc.). Make sure your appearance and the appearance of your belongings maintains the image you are trying to create for employers (ex. interior of car, purse, etc.). You never know who will be in your interview or part of the decision-making process.
  • The following are quotes from employers during interviews:
    • “She got into a screaming match with someone over a cab outside our building.”
    • “We could see inside his car – he was not as organized as his resume said.”

  • When the interviewer is ready for you, greet him or her with a smile and introduce yourself; be confident, respectful, and as relaxed as possible.  Remember the company has chosen you for an interview so you have the required background. (Failing to make eye contact (68%), smile (38%), or use a firm handshake (22%) were all indicated as top mistakes by employers according to a survey)
  • Give the interviewer(s) your full attention and make a lot of eye contact.  Don’t let anything happening around you distract you. (Appearing uninterested was identified by 62% of employers as being a top mistake according to a survey)
  • Use good posture.  It is okay to be comfortable in your chair, but do not slouch. (Having bad posture was identified by 31% of employers as being a top mistake according to a survey)
  • Try to relax and talk the way you would with your academic advisor or a trusted professor.
  • Taking notes during an interview is encouraged, but don’t let it slow down the interview or prevent you from interacting with the interviewer(s). It is also okay to look at your resume or notes you have prepared as long as you make regular eye contact with the interviewer(s).
  • Watch the interviewer’s body language.  Look and listen for clues that indicate that you might be providing too much or too little detail.  If there are a lot of follow-up questions to dig more information out of you, then you are not providing enough depth in your answers.  If body language indicates a lack of interest in what you are saying, then you are probably not being relevant, clear, or focused with your answers. (Talking too much about unimportant information was identified by 30% of employers as being a top mistake according to a survey)

  • Once the interviewer(s) have asked all of their questions, they will often ask if you have any questions.  This is your opportunity to ask a few questions to demonstrate your desire to know more about the position, the team that you would be part of, or the organization.  This is not the time to ask about pay, ability to take time off, or anything else that might indicate that you are most interested in what you will be getting from the company.  Once you receive an offer, you will have time to ask these types of questions.
    • Ask for the person’s card/contact information (unless you already have their information) so that you can send a thank-you note and otherwise follow up as needed.
    • Inquire about the next step in the process and approximate timeline for a decision if this has not already been discussed.
    • Shake hands, reiterate your appreciation for the opportunity to interview, and thank the interviewer for his or her time.

Answering Common Interview Questions

The best way to prepare for traditional interview questions is by reviewing your resume and being ready to discuss any experiences or skills in further detail with the interviewer. For example, if you listed VBA as a skill, be prepared to talk about any specific training or courses you’ve received, or any class /work projects during which you used VBA.

You should also reflect on your preferences/interests and understand how they align with the position and/or company. For example, if working for a ‘green’ company is important to you and during your research you find that the company is working to cut greenhouse gas emissions and releasing fewer pollutants into the environment, this would be a good point to discuss. If the company culture or industry really appeals to you, be prepared to mention this.

Examples of traditional questions:

  • Why are you interested in working for our company?
  • Why did you apply to this specific position?
  • Can you tell us more about your involvement in __________?
  • Do you have any experience with ____________?
  • Do you prefer to work independently or with a group?
  • Why should we hire you?

If the interviewer asks about a particular skill (e.g., What do you think is most important when providing customer service?), we recommend following the advice provided in the next section: Behavioral-Based Questions.

As discussed previously, interviewers use behavioral-based questions to learn about how you handled certain situations in the past because this provides insight about your skills and how you are likely to handle similar situations in the future. The first step in providing an effective answer is understanding what skill or character trait the interviewer is trying to assess.  Sometimes it might not be completely obvious.  For example, if an interviewer asks you to describe a particularly challenging problem that you solved, he or she isn’t looking for a detailed explanation of the problem.  Instead, he or she is interested in your problem-solving skills and wants to hear about the process you went through to solve the problem.

Once you understand what the interviewer is interested in hearing about, you need to fairly quickly think of a specific example to use.  Therefore, it is  important to prepare for an interview by 1) anticipating the skills and character traits that you are likely to be asked about, and 2) thinking about the specific situations you can use to show that you have experience in the areas of interest.  The particular situations are not as important as your ability to use them to highlight your capabilities and strengths.  To help ensure that answers to behavioral-based questions contain the right information and right amount of detail, it is highly recommended that you practice and use the STAR method of formulating answers.

Examples of behavioral-based questions:

  • Describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and explain the process you used to arrive at the decision.
  • Can you tell us about a time when you and a team member disagreed about something and how you handled the disagreement?
  • Can you describe a time when you had to pay close attention to detail?
  • When was a time that you provided great customer service?