Preparing for an Interview

It is very important to prepare for an interview, and much of your preparation for one interview will carry over to future interviews.  Each interview is a little different so you will probably never feel completely prepared.  However, it is certain that your skills and interests will be the primary focus of all of your interviews.  The more you know yourself, and prepare to talk about the things that a particular employer is interested in learning about you, the better your interview will go.

Know What to Expect

Interviews can take many forms and range from 20-minute screening interviews to multi-day interviews for some full-time positions.  However, the following format is generally followed.

  • When the interviewer(s) are ready, they will greet you and you will introduce yourself.
  • The interviewer will present a short introduction that usually involves some background information on the interviewer, the company, and the position he/she is working to fill. You should take a few notes during this time.
  • The interviewer(s) will then ask questions about information on your resume, your interests, and/or how you have handled certain situations in the past. They are looking to hear specific examples of how you have applied your skills and your behavior in past experiences.
  • After the interviewer(s) have finished asking questions, you will be given a chance to ask a few questions.
  • The interviewer(s) will close with parting comments. You will thank the interviewer(s) for their time and ask about the next step if this has not already been addressed.

For interviews that will be held on campus, logistics information can be found here.

Candidate Evaluation Process
From the moment the interviewer first sees you until you have gone your separate ways, you are being evaluated. How you rate in comparison to other candidates depends on a complex blend of factors that will be slightly different for each employer.  However, to ensure that you are a top contender, it is important that you effectively present your qualifications in all the areas of interest.

The interviewer(s) will likely be looking for some or all of the following:

  • Professionalism in appearance and actions (confidence, maturity, self-awareness, and a positive attitude).
  • An indication of your high level of interest in the type of work, position, company and industry as demonstrated by what you know about the company and the questions you ask.
  • Good character traits (integrity, self-motivation, strong work ethic, desire to keep commitments, and high quality standards)
  • Technical skills that match the position needs (design, programing, analysis, problem solving, project planning and management, etc.)
  • Soft skills that match the position needs (communication skills, an ability to work with others (teamwork) and to get others to work together (leadership)).
  • A good fit with the team and organization.
  • Realistic career goals that align with the company’s career paths.

Note:  Understanding the needs of employers and what they look for in employees is central to the entire career preparation process and should be considered long before the interview stage.  Review the section titled, “Understanding What Companies Look for in Engineers” if you haven’t already.

Research the Position and the Company

Since there are many things that you could be asked about in an interview, it is important to prepare by first identifying the things that a particular employer is likely to ask about.  Often, the job description will tell you exactly what they are looking for in the ideal candidate and, therefore, are likely to ask about.  You will want to analyze the job description thoroughly. Your research will show that you are highly interested in working for the organization and may provide additional insight into questions they may ask.

Evaluate the job description by:

  • Printing it out or saving a digital copy (Tip: always save a copy of the Job description when you apply for a position. It may not be available on CyHire or other job board when you receive an invitation to interview.)
  • Reading the job description carefully.
  • Highlighting competencies that the company is seeking.  Some of these competencies may be particular skills, while others may be personal characteristics (e.g., AutoCAD, strong communication skills, ability to work with diverse teams, trustworthy).
  • Making note of things that particularly interest you about the position, so you can tell the interviewer why you are highly interested in position.

To get familiar with the company, follow these steps:

  • Review any notes you have from conversations with company representatives at information sessions, career fairs, etc.
  • Research CyHire and the company website to determine:
    • The general history of the company (age, interesting facts).
    • Main products and/or services.
    • Size of the company (number of employees, sales).
    • Parent company or subdivisions.
    • Geographic areas served (local, regional, US, International).
    • Major competitors.
    • Corporate values.
    • Engineering and manufacturing processes involved in producing their products (often shown in company website photos).
  • Make note of things that strongly interest or appeal to you.
  • Perform a quick web search of recent news and make note of any positive news articles involving the company.

Reflect on your Experiences and Identify Usage of Skills

Remembering your experiences in detail and using them to highlight your strengths is the key to a successful interview!

Once you have analyzed the job description, you should know what knowledge, skills and character traits you are likely to be asked about in the interview.  Since it is impossible to know exactly what will be asked or how a question will be phrased, don’t try to memorize answers to example questions.  Instead, it is best to prepare by doing the following with the needs of the employer in mind:

  1. Reflect on your experiences (class/lab projects, work, team and student organization competitions and involvement, volunteerism and other activities).  You may want to begin by reviewing your resume.  Experiences that are good enough to be on your resume are the main experiences you should draw upon for your interview answers.
    • Think about the transferable skills and knowledge you learned during these experiences.  Identify soft skills as well as technical skills that you used.
  2. Identify specific examples of actions and accomplishments that you could talk about to highlight your strengths (e.g., if I am asked about my troubleshooting skills, I can talk about the time that I …)
    • Think about your main accomplishments, the steps you took, challenges you overcame, and the feedback you received.

Note: Since many students and recent alumni have similar coursework experiences, employers often value experience outside the classroom.  It is fine to talk about class projects, labs, etc. but be sure to include experiences from internships, part-time jobs, student orgs, etc. when possible.

Ready Materials and Attire

Sometime prior to your interview, you need to ready the materials that you will need.  You should:

  • Have extra copies of your resume.
  • Have a copy of your references sheet.
  • Have a pen and paper for questions or notes.
  • Develop a few questions that you want to ask the interviewer:
    • The words and structure of your questions should be positive, forward-looking, and emphasize the commitment you have to being successful.
    • Ask for further details to help you understand the position and indicate your desire to know more about it. This may include questions about subjects such as the nature of the engineering work that you will be doing, the collaboration that occurs at the company, or why the interviewer chose to work at the company.
    • Use language that indicates your understanding of desired skills and your strengths such as: attention to quality, teamwork, project management, and adaptability.
    • Be careful not to ask questions that were already covered or could easily be answered by visiting their website.
    • Don’t ask questions that focus on your needs (e.g., immediate review of your interview performance, salary, social activities, work hours, chance of being hired, housing).
    • If not already covered, end by asking when you might expect to hear about the outcome of the interview.
    • Prepare and write down multiple questions even though you might only have time to ask 1 or 2.
    • These questions should be based on your research, but a few examples are provided below:
      • What are some of the projects that past interns have worked on?
      • What would a typical day in this position look like?
      • What are a few key qualities someone would need to be successful in this position?
      • What do you like most about working at _____?
  • Organize the above in portfolio or folder.
  • Ready a professional-looking outfit. Typically business professional attire is expected at an interview unless specifically noted by the interviewer ahead of time. Prepare your outfit early to ensure all items fit well, are clean and ready to go. See our information on Looking Your Best for more details.

Special Preparations for a Video or Phone Interviews

  • For video interviews:
    • Try to find a blank wall to use as a background, or at least a wall with no distracting/controversial/embarrassing pictures or artwork.
    • Do not set up directly in front of a window, as this will appear very bright on camera and make it difficult to see your face.
    • If the room is too dark, try using a lamp at various distances.
    • Make sure the camera is at a good height and distance. You want to look directly forward into the camera, not down or up. Use some books or a box under your laptop if necessary. The camera should be 2-3 feet in front of you so it’s easily accessible, but not too close.
  • For phone interviews:
    • Have a copy of the job description, notes from research on the company, and your resume in front of you to reference.
    • Respond with energetic tones and inflections since all of the communication is verbal and there is no body language involved.
  • For phone and video interviews:
    • Use a carpeted room with “stuff” in it to avoid the sound of echoing.
    • Use a space that is not highly trafficked to escape unwanted sounds or motions of passersby.
    • Please contact career services if you would like to reserve one of our interviewing spaces.

Practice Your Interview

You will likely be a little nervous about your interview; this is common.  You will feel less anxious if you know you are well prepared.  Practice the following:

  • Greeting with solid eye contact and a firm handshake (Practice your handshake with a friend or family member and ask if it seemed firm but not too strong).
  • Attentive body language.
  • A short summary speech or be prepared to give your elevator speech since many interviewers start with, “Tell me a little about yourself?”
  • Answering questions using the STAR technique.
  • Asking a few questions of your own.
  • Closing by reiterating your appreciation for the opportunity to interview and thanking the interviewer for his or her time.

See the Best Practices for the Interview section for other ideas on what you may want to practice.  If you are uncertain about your interview performance, schedule an appointment for a mock-interview with Engineering Career Services using CyHire.

For more resources on preparing for an interview visit Module 7 on our canvas course.