The interview is your opportunity to convince the employer that you are the right person for the job. Your resume gets you the interview, but the interview gets you the job. Therefore, it is important for you to be able to articulate your past work experiences, accomplishments, and future career goals, all while demonstrating your professionalism, communication skills, personality, and confidence. Therefore, you must be comfortable with the idea of marketing yourself to an interviewer.
Interviews are generally conducted over the phone, by video, or in person. Before your interview, be sure to carefully review all available information about the company, reread the job posting, and prepare to answer questions about your goals, values, education, and experience.
Preparing for the interview
For a successful interview experience, you must demonstrate both self-awareness (an understanding of your own skills, abilities, values, and qualifications) as well as awareness about the employer.
Start by taking a personal inventory and assess your skills, education, experience, and personal qualities. By recognizing your own values, interests, and skills, you will be able to determine whether a company or organization is a good fit for you. By doing a thorough self-assessment, you should be able to answer the following questions:
What are my career goals and objectives?
What are my skills and abilities? How do they relate to the job for which I am interviewing?
Where do I want to work and what types of positions interest me?
What are my weaknesses? Am I prepared to address those weaknesses in an interview?
What variables am I willing to negotiate (e.g., salary, geographic location)?
You must research the potential employer to be considered a conscientious candidate. The research will help you understand what skills and qualities the employer is looking for, and you will be able to anticipate what kinds of questions may be asked during the interview. Your research should include:
- Type of organization, its function, and its industry
- Structure and size of the organization
- Company history, mission, vision, and goals
- Leading competitors
- Product lines and services
- Geographic locations
- New trends in the field
- Local or national news reports that affect the company
Resources to Find this Information Include:
- Corporate websites and their social media sites (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
- Current employees
- Past employees (with good standing)
Additionally, with Handshake Q&A (Question & Answer), students can ask career and employer related questions, and get answers from other students or alumni from any school on Handshake.
Most interviews fit a general pattern lasting approximately 30–45 minutes, and a typical structure is as follows:
- Greeting, introduction, and small talk (5 minutes): The interviewer will build rapport with you to create a more relaxed atmosphere for the interview.
- Discussion of your background and credentials (15–30 minutes): The interviewer will ask you questions about you, your skills, your personal qualities, and your credentials.
- Candidate questions (5 minutes): You will have the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer about the position and the company. Your questions should allow you to clarify information not answered in the interview or through research, and they give the interviewer an opportunity to assess your interest in the position. Have at least 5-7 questions prepared; this way you will have more questions in case some were answered during the interview.
- Wrap up (5 minutes): The interviewer will explain the next steps in the decision-making and hiring process. You have the opportunity to restate your interest in the position, to thank the interviewer for his/her time, and to ask about what the next steps are or when you can expect to hear back from the organization. Be sure to ask for contact information so you can send a thank you note.
During the discussion of your background and credentials, the interviewer will ask questions about your past experiences both within the classroom and in professional settings. Types of questions include:
In the past, how have you applied your skills in particular situations? (“Tell me about a time when…”)
How would you behave in a hypothetical future situation? (“What would you do if…”)
What is your technical knowledge? (“Design a code that does X…”)
Off-the-Wall (Not common)
How do you think outside the box? (“If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpower to be?”)
In preparing for the interview, you should identify examples of situations where you have demonstrated the behaviors a given company seeks. During the interview, focus on a particular situation, not a general one, which relates to the question at hand. Describe the situation, explain what you did specifically, and articulate the positive result or outcome. Organize your response according to the STAR technique to answer the question effectively.
S – Situation
Describe the situation you were in by briefly providing context for your story.
Last year, I served as the vice president for my student organization, and I was responsible for planning a charity fundraiser.
T – Task
Explain the task that you needed to accomplish.
My goal for the event was to raise $3,000 for a specific non-profit.
A – Action
Describe the various actions you took (and why) that led to accomplishing the task.
To maximize efficiency, I organized the volunteers into subcommittees and delegated assignments so that each group was responsible for reaching out to a different demographic of constituents (local businesses, alumni, faculty/staff, etc.)
R – Result
Explain the results that followed because of your actions and what did you learn. If you would do things differently in the future based on what you learned, tell them that.
Due to the targeted approach to fundraising, we raised $3,750 and engaged the entire organization’s membership in participating in the fundraiser.
Bonus Tip: After completing the STAR technique, share how your example is relevant to the role you are applying for.
Possible Interview Questions
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why are you interested in this position? What do you know about us? Why do you want to work for us?
- What technical skills do you have that fit our position?
- What strengths do you offer?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What idea have you developed and implemented that was particularly creative or innovative?
- Tell me about a team project contribution of which you are particularly proud.
- Describe a leadership role you have held and tell me why you committed your time to it.
- What is your greatest accomplishment and why?
- What three trends do you see in the future of our industry?
- What characteristics do you think are important for this position?
- Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are your future goals?
- What has been one of your greatest disappointments, and how did you respond to it?
- What challenges are you looking for in a position?
- What work experience has been most valuable to you and why?
- Describe your ideal supervisor.
- Tell me about a problem you solved.
The Meaning Behind the Question
It is important to know that some employers ask questions that seem very simple. However, the meaning behind the questions may not be simple at all. (Adapted from the book Money Jobs.)
Tell me about yourself. How does your background qualify you for this job?
Can you take an incredible amount of information, organize it quickly in your head, and present it in a concise and articulate fashion?
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Are my perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses the same as yours? How mature are you in dealing with your weaknesses? Can you identify methods for self-improvement?
Where do you want to be in five years?
What motivates you and what do you want out of life? Is this job merely a stepping stone to something better?
Why this job? Why this organization?
Have you done your homework? Are you analytical?
How would your peers describe you?
How do you see yourself? Are you a leader or a follower?
What makes you think you will succeed in this organization?
Have you accurately identified the skills and expertise needed to succeed? Can you prove you have them?
Why should we hire you? What do you bring to this job?
How are your promotion and persuasion skills? Are you believable? If you can’t sell yourself, how will you be able to sell our products/company/ideas?
Questions to Ask the Interviewer
- What are the specific duties or specific projects assigned to a person in this position?
- How often are performance reviews given?
- How is job performance evaluated?
- Who would I report to? What kind of supervision would I receive?
- What is the supervisor’s management style?
- What are some short- and long-term goals of the organization?
- How would you describe the culture of the organization?
- What types of opportunities are available for professional growth?
- What is the skill set that the company is looking for in the person who fills this position?
- What do certain individuals like about working for the organization?
- What is the next step in the hiring process?
Salary should not be discussed during the early stages of the interview process unless the employer introduces the topic. Before you interview, you should decide what your financial expectations and financial needs are and find out what the general salary range is for a similar position.
Tips for a Successful Interview
- Confirm the time and format of your interview. If you have an in-person interview and are unfamiliar with where the company is located, check it out ahead of time.
- For virtual interviews, it is important to test your technology and know how to navigate the virtual interview platform prior to the scheduled interview time.
- Arrive 10–15 minutes early.
- Have copies of your resume and work samples ready for all interview formats.
- Have a pen and pad of paper to take notes if needed.
- Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake for in-person interviews. Make good eye contact, maintain good posture, and smile in all interview formats.
- Be ready to answer common and specific interview questions and draft a list of questions to ask.
- Avoid talking negatively about former employers or coworkers.
- For in-person interviews, carry a portfolio, professional bag, or simple purse.
- Show your genuine interest and excitement for the position.
- Don’t be afraid to talk openly and honestly about your full range of strengths and abilities.
- If you are unsure about your English-speaking skills, practice by speaking in class, making presentations, or expanding your circle of native English-speaking friends.
- Frame your cultural background, your international experience, and your multilingual abilities as an asset.
- Ask the interviewer for contact information so you can send a thank you.
- Avoid carrying too much with you. Bring only your keys and a portfolio if you can. Confirm your phone is either turned off or in silent mode.
Dress for Success
our appearance during an interview is very important. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. You should dress according to your own style and budget, but your clothes should be professional for in-person and virtual interviews.
Jeans, shorts, sundresses, or athletic wear are never appropriate. In general, clothes should be tailored, in good condition, and wrinkle and lint free.
- Suits: Jacket and Pants/Skirt: A solid dark or neutral color pantsuit or skirt is recommended. Colors should be matching and solid, invisible plaid, or subtle weave. Business dresses are acceptable in less formal or less conservative fields. A skirt should be knee-length and should cover your thighs when you are seated. Nice pants/slacks, blazers, and cardigans are appropriate for a business casual environment.
- Shirts: Wear light colors underneath. No stripes or bright prints/colors.
- Ties: Choose a good quality silk tie that coordinates with the suit (solid color or understated pattern). Be sure the knot is neat and centered on your neck, and the bottom of the tie should just reach your belt.
- Socks and Hosiery: Dark, mid-calf so that no skin is visible when you sit down. Sock color should match your pant color. DO NOT wear white athletic socks. Hosiery should be plain, non-patterned.
- Shoes: Choose dress shoes (can be lace-up or slip-on) with low to medium heels and a closed toe. Avoid strappy, multicolored shoes. Color should complement the color of the interview suit.
- Belt: Wear a black or brown belt, with no large buckles, that matches your shoes.
- Makeup and Nails: Clean, neat, and well groomed. Minimal or natural-looking makeup. Beards and mustaches should be neat and trimmed. Fingernails should be clean and trimmed short.
- Hair: Should be freshly cleaned and neatly styled. If you are worried that your hair will fall in your face or eyes, be sure to pull it back securely and neatly before you interview.
- Jewelry and Fragrance: Minimize jewelry and other accessories and mild fragrance. Be absolutely certain to shower and apply deodorant before the interview. Personal hygiene is important, and body odor is unacceptable.
In addition to phone and in-person interviews, an increasing number of employers are utilizing online communication tools, such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts, to conduct “face-to-face” video interviews along with prerecorded interviews in which students record interview answers within a prescribed time frame. Although the medium is different, you should prepare for a video interview in the same way you prepare for an in-person interview—do your research, know the job description, prepare responses to interview questions, and have questions to ask the interviewer.
Follow these other tips to ensure you have a successful video interview.
Before the Interview
- Make sure you have a professional username and picture: Just as your email address should be professional, your online usernames should be as well. Make sure your username and picture are interview appropriate. Be careful about including personal information such as your birthday or year (e.g., SOIC_Student1998, Jaguar122596)
- Prepare your surroundings: Find a quiet place to interview, and make sure that your background and surroundings are clear and distraction free. You, not the piles of laundry behind you, should be the focal point of the video. Check the lighting to ensure that you do not show up as a shadow on video.
- Test your technology: Allow plenty of time to test your internet connection, camera, and microphone to ensure they are all working properly. Ensure that your laptop is fully charged and plugged in so that the battery does not die in the middle of the interview.
- Dress professionally: Treat your video interview like an in-person interview, and dress professionally from head-to-toe, not just head to waist. Blues, blacks, and grays look best on video, and they do not create any distractions. Stripes or plaids can look overly busy on a screen, and flashy jewelry can also look distracting.
- Place your camera at eye level: Keeping your camera at eye level will create a more flattering shot of you.
During the Interview
- Look at the camera: It is tempting to look at the screen or at yourself during a video call. Looking directly into the camera is the best way to maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
- Speak clearly: You do not need to shout, but you should speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard.
- Be aware of non-verbal cues: Even over video, non-verbal cues and body language make an impression on interviewers. Be sure to smile and sit up straight—slouching can make you seem disengaged. Avoid the temptation to fidget, look bored, or allow yourself to be distracted. Act as if you are sitting in the interviewer’s office.
- Stay focused: Close all other programs on your computer and avoid typing or clicking during the interview.
- Have notes: Although it is important to be familiar with your materials and your talking points, you can have copies of your resume in front of you, and sticky notes or note cards can be to the side of the screen to remind you of important things you want to cover.
- Address technical problems immediately: If you are having persistent problems with your connection, you can bring it to the interviewer’s attention, suggest stopping the call, and try to reconnect.
Thank You Note
Following the interview, always send a thank you letter or email to the employer. Many candidates overlook this thoughtful step in the job search process.
- Send thank you letters within 24–48 hours of the interview.
- Thank everyone who interviewed you. Ask for contact information during the interview.
- Be professional and make sure there are no errors.
- Use the letter to reiterate your interest in the position and mention something specific you learned during the interview.
- An email is an appropriate form of professional communication. If you choose to send by mail, use a block or modified block business letter format.
- A handwritten note is a good way to add a personal touch, but not if you have poor handwriting.