Interview Prep

An interview for a job is a two-way process. The interview gives the employer the opportunity to meet you in person and to evaluate the “total” you. This includes your attitude, appearance, personality, confidence, knowledge about yourself, and knowledge about the company, as well as basic ability to do the job. The interview also provides you an opportunity to learn about and evaluate the job, the work environment and organization, the people, your supervisor, and more.

Types of Interviews and Questions 

Interviews can range from screening, where only general questions are asked, to in-depth, where more probing and technical questions are presented. You might meet with one person at a time or face a panel or group. In-person interviews are preferred, as they offer opportunities to develop and evaluate chemistry with your interviewers. However, interviews can also be conducted via the telephone or video.

You could be asked a combination of traditional/resume-based, behavior-based, or case questions. (See below for a list of sample interview questions.)

Traditional/resume-based interviews: These interviews consist of broad questions. The questions are more basic and focus on a theoretical situation or specific experiences outlined on your resume.

Behavior-based interviews: This type of interview is based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Therefore, questions will probe how you have reacted to various situations in the past by asking for specific examples/scenarios. Prepare for the above interviews by reviewing scenarios that correspond with the attributes the employer is looking for.

Case interviews: Management consulting firms and/or investment banking firms use this type of interview most often. Typically, case interviews introduce you to a dilemma-based business scenario that you are asked to analyze (aloud) and discuss how you would handle. The interviewer isn’t looking for the exact answer. Instead, the interviewer analyzes your quantitative, analytical, communications, listening and interpersonal skills along with your ability to problem solve, think quickly under pressure, and synthesize findings. Your creativity, flexibility, business acumen, insight, professional demeanor, and powers of persuasion are all analyzed.

Group/panel interviews: These interviews involve more than one interviewer. Make sure you address each candidate in your responses even if only one person posed the question. Answering questions may feel a bit more like giving a presentation. These interviews simply allow more people to be involved in the process, and interviewers are able to gauge your comfort in groups.

Stress interviews: These interviews are not used as frequently as the aforementioned interview techniques. This approach looks specifically at your reaction to stressful situations and questioning.

How to Prepare 

The first step to prepare for an interview is to research the organization and the job as much as possible. Search the Internet. Talk to contacts. Review the organization’s products. Also, find out how many people will interview you and if they will be in succession or in groups.

At the same time, you need to spend time thinking about you. What are your priorities, values, interests, and strengths? What are the most relevant items within those categories for this particular job and organization? For every skill or type of experience the organization seeks, have two or three examples or anecdotes as to how you have demonstrated the skill or experience. Tie your examples to the organization to make an even stronger case. Also, think about the types of questions you will have for the interviewers. You should have questions, but not just for the sake of having questions. You should have questions that need to be answered to help you make the most informed decision you can when considering the job opportunity. (Some sample questions are also below.)

The next step is to practice. Review the sample questions below and have answers for each one. Don’t memorize your answers, but know how you would address each one in multiple ways to ensure you mention all the relevant aspects of your experience and cover all the items they seek. It helps to practice out loud. You can also ask a friend to interview you.

Sample References Document 

Making the Right Impression

It might sound obvious, but you want to dress the part for all interviews—job specific and informational. You want to portray that you are a professional and you are taking this interview seriously. Err on the side of formal rather than casual, unless you are specifically told by an interviewer to wear something business casual. If the interviewer says, in general, that the office is casual, don’t assume that you should be dressed in casual attire.

Take extra copies of your resume on good paper. If you are meeting with three people, take at least five copies. In addition to resumes, you could take copies of your references (if you’ve already asked people if they could be references) and writing samples. Consider assembling a portfolio to demonstrate preparedness and your organization skills. Arrive early. Ten minutes is a nice amount. If you arrive at the location earlier than that, don’t go into the office. Sit and review your notes. Visit a restroom to put the finishing touches on your appearance.

Be positive and professional at ALL times to everyone from the CEO to the secretary. Turn nervousness into positive energy.

When answering questions, be concrete, concise, positive, and naturally animated. Provide a summary sentence for questions dealing with a general skill and then provide a relevant example to support your statement. Adjectives describing you mean nothing to the employer unless you have evidence to support them. (See the STAR technique below for a helpful way to answer questions concretely.) Tie your past to your future—making everything relevant to how this will contribute to the new organization. Demonstrate knowledge of the organization.

Process the question before you respond. This allows for a well-organized, specific answer. Taking a few moments of silence is preferable to giving a disjointed or overly general response. Ask if you don’t understand a question. Avoid inappropriate humor and discussions regarding salary (get the interviewer to quote numbers first and then negotiate), religion, politics, and other touchy subjects (unless of course an issue is directly related to the job or organization).

Don’t forget that you can communicate just as much (if not more) nonverbally than you do verbally. Your posture, gestures, facial expressions, voice, and eye contact can make a huge difference. Convey interest, confidence, and enthusiasm.

Ask questions! The questions you ask can also help you evaluate whether this position/organization is the right one for you.

Get a business card from each interviewer so you have the exact spelling of the person’s name, title, and address. Write notes on the back to associate specific items to each person, which will help when you write thank you notes.

STAR Technique for Fielding Interview Questions

(From Quintessential Careers: STAR Interviewing)

While the STAR technique is particularly helpful in answering behavioral interview questions, it can also be used to help your specificity in any type of interview. Keep in mind that one of the most frequent complaints of employers is interviewee’s lack of including specific examples in their answers.

Situation & Task: Describe the circumstances you were in and what exactly you were charged to accomplish. Make sure your example is very specific and provide details to the interviewer. Essentially, you’re painting a picture of the situation and your goals.

Action: Discuss what you did to resolve the issue and/or accomplish the goal before you. Be specific in your description, focusing on your action steps, role in the process, and your progress toward the goal. Remember, what may seem obvious to you may not be obvious to an employer.

Results: What was learned and accomplished? What were the results of the actions you took? What was the positive effect? What worked well?

Follow Up 

ALWAYS write thank you letters after any kind of interview (whether it is a formal interview for a job or an informational interview). Thank you letters are more than a way to express your appreciation for an interview. They are also opportunities to re-sell your skills, mention information you forgot to say during the interview, clarify anything you said, revisit an issue, mention something specific the interviewer mentioned regarding the job or the organization, and express interest in the position.

Even if you interviewed with multiple people, you should write to each person mentioning something you learned from the person. If you interviewed with a large number of people, you can always send notes to key people (such as the person who coordinated your interview and your potential supervisor) and ask that they express your appreciation to the other interviewers.

There are three main thank you letter styles: a word processed letter printed on resume paper, a hand written note, and an e-mail message. If a decision is going to be made quickly, an e-mail is perfectly acceptable. (You can always hand deliver a letter.) If the main method of communication between you and the potential employer has been e-mail, you can stick to that approach for your thank you as well. You should also send an e-mail to any government personnel whose mail is being irradiated.

If the process is longer, a hard copy thank you letter might be a better approach. You can mail or hand deliver a thank you letter. Unless a decision is being made quickly, a letter should be sent within three business days after the interview. Regardless of the style, all thank you messages should be personalized, include a thank you, and restate your interest in the position (unless you are definitely not interested and writing to say that you wish to be taken out of consideration).

Summary of General Interviewing Tips

  • Prepare! Do research into the company before your interview including company website, industry trends, recent news about the company, it’s future plans etc. Be aware of their standing in the industry and, if possible, the culture of the company. Be extremely familiar with the job description which contains key attributes and skills they are looking for in a potential candidate. Your interview answers should be geared toward that particular company and position.
  • Market yourself. Know your three greatest strengths before you set foot in the interview. Whether or not that question is asked specifically, this information will underlie all of your answers. Utilize a variety of examples throughout your interview (i.e. examples from your current position, past positions, volunteer work, etc). You may want to have a list of things in your memory blanks that you want to discuss. Whether the interview is formally structured or open-ended, then, you will be prepared.
  • Process the question before you respond. This allows for a well organized, specific answer. A few moments of silence is preferable to a disjointed or overly general response.
  • Convey Interest, Confidence, and Enthusiasm (ICE).
  • Be specific! Give examples to back up your responses. Prove skills and abilities by demonstrating them. Adjectives describing you mean nothing to the employer unless you have evidence to support it.
  • Connect yourself to the position/organization. Familiarize yourself with what they are looking for and gear your answers to your skills in those areas. An employer is contemplating your “fit” within the organization throughout the interview. You, therefore, want to make that fit as obvious as possible.
  • Be positive and professional at ALL times to everyone from the CEO to the secretary. Be on time, or better yet, early!
  • Turn nervousness into positive energy. The interview is also an evaluation of the employer: the culture, position, people etc. Therefore, you are also in a decision making position.
  • Prepare and ask good questions. Asking thought provoking questions reflect critical thinking skills as well as your interest and tenacity. They can also help you evaluate whether this position/organization is the right one for you. Do not ask “red flag” questions such as inquiries about vacation, salary, etc unless they are brought up by the interviewer.
  • Get contact information so you may follow up. Thank the interviewer(s) for their time and mention something discussed during the interview that particularly struck you. The thank you note is also a great place to mention new information regarding your eligibility for the position and/or anything you may have forgotten to mention before an interview.

Common Interview Questions

General

  • What attracted you to this position?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What interests you about this position? …organization?
  • What do you know about this organization?
  • How can you contribute to our company?
  • How will working here help you to reach your goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? …in 10 years?
  • Tell me about your ____________ degree.
  • Tell me about your experiences in the ____________ field.
  • Do you have plans for continued study?
  • What qualities should a successful manager possess?
  • What was your most significant contribution in your last position?
  • How do you determine or evaluate success?

Personality Traits

  • What strengths do you bring to this position?
  • What do you see as your greatest strength?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • What would your former boss say if I were to call her for a reference?
  • When have you assumed positions of leadership?
  • What kind of leader are you?
  • What motivates you?
  • Are you an independent worker or more of a team player?
  • In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
  • How do you work under pressure?
  • How has your approach to your job changed in the last year?
  • How have you changed your management style (in the past year)?
  • If you came to work for us, who would you bring with you?
  • What would make you accept a counteroffer from your organization?

Sample Behavioral

Remember to be specific in your answers! If you were unhappy with the results in the situation you are discussing, you may also talk about what you would have done differently now. Use examples from a variety of experiences. Current or past jobs, internships, professional association involvement, and community activities are some areas to potentially discuss.

  • Tell me about a time that a project you were managing experienced problems and how you dealt with the challenges.
  • Tell me about a specific challenge you faced in your most recent position.
  • Tell me about one of your greatest successes.
  • What would your proudest accomplishment be if you came to work here?
  • What is one of the toughest problems you’ve ever had to solve, or decisions you’ve ever had to make? Why was it difficult? How did you solve it?
  • Tell me about a time you had to manage a group of people.
  • What have you done when a group project started going awry?
  • Give an example of a time you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done.
  • Tell about an unpopular decision you have made. How long did it take to make the decision? Why did the decision arise? How do you think you handled it?
  • Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give me an example of a time you took on a leadership position.
  • Tell me about a time you had to acquire knowledge quickly and then apply it quickly.
  • Give me an example of a time you had to make a split-second decision.
  • Describe a time you had to work well under pressure.
  • Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
  • Give me an example of how you dealt with conflict.

Sample Case Questions & Tips

McKinsey & Company – Online case study tips and practice scenarios

Miscellaneous/Wrap Up

  • Why should I hire you?
  • Do you have any questions for me?
  • Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

Questions to Ask Interviewers

Ask questions that show thought and your ability to synthesize and analyze your research into the company. Do not ask about items you can easily find on the organization’s website or questions that may raise red flags, such as inquiries about salary or benefits.

  • What are the most important characteristics someone in this position should have?
  • What is your management style?
  • What do you expect from your staff?
  • In my research into your company/organization, I read about a new venture in ______. What are your plans/future goals?
  • What other growth areas do you anticipate in the future?
  • How does your firm handle the problem of ______? (A current topic/issue in the industry)
  • What attracted you to your current position?
  • What do you enjoy most about your job?
  • What is the promotion/advancement potential in the company?
  • What opportunities are available for professional development?
  • Why are you hiring for this position?
  • When can I expect to hear from you?
  • What is the timeline for hiring?

Informational Interviews

Different than a job specific interview, an informational interview is an opportunity to ask someone questions regarding a field, organization, degree, or something else. It’s a chance to gain more insight (more information—hence the name). The person you interview can be someone you know or don’t know. Informational interviews are great ways to learn and can also result in real connections and even interviews. The chemistry between the interview and interviewee can make a difference, as well as timing and more.

When you first initiate contact with a person with whom you want to talk, make sure you say the words “informational interview.” In doing so, you can prevent any potential pressure the person might feel. When asking for an information interview, specify the amount of time you would like (such as 20-30 minutes)—and then stick to it when you are interviewing the person. The best way to talk to someone is in person, but you can also talk via the telephone. You can even ask questions via e-mail, but that is very limiting.

Write your questions down before the interview to make sure that you cover everything you want to know. Of course, you can ask other questions as they come up. Take notes. Ask for associations or organizations that a person is affiliated with or ones that might be helpful with your job search. It’s also helpful to ask about the person’s job path or how the person learned about her/his current job. (Oftentimes, this is where some of the most helpful advice comes out that a person might otherwise forget.) Also, it's always good to make sure that you ask some questions specifically about the person (not too personal, of course). Even if the person doesn’t know a lot about specific resources, at least the person is an expert in her/his own life. If it’s an awkward conversation, these types of questions help break the ice. Ask for names (at least one or two) of other people to talk to, and ask if you can use that person’s name when contacting the new people.

Take your resume just in case, but don’t lead with it. In fact, you might never introduce it. You could always introduce it by asking the person to review it to provide recommendations or ask if the person felt you would be a particular fit somewhere. This could be sensitive—you’ll have to go with the flow on this.

Get a business card to ensure that you have the correct name spelling, title, address, etc. You could write some notes directly on the back of the card to ensure that the information associated with that person remains connected. Write a personalized thank you note, mentioning specific things that you learned from the interview and actions you will take as a direct result of the interview.

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