Preparing for the Interview

In an interview setting, presenting yourself involves both your verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Self-expression, self-confidence, enthusiasm, knowledge of the organization and your ability to effectively relate your qualifications to the interviewer will create a positive impression.

Know yourself.

Inventory your strengths related to the position and practice talking about them. Talking about your strengths and accomplishments in a straightforward, enthusiastic manner becomes more comfortable as you practice saying the words out loud.

Know the opportunity.

Research the organization/department (e.g., mission, customers, programs, staffing, new products and services, acquisitions, etc). The organization’s website as well as its Facebook and LinkedIn pages are good sources for this information. Specific questions to answer include:

  • What are the responsibilities of the position?
  • What skills are required?
  • What is the organizational structure of the department/division to which the person in the position will report?
  • What products or services does it provide?
  • What population does it serve?
  • Who is the competition?
  • What are trends in this industry?
  • What is the future of the organization?
  • Are any new initiatives planned?
  • Have any new products or services been introduced recently?

Effective interview preparation includes dissecting the job description. Use a highlighter to identify important phrases and job-specific terminology then prepare examples that show you have the skills and knowledge to meet the job qualifications.

Based on information you have gathered about the organization and the position, analyze and be able to communicate where you fit into the organization and how you could contribute to its productivity and success.

Prepare for interview questions.

Employers use a variety of questions to obtain information needed to make a hiring decision. The most common are the standard, situational and behavioral questions.

Standard Interview Questions

Standard questions are the general and predictable questions used to find out more information about your skills, education and experience. With preparation, standard questions are not difficult to answer. The following are examples of standard interview questions:

  • Tell me/us about yourself.
  • Why did you apply for this position?
  • What are your major strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career?
  • Do you have any questions? 

Behavioral Interview Questions

One of the most reliable ways for an interviewer to predict how you will perform in the future is to hear about how you have performed in the past. Therefore, many employers prepare behavioral interview questions that ask you to describe how you have handled a specific situation. You may also be asked technical questions such as how you have performed certain procedures or processes in your field. Some common behavioral interview questions are:

  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated your ability to...
  • Work effectively under pressure.
  • Handle a difficult situation with a co-worker.
  • Make an unpopular decision.
  • Be tolerant of an opinion that was different from yours.
  • Gain support for a new program.
  • Worked with others to complete a project.
  • Surmount a major obstacle.
  • Prioritize the elements of a complicated project. 

Situational Interview Questions

The interviewer may also present a hypothetical situation for you to try and solve. The rationale is that it allows the interviewer to see how a person thinks – how he/she solves problems. For example:

  • A construction engineer might be asked: “What would you do if your crew was digging underground and ran into a rock?”
  • A marketing manager might be asked: “How would you plan a new product or service launch on campus?”

The best way to prepare for situational interview questions is to:

  • Thoroughly research the position and try to anticipate interview questions.
  • Review past experiences that reflect positively on your behavior.
  • Jot down ideas about each experience and examine your role. How did you handle problems, show initiative and contribute to the outcome?
  • Select some challenging experiences. Employers are also investigating how you handle problems and difficult relationships. Focus on your strengths and positive attributes without complaining or criticizing others.

Practice answering interview questions.

This does not mean you should memorize answers; it means you should be prepared. Review the commonly asked interview questions and prepare answers in advance. The more practice you have answering typical questions, the better able you are to convey your ideas in a clear, concise manner. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a voice recorder, video camera or mirror to help you practice.
  • Eliminate “filler words” in your vocabulary, e.g., “um,” “like” and “you know”; also listen to how fast you talk and pace your speech accordingly.
  • Hold a mock interview with a career counselor, friends and/or family. Ask for feedback about your interview performance.
  • Use note cards. “studying” for the interview is another way to prepare. When using note cards, write a sample question on one side and jot down some key phrases you would like to recall on the opposite side. Avoid memorized answers that could cause you to stumble.

Strategies for Answering Interview Questions

There are strategies to use when responding to any type of interview question.

First, it is important to think about why the question is being asked. What information is the interviewer really after? Once you determine why you are being asked the question, you can formulate your response.

Answer questions by providing specific accomplishments or examples to illustrate your points. Think of the acronym STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result), a simple three-step process that will enable you to focus on specific experiences to support your responses:

  • Situation – state where you did this
  • Task – describe the task or project for which you had responsibility
  • Action – talk about the approach you took to deal with the situation
  • Result – discuss the outcome of your action, making sure to mention accomplishments or improvements made due to your action.

Prepare questions to ask the interviewer(s).

You are usually expected to ask questions about the position or the organization towards the end of an interview. The questions should be pertinent to the position and show your enthusiasm and knowledge. Some questions will arise naturally throughout the interview but it is wise to bring some written questions with you.

By asking intelligent, well-thought-out questions, you show the employer you are serious about the organization. If a question has been answered during the interview, do not ask it again. During a first interview you would most likely ask only one or two questions

The following are examples of questions you might ask:

About the Position

  • Why is this position available? Is it a new job?
  • What are you looking for in the successful candidate?
  • Why is this job important to you and the department?
  • How does this position fit with the mission of the department? With the larger organization?
  • What results do you expect to get from the person in this position?
  • What can I do in my first few months to ensure my success here?
  • What types of assignments might I expect in the first three months on the job?
  • How are employees trained for their new responsibilities?
  • How does the department encourage employees to stay current with new technologies and learning?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of this job?
  • What are the opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • How is employee performance evaluated?
  • One year from now, how will I know that I have met the expectations of the position?

About the Organization

  • How will industry trends affect this organization within the next three to five years?
  • How does the organization define a successful individual?
  • What do you see as your organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What makes your department different from others?
  • What are the future goals of this department/organization?
  • What products or services are in the development stage right now?
  • How would you describe your organization's management style and working environment?

About the Process

  • What is the next step?
  • When will I be notified of your selection?
  • When may I expect to hear from you?
  • What is the start date of this position?
  • Is there anything else you would like to know about me in terms of my strengths and how I can make a contribution?

Inappropriate Questions

Avoid questions that ask what the organization will be doing for you if you are hired (e.g., “What salary can I expect?” “How much vacation time will I accrue?”). You can find the answers to these questions later, if employment is offered.