Employment Interviews

Interviewing Basics

While feeling nervous about a job or internship interview is common, preparing can help you feel more confident when meeting a potential supervisor and colleagues. Before the interview, take time to reflect on the opportunity and how your skills, interests, values, and experience fit with the position and the organization. Below are some tips to get you started.

Know what you offer

  • Identify your skills and experience (employment, volunteer, class projects, etc.) that are relevant to the position and organization.
  • Be able to explain why you're enthusiastic about the opportunity.
  • Identify potential contributions you can make to the internship/job and organization.

Know the employer

  • What sets it apart from other companies (their mission? values? organizational culture? products/services?) and why do these differences appeal to you.
  • Be able to answer this common question: “Why do you want to work for our organization?” Consider how your values, interests, and potential contributions align with the company.

Examples of Interviewing Formats

There are several formats for interviews. Below are a few examples:

Screening vs. Subsequent Interviews

Screening interviews typically are initial, brief meetings to assess some basics about your fit/skill level. Second+ interviews tend to be longer, more in-depth, and might include the opportunity for an onsite visit and to meet additional potential colleagues.

Group or Panel Interviews

Interviews might be one-on-one (you and the interviewer), or with a group of applicants or a panel of interviewers. If you are interviewing with a group of applicants, you might be asked to participate in a project together. This allows the interviewers to evaluate how you work with others. If you are interviewing with a panel of interviewers, remember to vary your eye contact and connect with all of the people in the room.

Remote Interviews (Phone or Video)

Use a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Let roommates know what you are doing so they can avoid making excessive noise. Close any unnecessary apps on your computer and other devices to eliminate noises and distractions. For phone interviews (no visual), use your tone of voice to express interest. Listen closely to avoid talking over your interviewer(s). For video interviews:

  • Background: remove visual clutter/distractions so the interviewer(s) focus on you, not on what is behind you.
  • Choose a well-lit space: don't face the camera into a light source, e.g., window or lamp, as it can darken your face making it difficult to see your facial expressions.
  • Position your camera at eye level. Show yourself from the waist or chest up so your head doesn’t look like it is floating.
  • Download software needed well ahead of time. Test your video and audio before your interview to make sure it is working.

Stages of the Interview

  • At the beginning of the interview, typically the employer makes introductions and shares an overview of the interview process.
  • The majority of the interview usually consists of questions and conversation. The employer typically has a list of questions to help them understand your qualifications and fit with the job. Also, be prepared to ask questions about the position and company to help you determine if the opportunity is a good fit for you. (Compensation/benefits are typically discussed after an offer has been made).
  • At the close of a meeting, thank the interviewer(s) for their time and ask about next steps in the hiring process if the interviewer does not offer this information.

Your Presentation

  • Clothing: research the organizational culture and typical attire of employees. Often, interview attire is somewhat more formal than the typical attire.
  • “Arrive” a few minutes early whether in person or remote.
  • Nonverbal expressions: direct eye contact with the interviewer, smiling, and other facial expressions are ways interest can be expressed by interviewees.
  • Make positive self-references; don’t downplay your achievements.
  • Focus on you and what you can offer (not on others or their faults).

After the Interview

  • Make notes of your impressions and what you learned. You can use this information to help you with decision-making.
  • Send thank-you notes to your interviewers.
  • You can follow up to inquire about their hiring timeline if you are not contacted by the date the employer indicated they would select a candidate.

Interview Preparation

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Why are you interested in the position?
  • Why are you interested in working for this organization?
  • How do your skills/experience align with the position/organization?

Research the organization and be able to tell the employer not only why you are interested in the work, but why you want to work with them specifically. Also, study the position announcement and qualifications listed. Be ready to explain how your skills and experience match the qualifications.

Additional examples of common questions:

  • Tell me about yourself. Think in terms of what is relevant to the opportunity, e.g., your interests, current studies, previous experience, relevant skills, etc. This is meant to be an introduction and to let them know why you are interviewing with them; you will be asked additional questions throughout the interview to provide more detail.
  • Tell me about a time when… Interviewers ask these types of questions, known as behavioral questions, to elicit a specific example from you. It helps them understand how you deal with particular situations. Use the SOAR method (below).
  • This is happening ... often an event common to that line of work ... how would you handle it? Scenarios offer you the opportunity to demonstrate your decision-making process; explain what you would do and why.
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Be prepared to share examples of when you have demonstrated your strengths. For weakness(es), discuss what steps you are taking to improve or develop skills to overcome them.
  • Successes and failures? For failures, include what you have learned and how it will allow you to improve in the future.
  • Experience with/level of proficiency with software and other skills: Use the posting to understand the employer’s needs and identify your best examples of using these skills.
  • Portfolio: Be prepared to talk about and answer questions related to the projects you have included. You might be asked to guide the interviewer through the portfolio. Know your portfolio well - practice showing it and explaining its content.
  • Do you have any questions for us? These questions help you evaluate the opportunity and to demonstrate your interest and the research you have already conducted about the company. Prepare a few questions to ask.

SOAR Storytelling Framework

To help you answer behavioral and other types of questions that require a specific example, use the SOAR method to structure your answers. Develop stories that demonstrate your top strengths/achievements and that show your skills as they relate to the qualifications indicated in the position announcement.

  • Situation: include enough detail so someone new to your story can understand what was happening. Where did it take place? Who was involved? What was your role?
  • Obstacle: What were you tasked with? What challenges did you face?
  • Action: What did you do in this situation? If you are using a team experience, at some point in your story, move from “We” to “I” to show how you individually contributed to the group.
  • Result: Explain how the experience ended. Was it successful? What did you learn? How did it benefit the organization? If it was not successful, include what you learned so the employer will know how you will approach it differently next time. With the result you can also address how the skill/strength you elaborated on will help you accomplish the responsibilities of the job for which you are applying.

Resources for Practice

  • Schedule a practice interview with a College of Design career advisor
  • Participate in the University Career Center’s Practice Interview Program
  • Log in to Big Interview, an online resource that offers virtual practice interviews for all experience levels and dozens of industries and a database of thousands of interview questions with tips on how to answer them