No matter how far you are into your career, feeling nervous about or intimidated by the idea of a job or internship interview is very common. Student Services staff are here to help students develop interview skills, including how to prepare, how to conduct yourself during an interview, and steps to take after the interview.
Goals of an Interview
- Promote your potential to do the job; present your skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm.
- Evaluate the opportunity to determine if you would like to work for the organization.
- Obtain information to assess fit and decide if they would like to extend you an offer to work for them.
- Portray a positive image of the organization.
Know yourself and your prospective employer
Before going to an interview, conduct a full audit of your experience. Know what skills and experience (paid and non-paid) you have related to the job/organization. Be able to explain why you're enthusiastic about this specific job.
What you need to know about yourself:
- Your interests, skills, and experience as they relate to the job for which you are applying
- The potential contributions you can make to the job/organization
What you need to know about the employer:
- The position and its responsibilities
- The organization: What sets it apart from other employers? mission? values? culture? product/service?
- The industry (economy, competitors). Be able to answer this common question: “Why do you want to work for my organization?”
There are several formats for interviews. Below are a few examples:
This first interview is often brief (30 minutes) to assess your initial fit/skill level. If you are passed on to a second interview (and beyond), these are more in-depth. They tend to be longer (a few hours to a day +) and may be held at the company, which often provides an opportunity to meet people you might work with. More extensive interviews are typical with higher level positions.
If you are scheduled to participate in an interview by phone or video, the following are some tips to help you prepare.
- Use a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Let roommates know what you are doing so they can be mindful about making excessive noise.
- Close any unnecessary apps on your computer to avoid noises and distractions.
Phone interviews (no visual):
- Use your tone of voice to express interest. Also, because there is no visual, it is also easier to have notes in front of you to refer to as you answer questions. However, don't rely on your notes. Practice before the interview and use your notes as a back-up reference.
- Set the stage: Take some time to find a space to use for video interviews. Evaluate the background and make sure it is not too distracting. You want the interviewer(s) to focus on you, not on what is behind you. Also, choose a well-lit space. Don't face the camera into a light source such as a window or lamp, as it can darken your face making it difficult to see things like your facial expressions. Put the light source in front of you.
- Your camera: Position your camera at eye level (not above or below). Make eye contact with the camera on your device. Show yourself from the waist or chest up so your head doesn’t look like it is floating.
- Software and testing: Download any software needed well ahead of time to make sure it functions on your computer. Test your video and audio before your interview to make sure it is working.
- Screen sharing: Review what is on your computer desktop if screen sharing is a feature you will be using during an online conversation.
Group or panel interviews:
You might encounter interviews that are one-on-one, with a group of applicants, or with a panel of employers. If you are interviewing with a group of other applicants, you might be asked to participate in a project together. This allows the interviewers to evaluate how well you work with others. If you are interviewing with a panel of interviewers, remember to vary your eye contact to connect with all people in the room.
Stages of the Interview
At the beginning of the interview, typically the employer makes introductions and shares an overview of the interview process.
Employer asks questions to explore your qualifications and fit for the job. Be prepared to ask questions that help you determine if the job is a good fit for you. At this point, focus on the job, organization, and sharing your qualifications, not on the compensation or benefits.
Wrap-up. Thank the interviewers for their time and ask about next steps in the hiring process, if the employer does not offer that information.
- Dress appropriately for the culture of the organization to show your interest and investment.
- If in person, arrive 5–10 minutes early. If online or by phone, be ready 5 minutes prior to the call.
- Pay attention to your nonverbal expressions. Direct eye contact, smiling, and other facial expressions can demonstrate your interest.
- 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
- After you complete the interview, make notes of your impressions and reactions.
- Send thank-you notes to your interviewers.
- Follow up if you do not hear from the employer by the date they indicated they would select a candidate.
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?
Be sure to research the organization and be able to tell the employer not only why you want the position, but why you want to do that type pf work with them specifically. Also, study the internship or job posting and pay close attention to the qualifications. Be able to explain how your skills and experience match the qualifications.
Below are a few more commonly asked questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Behavioral questions (Tell me about a time when …)
- Scenarios (This is happening ... often an event common to that line of work ... how would you handle it?)
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses (for weakness(es), discuss what steps you are taking to improve or develop skills)
- Successes and failures (for failures, include what you have learned and how it will allow you to improve in the future)
- Do you have any questions for us?
To help you answer behavioral questions and other types of questions that require a specific examples, prepare by developing 10–15 stories that demonstrate your accomplishments and challenges you have faced.
- Identify your top strengths and achievements. Draw from different settings (e.g., course projects, community service, part-time/full-time jobs, internships, leadership experience).
- Analyze the internship/job posting (if available). Review the qualifications and themes from the posting. Predict questions based on these themes.
Use the SOAR method (below) to develop stories for your top strengths/achievements and stories that respond to the questions you have predicted. Once you have created your stories, review them to identify additional skills used in each experience.
SOAR Storytelling Framework:
- Describe the Situation: Be sure to include enough detail so someone who is new to your story can understand what was happening. Where did it take place? Who was involved? What was your role?
- Describe the Obstacle: What were you tasked with? What challenges did you face?
- Describe the Action: What did you do in this situation? If you are sharing a team experience, at some point in your story, move from “We” to “I” to show how you individually contributed to the group.
- Describe the Result: The result explains 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 that you would approach it differently next time.
Highlight the Meaning (the benefit to the employer): It is helpful to end your responses to interview questions by highlighting how the skill/strength you elaborated on will help you accomplish the responsibilities of the job for which you are applying. The employer is interested in how you will add value to their organization. Take the opportunity to explain how the information you shared in the SOAR story will benefit them.