Congratulations! You have been selected for an interview. Whether this is your first, second, or even third interview, this is an opportunity to sell yourself as the candidate who is the best fit for the position and the organization based on your background, skills, and interests.
Interviewers seek candidates who can articulate their qualifications well and fulfill the position responsibilities successfully. They may ask technical questions related to your past performance and your knowledge of the position, organization, and/or industry.
If you would like to schedule a mock interview or practice answers to specific interview questions, please make an appointment on Handshake: bates.joinhandshake.com/appointments/new or call the Bates Center for Purposeful Work at (207) 786-6232.
Before the Interview: Research and Preparation
Research the organization and industry: Learn everything you can about the organization, particularly its history, mission/vision/goals, culture, and current priorities. What is going on in the industry? Who are the company’s competitors?
Research the job: Analyze the job description and other information on the position. What are the most important skills and experiences required to land the job?
Reflect on yourself: What are your skills, interests, and values? What are you happiest doing? What do you need in a job to do your best work? What salary and benefits do you require? Consider your knowledge-based skills (developed through your coursework), transferable skills (that can be applied across roles), personal qualities, and intrinsic motivators. Be able to clearly explain: what you want to do; how your skills, strengths, and experiences meet an employer’s needs; and why you are the best candidate for the specific position. The more you reflect on yourself and your experiences, the more easily answers to questions will come to mind.
Plan responses to potential questions: Review APPENDIX A and do further research online, especially for industry-specific questions. Practice your responses to these questions. Meet with a career counselor for a mock interview or to review specific interview questions.
Draft a list of possible questions to ask: Be sure the answers to your questions cannot be easily found on the organization’s website. Avoid benefit and salary questions, but focus on professional development, organizational culture, mentorship, and leadership. Ask questions you really want to know the answers to that will shed light on the job. Remember, you are also interviewing the organization to ensure that it will be a positive environment for you.
Prepare your materials: Whether you are interviewing virtually or in person, have the following easily accessible — copies of your resume, professional references (in case you are asked), a notepad (for notes as needed, with your questions) in a professional portfolio, and a pen. For a physical interview, you will also need directions to the interview, the phone number of the company (in case you are late for any reason), and the name of the person or people with whom you will meet. Be ready with interview-appropriate clothes and a polished appearance. Bring a government-issued photo ID in case the building has a security desk.
Be on time: Arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the interview to collect your thoughts. You would be surprised how that will help rather than rushing in at the last minute. If you are at the company location, use the time to observe the environment. Is this a place where you would like to work?
Practice, practice, practice: Role play with someone you can trust who can provide thoughtful feedback and/or make arrangements for a mock interview with a career counselor.
During the Interview: General Guidelines
First impressions matter. Make the best possible first impression through your appearance, behavior, and timeliness. You have been asked for an interview because you possess the basic qualifications for the job, such as education and work experience. During the interview, employers will look for several qualities, such as honesty, credibility, intelligence, competence, enthusiasm, spontaneity, friendliness, and likeability.
Much of the message communicating these qualities will be conveyed through your nonverbal behavior. Here are some tips:
- Demonstrate your self-confidence with a firm handshake.
- Make eye contact consistently, but do not stare. You will be perceived as more trustworthy if you look at the interviewer as you ask and answer questions. A direct, though moderate, eye gaze conveys interest as well as trustworthiness. NOTE: There may be cultural differences in this regard, so do the necessary research on the organization and relevant customs, especially for global organizations. Check out resources on GoinGlobal under Handshake Resources.
- Sit with a slight forward lean toward the interviewer, but don’t hunch. A slight lean communicates your interest in what the interviewer is saying and good posture communicates confidence and professionalism.
- Try to convey interest and enthusiasm through your vocal inflections. Your tone of voice can say a lot about you and your interest in the interviewer, the position, and the organization.
- Try to speak at a steady pace without rushing through your words. Use brief pauses as needed to take short breaks and collect your thoughts.
- Smiling will also help reinforce your level of engagement.
- Use a platform such as Big Interview to record yourself and self-assess your nonverbal behavior.
- Make a favorable impression on everyone you meet, including HR and support staff.
- Present yourself in a straightforward, honest, and authentic manner. If you do not know the answer, do not try to fake it.
- If you are unclear about a question, do not hesitate to ask for details.
- If given the opportunity, ask to connect and/or meet with other people in the organization, especially those with whom you would be working.
- For interviews connected to high-stress environments, be prepared for interviewers to gauge how well you handle stressful situations.
During an interview, you may be asked difficult questions. Some of these include:
- “Tell me about yourself…”: Briefly detail your education and work experiences, how your qualities and skills match the needs of the job, and how the job fits into your professional pathway. (*See below for more recommendations for addressing this classic question!)
- Issues such as gaps in employment, prior terminations, or low GPA: Everyone has weaknesses. Be honest and present your case in as positive a manner as possible. Do not make excuses or blame others for your prior misfortunes or failures. Take responsibility for your weaknesses and highlight how you have improved upon them.
- Salary requirements: Salaries are often established by companies before the interview process begins. Be sure you have done your homework and have solid information about your market value. However, do not bring up salary requirements before the interviewer does.
- Illegal questions: There are topics an interviewer cannot ask you about legally, and there is plenty of good advice on how to respond to those questions in a professional manner. Here’s what you need to know:
- Interviewers can only ask questions about your ability to fulfill the requirements described in the position description.
- The following topics are off limits: age, ancestry, citizenship, credit rating, criminal record, disabilities, family status, gender, military discharge, or religion (www.thebalancecareers.com)
Voltaire said, “Judge a person by their questions, rather than the answers [they] give.” Interviewers will always ask you if you have any questions for them. Your questions are another signal that you have been thoughtful about why you are the right choice for this job, and why this job is the right choice for you. Use the research you have done on the organization, the position, and the relevant industry trends to formulate at least three to four thoughtful questions ahead of time. Write them down and bring them with you. When developing your questions, be sure the answers cannot be found through basic online/website/LinkedIn research.
Explore the following:
- Read about the organization’s values and mission/vision/goals on their website.
- Search for recent news stories involving the organization and the industry.
- Consider the relationships between the position and others in the organization and what more you would like to know about those relationships.
- Consider opportunities within the organization, including professional development, mentorship, leadership, and communities of support.
APPENDIX B provides a long list of questions, but here are some sample questions to ask about the position:
- Will I work independently or on a team?
- Will I be closely supervised or work on my own?
- Whom will I report to? Who will evaluate my work?
- How will my work be evaluated and how often?
- How is success evaluated for this position?
- What are your short-term and long-term expectations of me?
- What are the growth opportunities for someone in this position?
At this point, it is appropriate to address any issues or concerns, ask the interviewer about next steps, and obtain their contact information:
- Are there any issues or concerns regarding my candidacy for this role that you would like me to address? By asking directly, you convey confidence in your candidacy and allow them to ask any lingering questions.
- What are the next steps in the selection process?
- When do you anticipate making your final decision?
- Ask them for their business card or contact details. This is important for confirming the spelling of the interviewer’s name on your thank-you note and engaging in any follow-up communication. If they do not have a card to give you, ask for their email address. If you are interviewing in person, you can also ask the person at the reception desk for the spelling and email address of the people you met in order to thank them directly.
At the End of the Interview
Interviewers normally will signal the end of in-person interviews by standing, shaking hands, and thanking you for coming to the interview. Reiterate your thanks for their time and the opportunity, look them in the eye, and shake their hand firmly. In the case of virtual interviews, the interviewer thank you is the general signal.
After the Interview: Important Follow-Up
Within 24 hours of your meeting (if not immediately after), send a thank-you note. This is a vital part of the interview process and one too often ignored by job seekers. Depending on the company culture, consider sending a well-edited email immediately after the interview and a handwritten note (with clear handwriting) after the interview process closes.
- Send a separate thank-you note to each person with whom you interviewed.
- Thank-you notes should always be personalized and customized to the person with whom you met at the company. Never send the exact same message to multiple individuals.
- Thank them for interviewing you and specify the particular position you interviewed for ( recruiters are often interviewing for many positions at once). Reference something specific about your conversation with the individual, which will help the interviewer recall your discussion and keep you in active consideration. If possible, try to highlight one of the accomplishments you discussed during the interview, or introduce a new one that builds on your interview conversation. This also helps to build rapport and your relationship with this individual.
- Remember that the thank-you note is often a sales letter in disguise. If you left out pertinent information during the interview, be sure to include it in the thank-you note. It gives you the opportunity to emphasize the alignment between your background and the employer’s needs.
- Always focus on what YOU can do for THEM. Thank-you notes should not be overly long; with an email, the recipient should not have to scroll down to view the entire note.
- Be sure to follow up based on the timeline articulated by your interviewer. Thoughtful and timely communication following the interview often determines who gets the job.
APPENDIX A – Typical Interview Questions
NOTE: There is an endless number of websites with typical (and atypical!) interview questions. We list a handful below, and a simple Google search will help you identify more questions: general as well as industry-specific questions to practice.
*Tell me about yourself.
This question gives you the agency and empowerment to tell the story you want to tell based on who is asking. It can be hard to pare down your life story into a two-minute spiel, but make sure you consider your audience and bring up the highlight reel that is most relevant to the opportunities you are seeking.
To help get you started, check out these great pieces:
- A Complete Guide to Answering “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview (Plus Examples!)
- How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” (Tips and Example Answers)
- Interview Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”
The key tasks are to: offer a brief introduction to your education and work experiences; highlight your strengths and how they apply to the position; and emphasize how the position fits into your professional journey.
Most importantly, be authentic. The more authentic you are, the more easily you will be able to relay your story without hiccups.
*Walk me through your resume.
The interviewer will inevitably dig into the details they wish to dig into, so take this opportunity to highlight key accomplishments in each section of your resume in a big picture way. Depending on the interviewer, they may stop you as you walk them through the document, so be prepared to provide details on whatever they might want to know more about. REMEMBER: If you do not want people asking you about specific activities, consider whether you need to include them in your resume.
More Questions to Practice
- 100 Questions from the balance careers
- 46 Questions from themuse
- 30 Behavioral Questions from themuse
- Forbes’ 7 “most important” questions and answers
- Forbes’ “tricky” questions and answers
- Nonprofit interview questions from the balance careers
- Nonprofit interview questions from Everyday Interview Tips
- 13 Technical Interview Questions from indeed.com
- 12 Tricky Tech Interview Questions from skillcrush
APPENDIX B – Questions to Ask an Interviewer
Interviewers expect candidates to ask intelligent questions concerning the organization and the nature of the work. You should indicate your interest in the company by asking questions. Questions may arise throughout the course of the interview. If there is time at the end, do not bombard the interviewer with questions. Instead, choose 3-5 questions that are extremely important to you. At least one question should be about the organization or industry. Bring a list of questions with you and scan the page when asked for questions to ensure that you do not ask a question that was answered during the course of the interview.
How would you describe the organization’s culture?
Where do you see the organization going in five years?
How is the organization managed? What is the leadership structure?
Does the organization have a proven track record of promotion from within?
Beyond the training programs in your brochure, what additional development programs do you offer?
If I want to further my education, does the organization offer tuition benefits?
Are there recent or anticipated changes in the structure of the organization – mergers, spin-offs, cut-backs?
What are the organization’s goals? How are they developed and reviewed?
What is the organization doing to stay ahead of the competition?
What is the client mix of this organization – public, corporate, individual?
I am impressed with the growth of Division “X.” To what do you attribute this growth?
What are the market plans to continue that growth or increase market share?
I notice Division “X” has been a financial drain on the organization. What steps are being taken?
What attracted you to this organization?
How long have you been with the organization? Why have you stayed?
What skills have you found to be critical to one’s success in this job?
What personal qualities have you found to be critical to one’s success in this job?
Please describe your job within the organization and to whom you report.
What do you like most about your work? What do you like least?
What other information can I provide to help in your decision-making process?
The Interview Process
What is the next step in your interview process?
When can I expect to hear from you?
May I have your business card?
We recommend you write your questions down and take them with you to the interview. You may need to refer to your list when the interviewer asks if you have any questions. In addition to the questions you have prepared ahead of time, if possible, ask a few follow-up questions about specific topics of discussion during the interview itself.
APPENDIX C – Types of Interviews
Most companies rely on behavioral interviews to identify candidates who are the best fit for the organization. Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that how you behaved in past situations is a predictor of how you will act in the future, and require that you provide examples from your experience.
It is important that you prepare for behavioral questions. Practice the actual interview by articulating your answers OUT LOUD. Identify strong examples from your background (academic experience, work experience, extracurricular activities, etc.) that highlight relevant skills and how you developed and utilized them. Be honest and authentic — avoid hyperbole.
When answering behavioral questions, it can be helpful to remember the STAR FORMAT. Address the Situation you faced, the Task you were responsible for, the Actions you took, and, most importantly, the Results of your actions. If you have thought ahead about the skills that you want to highlight during your interview, and have examples that demonstrate your capabilities, you will be able to come up with a positive example for any behavioral question asked.
Organizations often conduct first-round interviews over telephone or video (sometimes over recorded video), and some choose to conduct telephone or video interviews for subsequent rounds as well.
By asking some key questions of candidates about their skills, career objectives, and training, organizations determine the value of bringing candidates in for additional interviews.
If you are being interviewed via telephone or video, consider the following tips:
- Prepare as you would for an in-person interview. Have the resume and the cover letter you submitted to the organization ready, as well as the information that you have collected about the organization, your questions, and a pad of paper and a pen to jot down notes as needed. Make sure you are in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Do not smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink during the interview, but have water nearby in case you need it.
- On the telephone, the interviewer cannot see you and pick up messages from your body language, so it becomes critical for you to communicate verbal enthusiasm and interest in the position and the organization. Smile while you speak — that can help positive energy come through on a telephone or video interview. It will also be important for you to dress in professional attire for a telephone or video interview, as you would for an in-person interview, in order to help you feel confident and professional. Pay attention to pauses, and do not interrupt the interviewer if at all possible.
- With video interviews, the primary issue is technology. Plan ahead and make sure your internet connection is stable and you are familiar with the video platform. Most platforms provide an option to test your equipment and connection in advance. The secondary issue is setting. The interviewer can see you, but the setting is under your control. Make sure that you are in a space with no ambient noise or potential for unexpected noise, good lighting (in front of not behind you), and a plain or professional background (real or virtual). Consider all the other elements of an in-person interview, including attire, posture, and other nonverbal messages.
- If it makes you more focused or confident, stand up while you talk with the interviewer.
- Enunciate. Speak a little slower than in an in-person interview.
- At the end of the interview, thank your interviewer for their time and ask about next steps. Make sure you have the interviewer’s correct name and contact information.
- After the interview, put together notes on what you discussed, in case you are contacted for another interview.
- Send a thank-you note via email immediately after the interview. See above for additional details.
Organizations within specific industries (e.g., finance, technology) may conduct interviews that focus attention on the technical knowledge and skills that are required to be successful in particular roles. In these technical interviews, you may be provided with basic information and asked to manipulate data, build a model, write code, or perform a task that reflects the necessary knowledge and skills. To best prepare for these interviews, it is important for you to have a thorough understanding of the responsibilities and tasks for the role, so that you are well-prepared for technical questions.
Many consulting firms use case interviews to test a candidate’s business and financial knowledge, to assess their ability to think fast and problem solve, and in some cases how candidates work within a team. The Vault Guide to Case Interviews in Handshake is one of many good resources to help you prepare.
If you would like to schedule a mock interview or practice answers to specific interview questions, please make an appointment on Handshake: https://bates.joinhandshake.com/new or call the Bates Center for Purposeful Work (207) 786-6232.