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How to Ace an Interview
Don’t forget to prepare for one of the most vital pieces of your application – whether for an internship, graduate school, or job. This is your chance to show your professionalism, interest in the position, and answer questions that may arise from your other application materials. Preparation for an interview is vital!
The Career and Internship Center is available to assist you in preparing for an interview. Mock interviews allow you to think on your feet as you face questions, see your body language, and consider annoying habits before you face the interview. Contact us for an appointment.
Get the answers to ace the interview
What format will the interview take?
When scheduling interviews with employers or graduate programs, ask them about the format.
- Will this be a screening interview, or a more in-depth selection interview?
- How many people will you be interviewing with, and what is their role/position in the organization?
- What will your schedule be? For instance, will you need to give a presentation, take a test, or complete group exercises?
- Will there be a social event or a meal?
Knowing the general schedule and format will help you prepare appropriately and approach the interview with confidence.
NOTE: Another point you may wish to clarify is if the employer has a reimbursement policy for travel and lodging, particularly if for a job. Depending on the industry and the distance being traveled, it may or may not be common practice to reimburse job applicants. If the organization does reimburse, you will want to know their specific procedure: will they make travel arrangements and contact you? Should you make arrangements and provide receipts? Once these details and arrangements are made, you may begin focusing on interview strategies.
What strengths and skills should I highlight in the interview?
Once you have been granted an interview, it is time to reflect on your past experiences and how they relate to the position for which you are applying. Write down key points or related experiences to assist you in conveying what you believe is important to your prospective employer or graduate program.
- How do your background, interests, and skills relate to the position?
- List similarities between your education, work epxerience, and co-curricular activities and the opportunity you are interviewing for.
- Consider your work style, motivation, energy level, personality, and goals. How will these match to the organization/school and position?
- What transferable skills can you highlight? Think broadly about your experiences and how the skills gained will benefit you in the graduate program or job.
The following is a partial list of skills you may want to consider showcasing in the interview. It isn't necessary to have previous experience in all these areas, but it is likely ordinary, everyday situations have provided you with experiences that reinforce these skills. If possible, have specific examples prepared for each skill you wish to demonstrate:
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Public Speaking
- Technical skills (e.g. computer, math)
The staff in the Career and Internship Center are able to assist you in assessing your skills and connecting them to positions. Contact us!
What information should I research before the interview?
In addition to knowing what you would like to communicate about yourself, it is also important to know about the position, organization, industry, graduate school, or specific graduate program.
If you are seeking a place in a graduate program
- What are the research interests of the faculty?
- How many graduate students are accepted into the program?
- What is the community environment and how might you contribute?
If you are seeking a job
- What is the job description and job responsibilities?
- What training opportunities are available?
- What is the mission of the organization?
- What are the products and services created byt the company?
Information may be obtained through a variety of means. The internet provides a wealth of information on companies and schools. In addition to the internet, information may be obtained from newspapers, trade magazines, academic literature review, and the Career Resource Library.
The Career and Internship Center is available to assist you as you research information on your next step.
Is it important to practice for an interview?
Creating a great first impression is key in your interview.
Arrive a few minutes early for your interview. Check in with the receptionist or designated employee and find the appropriate waiting area. If it is an on-site interview, take time to observe the organizational environment to provide you with insights not found in your research.
The interviewer will typically greet you and initiate introductions. The impressions you make in the first few minutes are very important. In addition to what you say, the interviewer will note your appearance, dress, and non-verbal expressions and gestures. Dress in professional attire appropriate to the organization. By dressing on the conservative side, you may be assured that your image will communicate professionalism.
The Actual Interview: Showcasing Your Qualifications
After testing and refining your answers to practice questions, you should be prepared for the actual interview. Highlighting your skills as they relate to the organization's position should be your main objective.
Questions may be asked in a variety of ways. Some interviewers may primarily ask structured questions, such as, "What three things are important for you to have in a position?" Others may ask more open-ended questions like, "Tell me about yourself." You should be prepared to answer both types of questions.
Be careful to answer in compete sentences and do not use unnecessary jargan. As in dress, err on the side of more formal responses over colloquial language.
If you've done your research and practiced your responses, relax! You will let your personality and skills shine if you are able to take comfort in your preparation.
Are there questions I do not have to answer?
The situation may occur in which the interviewer asks you a question that does not seem job related. For example, "Do you plan to marry in the near future?" The interviewer may not intentionally be delving into your personal life, but may have some concerns about your commitment to the organization or program.
If asked illegal questions you have the option of answering the question, realizing you are giving information that is not job related; refusing to answer the question, and risk being viewed as an uncooperative candidate; or considering the intent behind the question and answering in a manner related to the job you are applying for.
For example, you may respond by stating "If you are concerned about my ability to travel, please know that I am aware that this position requires extensive travel, and I am looking forward to that aspect of the job."
Should this type of question arise, seek clarification and answer in a way you feel most comfortable. The Career and Internship Center staff can also assist you in identifying and responding to illegal questions.
The salary question if applying for a job
At some point during the interview, you may be asked about your salary requirements. This is not an illegal question, but can raise anxiety. While you may be prepared to provide a range, it is desirable to wait and discuss a specific salary when you have received a job offer. At that point, you will be in the strongest position to negotiate.
When salary discussions occur, rely on your previous research regarding typical salaries for your field and geographic cost of living information.
Should I ask questions?
At some point during the interview, you will have the opportunity to ask questions. This is your chance to learn what you need to know in order to make an informed decision. Always be prepared to ask thoughtful questions.
Your questions demonstrate to the employer that you have a general interest in the organization/position. They also allow the interviewer to gain new insights about you and to understand your priorities as they relate to your career.
The questions you ask should help you clarify what you researched, or should be asked to discover information not found in the literature. Avoid inappropriate questions, particularly those related to salary and benefit packages.
The Career and Internship Center has resources to assist you in formulating questions you might want to ask - we are happy to assist!
Is there anything I need to do as I finish the interview?
As the interview draws to a close, you and the interviewer will want to discuss the next steps in the selection process, such as their time line for making a decision; whether it is necessary for you to provide any supporting documents (transcripts, recommendations); and when and how you will be contacted.
It is important that you leave the interviewer with a lasting, positive impression of yourself. Ask the interviewer for a business card so you will have accurate information for writing a thank you letter and also for your records, should you need to initiate contact. Thank the interviewer for his or her time and maintain your positive, professional demeanor as you exit.
Make notes after the interview to remind yourself of your conversation with the employer. Record the interviewer's name, position, address, telephone number, key points discussed during the interview, and the next steps you plan to take.
Thank You Letter
A typed, brief thank you letter should be sent to the interviewer(s) within 24-48 hours after the interview. Extend your professional image by using a cordial rather than familiar tone. This is another opportunity to reiterate your interest in the organization/position and highlight how your background matches the requirements of the position. Be sure to use high quality paper and to proofread and edit carefully.
Reflect and Learn
Learn from your interview. Review and evaluate it. What went well and what was uncomfortable? What different strategies would you employ for future interviews? Effective interviewing is the result of preparation and research before the interview, professionalism during the interview, and taking the necessary steps after the interview.
Finding a position that matches your interests and career goals may take some time. As employers learn more about you in an interview, you will be learning more about your field and the types of positions which exist. Through this process, you can explore positions of interest to you and accept an offer which furthers your career goals.