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Interview Skills

Successful Interviewing Guide

The interview is your opportunity to convince an employer that you are the right person for the job.

Types of Interviews

Telephone Interview
These are like a screening interview in that the interviewer asks questions to screen out applicants. Have your resume near the phone for reference. Keep your voice energetic and positive. Keep answers concise and take the interview seriously. Speak up, use good grammar, and don’t be afraid to ask if you could come in for a meeting to discuss your qualifications further.

Combination Interview or Selection Interview
This is often the second interview. It is a much more personal interview and is often conducted by the hiring manager or department head for which you will be working. It is usually longer and involves more questions than the screening interview. If the interviewer likes you he or she may try to “sell” you on the organization and the position. Also, you will be given the opportunity to ask more in depth questions regarding the position and organization.

Structured Interview
The interviewer may have a prepared list of questions to be asked and your answers written down. The interviewer is usually impersonal and it may be difficult for you to express your personality. Keep your answers brief but thorough. Give the facts for the questions being answered. This could be with one person or with a panel of interviewers.

Panel or Group Interview
These usually occur after a preliminary interview and involve several people who are interested in the person being hired for the position. Try and remember everyone’s names and use them when you leave and in your follow-up email. This is a test of your social skills and it also demonstrates how you react under pressure when dealing with different personalities.

Stress Interview
Although rare, especially for entry-level positions, stress interviews are tests to see if you can handle pressure. The interviewers will appear cold, distant and unfriendly. Don’t lose your cool, stay calm, be polite, don’t argue. They may interrupt your answers. Recognize the situation for what it is, a “Test.”

Behavior Based Interview
This is a technique used by employers to learn about your past behavior in particular situations. The key to this style of interview is to describe in detail, actual events, situations, and challenges that will illustrate you are the best person for the job.

Skype Interview
To save money on travel expenses, many companies are taking advantage of the virtual power if Skype. This allows for HR personnel and hiring managers to “meet you and see how you present yourself in relation to appearance and interpersonal communication skills.

Six Steps to Prepare for the Interview

1. Research the Organization
Find out some basic information about the organization before you go for the interview. You will be in a better position to ask intelligent questions and you will impress the interviewer with your knowledge of the organization.

2. Research the Job
Employers often list more qualifications in the job posting than can be realistically met by most potential candidates. Frequently, this is done as a pre-screening device to reduce the number of applicants for the position by setting up artificial barriers. You should not allow this to discourage or prevent you from pursuing the position. Just as you are looking for the ideal job, employers are looking for the ideal employee. Analyze the job description and match your experiences, skills, interests and abilities to the job. You may find that some of the qualifications are less essential than others. Emphasizing your strong points may minimize the effect of possible limited experiences.

3. Prepare and Anticipate Questions
Anticipate questions that may be asked of you in an interview. Prepare answers beforehand for some of the more difficult questions. This does not mean memorizing responses or writing a script. It means planning the points you want to make. Also, prepare some questions you would like to ask the employer.

4. Practice Good Communication Skills
It is important that you use good communication skills during the interview. Practice with a friend, with a career advisor, or by videotaping a mock interview. Work on presenting yourself in a positive and confident manner, offering a firm handshake, speaking clearly and effectively, listening attentively and maintaining eye contact, and avoiding the use of unnecessary verbal and non-verbal distractions.

5. Dress Appropriately
Dress professionally for the interview. Remember that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Your appearance should be neat and clean. Conservative business attire is appropriate for most settings. Check out the “Dress for Success” section on page 4 for more tips.

6. Be On Time
Be on time for the interview! Plan to arrive about 15 minutes early. Check in with the interviewer or secretary about five to ten minutes prior to your scheduled appointment. Use your waiting time to check your appearance, review the questions and answers that you prepared, and read any company literature that may be on display. Take advantage of this time to get a feel for the work environment by observing the surroundings and interactions among staff.

Hints for Answering Questions

Use the SAR method to answer questions:

S – Situation
A – Action
R – Result


  • We were getting a lot of complaints about late deliveries. (Situation)
  • I investigated and found that requests for new inventory were not being processed fast enough. A system for regular follow up was quickly implemented. (Action)
  • This sorted out the stock problem and the delivery staff were able to meet their deadlines. (Result)

Typical Interview Questions

Tell me about yourself?
This is not a time to talk about your life story. The interviewer wants to see if you can talk about yourself in a positive manner. Talk about your skills, accomplishments, and personality traits that are related to the job for which you are interviewing. Show enthusiasm and use examples to explain what you have done. Also, explain why you want to work for this employer.

What is your greatest weakness?
You can mention a weakness that really could be positive for an organization and how you are overcoming that weakness. Example: “In the past, I pushed back deadlines so I could submit quality work. Since then, I’ve learned to manage my time better and delegate more effectively so I can meet my deadlines.” Or, you may want to mention a weakness that will NOT be a part of your job.

Why do you want to work as…?
Talk about your career goals and how this job applies to these goals.

Why do you want to work for this company?
Because you have already done your research on the company, you should be able to give two or three well thought out reasons why you want to work for this organization.

Tell me about your job at…? Or tell me about your previous work experience?
Talk about your duties, responsibilities and accomplishments and how they relate to the job for which you are interviewing.

How many organizations are you considering for employment?
Say “several” but be sure to express that this is the job you really want.

Why are you changing jobs? Or why did you leave your last employer?
Your reasons could include: downsizing, returning to school, lack of opportunities for advancement or challenge, location, money, security, etc. If applicable, tell interviewer that you are trying to gain new skills and progress in your field.

What did you like most about your previous job?
Talk about your responsibilities, challenges, accomplishments, or people, etc. Try to pick something that you did that would also be a part of your new job. Don’t just say “I liked my co-workers.” Expand on your answer by saying something like “I liked working on projects as part of a team to accomplish the goals of our department.”

How has your education prepared you for this job?
Talk about your courses/projects and how they could help you do your job.

What do you plan to be doing five years from today?
Usually, your response should relate to the job for which you are interviewing. You may express that the current job meets your career goals and that you enjoy doing the type of job you are seeking or explain that you would like to seek out new responsibilities within the organization as they become available. You may say “I realize that I’ve got things to learn. I will seek out opportunities for promotion as they become available and as I grow and learn within your organization.” Or you may say “Hopefully I will have received several promotions and know that I am growing in my field.”

Give me an example of a problem and how you have solved it.
This is a good time to use the SAR method. The employer wants to know if you can logically solve problems. When describing the problem or situation, explain the steps you took to solve it. Use the framework of situation, action and result.

How long will you stay with this company?
Sometimes employers ask this question to see if you are a job hopper. If you have held short term-jobs in the past, you may need to convince the employer that your job hopping days are over.

Why do you have a gap in your employment?
If you have gaps in your employment, be prepared to answer this question. Focus on the endeavors which related most closely to work activities such as going to school, doing volunteer work, involvement in professional associations, etc.

How to Answer Illegal Questions

You may come across an interviewer who does not know what questions are illegal. Or you may come across one who knows they are illegal but asks them anyway. Some examples of illegal questions are as follows:

  • Do you live with your parents?
  • What plans do you have for marriage?
  • What does your spouse do?
  • Do you have any children or do you plan to?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

There are several ways to handle answering illegal questions. Here are some suggestions:

Refuse to answer and advise interviewer that they are doing something unlawful. You can be more tactful by saying something like “I feel that this question is not related to the job. I would rather talk about my qualifications for this position.”

Answer the question. If you don’t believe the answer will hurt your chances of getting the job.

Answer the concern of the question. The real concern behind the question about children might be whether or not you will come in late, call in absent because of a sick child, or whether you will be able to work late or travel. An example of an answer might be: “I am fully prepared to meet the travel demands of this job. In my current position, I’ve been traveling regularly and have a perfect attendance record.”

Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Through your own research of the company, you should also come up with some personalized questions about that specific company.  

  • Is this a new position or will I be replacing someone?
  • Can you describe a typical day?
  • What types of projects would I be involved with?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of this job?
  • What will my training be like?
  • What is the company culture like?
  • Who will I be reporting to?
  • What professional development opportunities are available?

Questions Not to Ask

  • Salary – wait to address salary until the interviewer brings it up. If they don’t bring it up wait until you receive an offer to discuss salary.
  • Benefits (vacation, sick leave, insurance, etc.) – the interviewer may cover this topic or wait until you are offered the job.
  • Personal questions – such as things about the interviewer like educational background, marital status, etc.
  • Already answered questions during the main portion of the interview.

After the Interview

Following the interview:
  • Take a moment to make some notes.
  • Forward any requested material immediately.
  • Follow up if the date they said they would get to you has passed already.
Thank You Letter
Send a thank you letter, note or email expressing your appreciation for the interviewer’s time within 24-48 hours of your interview. Not only will this letter serve as a professional courtesy, it will also demonstrate the skill of following up.
In your thank you letter:
  • State your appreciation for the time that the interviewer(s) took to interview you.
  • Remind the reader of the date and time of your interview.
  • Reiterate your interest in the employer by adding a statement related to the conversation had during your interview.
  • Express appreciation for updates.
  • Ask questions you may have which were not answered in the original interview.

Dress for Success

For Men
  • A suit and tie is best. Plain, dark colors are recommended
  • If you do not own a suit, then dress slacks and a white button down shirt are recommended. You should still wear a tie if you have one.
  • Your belt and shoes should match.
  • Make sure you are clean shaven. If you have a beard, it should be neat and trimmed. 
For Women
  • A pant suit or skirt suit is best. Dark and basic colors are recommended.
  • Dresses are discouraged.
  • Don’t wear too much makeup.
  • Do not bring a large purse. A small purse, briefcase, or padfolio is recommended.
  • Do not wear clothing that is too tight or too revealing.


General Dress Tips

  • Make sure your hair is cut and styled. A conservative style is recommended.
  • Make sure your fingernails are clean and trimmed.
  • You can wear cologne or perfume but not too much.
  • Brush your teeth and make sure your breath is fresh.
  • Make sure you don’t have any body odor.
  • Do not wear too much jewelry.
  • You should have no visible tattoos or piercings. Ear piercings are okay with minimal earrings.
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