Professional & Informational Interviewing
So what is an interview? An interview is simply an exchange of information between a candidate and someone who can make a hiring decision. While interviews are usually formal, you are interviewing any time you meet someone who can influence whether you advance in the search process.
Interviewing is typically one of the last stages of a job search, it is also one of the most important. All the other steps of your search process lead up to the interview. This is where it all comes together – the opportunities you discovered, your research, resume and cover letter preparation, and your conversations with networking contacts.
So how do you prepare for the interview?
Before the interview, prepare by reviewing the research you gathered, the job description, your resume and cover letter, and any information the organization may have provided. Try to determine the type of questions the interviewer may ask. You can use the Researching Worksheet to help you organize the information.
Pay close attention to the skills and experience they are seeking and match it to your experiences that demonstrate these abilities in a positive way. Take some time to reflect on skills, experience, successes, strengths, and weaknesses, and most importantly why you want their specific opportunity and how you can help them fulfill their needs.
We have all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” This is certainly the case with interviewing. You can practice interviewing by having a friend role-play an interview with you, or scheduling an appointment for a mock-interview with one of our coaches. Also, make sure to review all the information on this page.
The Week Before:
The week before the interview make sure your suit is dry cleaned, your shirt is clean and pressed, and that you have comfortable shoes in good shape. Review our appropriate dress guidelines for recommendations on your attire.
The Day Before:
The day of the interview can be stressful. So make sure, the day before, that you have written down the interviewer(s)’s name(s) and title(s), as well as directions to the interview site. Have the materials you will bring along laid out and ready to go: portfolio with copies of your resume, questions for the interviewers, transcript, copies of your work, and any application materials the organization may have asked you to complete. Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before your interview.
The Big Day:
The day of your interview, arrive 10-15 minutes before your interview. Relax! Your preparation is about to pay off. You have spent the time researching the organization, reviewing your skills and experiences and how they fit with the organization’s needs, and practicing interviewing. Remember the interviewer wants you to be successful; they are investing time in you!
After the interview, make sure you take a few minutes to debrief yourself. How did the interview go? Were there questions you stumbled over or that surprised you? Did you learn new information? What impression did you get − are you still interested in the opportunity? Do you have new questions?
Make sure you send a thank you note or email to each of the individuals who interviewed you within 48 hours of the meeting (or within 24 hours after an on-campus interview). Personalize the notes with information specific to each interviewer. More information about thank you notes is found in the Etiquette & Professionalism section.
Types of Interviews
Interviewing styles vary from employer to employer and from interviewer to interviewer. To better prepare for an interview, you should be familiar with the different types of interviews that you may encounter.
Types of Interviews:
This interview is based on the idea that your past behavior is useful in predicting future performance. Typical questions center on how you have handled past situations where skills, abilities and teamwork have been demonstrated. Topics could include project work, relevant work experiences, difficult situations, accomplishments and leadership roles. The questions usually begin with, “Tell me about a time when you… ?”
This interview is the favorite format of consulting firms. Typically, you will be given a scenario and asked to identify the problem and a resolution in order to assess your mental acuity. Take your time and be creative – but if you realize your first solution won’t work, back out of it and try again.
A great resource to prepare for case interviews is CQ Interactive (CQI). The most advanced online interactive case training developed, CQI focuses on the skills you need to walk into a case interview well prepared and confident. Although the consulting industry is known for conducting case interviews, employers in engineering, finance and others have begun to use this type of interview question to help assess a candidate’s problem-solving abilities. From math drills and chart analysis to market sizing, this site will help you structure your answers to a variety of case questions.
A group interview could involve several people taking turns asking questions or presenting scenarios for you to answer or solve. It may be structured as a group discussion that can help determine how you interact with potential colleagues.
This is the scariest of all interviews, with many pitfalls for the unwary! Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a social occasion for you to delve into your personal life. You are not being taken to eat because the interviewer wants to become better acquainted; he or she is testing you to see if you listened when your mom taught you social graces and table manners. Have a snack before the meal since you will be busy answering questions and promoting your accomplishments.
This interview is sometimes used as a screening interview if you are located a long distance from the employer. These interviews are often used to decide whether you should be considered for an on-site interview. Occasionally, students seeking internships and summer jobs have been interviewed and hired using this method alone.
The goal of this type of interview is to get the facts from you by identifying relevant skills and abilities while verifying the resume and looking for a solid potential employee. It usually lasts less than one hour and, depending on the employer and location, can take the form of an on-campus, site visit, video or telephone interview.
This format may involve the interviewer posing rapid-firing questions, and he or she may seem angry, may use harsh tones, or contradict and challenge everything you say. You are being tested on how you respond to pressure. Do not take it personally; rise to the challenge and respond like the cool-headed professional you are becoming.
The purpose of this interview is to see how you perform on a team. You will be observed as teams are developed, and projects distributed to test each team member. To emerge as a leader and a good team player, take time to receive ideas and suggestions as much as you give them. The worst thing you can do is to sit in silence and not participate.
Video conferencing equipment is used by employers to conduct screening, behavioral and other types of interviews. The following are tips to help you prepare for this type of interview:
Treat a video interview as seriously as any other type of interview.
Dark clothing is best suited to a video interview.
Speak clearly and slowly, as the sound system is powerful enough to pick up regular conversations.
Allow the interviewer to finish speaking before beginning a response.
Smile and follow basic rules of interviewing etiquette.
Types of Questions
Commonly Asked Interview Questions:
- Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strength? Weakness?
- How do you think a friend, classmate, or professor who knows you well would describe you?
- Why should I hire you?
- What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful in this job?
- In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our organization?
- What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
- Do you have plans for continued study?
- In what part-time or summer jobs have you been most interested? Why?
- Why did you decide to seek a position with our organization?
By carefully constructing your answers to these questions, you should be better prepared for the interview. Take as much time as you can and start early. The longer you practice your answers, the more polished your answers will become.
Questions to Ask During an Interview:
Prepare a list of well-researched questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. Keep in mind that your questions should reflect the amount of research you have done, rather than your lack of research.
The questions below are guidelines. Create and adapt the questions to meet your individual needs and interview situation.
- Which parts of the job are most challenging?
- What do you enjoy most about your job? Least?
- What activities are routinely performed in this job?
- What other departments/divisions do you interact with the most?
- How much travel is involved and to where?
- How are new product teams formed?
- Where will the position be located?
- Will relocation be required in the future? To where?
- What is the length of the training program/period?
- What is the average time to move within this particular career path?
Behavioral Interview Questions:
The concept behind behavioral interviews lies in the notion that your past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Interviewers ask for specific examples of specific events in order to draw a conclusion as to how you would perform in a similar situation. The questions are more probing than those in traditional interviews and discourage vague, canned or hypothetical answers. The interviewer determines the capabilities and traits that are necessary for success in a position and then asks questions that are designed to determine whether or not the candidate has the ability based on specific past experiences.
- Give an example of a time when you could not participate in a discussion or could not finish a task because you did not have enough information.
- Give an example of a time when you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision.
- Tell me about a time when you had to use your verbal communication skills in order to get a point across that was important to you.
- Describe a situation where you felt it necessary to be attentive and vigilant to your environment.
- Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to gain information needed to solve a problem. Then tell me how you analyzed the information and came to a decision.
- Give me an example of an important goal you had set and tell me about your progress in reaching it.
- Describe the most significant written document, report or presentation that you’ve completed.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get the job done.
- Describe a time when you felt it was necessary to modify or change your actions in order to respond to the needs of another person.
- What did you do in a project or class to contribute toward a teamwork environment? Be specific.
Answering Behavioral Interview Questions:
Using the CAR (Challenge-Action-Results) method provides you with a framework to use when responding to behavioral interview questions.
Challenge: Give an example of a situation in which you were involved that resulted in a positive outcome.
Action: Talk about the various actions involved in achieving the outcome.
Results: What results directly followed because of your actions?
Before the interview process, identify two or three of your top selling points and determine how you will convey these points (with demonstrated CAR stories) during the interview.
It is helpful to frame your answer as a story that you can tell. Typically, the interviewer will pick apart the story to try to get at the specific behavior(s) they seek. They refer to this as “digging a well.” The interviewer will sometimes ask you open-ended questions to allow you to choose which examples you wish to use. When a part of your story relates to a skill or experience the interviewer wishes to explore further, he/she will then ask you very specific follow-up questions regarding your behavior. These can include “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about your meeting with that person,” or “Lead me through your decision process.”
Be prepared to provide examples of when results didn’t turn out as you planned. What did you do then? What did you learn? Your resume will serve as a good guide when answering these questions. Refresh your memory regarding your achievements in the past couple of years. Use examples from past internships, classes, activities, team involvements, community service, and work experience to demonstrate desired behaviors.
Example of a CAR Answer
Challenge: During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing various student activity events. I noticed that attendance at these events had dropped by thirty percent over the past three years and wanted to do something to improve these numbers.
Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go out to students, which included an assessment form to collect student feedback and suggestions for future events.
Result: We used some of the wonderful ideas we received from students and raised attendance back up to previous levels.
Improper or Illegal Interview Questions:
If you believe you have been asked an improper or illegal question at any time in the interview process, do not accuse the interviewer but do bring your concern to the Director of the Center for Student Professional Development. In this way, the issue can be addressed without harming your job prospects. Illegal interview questions include the following:
- Sexual Orientation
- Marital/family status
- National origin
If you are asked an illegal question, you have three options:
- You can answer the question.
- You can refuse to answer the question; unfortunately, this may harm your chances of getting the job.
- You can ask the intent of the question and answer as you see fit.
Stages and Topics Covered During the Initial Interview:
Most interviews follow a standard format or process from beginning to end. Below is a common format for the initial interview with hints on what the interviewer may be looking for.
|1. First Impressions||Introduction/greeting, small talk about
weather, traffic, record of a sports team
|Firm handshake, eye contact, appearance and dress appropriate to the business, ease in social situations, good manners, and poise|
|2. Your Record||EDUCATION|
|Reasons for choice of school/major, grades, effort required for them, special areas of interest||Intellectual abilities, breadth and depth of knowledge, relevance of course work to career|
|Courses enjoyed most or least and the reasons, special achievements, toughest problems, value of education as career preparation, reaction to teachers, high school record, SAT scores||Special/general interest, willingness to work hard, relation between ability/achievement, ability to cope with problems|
|Nature of jobs held, why undertaken, level
of responsibility reached, duties liked
most/least, supervisory experience, relations with others
|Sensible use of resources (time, energy, money), high energy level, vitality, enthusiasm, leadership ability, interest in responsibility, willingness to follow directions, ability to get along with others, seriousness of purpose|
|Role in extracurricular, athletic, community and social service activities, personal
interests (hobbies, sports, cultural interests)
|Ability to motivate/make things happen, positive ‘can do’ attitude, diversity of interests, social conscience, good citizenship|
|3. Your Career Goals||Type of work desired, immediate objectives, long-term objectives, interest in this organization, other companies being considered, desire for future training/education, geographical preferences and limitations, attitude toward relocation||Realistic knowledge of strengths and weaknesses, preparation for
employment, knowledge of opportunities, seriousness of purpose, career-oriented rather than job-oriented, knowledge of the company, real interest in the company, work interests in line with talents, company’s chance to get and keep you
|4. The Organization||Organizational opportunities where you might fit, current and future projects, major divisions/departments, training programs, education, other benefits||Informed and relevant questions, indications of interest in answers, appropriate but not undue interest in salary or benefits|
|5. Conclusion||Further steps you should take (application, transcript, references), further steps company will take – outline how application is handled,
to which departments it will be sent, time of notifications of decision, cordial farewell
|Candidate’s attention to information as a
sign of continued interest
Source: Peterson’s Guide to Engineering, Science, and Computer Jobs