Interviewing Successfully

An Interview is:

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  • An opportunity to sell yourself as the best candidate for a job by highlighting your strengths, skills, and qualifications.
  • A two-way process in which the employer evaluates you as a potential employee, and you decide whether the position or organization is a suitable match for you.
  • A presentation of the “real” you where you can demonstrate how your personality will fit with the working environment and with future colleagues.

Resources at CALS Career Services


Preparing for the Interview

  1. Take a personal inventory by answering the following questions:
    • What will convince this employer that I am the right person for the position?
    • What are the strengths, achievements, skills, and areas of knowledge that make me most qualified?
    • What in my background makes me stand out from the other candidates?
    • If asked, what weaknesses should I admit and how will I indicate that I have improved or will improve them?

  2. Be able to answer the simple question “So tell me a little bit about yourself?” Construct a thoughtful, logically sequenced summary of your experience, skills, talents, and education
    • Keep it tightly focused – about 250-350 words taking no more than two minutes
    • Things to include:
      • Brief introduction
      • Key accomplishments and strengths demonstrated by these accomplishments
      • Importance of these strengths and accomplishments to the prospective employer
      • Where and how you see yourself developing in the positions for which you’re applying

    • Write your introduction on a piece of paper
    • Rehearse until it no longer sounds scripted, but natural and conversational

  3. Anticipate other questions the interviewer might ask, prepare answers for those questions. There are essentially Five basic questions beneath the lists and lists of questions typically asked by employers. These questions may not be explicitly asked, but the questions are floating around beneath the surface of the conversation.
    • Why should we hire you? Why are you interested in this industry, organization, and position over others?
    • What can you do for us? If I were to hire you, would you be part of the problem I already have, or would you be a part of the solution to those problems? What are your skills, and how much do you know about some subject or field that is of interest to us?
    • What kind of person are you? By this they mean, do you have the kind of personality that makes it easy for people to work with you, and do you share the values which we have at this place?
    • What distinguishes you from others who can do the same tasks that you can? Do you have better work habits than the others, do you show up earlier, stay later, work more thoroughly, work faster, maintain higher standards, go the extra mile, or what?
    • Can I afford you?

  4. Examples of how these basic questions were asked to recent graduates:
    • What are your key strengths
    • What are your goals?
    • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
    • Why did you choose your major?
    • How would your best friend describe you?

  5. Prepare several questions for the interviewer which is an effective technique to gauge YOUR interest in the organization and position.
    Do your homework and research the following before your interview:

    • The organization (check their web site)
    • The position which you are interviewing for
    • The person interviewing you Example: What are some of this company’s goals for the next 5 years? After a year, if someone is excelling in this position, what would that look like?


Before the Interview

The day(s) before and of the interview

  • Prepare your materials including copies of your resume and cover letter along with a pen and notebook.
  • Think about what you will wear to the interview. Does anything need to be cleaned or pressed? Interview dress tips
  • Become familiar in advance with the route you will travel to the interview (don’t forget about traffic!).
  • Arrive at last 5 to 10 minutes before your scheduled interview.
  • Check in with the receptionist – be friendly with office staff — the employer may ask them about you.
  • Be mindful of the materials you read while waiting – best to read company material or something professional in nature.
  • Take the time to compose yourself and check your appearance in a nearby restroom.


During the Interview

EVERYTHING about you is being observed; not only your dress and interview answers, but also your body language, facial expressions, and posture.

Nonverbal Behavior How Why
Posture Sit with a slight forward lean, arms uncrossed Communicates interest in what interviewer is saying
Eye Contact Maintain frequent eye contact Establishes rapport, portrays trustworthiness
Smiling Moderate amount Convey positive attitude
Voice Sound positive by watching vocal inflections Demonstrates interest and enthusiasm


50-50 RULE

Studies have revealed that generally those candidates who mix speaking and listening 50-50 during the interview get hired. In other words, speak about half of the time and let the employer do the talking during the other half of the interview. Why? If you talk too much about yourself, you may portray yourself as insensitive to the needs of others and / or the organization. If you talk too little, you may seem as though you are hiding something.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do give a firm handshake.
  • Do wait to be offered a seat before sitting down.
  • Do directly answer the question by giving a clear and concise response.
  • Don’t respond to a question with a simple “yes” or “no”.
  • Don’t say anything negative about previous employers, former colleagues or supervisors.
  • Don’t volunteer anything negative! If you volunteer something more than you wanted, you might inadvertently give the employer a reason to reject you. Let them ask first and if they do ask, then just be honest.


Interview Small Talk Tips

  • When somebody walks into a job interview, the tension is usually so high that it becomes difficult for both people in the room to get a good sense of what the other is thinking. Small talk, however, is almost an art. There are dos and don’ts of what is appropriate during a job interview and how you can make small talk work to your advantage.
  • Stick to safe small talk topics: the weather, sports, or how bad the traffic is. Remember that small talk is a good way for the other person to assess your people skills and how you react under pressure. Others are looking at your body language and communication ability, and what you actually say during the conversation is secondary.
  • Do not over-praise. Commenting on how beautiful the little boy in the picture frame is or how nice the office looks will only make you sound desperate. If the interviewer raises the issue first, it’s okay to comment on such issues, but don’t try to break the ice by announcing that you love the painting on the wall.
  • Jump on any comments made by the other party. If the interviewer says he went to the same college that you did, or if he mentions you have some common interests, take the comment and turn it into a short (2 to 3 sentences) conversation.
  • Make sure you look interested, even if the topics discussed are not interesting. Small talk is there to break the ice, not to engage you in the type of interesting conversation that you would have with people you know.
  • Avoid bringing up anything related to the job itself. This includes work hours, salary or even the fact that you know somebody who works in the same company. Also, avoid talking about past jobs and anything that may be interpreted as related to these topics.
  • Overall Tips & Warnings
    There are some topics that are off limits for small talk during a job interview. Besides the obvious ones (religion and politics), you should also be careful when speaking about current issues. Some people may have strong opinions about something broadcast on TV the day before, and if you happen to think the opposite, it can actually play against you.

Sources with
Bolles, Richard, N. What Color is Your Parachute? Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2005.
Fry, Ron. Your First Interview. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2002.