Interview prep

No matter how good your resume looks or how thorough your job hunt, the most decisive factor in getting the job is the interview. Successful interviewing is a skill and it must be learned. Going to an interview unprepared is like taking a test for which you have not studied. 

Purpose of the interview   

Employers make hiring decisions based not only on objective criteria such as your education and work experience, but most importantly on subjective factors like your communication skills and personal characteristics. Your experience or job hunting strategies may assist you in getting an interview, but your personality and communication skills can get you the job.

Interviewers will ask themselves some of these questions: Will you fit in with the other workers and with our organization's philosophies? Do you have what it takes to be successful in this field? Do your career goals match what we're offering? Do I have a positive feeling about you? Have you communicated your qualifications in an articulate manner?

The interview is a conversation with a dual purpose. It is an exchange of information, not an interrogation. The interviewer is, of course, evaluating you to determine if you are the best candidate. But you must be doing some evaluating as well: Is this the type of work I want to do? Would I feel comfortable in this work environment? Do they offer reasonable advancement opportunities? Is this a stable organization with growth potential?

For graduate school interviewing: Is this a quality program? What are the career opportunities available to graduates? Do they offer the academic emphasis I'm looking for? Are there opportunities for field work or internships?

The purpose of the interview is to convince the employer you are the best person for the job. This means not just stating what you want or only what you have done in the past, but how you could fill the current need the employer has. To do this successfully, you must know something about yourself (i.e. what you want, what you have to offer) and research the organization you'll be interviewing with. 

Types of interviews   

There are two main types of interviews: Screening (sometimes called on-campus) and selection (sometimes called on-site or office). Each of these can be formal and structured or informal and casual. Be prepared for either approach from the interviewer. Don't let a friendly interviewer and comfortable atmosphere fool you - you are still being evaluated.

Most screening interviews vary in length from about 20 minutes to 2 hours, with 1/2 hour - 1 hour being more typical. These interviews are generally one-on-one. If the screening interview is successful, you will usually be invited back for the selection interview.

Selection interviews are usually longer, sometimes lasting an entire day...including lunch. Selection interviews often involve a series of meetings with different interviewers.

Find out in advance what type of interview you will have so that you can prepare.

Be aware that some interviewers are experienced, others not. Regardless, they will each have their own style. Every interview and interviewer is different.

At each point of the interview process, your goal should be to provide enough information about your background and interest (and offer questions) to help the interviewer do his or her job effectively...and promote yourself as the best person for the job. 

Preparing for the interview   

The two key factors to successful interviewing are PREPARATION and PRACTICE. In order to convince an employer you are the best candidate, you must know why you are the best candidate. This requires (1) knowing what you have to offer, (2) matching your abilities to the employer's needs, and (3) communicating this effectively to the interviewer.

1. Know yourself: five areas of preparation covered in almost every interview:

Education: Look at your education as a whole, not only at your major. Be prepared to summarize your entire background and discuss in detail all relevant parts. Don't just list courses you've taken but describe what you've learned. Perhaps discuss why you made the choices you did.

Experience: (Full-time, part-time, summer jobs, internships, volunteer work) Be able to (1) summarize all of your experiences and (2) discuss in detail any particular job. Decide before the interview how to discuss your experiences most effectively and persuasively: Which are the most important? Which can be combined and which deserve individual attention? What did you learn from them? Are any related to the job for which you are interviewing?

Personal Traits: Employers are interested in getting to know you. They are not hiring a major or a set of qualifications stated on a resume, but a person. They want to know how you get the job done, what motivates you, what characterizes your personality and style of work. Be prepared to describe yourself.

Activities: These can indicate the development of your "social self." Do you get involved? Are you a leader? Do you function well as part of a group? Your college and community activities can be just as important to employers as your work experience and education. They need to know how you interact with co-workers, supervisors, and possibly clients.

Career goals: Be prepared to discuss both your short-range and long-range goals, and show how they relate to the job for which you are interviewing. It is not necessary for long range plans to be clearly defined, but demonstrate that you have thought about them and at least have tentative ideas.

Remember: Do not only explain what you have done in the past. Be future-oriented. Translate your experience for the employer to clearly show the areas of knowledge, abilities, and personal qualities you developed and demonstrated that make you a good candidate.

2. Research the organization and job

Inform yourself as much as possible about the organization. Be familiar with their products or services, history, operations and goals. This will enable you to express specific interest in and knowledge of the company.

Attempt to obtain information about the job and the requirements. This helps you match your qualifications to the employer's needs.

- Sources of Information

Ask the employer you will be interviewing with for information. Clerical staff may also be consulted, if your direct contact person is not available.

Organization brochures, newsletters, annual reports. The Career Services Office in Culkin Hall has files of organization literature. You can also call or write directly to the organization.

Talk to one or more people who work for the firm. If you do not know any one personally, try the individual who is hiring or someone in the department in which you would be working.

3. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Has your mind ever gone blank in an interview?

Have you ever known just what you wanted to say after the interview was over?

Practice won't necessarily make perfect, but it can make the difference. Have your friends, relatives or professors ask you questions, or practice by yourself with a tape recorder. Listen to your answers. Would you hire you? Know what you want to say. There are not "pat" answers or right or wrong answers. Employers look for sincerity and honesty.

Finally, we encourage you to schedule a mock interview with a Career Services Office counselor for practice and feedback. We will be glad to videotape this interview as well, for playback critique.

Before the interview   

Be certain of the time and place of the interview.

Arrive early. This indicates punctuality and interest, and allows you time to relax and collect your thoughts. Late arrival is almost never considered excusable.

Know the name and title of the interviewer, and whether you will be interviewed by more than one person.

Bring a pen and pad in case there is any important information you wish to make note of after the interview. Taking notes immediately following your interview will help you improve for future interviews.

Bring several copies of your resume.

Have intelligent questions of your own prepared. Show interest in the job, organi- zation, work environment, etc. Don't concentrate on benefits and advancement.

During the interview

Communication is Critical!

Non-verbal communication

Your appearance and the impression you make can be as important as the content of the interview. Your personal grooming and dress will not get you the job but may keep you from getting it.

Dress appropriately. DRESS FOR SUCCESS!

General rules to follow:

  • Dress as professionally as possible.
  • Observe the apparel of workers in the job you are interviewing for, and dress one step above this.
  • Men: Suit preferable. Jacket, tie and coordinated slacks permissible.
  • Women: Suit preferable; dress or skirt with blouse/sweater. Jewelry, perfume and make-up, if worn, should be used conservatively.

Note: If you are at all unsure about appropriate dress for an interiew, please ask Career Services personnel for guidance.

  • Shake hands, firmly! It's a positive beginning to your interview.
  • Maintain good posture, relaxed but not slouching.
  • Good eye contact is essential. It denotes confidence and honesty.
  • Don't smoke or chew gum.
  • Be aware of and control your gestures, facial expressions, and nervous habits.
  • An employer may have been interviewing all day. Retain his or her attention by varying your tempo and the tone of your voice.

Verbal communication

  • Be verbal, but not verbose.
  • Be articulate! Just because you may like to talk does not necessarily mean you have good communication skills. Watch your diction. Avoid: "um", "like....","ya know", "gonna", "stuff like that" ... etc.
  • Think before you speak. Organize your thoughts and answer clearly and  concisely. Get to the point quickly.
  • Be honest. Employers appreciate straightforward answers.
  • Be yourself, but be your best self. Employers are hiring a professional.
  • Be positive! Do not offer negative information unless it is requested by the employer. If asked about a situation which could be viewed negatively, discuss it honestly and objectively, including what you may have learned from the experi- ence.
  • Avoid general, vague statements. Two of the most common mistakes are "I like to work with people" and "I really learned a lot from that job." Be specific!
  • Support your answers with facts and examples.
  • Show your genuine interest in the job by your enthusiasm and sincerity.
  • Actively listen. Make sure you understand the questions and answer it directly. If you forget part of a question, ask for clarification. Don't guess at it or ignore it.
  • Do not "bad mouth" previous employers.
  • Sell yourself! You are the "product" and the employer is the "buyer." Convey confidence.
  • For the relatively inexperienced graduate, do not mention salary as a general rule. If it comes up, we generally suggest you remain open on the issue. If an interviewer requests a more specific response, give a salary range not a single figure. Find out before the interview what is realistic for the type of job you are interviewing for.
  • Clearly indicate to the employer how much you really want the job!

After the interview   

Evaluate the interview and your performance. (What did you handle well? poorly? What questions were you unprepared for? What did you think of after the interview that you wished you had said during the interview?)

Send a typed thank you note to the interviewer(s). This can also be used to add new information, if necessary.

Reasons why candidates receive rejections   

  • Lack of proper career planning - purposes and goals ill defined - needs direction.
  • Not well qualified - lacks specific knowledge or skill to perform the job.
  • Poor communication skills - inability to express thoughts clearly - rambles.
  • Not prepared for the interview - no research on the organization.
  • No real interest in the organization - merely shopping around.
  • Unwilling to relocate.
  • Little interest and enthusiasm - indifferent - bland personality.
  • Overbearing - overaggressive - conceited - aloof - assuming.
  • Interested only in best dollar offer - too money conscious.
  • Unrealistic - unwilling to start at bottom - expects too much too soon.
  • Makes excuses - evasive - hedges on unfavorable factors in record.
  • No confidence or poise - immature - poor eye contact.
  • Poor personal appearance - sloppy dress - lacks sophistication.
  • Insufficient evidence of achievement.
  • Asks no or poor questions about the job - little depth and meaning to questions.
  • Employer doesn't really get to know you during the interview.

If you do not get the job, it does not necessarily mean you had a poor interview. It could, however, be attributable to one or more of the above factors. Find out. Call the interviewer to discuss why you did not get hired. This will help you improve your interviewing skills and do better the next time. Or it may be good for your ego to learn they liked you as a candidate but someone else was better qualified.

Possible phrasing:

"It would help me in my future interviews to know and understand the factors contributing to my not being extended an offer. Would you be able to give me some honest feedback?"


If the job offer is appealing and you have no additional questions or concerns, go ahead and accept the offer. Be sure to determine salary, start date, moving expenses, orientation, etc. Ask for an offer (or contract) in writing from the employer.

If, however, there are issues still needing clarification, or if you have pending applications elsewhere, it is appropriate to ask for a period of time to think about any particular job offer. Be sure to thank the employer for the offer and reaffirm your interest, but indicate you would like time to evaluate your options. Arrange a specific date or decision deadline with the employer.

How to handle impermissable questions    

Questions regarding your age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, religion, race, national origin, handicaps, (or any question which does not address a bona fide occupational qualification necessary to perform the job) are impermissible. Because the employer's knowledge of such information may lead to illegal discriminatory hiring practices, you are not required to divulge this type of information.

Although most employers refrain from asking impermissible questions, you may at times be confronted with this type of questioning. Here are three possible ways of responding to such inquiries:

The most recommended response is to address the employer's underlying concern without directly answering the question. For example: if you are asked about plans for marriage or children, the employer is usually concerned about your anticipated length of stay in the area or your ability to be at work on a regular basis. Although you do not need to answer the question directly, you should affirm your understanding of the employer's concern, and assure him or her that your personal life is arranged in such a way that it will not interfere with your job.

A more direct, albeit less comfortable, approach is to state to the employer your concern that the issue in question has no apparent bearing on your qualifications for the job. You may ask for clarification of the reason he or she has for requesting the information.

Based on your personal preferences, you may choose to answer impermissible questions, but you must realize the possible negative consequences of your actions. Think carefully!

  • Further details regarding permissible and impermissible pre-employment inquiries are available in the Career Services Office in the Compass. A resource binder entitled "Affirmative Action" may be consulted in the Career Services Office and contains several articles and booklets relevant to this area. Included are:
  • "Pre-Employment Inquiry Guide" (article).
  • Copies of articles regarding affectual orientation and the workplace (i.e."Cracking the Corporate Closet"). Related resources include the "Gayellow Pages" (book).
  • "Careers and the Disabled" (magazine).
  • "The 100 Best Companies for a Working Mother" (article).

Questions you may be asked   

Before answering the following questions, it is important to remember that most interviewers will be looking for three things when you answer questions:

  1. Your answer.
  2. How well you can organize your thinking.
  3. How well you express yourself.

Breaking the ice

  • Pottery has always intrigued me. How did you get interested in it?
  • The campus looks very busy. How is your semester going?
  • I see you are involved in sports. How is your season going?
  • I have an extra hour and it's my first visit to the area. What should I see?

Personal assessment   

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?
  • How do you react to criticism?
  • How would your best friend describe you?
  • What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
  • What kind of people do you enjoy working with?
  • What types of people rub you the wrong way?
  • What frustrates you? (makes you angry?)
  • Are you a joiner or a loner? A leader or follower? A committee member or an executive?
  • How do you spend your spare time? What are your hobbies?

Education and experience   

  • Can you summarize your educational background for me?
  • Why did you decide to attend school at Oswego?
  • Why did you major in Chinese Philosophy?
  • Tell me about your grades...overall and grades in your major. Technical courses?
  • What courses did you like the most? the least?
  • Do you feel you have done the best scholastic work you are capable of?
  • Describe for me the most rewarding accomplishment since you've started college.
  • Describe your study habits.
  • How did you finance your education?
  • Do you feel you received a good general education?
  • Why did you drop out of school for a year?
  • How do you spend college vacations?
  • What extra-curricular activities are you involved in? What have you gained from those experiences?
  • Have you plans for furthering your education?
  • If you could start college over, what would you do differently?
  • Tell me about the most satisfying job you ever held? The least?
  • Have you had any work experience related to this position?
  • What kind of boss do you prefer?
  • What kind of work interests you the most?
  • What were you doing during the period of time not covered in your resume?
  • Have you had any supervisory experience?
  • What frustrates you on the job?
  • Can you get recommendations from previous employers? (Professors)

Career ambition and plans   

  • Why did you choose this career field?
  • What type of position are you looking for?
  • What are your long-range and short-range goals and objectives; when and why did you establish these goals; how are you preparing to achieve them?
  • What specific goals, other than those related to your occupation, have you
  • established for yourself in the next five years?
  • What qualities does a successful manager, teacher, counselor, etc. possess?
  • What do you know about opportunities in your field?
  • What are the most important rewards you expect from your career?
  • What kind of challenge are you looking for?
  • What do you think determines a person's progress in a good company?
  • How do you determine or evaluate success?
  • What are your ideas on salary?
  • How much money do you hope to earn five years from now?
  • What personal characteristics are necessary for success in your field?

Company or organization   

  • Why do you want to work for this organization?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What section (service or product) are you most interested in?
  • Do you prefer large or small companies? Why?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in a company such as ours?
  • In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our company?
  • Have you ever been a member of a union? Worked with union members?
  • How long would you expect to work here?
  • Are you willing to work overtime?
  • Are you willing to go where the company sends you?
  • What type of work environment are you most comfortable with?
  • Why do you think you might like to live in the community in which our company is located?
  • Why should I hire you?

The close   

  • When could you start work?
  • If we invite you to our plant (main office) in Boston, Massachusetts, would you be able to come?
  • Is there anything else I should know about you?
  • Do you have any other questions?

Additional questions for teachers   

  • What was your student teaching like?
  • What is the purpose or place of your subject in the school curriculum?
  • How do you as a young teacher gain the respect of students?
  • What problems did you have student teaching and how did you handle them?
  • How do you feel about (team-teaching, report cards, non graded classes, etc.)?
  • How would you allow for individual differences in your teaching?
  • How would you handle (discipline, cheating, disruptive students, motivation)?
  • What is your own philosophy of education?
  • Note: Further information about interviewing for teaching jobs may be found in The Job Search Guide For Educators available free at Career Services.

Questions applicants may ask   

Note: Research the position and organization. Avoid questions you could have easily answered through a bit of research. Some of these questions are sensitive and require the use of tact and discretion on the part of the applicant.

Job description/history    

  • Can you give me a detailed job description?
  • What specific responsibilities would I be expected to carry out? Are there particular requirements or quotas to be met?
  • Is there any flexibility in how this position is defined?
  • Is this a regular, long-standing position, or has it been newly created?
  • May I ask why the position is currently open?
  • What might a typical work day in this job be like?
  • What types of career paths do people typically follow when they leave this position?

The department   

  • With whom would I be working? Who would my immediate supervisor be?
  • How large is the department?
  • Does the organization have any long range plans for this department?
  • What new projects or ventures are contemplated in the near future?
  • Who makes the final hiring decision for this position?

Organization and training   

  • Is there a training program or orientation program for new employees?
  • I was reading about your training program in your brochure. Can you explain in greater detail how it works?
  • What is the best way for me to become familiar with your organization's policies?
  • I was reading about __________ in your organization's literature and was interested in learning more about it. What can you tell me?
  • What is your policy on continuing education? Are employees encouraged to take
  • courses or graduate study?
  • Do employees participate in any professional associations or conferences?
  • What new products or services are planned or anticipated in the near future?
  • How would my performance as an employee be evaluated?

Note: These questions are simply suggestions; not all of them would be appropriate or even necessary for you to ask. Questions are pertinent only if the answer influences you. Choose those questions to which you really want the answer and concentrate on them.