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Mastering the Interview

The interview is a vital part of the job search process. It's a chance for the employer to evaluate your skills, background and personality, and for you to ask key questions about the company culture, the company's values and the job itself.

When you go into an interview, always:

Be professional and friendly.

The interview starts the moment you walk through the employer's door. Within the first 30 seconds, your potential employer will make a judgment about you, which is why it's important to dress professionally, make eye contact, smile, shake hands and introduce yourself with a friendly greeting.

For the best results, we recommend that women wear a suit or pantsuit in muted tones, avoiding low-cut blouses, short skirts, excessive makeup, loud jewelry or frilly materials. For men, we recommend dark suits, matching socks, a coordinated, collared shirt and a conservative tie. For both genders, it's better to overdress than underdress. Make sure blouses and shirts are ironed, shoes are polished and hair is neat. Avoid perfume or cologne. Read more about professional image.

Be prepared; know yourself.

Identify the key strengths, abilities, interests and character traits that you have and this job requires. Make note of specific classes, positions or experiences that demonstrate these strengths, abilities and personality traits.

Also, identify your goals and values. Come up with a brief way to explain your long-term goals and how they'll benefit the organization, and ask questions about how the organization aligns with your values.

For example, if you value security, ask questions such as, "Is this a new position?" and "What opportunities are there for promotion and growth in this position?" If you value variety, ask questions such as, "What kinds of projects will I work on?" and "What will a typical day look like? How varied will my activities be?"

Be prepared; know the employer.

Research the employer before your interview and make sure you understand its mission, philosophy, reputation, products, services, needs and competition. Asking educated questions about the employer, and connecting your specific skills and experience to its specific needs can give you a competitive edge in the interview process. Here are some ways of conducting your research:

  • Company website: Thoroughly explore the company's website; read its mission and philosophy statements.
  • Industry journals/Local papers: What is the buzz on this company; what are others saying and writing about this company? Look for articles about the employer through local, national and international media sources by researching online databases such as LexisNexis Academic.
  • Better Business Bureau: Find out if the company is accredited by the BBB and other information about its performance.
  • Informational interview: If you know someone who works for the company or has worked for it in the past, consider asking that person about his/her experience. Find out more about informational interviews.

Be prepared; practice ahead of time.

Here are 50 common questions recruiters ask of college seniors. Rehearse with a trusted friend and schedule a mock interview with a career counselor. Also, use InterviewStream, our online interview practice tool, to help you prepare.

Be prepared; know what to bring.

Bring extra copies of your resume, a list of your references and samples of your work for the interviewer. For your own reference, bring a list of questions you have about the company or the position. Here are some possible questions to ask:

  • What qualities are you looking for in your new hires?
  • Could you describe a typical first-year assignment?
  • What are some of the typical career paths followed by others who have been in this position? What would be a realistic timeframe for advancement?
  • How is an employee evaluated and promoted?
  • What are the opportunities for personal growth?
  • What are the most challenging facets of the position?
  • What are your expectations for new hires?
  • What is the overall structure of the department where the position is located?
  • What is the work environment like?
  • How often can I expect to relocate during the initial years of employment with your company?
  • What are the company's plans for future growth?
  • What is the company's record of employment stability?
  • How has your company fared during recent recessions and downsizing?
  • What assurance about employment stability can I expect?
  • Is it company policy to promote from within? What is the work history of your top management?
  • What makes your firm different from its competitors? (Know who its competitors are.)
  • What industry-wide trends are likely to affect your company?
  • What are your company's strengths and weaknesses?
  • How would you describe your corporation's personality, culture and management style?

Arrive early and relax.

Arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the interview. If possible, visit the location the day before so you'll know exactly where you're going and where to park. Give yourself a few moments to review any questions you have for the employer, and go into the interview relaxed and confident. Find more information about conquering pre-interview jitters.

Be a STAR with behavior-based interviewing.

Behavior interviewing (questions that usually begin with "tell me about a time when...") is very common. A great way to tackle behavior-based interview questions is the STAR method, which stands for Situation/Task, Action and Results. When you are asked how you handled a task or situation in the past, briefly outline the situation/task, explain what action you took to complete or remedy it and share the results.

Leave on a high note.

When the interview is finished, thank the interviewers for their time and collect business cards. Send a thank you card or email to your interviewer(s) to reiterate your interest in and qualifications for the position, thank them for their time and highlight anything from the interview that piqued your interest.

Follow up.

If you haven't heard from the employer in the time frame specified in the interview (or, if no time frame was specified, within a week), call to follow up.

Tips for Your Phone Interview

The goal of a phone interview is to get a face-to-face meeting.  If you have been offered a phone interview, this signals that you’re a serious contender for the position you applied for.   Approach this opportunity with the same professionalism you would use in preparing for the in-person interview you are vying for.

  • Make the call from a quiet, comfortable environment. The more controlled the space you’re calling from, the less room for distractions and other unanticipated events.  Barking dogs, crying children or rowdy roomies do not contribute to a sense of professionalism.
  • Use a reliable phone, a landline if possible. Don't allow outside noises or a faulty cell signal to keep you from making the most of an awesome opportunity.
  • Dress for success.  Get out of the pajamas or sweats and dress in a professional manner to set the tone for the phone interview.
  • Have a physical copy of your resume, cover letter and the job description in front of you during the call.  You may also want to have the company website up on your computer screen.
  • Give yourself time. If a half hour interview is scheduled, give yourself an hour.  Sometimes the calls start late or go long.  Don’t put yourself in a position where you are rushed.
  • Smile. Smiling when you speak brings energy and excitement to your voice. When speaking on the phone, your voice actually loses about half of its energy during transmission. Make sure your enthusiasm gets across.
  • Be honest.  If a major distraction occurs during the phone interview, mention it. Your honesty will likely be appreciated; after all, the person on the other line is human too and has likely encountered a similar situation.
  • Be convincing.  You must convince the interviewer that having you come into the office for a meeting will not waste their time. Make sure that your answers during the call reiterate your experience, interest in the position, and desire to continue the conversation in person.  Have several good questions for the interviewers about their company as well.
  • Say thank you.  Send a thank-you note an hour or two after the phone interview. This helps you close the loop and reiterate your interest in wanting to meet the interviewer in person.
  • Practice makes practically perfect.  Use Interview Stream, the online interview prep software on this site.  Better yet, schedule an appointment with a career advisor to work on a mock interview.  Like any skill, the more you practice the better you get!

Check out this video on How to Make the Most of Your Phone Interview:  


Want a little extra help? That's what we're here for. Call or email Career Services to schedule a consultation with a career counselor: 303-871-2150.