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Preparing for an Interview

These materials are designed to guide your preparations to interview well.  You will need several hours to read through them. Plan to invest several more hours identifying the questions you expect to be asked in your interview and outlining responses to them based on what you have learned here. Once you know exactly what you need to communicate, have a friend interview you, using the questions you have identified with some of their own added to challenge you.

Structure of Your Interview & Answering Questions Well

Every interview is unique, but your key tasks are to build relationship with the interviewers, "sell" your skills and abilities, and look for indications of how well the site will fit you. Learn more about types of interviews you may encounter. Most of these involve four general stages.

Stage 1 - A minute or two for greetings and building initial rapport.

Remember that lasting impressions are often made in the first 10 seconds of meeting. Tips: Demonstrate enthusiasm for the position and the company, greet the interviewer by name when this is possible, use good eye contact and a firm handshake, and initiate or respond well to small talk to establish comfort and common ground with the interviewer.

Stage 2 - Exchange of general information.

At this stage, the interviewer wants to find out more about you as a person and potential employee. You may be asked questions about your goals, interests and experiences to determine if your personality, aptitudes and qualifications are attractive to the interviewer. The interviewer may also describe the goals and characteristics of the position and the site in general. Your reasoning and communication skills are particularly noticeable during Stages 2 and 3, so listen carefully to questions and information. Make sure your responses are clear, well thought-out and concise. As you consider the skills and abilities you most need to communicate, consider the findings of a Michigan State University employment study that most companies look for the following qualities in new employees (CAM Report, March, 2004):

  • Strong oral and written communication skill
  • Strong work ethic
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Motivation
  • Willingness to acquire new skills

Other skills that often make the list in such studies include a positive attitude, computer software skills, integrity, problem-solving ability, organization, leadership, a customer-service orientation, time management, and the ability to perform well under pressure. Be sure to highlight desired characteristics such as these in your answers to interview questions.

Your interview will often include behavioral interview questions in which you will be asked to tell how you performed in a given situation in the past or how you would perform in a hypothetical situation. 

You will often be asked about your goals. If asked why you want this position (short-term goal), be sure to clearly connect your strengths and interests with the activities and needs of the employer. How would you make life easier for the employer, if selected? To prepare for questions about longer-range goals, think about the childhood connect-the-dots puzzles. You need to think through and practice an answer to this question that illustrates how the first dot (your past experience, study, and skill) is in line with the second dot (this position) and how both of these dots align with the third dot (bigger goals that will take longer to achieve). You don't have to be a fortune-teller; you simply must be able to dream and communicate your vision realistically.

Stage 3: - Rightness of fit.

Once the interviewer gets some sense of who you are and your desired career trajectory, he or she will begin to explore how well-suited you are to the position. Take advantage, at this stage, of opportunities to elaborate on your key skills that relate to this job. The more specific you can be about related skills, the better. Don't just say you have certain skills; describe how you have used them to good effect. As in resumé-writing, discussing outcomes and statistics (dollars saved, number of people supervised, percentage of sales increased, number of client visits, etc.) can help significantly here. During this stage, most interviewers will also ask you if you have questions about the position or company. Being prepared with questions to ask the interviewer demonstrates your interest and investment in a position. Advance research on the company is critical at this stage.

Stage 4 - Closure.

Interviewers often signal the movement toward closure nonverbally or by summarizing. At this point it is critical to reaffirm your interest in the position and make any of your key points that have not been made. Finally, be sure to thank the interviewer for the interview, express your pleasure in making his or her acquaintance, and find out what the next step is in the decision process so that you can make appropriate follow-up actions.

Preparation and practice

Now that you know what to expect, don't stop. Knowing how to interview well is not the same as being a skilled interviewer. It takes practice. Remember these steps:

  • Make a list of questions that you expect to be asked.
  • Outline good responses to each question. Include several anecdotes that vividly illustrate your key skills. Short stories, comments others have made about you, and statistics about successes can all work well.
  • Condense this information into a single page that tells you the things you must communicate (skills, stories, strengths, experiences, etc.). 
  • Review this information until your key points come readily to mind.
  • Have a friend use your list of questions to interview you.
  • Listen to their feedback.

Other advice

  • Plan to arrive at your interview fifteen minutes before your scheduled appointment. If something unexpectedly delays you, you will still be able to be on time. And if you arrive early, you can use the extra minutes to settle your thoughts.
  • Dress appropriately for a professional interview (suit, polished shoes, neat grooming, minimal jewelry, no cologne).
  • Bring a nice pen, some paper and several copies of your resumé to the interview in a simple portfolio. It is helpful to be able to refer to your own resumé at times during an interview: "You'll see under 'Special Skills' that I ..."
  • Be prepared to supply additional items such as transcripts, applications, a list of references, a portfolio, etc.


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