Interview Preparation

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Degree completion student with laptop being interviewed in colorful conference room

Successful interviews don't just happen. Learning interviewing skills and being fully-prepared will help you make a winning impression and get the job you want. Here are 7 steps to a successful interview:

  1. Research the Company
  2. Compare Your Skills with the Job Description
  3. Prepare Your Responses
  4. Plan What to Wear
  5. Plan What to Bring
  6. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication
  7. The Close and Follow-Up

1. Research the Company

Researching the company will help you answer questions and stand out from less-prepared candidates. Seek out background information on the company. Use tools like Vault or The Muse for an overview of the organization and its industry profile. Visit the organization’s website to make sure you understand the breadth of what they do. Review the organization's background and mission statement. Assess their products, services and client base. Read recent press releases for insight on projected growth and stability. Use Glassdoor and LinkedIn to find people who work there and what they say about the company. Review trade and business publications. Seek perspective and a glimpse into their industry standing. From there, you can develop a list of questions to ask about the position and organization.

2. Compare Your Skills with the Job Description

Analyze the company and the job description. What knowledge, skills and abilities are required? Compare your qualifications to the job description. Where does the position fit within the organization? This will help you formulate responses to interview questions and help you explain how your skills, knowledge and abilities match the job description and how you would be a great fit for the company.

3. Prepare Your Responses

When preparing responses, be sure to incorporate your skills, knowledge and abilities, matching them to the job description and what the company is looking for. Here are some resources and commonly asked questions:

Sample video responses

STAR stories

Behavioral questions can be difficult, but if you prepare STAR stories, you won’t be as nervous and can come out of the interview shining like a star! Here’s a summary of how to prepare STAR stories.

  • Situation: Provide a context and background information. Where, What, When?
  • Task: Describe expectations. What needed to be done and why?
  • Action: What did you do? How? What tools did you use?
  • Result: Explain the [positive] results. Did you improve any processes? How did you resolve the problem?
  • +Learned: What did you learn from the experience and how will that come into play in the future?

Here’s a STAR story example (3:17)

Other interview questions/answers and resources

  • Big Interview – learn how to best respond to individual interview questions. Review video examples, practice your interview skills, record your responses and send to others for feedback. (Free)
  • Top 50 Interview Questions & Answers – provides the top 50 job interview questions and answers, sorted into six categories.
  • College Grad Interviewing Information – provides insights to help you successfully interview and get the job—and then negotiate the best job offer.
  • Monster Interview Center – helps you learn what to expect, how to prepare and how to follow up for your interview
  • Live Career Interviewing Guide – provides a collection of job interviewing resources and tools including tips, articles and tutorials to help you succeed in any interview situation
  • LinkedIn Salary – helps you explore how salaries vary by industry, company size, education level and field of study to be better prepared when negotiating after the interview
  • UptoWork – gives 20 common interview questions and answers

4. Plan What to Wear

First impressions are very important, and how you dress for your interview makes an impact. Here are a few tips:

  • Go neutral. Make sure to wear conservative business attire such as a neutral-colored suit (black, navy, gray) and professional shoes.
  • Err formal. If instructed to dress “business casual,” use good judgement. Try to dress one level higher than the best-dressed person at that company.
  • Dress to impress. Be sure that your overall appearance is neat and clean.
  • Fingernails should be neat and trimmed.
  • Make sure to have no visible body piercings or tattoos.
  • Use minimal fragrance, empty your pockets, and make sure your shoes are cleaned and polished.

Women

  • Wear a suit with a jacket—not a dress
  • Conservative hosiery (no designs)
  • One pair of earrings
  • Shoes with conservative heels
  • Use makeup sparingly (keep it natural)
  • If you have long hair, make sure it is neatly pulled back.

Men

  • Make sure to be clean-shaven
  • Wear a long-sleeved dress shirt, tie and suit
  • Wear dark shoes (black and laced up)
  • Do not wear rings aside from a wedding or class ring

Additional advice on dressing for a successful interview

5. Plan What to Bring

Always be sure to bring extra copies of your resume on quality paper, a notepad or professional binder and pen, a list of references and any information you might need to complete an application. If you are a graphic artist or are in the advertising field, you may wish to bring a portfolio with samples of your work.

6. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

In the Waiting Room

Turn off your cell phone and be mindful as nonverbal communication speaks volumes. Remember that waiting room behaviors may be reported. Smile, establish eye contact and use a firm, web-to-web handshake when introducing yourself. Posture counts—make sure to sit up straight, yet comfortable. Do not cross your arms or legs. Be aware of any nervous gestures such as foot tapping or fidgeting.

During the Interview

Be attentive—don’t stare, but maintain good eye contact. Facial expressions provide clues to your feelings, so try to manage how you react and project a positive image. Make sure to also use good grammar, not slang.

Try to relax and be honest and authentic. Listen carefully and ask for clarification if you do not understand a question. Think about your answers before speaking and make sure to address all aspects of the interviewer’s questions. Use a strong voice to project confidence and do not say anything negative.

7. The Close and Follow-Up

Toward the end of an interview, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Make sure to have three to four questions ready (see Step 1). Be strategic. Cover information not discussed or clarify a previous topic. Don’t ask a question that can be readily found on the company’s website or job description. Do not ask about salary or benefits. Your questions are to help you see if it’s a good match, and it’s a great opportunity for you to shine.

Example questions

  • In your opinion, what makes this organization a great place to work?
  • What are the challenges a person might face in this position?
  • What do you feel is the most important criteria for success in this position?
  • Tell me about the organization's culture.
  • Can you tell me your approach to (something you read about in your research)?

Here are some additional questions you might want to ask.

Afterwards

At the close of the interview, thank the interviewer(s) for their time and consideration. If you are sincerely interested in the position, tell them so and what added value you can bring to the job. Show them how you’re a good fit. For example, “From what you have been telling me about this position and what I already know about your company, I know that I have the right mix of experience [be specific] and education to bring value to this position. Based on these past experiences, I can ‘ramp up’ quickly and be on board with projects within the first few weeks.”

Make sure to ask for business card(s) from the interviewer(s). Send a thank you email to each interviewer within 24 hours. Also, send a hand-written thank you note; it will arrive a couple days after to keep you fresh in their minds.