What is an Interview?
An interview is a conversation between an employer and a
candidate for both parties to learn more about each other for the
purpose of filling a position within a company or organization. You and
the interviewer each have a need: you want a job and the interviewer
wants to find the right person to fill the job.
If you receive an interview, chances are you have already been
“prescreened” and meet all or most of the requirements the employer is
looking for in a candidate. Typically this prescreening has been done
through an application process and/or resume review.
The interview is an opportunity for further screening. Through
an interview both parties start to form impressions of whether a “fit”
exists between your qualifications/personality and the
What is an Interviewer Seeking?
Three main areas employers typically look at in the selection
What can you do for us?
If hired, how can you contribute to the department and/or
organization differently than other interview candidates? This can be
demonstrated through your educational background, prior experience,
special skills and knowledge.
Why do you want to work with us?
An employer wants to make sure the candidate chosen has a solid
understanding of the organization, department and position. If not,
chances are the individual will not be a good hire, which can lead to
ineffectiveness, resignation or termination. All scenarios cost the
employer resources, time and money. As a candidate you need to state why
you want to work in a particular industry, for a particular
organization and/or department. Also, you need to convey to that
employer that you have a realistic picture of the job and how this
industry/position fits within your short and long term goals.
What are you like once we’ve gotten to know you?
Employers are looking at areas such as your motivation, initiative,
creativity, problem-solving abilities and team-work skills, and how
these skills will continue once you are hired and part of the
organization and department. Also, an employer is looking for a good
personality fit within the organization and department.
What is a Candidate Seeking?
Many candidates have a false idea that interviews are only a one-way
process. Of course an employer is interviewing you, but you also need to
interview that employer and organization. Use the same criteria as an
What can you do for me?
How can the organization, department and position grow my
Why do I want to work for you?
How does this organization, department and position fit into my short
and long term career goals? Do I have a good understanding of this
industry and the position expectations for me to develop my career and
enjoy my work?
What are you like once I have gotten to know you?
Is this an organization and department I would like to work for? Is
this a group of people I would like to spend a minimum of eight hours a
Take The Stress Out of Interviewing
Interviews are typically thought of as one of the most stressful
aspects of the job search. It is natural, and expected, that you will be
a little nervous for an interview. In fact, having some adrenaline is
good: it means that you care, and it will keep you on your toes. The
key, however, is not to reach a level of such anxiety and tension that
it begins to have a negative impact on the interview.
The key to maintaining your nerves is preparedness. It is common to
hear students say, “Interviews are hard because I don’t know what they
are going to ask me,” or “I have no way to prepare.” How many times have
you gone into an interview and left thinking, “Why did I say that?”, or
“Why didn’t I say that?”
The idea that you can’t prepare for an interview is completely false!
There is a great deal of work you can do prior to an interview that
will make you much more competent in your answers and much more
comfortable in your demeanor.
The saying “knowledge is power”
particularly rings true for interviewing. The more you know about the
interview process, the more comfortable you will feel, which will be
reflected in your eloquence and professional demeanor.
Getting Started: How to Prepare
Research How to Interview
through the UofL Career Center. Attend an interview workshop, meet with
a Career Development Facilitator, and read material (such as this
handout) on interview skills and preparation. Schedule a mock interview
through the Career Center and practice with friends, family and even in
Conduct a careful
self-assessment of yourself. Review your resume with a particular focus
on experience related to the position at hand. Objectively evaluate your
qualifications, skills, goals, interests and abilities, both inside and
outside of the classroom, and think about how they contribute to the
position for which you are interviewing. Anticipate your weaknesses and
decide how you will respond to any questions that dip into this
Research the Field and Employer
all you can about the company and position for which you will be
interviewing through the company website and literature. Pay particular
attention to annual reports and mission statements, as this can provide a
direct “window” into the organization. If you are finding it difficult
to find information on the specific position, you can still interview
successfully if you have a realistic and confident knowledge of your
strengths and a thorough knowledge of the field. Informational
interviews with alumni or professionals in the field are a great way to
acquire information from similar organizations.
Develop an Interview Strategy
your self assessment and research, identify the qualifications and
criteria the company will look for in an “ideal” candidate. Develop a
list of five “success stories;” instances in which you’ve been
particularly effective and proud of your performance. You have no way of
knowing exactly what questions will be asked of you, but if you have
five strong examples prepared, you’ll have them immediately available to
draw upon in your answers. Additionally, find out who you will be
interviewing with, for how long, and the anticipated format. This
information will help you prepare by giving you a sense of the “flavor”
of the interview. A 30-minute interview with a human resources
representative will have a completely different feel than a half-day
interview with a departmental hiring manager, and requires different
Practice Commonly Asked Interview Questions
have no way of knowing what specific questions will be asked of you
during an interview. However, there are certain questions that are asked
in nearly every interview, such as:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why are you interested in working for us? What do you know about us?
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- What are your short term/long term goals?
- Why are you the best candidate for the position?
- What questions do you have for us?
For a further list of commonly asked questions, see “Questions An
Interviewer May Ask” below. Scheduling a mock interview with the Career
Center provides you a “trial run” of answering commonly asked questions
Prepare Your Interview Questions
a list of questions to ask the interviewer, avoiding those that could
be answered by your initial research. Demonstrate that you have done
your homework on the company and the position (asking when the company
was founded when it is clearly shown on its website is not a good
question). You want to acquire information that will facilitate your own
decision-making and demonstrate you can ask relevant and thoughtful
questions. See "Questions to Consider Asking an Interviewer” below for
Day of Interiew
Arrive about 15- 20 minutes prior to your interview. You want to be
prompt, but not too early. Camping out in the lobby for an hour doesn’t
make you look professional but instead shows a lack of scheduling
There is no excuse for being late to an interview; in fact, this is
one of the most damaging things a candidate can do.
If you are unfamiliar with the interview location, locate the
company, building and specific office prior to the interview.
Keep in mind traffic time, particularly if you are interviewing in a
larger urban center. For example, if you checked out the location at 10
p.m. chances are it is going to take you much longer to reach your
destination at 8 a.m. Also, keep in mind how long it will take to find
appropriate parking and any parking details in advance (i.e., if you
will need a parking pass or special entrance to the facility).
Sometimes there are just “flukes” that happen that will make you
late. A flat tire or accidents on the road are things you just can’t
plan for. If you are running late for a legitimate reason, immediately
call to let the employer know the situation.
Find out if he or she can wait for you, or if it is simply better to
reschedule. It also bears mentioning that you should never cancel an
interview, unless in the case of an extreme emergency. You may never get
a second opportunity to interview, and certainly not get a second chance
to make a first impression.
Have your clothing figured out in advance of the interview (see Dress for Success for some tips).
Also bring an extra copy of your resume and references in a
professional portfolio; a notepad and pen/pencil; your list of questions
to ask the interviewer; and any information you might need to fill out a
job application. You may not need any of these “tools,” but it’s better
to be over prepared.
Stages of a Typical Interview
Each interview is unique; however, there is a general format that is
commonly used, particularly for the first, formal interview.
Typically, an interviewer
will come to you, introduce her or himself, and walk you back to the
interview room. First impressions will be made at this time. While only
lasting a few seconds, your dress, eye contact and handshake will set
the tone for the interview. Make good eye contact and have a firm
handshake (no wet noodles, but also don’t pull an arm out of a socket!).
An employer may ask you how parking was or comment on the weather.
Engage in small talk during this period, but keep comments short; don’t
start a long and drawn out story.
Once you get into the interview room the interviewer will show you
where to sit. If there are other people in the room, the interviewer
will typically introduce them at this time. Say hello to everyone and,
if possible, try to shake each one’s hand depending on the seating
The interviewer will then do a quick introduction to the interview
process. If you have any questions feel free to ask. For example, if you
were not given any time duration, you can ask how long the interview is
and approximately how many questions in order to gauge the amount of
time you need to respond to each question.
Discussion of your Background, Education, Work
Experience, Activities, Interests and Goals
This is the
stage when a standard list of questions will be asked for you to answer
back to the interviewer(s). This is typically the longest stage of an
Listen carefully to each question and answer directly. Don’t be
tempted to answer if you don’t fully understand the question; it is
always evident when a candidate doesn’t understand the question and
tries to make something up. Do not be afraid to ask for a restatement or
clarification. If your mind blanks at that moment, politely ask if you
can go back to that question later in the interview, or if you may have a
few moments to think about the question. It is perfectly acceptable to
pause for a moment before “launching” into a response.
Give concise answers. Provide specific and concrete examples rather
than generalities. Don’t be afraid of pauses. A silence of a pause can
by very positive and powerful. Avoid filling what you may feel is an
uncomfortable silence with “you know” or “uh.”
Stay positive and emphasize your strengths. Interviews, by their very
nature, should have a positive focus, even when you’re asked to venture
into “negative territory” (e.g., “What is your greatest weakness?”).
Always strive to highlight the positive in a situation, or to
communicate what you learned from a negative experience. Keep answers to
“negative questions” brief, and elaborate on your answers to “positive
questions” that ask you to talk about your skills and Strengths.
Eye contact is important. However, avoid extreme behavior like never
looking at the interviewer or never looking away.
Do what feels natural in a professional conversation.
Discussion of the Position and Company
interviewer might take time to discuss the position and the company in
more detail than from the job description you received. This is a great
time for you to put your two cents into the conversation and demonstrate
you skills, knowledgeand personality that demonstrates a “good fit.”
At this time an
interviewer will typically ask if you have any specific questions. Many
times questions have arisen during earlier stages of the process;
particularly in the discussion stage. Feel free to ask questions anytime
during the interview; however, know that time has usually been allotted
for you to ask questions at the end. A good candidate will ALWAYS have
questions to ask. Your questions will show an interviewer you have done
some research on the company and the position, and are serious about the
job. This is not the time to ask questions about vacation time or
benefits – your questions should demonstrate an earnest interest in the
position (if offered the position, you will have a chance to discuss
those details at that time). Write down your questions ahead of time and
bring them into the interview. Always have more questions than needed
since an employer will generally answer many of your questions during an
Next Steps in the Interview Process
this point the interview is wrapping up. The interviewer will typically
give you some type of time table in terms of the interview schedule and
hiring timeline. Will there be second interviews or will a decision be
made from the initial interviews? Is the interview process finishing up
or are you the first candidate to be interviewed? These questions are
very important, and if the interviewer does not provide this
information, you have every right to ask. Do not leave the interview
without an idea of when a decision will be made. Usually, the employer
will contact you; however, a good
candidate will confirm this or ask
if you should call them and at what date.
Thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration. Briefly
reiterate your interest in the position and the company, and concisely
summarize you skills and career objectives as they apply to the
position. Confirm the interviewer(s) name, title and address. The
easiest way to do this is to ask for a business card. Send a thank you
letter within 48 hours.
After leaving the
interview, you should send a thank you note within 48 hours to every
individual you interviewed with.
If you cannot remember the names of everyone you interviewed with
(which underscores the importance of getting everyone’s business cards),
it is appropriate to send a letter to the “lead person” who coordinated
your interview day that states, “Please extend my thanks to the
interviewing committee on my behalf.” Of course, if you only interviewed
with one person this will not be a concern. Thank you letters can be
typed or handwritten (but only the latter if you have neat penmanship).
An e-mailed thank you letter should only be sent if they have indicated
to you that a hiring decision will be made within the next 24 hours,
which is not enough time for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your
letter. Your thank you note should, of course, express your thanks.
However, it is also an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the
position, as well as highlight a few of your key strengths or
experiences that were discussed during the interview.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to notify your
references and let them know that they may be receiving a call from your
prospective employer. This is most typically the phase where reference
calls are placed. You will get a better reference if you provide your
references with some information about the position and the
Types of Interviews
The following are examples of the most common types of interviews
An interview with a
candidate being questioned by only one person.
conducted by a series, or panel, of people.
Typically a short
interview used for the purpose of conducting a brief evaluation of a
candidate. An example of this type of interview is a conversation with
an employer at a career fair. From this conversation, an employer will
decide if he or she wants to talk with the student further in a more
Rather than conduct an
interview face-to-face, the interview will be conducted via telephone. A
phone interview is often a type of screening interview. Many times this
is done when there is travel involved for a face-to-face interview. For
example, an employer might interview ten candidates over the phone and
then choose three to fly out for an on-site interview.
An interview conducted
at the location of the specific company/organization. If the company
location is not in the local area, and travel is involved, an on-site
interview can be a second-round interview.
An interview that
occurs outside of an organization. An example of this is an interview at
a career fair or a career services center.
conducted after a formal, initial interview. The first interview has
confirmed that you may be a good match for the job and the organization;
the second is designed to probe more deeply into your skills and
interests, and to allow others in the organization to meet and evaluate
Questions an Interviewer May Ask You
While this list does not cover every potential question, it will
start you thinking about areas, ideas and concepts you should be
familiar with, personally and professionally, in order to provide
quality answers in an interview:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why did you select your college or university?
- Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
- Describe your most rewarding college experience.
- What led you to choose your field or major of study?
- What subjects did you like best in college? Why?
- What subjects did you like least in college? Why?
- Do you think your grades are a good indication of your academic
- Do you intend to pursue a graduate education? How? When?
- What have you learned from participating in extracurricular
- What part-time or summer jobs have been the most interesting? Why?
- Please discuss your strengths and weaknesses.
- What is your greatest asset? Liability?
- What two or three accomplishments have given you the most
- What major problems have you encountered and how did you deal with
- What have you learned from your mistakes?
- What types of decisions are most difficult for you?
- How do you react to pressure?
- When working with a team, would you describe your typical role as a
motivator, a thinker, a leader or a worker?
- Explain your answer.
- When you are given a task or project, how do you organize your time
and what are the steps you follow to complete that task or project?
- What has been your biggest frustration to date?
- Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a co-worker or
supervisor and how you handled it?
- Describe a difficult event or situation in your life. How did you
- What makes you stand out from others applying for this position?
- What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
- Why should I hire you?
- How have your education, prior work experiences, and internships
prepared you for this job?
- Highlight one thing on your resume that separates you from everyone
- Why did you decide to seek a position with this company?
- What do you think it takes to be successful in this company?
- What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
- What criteria are you using to evaluate the company for which you
hope to work?
- What do you know about our company and why are you interested in
working for us?
- What do you know about this field?
- What challenges does this position present?
- Do you like working with people?
- Would you prefer to work independently or as part of a team? Why?
- Have you ever supervised anyone in a work setting? Have you ever
fired or hired anyone?
- What do you do in your spare time?
Questions to Consider Asking an Interviewer
- What organizational goals are being supported by this position?
- What would my initial assignments be?
- I have read about your company and its competitors. What makes your
- How would you describe your company’s culture? Management style?
- Why do you enjoy working for this company?
- How does the organization define a successful individual?
- What is the method of feedback/evaluation used by the organization?
- What do you see as your organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
- Can you describe recent projects on which a person in my position has
- What type of person tends to be successful in this position? What
type of person are you looking for?
- What qualities do you seek in new hires? What expectations do you
have of new graduates?
- How would you describe the work environment in this company?
- Do you have a formal training program? What opportunities exist for
continued training and development?
- How does the department in which I would be working relate to other
departments within the organization?
- What are the plans for the future of my potential department and XYZ
- To whom would I report? Where would I fit in the organization?
- What is the typical career path in your company for someone with my
- Can you give me a sense of what proportion of my time would be spent
doing each of the tasks you’ve described?
- What is the greatest challenge currently facing the
department/organization? What plans are in place for meeting this challenge?
Employers ask many questions during an interview with the purpose of
getting a good understanding and feeling for the candidate. However,
there are questions that are illegal for an employer to ask:
Any question related to ethnicity, age, sex, religion, national
origin, marital status, past arrests, alcohol and drug use, credit
history and childbearing plans are illegal.
An interviewer may not ask you about your religion, church,
synagogue, parish, the religious holidays you observe, or your political
beliefs or affiliations.
An interviewer may not ask about your ancestry, national origin, or
parentage; in addition, you cannot be asked about the naturalization
status of your parents, spouse or children. The interviewer cannot ask
about your birth place. However, the interviewer can ask whether you are
or not a U.S. citizen or resident alien with the right to work in the
U.S. An interviewer may not ask about your native language, the language
you speak at home, or how you acquired the ability to read, write, or
speak a foreign language. But, he or she may ask about the languages in
which you are fluent if knowledge of those languages is pertinent to the
An interviewer may not ask about your age, birth date, or ages of
your children. But he or she may ask whether or not you are over 18
Most of the time illegal questions are asked unintentionally,
especially during a more informal interview such as a lunch or dinner
interview. If you feel you are being asked an illegal question you can
legitimately, but politely, refuse to answer. You might say, “I’m not
sure of the relevance of that question, can you tell me how it
specifically relates to the job?” You can also choose to deflect the
answer. You may be able to identify the underlying concern by listening
closely to the question being asked. For example, if a woman is asked
when or if she plans to have children, she might identify that the
employer is concerned about her potential commitment to the position.
She could respond, “It sounds as if you might be concerned about my
commitment to the position. I can assure you that my career is very
important to me. It hasn’t been an issue in the past, nor do I
anticipate it being an issue in the future.”
Many times a candidate will disclose personal information during the
interview. For example, in explaining why he is seeking a new position, a
candidate will state how his spouse was relocated to a new city. It was
not necessary for the candidate to divulge this information; however,
it did provide a solid explanation as to why the candidate left his
previous position. When considering disclosing personal information, ask
yourself if the personal information can be related to a professional
context, and if the information you voluntarily provided is more likely
to help you or hinder you in the process clues that it is time to end