Keys to A Successful Interview

The interview is your opportunity to evaluate a prospective employer as well as the prospective employer's opportunity to assess you. As the candidate, your goal is to elaborate on your resume, sell yourself and your skills and to obtain firsthand information about the organization and the job. The employer will evaluate your personality, attitudes and aptitudes in relation to the job and the culture of the organization.  

Do Research

It is pertinent to learn as much as possible about the company prior to the interview. Review the company's website, know the mission statement and read through recent press releases and some of the employer's literature and most recent annual report. During the interview, address the qualities you have that are a good match with the company's style. Answers that demonstrate you know something about the organization will convince an employer that you're taking them seriously. Your research will also help you decide how seriously you want to work for them.


Know your resume well!

Review your resume and be able to elaborate on any of the experiences and skills listed. Determine why you are uniquely qualified to work for this organization and why this organization is right for you. Be sure to hone in on those examples and experiences that best relate to the position you are interviewing for.


Practice Interviewing

Practice makes perfect! Preparing ahead of time and learning how to better your interviewing skills will help you to be poised, succinct with your answers and confident. Interviewing is a skill that you can learn and practice. The Career Planning Center offers two ways you can practice your interviewing skills: InterviewStream and mock interviews.

InterviewStream allows you to practice your interview skills by going through a realistic interview experience where you are asked challenging questions based on the type of interview you have selected. The software records you as you respond to the questions and then loads your mock interview into your own personal InterviewStream account. You can than review it as many times as you want or send it to someone else to review. Start practicing today by creating an account at

You can also schedule a time to do an in-person mock interview by calling 203-254-4081.

Methods of Interviewing

There are several ways in which a potential employer may conduct an interview. It is important to be aware of the different interviewing techniques to best be prepared for any interview.

Informational Interview

An informational interview is typically an appointment set up with a specific individual for the purpose of gaining current, regional, and/or specialized information from an "insider" point of view. These interviews could be helpful if you are in the process of choosing an academic major, making career choices, changing careers, or conducting a job search. This is not a situation where you are trying to sell yourself, rather gain information and insight. 

Phone Interview

Many employers use phone interviews as a way to pre-screen candidates prior to an in-person interview. It is important to be just as prepared for a phone interview as with an in-person interview. A few tips include:

  • Keep your resume in clear view, on the top of your desk, or tape it to the wall near the phone, so it's at your fingertips when you need to answer questions.
  • Have a short list of your accomplishments available to review.
  • Have a pen and paper handy for note taking.
  • Turn call-waiting off so your call isn't interrupted.
  • If the time isn't convenient, ask if you could talk at another time and suggest some alternatives.
  • Clear the room - ask housemates to leave. Turn off music and the TV. Close the door.
  • Do not shuffle papers and make unnecessary noise
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, or chew while on a phone interview
  • Unless you're sure your cell phone service is going to be perfect, consider using a landline rather than your cell phone to avoid a dropped call or static on the line.

Group Interview

Group Interviews serve two purposes. First, employers can provide information to all the candidates in an economical and time-saving manner. Second, it is an opportunity for the interviewers to observe the candidates' behavior and interaction with each other, their communication skills and the impression they make. The interviewees may be asked to participate in a work-simulation activity or a discussion on a work related or non-work related event/problem. The exercises enable interviewers to observe the candidates':

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal ability
  • Persuasiveness and the ability to influence others
  • Leadership and delegation skills
  • Ability to accept and provide feedback
  • Organizational and planning skills
  • Team work abilities
  • Ability to handle stress and multi-task
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Knowledge and experience are also noted

Situational Interview

During a situational interview, the candidate is asked to respond to a specific situation that they may face on the job. The purpose of this technique is to draw out more of your analytical and problem solving skills in addition to how you handle issues under pressure and with minimal preparation.

A useful way to prepare for situational interviews is to review your past experiences and analyze how you handled them and what worked vs. what didn't work. Highlighting short examples of how you handled a similar situation in the past would show the potential employer that you have experience with these types of issues.

Stress Interview

Interviewers use stress interviews to gain a better understanding of how the candidate would handle stress on the job. Most often, this type of interviewing technique is used when filling a stressful position.

In this case, the interviewer may try to stress you in one of several ways, such as asking four or five questions in a row, acting rude or sarcastic, disagreeing with you, or simply keeping you waiting for a long period. The key to success is to stay focused and remain calm.

Direct Interview

  • Interviewers will ask direct interview questions to get to know you and your background.

Behavioral Interview

Most interviews include behavioral questions. This type of interviewing technique is used by employers to make predictions about a candidate's future success based on actual past behaviors.

The employer is looking for specific examples so it is important to outline in detail a particular event, project or experience and how you dealt with the situation. Do not provide general answers.

Behavioral Interview Questions

An undergrad student chats with an employer at a career fair.Examples:

  1. Tell me about a time where you had to lead a project or guide a team in order to complete a task?
  2. Can you give me an example of a time when your integrity was challenged and how you responded?
  3. Give me an example of when you had trouble balancing multiple priorities and how you handled it. Follow up: What did you learn from it?
  4. Describe a situation where an individual within an organization you are a member of violated a policy.
  5. Share a situation where you had to convince a group or individual and then realized you were wrong
  6. Please give me a situation where you had to make a decision without sufficient information?

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions:

  • The "S.T.A.R." technique is a good approach: Describe the Situation you were in or the Task you needed to accomplish; describe the Action you took, and the Results.

  • If you learned something from this situation, it is a good idea to explain this. For example, if you think you could have behaved different or done something BETTER, explain this.

How to Prepare

  • Refresh your memory about your achievements and highlights of your school and work careers over the past few years.

  • Think about challenging problems or obstacles you faced.

  • Demonstrate past behaviors by drawing on many experiences; think about internships, classes and projects, activities, team and sports participation, community service, and full or part-time jobs.

  • Decision making, leadership, organizational skills, problem solving, and team building are among the many topic areas that behavioral questions probe into, so any experiences which involve these areas would be good for use in behavioral examples.

Mock Interviews

  • Set up a 1:1 mock interview with a career counselor

  • Sporadically, employers provide mock interviews on campus. This should be treated as a real interview in that you should dress and prepare appropriately. The employer will offer feedback at the completion of the interview. If interested, please let someone at the Career Planning Center know.

Always ask recruiters questions

Often at the end of the interview you will be asked if you have any questions. Particularly in a structured interview, this maybe the one chance you have to communicate your knowledge of and interest in the organization. You always want to be prepared with a list of questions.

Here are examples:

  • What are the principal responsibilities for this position?
  • Are there opportunities for me to grow in this job?
  • What is the hierarchy to this organization?
  • Describe what my duties might be?
  • Why is this position open?
  • What kind of resources will I have?
  • Who are the other people I would be working with?
  • What is the next step in the interview process?

Quick Tips

  • Assess yourself - know what your strengths and weaknesses are, accomplishments and achievements in previous positions, academic preparation, key decisions you have made, what are your values, short and long term goals, likes/dislikes, interests.
  • Be yourself and learn to relax. If you are too nervous you will not be able to concentrate and answer the questions correctly.
  • Request a business card from each interviewer.
  • Take extra copies of your resume to the interview.
  • Dress conservatively. A business suit is always appropriate. Make sure your shoes are shined and don't wear too much make-up. Your personal hygiene should be impeccable.
  • Answer questions thoughtfully. Give examples of what you are trying to convey, don't just make empty claims.
  • Turn off your cell phone before you meet the interviewer.
  • Show up at least 15 minutes early for the interview.
  • Find out where the interview will be, obtain good directions and confirm the time.
  • Call each of your references and let them know which company and position you are interviewing for.
  • Use the S.T.A.R method: Briefly describe the Situation, state the Task, explain the Action you took and tell them the Result.
  • Prepare your 30 second "elevator speech" to answer "Tell me about yourself"
  • Take notes after your interview.
  • Do a mock interview - or practice interviewing by videotaping yourself as the interviewee and someone else as the interviewer. (You will learn a lot from this experience.)
  • ALWAYS express enthusiasm for the position and company and thank employer for their time

Follow Up

After an interview, you should always follow up with a thank you e-mail or note.

  • Follow-up each interview with a thank you note (within 24 hours).

  • The letter should be brief: no more than 3 paragraphs on one page. The thank you letter should be in business format.

  • The first paragraph should have the title of the position for which you interviewed, the name of the organization and the date of the interview. Thank the employer for the opportunity to interview and indicate that you remain interested in the position.

  • You should tell the employer what you discovered about the organization and/or make an important point about your background and/or skills that was not mentioned during the interviews. Reiterate the highlights of your interview that appear to be directly related to the employers needs.

  • In the third and final paragraph, thank the employer again for interviewing you and express interest in the position and enthusiasm for the potential opportunity to work with this employer. Mention that you are interested in meeting again and/or hearing from the employer so on.

Online Resources

  • The CareerJournal - Articles about interviewing and answers to your questions.
  • Quintessential Careers - This tutorial will assist you with the informational interviewing process. It has sample questions about what to ask, and helps you to identify people to interview.

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