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Interview Skills

One of the best ways to ensure success in any activity is to have a plan and follow the plan as best you can.  This is also true for an interview.  Let’s take a look at how to prepare for and conduct yourself in an interview.

Before the Interview

The time you take to prepare yourself for an interview will significantly help increase the likelihood of success.  The first part of preparing for the interview is to gather as many facts about the company as you can prior to the interview.  For example:

  • Key people and structure of the organization

  • The name of the individual(s) that will be interviewing you.

  • Major products or services

  • Size of the organization

  • Locations other than your area

  • Major competitors

  • View of the company by clients, suppliers, and competition

  • Latest news reports on the company or on local or national news that affects the company.

The purpose of this information is to provide you with insight for possible questions that may come up during the interview.  It further allows you to speak from a knowledgeable reference thus communicating to the interviewer that you are genuinely interested in the company.

Many interviewers expect you to ask questions.  Here are some examples of questions you may ask:

  • Please describe the type of work I’ll be expected to do.

  • What type of training will I need and how will it be done?

  • What opportunities exist for professional growth and development?

  • What do you expect of me in terms of developing my knowledge and skills.

  • What are the company’s plans for future growth?

  • Please describe the work environment or the typical day.

Try to frame your questions so as to communicate that you are interested in the company, it’s image, and how you can help them succeed.

The Interview

You’ve spent a great deal of time and resources getting ready for the interview.  You’ve made sure your wardrobe is perfect.  You’ve prepared and submitted an effective resume that opened the door of opportunity.  You’ve learned all you can about the company and the job you are applying for.  Now the moment has arrived.  A key point to remember is to try to relax.  Some nervousness is normal, but don’t let it control you.  Take a deep breath and go for it!  Here are some tips to help make the interview an overwhelming success.

  • Arrive at least 10 – 15 minutes early - If you think you will be late, call immediately.  Being there a few minutes early gives you a chance to relax and get your thoughts together.  Being there a few minutes early also gives the impression that you are genuinely interested in the job and have a good work ethic.  While waiting, and if it is available, read company materials.  If there is a receptionist or office worker there, speak pleasantly to this person.

  • Have your documents ready - Have your pen and notebook ready.  Have extra copies of your résumé ready and your reference list in case it’s asked for.

  • During the interview - Your job during the interview is to convince the interviewer that you are the most qualified person for the position.   

  • Introduce yourself in a courteous manner. 

  • Have a firm handshake and make good eye contact. 

  • Smile!

  • It’s ok to accept a cup of coffee or soft drink if offered. 

  • Do not sit down until offered a seat, and then wait for the interviewer to sit first. 

  • Maintain even eye contact while speaking, but don’t stare or glare at the person. 

  • At the appropriate time, ask what the next step is in the process.

  • Thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration and ask if there is any more information they need.

  • As you leave, thank the receptionist or office worker that you originally spoke with coming in.

  • Write a thank-you note to anyone you have spoken to.

  • What Not To Do  - After all the work you’ve done to prepare, you don’t want to jeopardize your chances by making mistakes that cause you to be viewed in a negative way.  Although there are no absolutes, here are some actions you want to avoid.

  • Don’t address the interviewer by his/her first name unless invited to do so.

  • Don’t let the interviewer’s casual approach fool you—maintain a professional image.

  • Don’t dominate the interview.

  • Don’t criticize yourself, but don’t brag either.

  • Don’t discuss personal problems.

  • Don’t speak or act in a nervous manner.

  • Don’t be a “yes/no” person—elaborate on your answers.

  • Don’t interrupt when the interviewer is talking.

  • Don’t bring up negative information about past jobs, co-workers, or former employers.

  • Don’t be discouraged—If you don’t succeed at first, keep trying!

So far we’ve given you general information on preparing for and during the interview.  Let’s look at details about two common types of interviews:  the technical Interview and the behavioral interview.  Although there are other methods of interviewing, these types are generally the most common.  It is also possible that an interviewer will use a combination of these types.

The Technical Interview

The purpose of the technical interview is to determine if the applicant has the type of background and training the company needs.  This interview is often used to quickly screen applicants when several have applied for a job.  The focus is on what knowledge and skills the person possesses that meet the qualifications specified for the job. The focus of your answers and questions you ask should be directed towards job specific issues.


Tips for the Technical Interview

  • Highlight your accomplishments and qualifications.

  • Answer questions directly and briefly unless asked to elaborate.

  • If the interview is conducted by phone, it is helpful to have your information sitting next to the phone so that you will be able to transition into the interview quickly.


The Behavioral interview


Unlike the technical interview, the behavior interview focuses on you the person.  This type of interview is based on the idea that the best predictor of future behavior is how one behaved in the past.  If you have little or no previous related experience with the position, the interviewer will look for behaviors in situations similar to those of the target position.

Here are some sample questions an interviewer might ask:

  • Describe a major problem you have faced and how you dealt with it.

  • Give an example of when you had to work with your hands to accomplish a task or project.

  • What class did you like the most?  What did you like about it?


Tips for Preparing for a Behavioral Interview

  • Recall recent situations that show favorable behaviors or actions, especially involving related course work, work experience, leadership, teamwork, initiative, and planning.

  • Prepare short descriptions of each situation and be ready to give details if asked.

  • Be sure each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end (situation, your action, and the result).

  • Be sure the outcome or result reflects positively on you.

  • Be honest.  Don’t embellish on any part of the story.

  • Be specific.  Don’t generalize about several events; give a detailed accounting of one event.

  • Be ready for follow-up questions from the interviewer.

We’ve given several examples of questions asked during an interview.  It is likely that you will be asked some questions about yourself that are difficult to answer.  Let’s look at some of these types of questions and some suggestions on how to answer them.


Sample Interview Questions

  • What are your weaknesses? – Answer by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths.  Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate on professional traits.  Give examples of actions you are taking to change from a weakness to a strength.  Example:  “Sometimes I get impatient while solving problems.  I’ve learned to use a systematic approach to help me stay on track and ensure optimal results.”

  • Why should we hire you?  - Summarize your experience and how it will directly benefit the company.  Give reasons why you will be a strong member of the team.  Example:  “I noticed that your company is expanding into Web development.  My education and experience included some of the latest software for Web development.” 

  • Why do you want to work here? - The interviewer is listening for an answer that indicates you’ve given this some thought and are not sending out resumes just because there is an opening.  Convince the person that you’ve researched the company and have the knowledge and skills to help them meet their goals as well as meet your own.  Example:  “Everything I’ve heard and read about the company shows that you want to grow and expand.  I’m looking to be a part of this exciting opportunity.  It matches my goals.” 

  • What are your goals? - Sometimes it is best to talk about short-term and intermediate goals.  Be prepared with some specific personal and professional goals.  We will cover this in detail in Module C, Goals and Goal Setting.  Example:  “My professional goals are to continue developing my knowledge and experience in this industry.  My personal goals include continuing my education so I can grow with the company.” 

  • Why did you leave (are you leaving) your current job? - If you’re unemployed, state your reason for leaving in a positive context (I’ve survived recent downsizing but was included in the second, more larger one).  If you have a job, focus on what you want in your next job in terms of growth opportunities and chances for greater achievement.  If you are a recent graduate looking for an entry level position, focus on the opportunity to grow and learn and apply what you’ve learned.  Example:  “My current company was looking at cutting back in my area so I wanted to continue developing in that field.  This company offers that opportunity.” 

  • When were you most satisfied in your job? - The interviewer is looking to see what motivates you.  Try to relate an example of a job or project when you were excited about the work or its outcome.  Example:  “I was most satisfied when I saw that the project I was working on was successful and we were able to positively impact on the company’s profit as a direct result.” 

  • What can you do for us that other candidates cannot? - A key point here is to not be negative of other candidates; focus on your strengths.  Talk about what makes you unique.  Focus on your knowledge and skills and your desire to be a part of the organization.  Example:  “I’ve not met the other candidates so I can’t speak about them.  But, as you can see from my knowledge and experiences, I have what you are looking for.  I have current knowledge and skills and a proven record of success.” 

  • What would someone say about you that is positive? - This is a way to brag on yourself through another person’s words.  Be honest because they may call your former supervisor or reference.  Example:  “I have had a good relationship with the people I’ve worked with and my supervisors.  I think they would say that I have a positive attitude and work ethic and I focus on the job at hand.”

  • What salary are you seeking? - Often the interviewer will discuss salary if they are truly interested in hiring you, so consider this as a positive question.   Be prepared by knowing the going rate in your area for someone with your knowledge, skills, and experience, and your bottom line or walk-away point.  It is best if the employer tells you the range of salary first.  Try to reverse the question back to the interviewer.  Example: “I am sure when the time comes, we can agree on a reasonable amount.  In what range do you typically pay someone with my background?”


Most interviewers are trained and experienced with asking questions during an interview.  However, sometimes you might be asked questions that are improper.  Let’s review some improper questions and what to do if asked.


Handling Improper Questions


Various federal, state, and local laws regulate questions an employer can ask.  These questions should be related to the job you are seeking and your knowledge, skills, and experience to do the job.  If asked an improper question, you can decide to answer it, however, you might be giving information that isn’t related to the job and that might keep you from getting the job.  You can refuse to answer the question but you run the risk of appearing uncooperative or confrontational, again, harming your chances for getting the job.


You can examine the question for its intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job.  For example:

  • Improper question - Are you a US citizen?   Possible answer – “I am authorized to work in the United States.”

  • Improper question – Who is going to take care of your children if you have to work extra hours?  Possible answer – “I can meet the work schedule that this job requires.”

Another technique you can use is to ask, “I’m not sure what you are asking.  Could you rephrase the question please?”  This gives you time to think and a chance to find out what  the interviewer is really asking.


Examples of Categories of Improper Questions

  • National origin/citizenship (This question might be acceptable if it is a requirement for national security reasons.)

  • Age

  • Marital or family status

  • Group or club affiliations

  • Personal questions such as height, weight (Might be acceptable if essential for the safe performance of the job.)

  • Disabilities

  • Arrest record (conviction is allowable, but not simply being arrested)

  • Characterization of Military service or discharge (It is permissible to ask what branch of the military you might have served in, or if you have had training or education received in the military.)