The interview is your time to sell your skills and show the interviewer your personality. The employer’s goal during an interview is to find a candidate that will be a good “fit” within their organization. Below we have put together tips to help you prepare for your interview.
If you are looking for additional assistance, complete a mock interview! You can schedule a mock interview with a career advisor to meet in person or over the phone, or complete a virtual mock interview. Big Interview is our virtual interview prep tool that provides you resources as well as the option to record yourself answering questions. If this is your first time using Big Interview, click “register” (in the upper right-hand corner) and use CSP’s organization code: 0366.
Before the Interview
When an interviewer calls or emails to schedule an interview, remember to collect a few pieces of information:
- Interview time
- Interviewer’s name and title
- Parking suggestions
- Interview format
Research the employer and position
- Start with the employer’s website and LinkedIn page
- Learn their mission, goals, products, services, history, culture, financial status, organizational structure, competitors/peers, and locations
- Research professional associations and read journal and newspaper articles in your field to obtain more detailed information
For many professional positions the expectation is a suit will be worn, even if the everyday dress is casual. If unsure, evaluate the dress code of the organization and dress above that level.
- Less is more: Limit fragrances, jewelry, make-up, loud or distracting clothing.
- Dress above what the job requires.
- Wear professional, yet comfortable shoes. You may be given a tour requiring you to walk.
- Hair and nails should be well groomed.
- Prepare an outfit well in advance. If tailoring or pressing is needed, it can take up to a week or more.
- Mints are appropriate to freshen breath prior to an interview; never chew gum.
During the interview process you should not be the one to bring up the topic of salary, but you should be ready to talk about it. To do this, first, know your budget and what the minimum amount of money you need to make to pay your bills. Then, research the salary range for your field/desired position. While doing this, keep in mind the benefits offered.
Job offer A: Salary of $40,000 but parking costs $150 per month and health benefits cost $250 per month ($40,000 salary – $4,800 parking and benefits= $35,200.)
Job offer B: Salary of $36,000 with free parking and health benefits cost $150 per month ($36,000 salary – $1,800 benefits= $34,200)
There are two main types of interview questions: standard/screening questions (ie, “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths”) and behavior based questions (“Tell me about a time you…”). Behavior based interview question are popular because previous behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
To answer behavior based interview questions, prepare stories in the basic skill areas of
- Conflict Resolution
Also familiarize yourself with the STAR Technique to answering questions.
Situation: Provide context. Where? When?
Task: What were you tasked with? Why?
Action: What did you do?
Result: What were the results? Quantify.
- Situation: I was asked to plan a special event—the annual company picnic—at work.
- Task: I was responsible for managing all the details, from choosing a site, ordering food and managing RSVPs.
- Action: I created a master calendar with key dates and several spreadsheets for tracking important information.
- Result: The picnic went off without a hitch and everyone enjoyed the event. I was even asked to plan next year’s event.
The best way to be prepared for an interview is to research and practice answering questions.
Common Questions Include:
- Tell me about yourself?
- Why are you interested in this position?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why would you be the best fit?
- What motivates you?
- What are your top 3 talents?
- How do you gain cooperation from others?
- What are your knowledge limitations?
- What typically frustrates you?
- What type of tasks energize you? Drain you?
- What type of information are you more interested in working with?
- Do you prefer to work in a more structured or unstructured environment?
- 30-60 second introduction
- Experience as it relates to the position: your current role and previous roles
- Education as it relates to the position: research and projects
- Why you are interested in this position
Hello! I am currently a junior at Concordia University, St. Paul studying history. I recently completed an internship at the University of Minnesota Library where I archived files and researched authors. This opportunity strengthened my communication skills along with my ability to take initiative and lead projects. In addition to my internship I was involved on campus as a member of CHUSA (Concordia Hmong Unity Student Association) and as a student athlete on the soccer team. I am excited to be here today to learn more about your company and share how I can be an immediate asset to your team.
I am currently an account executive at ABC Company where I handle our top performing client. Before that, I worked at an agency where I was on three different major national healthcare brands. While I really enjoyed the work that I did, I’d love the chance to dig in much deeper with one specific healthcare company, which is why I’m so excited about this opportunity with Metro Health Center.
Share a strength relevant to the position and an example of using it
- I pride myself on my customer service skills and my ability to resolve what could be difficult situations. With five years of experience as a customer service associate, I have learned to effectively understand and resolve customer issues. On a related note, I also have strong communication skills, which help me work well with customers, team members, and executives. I am known for being an effective team member with a talent for giving presentations.
Share a weakness that is not essential to the function of the job. Keep in mind, sometimes our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses.
- Sometimes I spend more time than necessary on a task, or take on tasks personally that could easily be delegated to someone else. Although I’ve never missed a deadline, it is still an effort for me to know when to move on to the next task, and to be confident when assigning others work.
During the Interview
We often think we should arrive 30 minutes early, and you are right! The catch is, don’t “check in” until 5-10 minutes prior to the interview.
Arrive 30 minutes early and:
- Review the job description
- Review your interview stories
- Make sure your attire is appropriate
- Relax! You have this!!
10 minutes prior:
- Check in with the front desk
- Check your coat and/or bag if appropriate
- Accept a bottle of water if offered to you
In the United States, there are certain questions employers cannot ask during the interview process. These questions are illegal to ensure the employer bases their final hiring decision off of your skills and qualifications. While it doesn’t happen often, you should be aware of these questions.
- What is your religious affiliation?
- Are you pregnant?
- What is your political affiliation?
- What is your race, color or ethnicity?
- How old are you?
- Are you disabled?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children or plan to?
- Are you in debt?
- Do you socially drink or smoke
Three Ways to Answer Illegal Interview Questions
From Todd Anten (originally published on Yahoo Hot Jobs)
Most interviewers are not out to discriminate against job applicants. Many of the illegal questions that interviewers ask are unintentional — in fact, if you tactfully point out the question is illegal, the interviewer will likely realize his or her mistake and immediately retract the question.
The challenge for you is to figure out what to say while you’re sitting in that chair, faced with an illegal question. You have three basic options:
- Answer the question.
- If you don’t mind providing the information and you don’t want to make waves, you can respond to the question and move on to the next one. Keep in mind, however, that you should only answer the question if you truly are comfortable providing the information — it could come back to haunt you.
- Refuse to answer the question.
- Inform the interviewer that the question doesn’t seem to be legal or relevant to the specific requirements of the job. Be forewarned, though, that such a direct response should really be saved for questions that are offensive or deeply troubling.
- Don’t answer the question, but answer the intent behind the question.
- This is usually the best option, since it allows you to provide a tactful answer without sacrificing your rights. To answer the intent behind the question, try to figure out what the interviewer REALLY wants to know. For example, if the interviewer asks if you are a U.S. citizen (which is an illegal question), a smart answer would be, “If you mean to ask if I am legally authorized to work for you, the answer is yes.” In cases like these, it’s best to rephrase the question into a legal one and then answer it. This displays flexibility and composure — strong job skills.
It is said that an interview is not complete unless you ask the interviewer questions. At the end of an interview it is common to be asked, “What questions do you have for us?” Having several well-thought out questions ready to ask shows your preparation, interest in the position and appreciation of the organization and its goals. Below is a list of common questions you may choose to ask.
- To whom does the position report? May I meet my supervisor?
- Describe the organization’s structure. How would you describe the culture of the office/organization?
- How does this position interact with other departments?
- What are the next steps in the hiring process?
- What is it like to work here? What do you like about working here?
- Describe your job/role here. What do you enjoy most about your job? Least?
- Describe how work gets done here. As a team? As independent contributors?
- How are decisions made?
- How will this position influence you? Your group/department?
- How would you describe the organization culture?
- How long have you been with the company?
- Please describe a typical day on the job.
- What are upcoming projects/tasks that you will be working on?
- In what direction is the business moving?
- What opportunities exist for professional growth and development?
- Can you explain the performance review process, or how I would be evaluated?
- What makes your organization different from your competitors?
- Describe the typical first year assignments for this position.
- What, specifically, are you looking for in the candidate you hire for this position?
- What personal qualities, skills, or experience would help someone do well in this position?
- What do you see as the greatest challenge in this position?
- How would you describe your management/leadership style?
- What are your 60/90/120 day goals for this position?
- What is your vision for this department/division?
- How does this position interact with other departments?
- How can I be most successful in this role?
- What is the next step in the hiring process?
A great last question to ask the interviewer is, “What are the next steps/what is your hiring timeline.” This gives you an idea of when you should hear back. Make sure you have the names of each interviewer and ask for a business card if you think of it. This will help you write and send thank you notes.
Thank the interviewer for their time, shake their hand (if culturally appropriate), and be on your way. You did it!
After the Interview
Congratulations! You have made it through the interview, however, you are not yet done with the entire interview process. You may be invited back for a second interview. Take some notes on what you talked about so you can freshen your memory if this happens. It can also help you prepare for interviews in the future.
Email vs. Standard Mail
There isn’t a right or wrong on deciding to send a thank you note via email or standard mail, but you want to think of the timeline. If you know the employer is making a quick decision, a mailed letter might not get to them in time. In that case, email would be best.
Who to Send it to?
A thank you note should be sent to every person who interviewed you. This is why it is important to get a business card from each individual. If a large panel interviewed you during a long day of interviews, you may have been unable to get all of the names/business cards. If this happens, simply send a note to the main contact and ask for it to be passed to the whole group.
What to Include
Thank the interviewer for the opportunity to interview. Restate skills/experiences you believe make you the most qualified candidate, and add anything you may not have been able to talk about. If you connected with the interviewer on any topic, feel free to mention this. Finally, send anything additional the employer may have asked you to send after the interview (credentials, references, etc.).
- Be excited and thankful (the employer just spent a lot of time getting to this point)
- If they haven’t received it yet, you should receive the salary offer with full benefit package and costs
- It is ok to ask for 1-2 days to review the full offer before you accept
- You can respond with questions and clarifications
Official paper offer
- Once you are ready to accept, will sign official paperwork
- States salary and start date
- Employment at will statement
If you’d like to get a better starting salary offer, you have to ask for it. Job seekers too often accept the first number that’s put on the table. When presented a job and a salary offer, tact and homework are the keys to your success.
Different employers and industries have different approaches to salary offers. Some start with the max of what they are able, others leave room for negotiation.
- Familiarize yourself with industry salary trends
- You may think you deserve a higher starting salary in your new position. But what do the national and local job markets say?
- Build your case
- Explain why you feel you deserve more. Highlight your strengths, detailing what you offer.
- Consider non-salary benefits
- It may be less costly for the employer to give ground on extra vacation days or professional development funds.
- Ask a friend or mentor to rehearse the conversation you’re likely to have with the hiring manager. The ideal partner is someone from your field who can coach you on projecting confidence and answering unexpected questions.
- Get the details in writing
- Once you and the hiring manager settle on a compensation package, ask for documentation of your salary and any special arrangements in writing.
- Stay Professional
- Keeping your tone positive will help you more effectively navigate the discussions. While your goal is to earn what you’re worth, the manager most likely has limitations on what the company can offer. When negotiating salary and perks, be polite and tactful. If they can’t meet your demands, either accept the job or decline it gracefully.