Your application materials, including your résumé and cover letter, can advance you to a first-round interview, but an eventual hire is contingent upon how you perform in an interview setting. A well-accomplished student, who cannot communicate their successes, faces the risk of not getting the job if they do not prepare well for an upcoming interview. Just as you would study for an exam in advance of your taking the test, be sure to prepare for interviews well using the guide below.
Before the Interview
Pre-interview preparation is key. Perform company research, plan your transportation means, arrange your attire, and notify your network in advance of the interview. Exhibit poise, enthusiasm, organization and focus by being proactive in planning for interviews…
Research the Company
- Browse one or two trade publications for general information about the industry, note one or two current trends.
- Become familiar with some of the "jargon" used in your field.
- Research stories about the company you are going to for an interview . Learn more about current projects and company news. Find out the size of the company and understand the company's area of expertise and client base. You may want to note their annual gross or names of company officers. Get a sense of the company's history, including their mission, their HR values, and how they are faring to the competition. Is there new legislation being discussed in the field.
- Research competitive salaries and have an understanding of the salary range for which you are looking, based on your education level, job location, industry, and function.
Use the Alumni Directory
- Utilize the Alumni Directory to see if an alumnus already works there. Call them and tell them you are preparing for an interview. FIRST ask them if they have a few minutes, THEN ask about their work, the company, the trends in the field.
- If you know that the company is a client of another company, is serving as a consultant or vendor to a particular company, or is regulated by a government agency - see if an alumnus works at one of the related companies or agencies -- see what they can offer you about the company.
Prepare your Materials
- Carry at least six copies of your résumé with you, printed on high-quality résumé paper.
- Bring a list of references to the interview with you in case your interviewer asks for this information.
- If available, carry copies of work samples with you to the interview (i.e. writing samples, mechanical drawings, sketches, project reports, newspaper clippings about you or your work).
- Be prepared to complete employment applications. Have the following information with you for your use: social security number, job history and address information, and the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of at least three personal and three professional references.
- Bring your calendar to the interview. Be prepared to discuss possible dates for future interviews, but only at the interviewer's prompting.
Account for Transportation
- Research the shortest route to the interview. Hopstop is a good resource to assist in navigating New York City.
- If you are using mass transit, be sure you are using up-to-date schedules.
- If you are unsure of what path to take, call the personnel director at the company and ask for specific instructions. Carry the name and telephone number of your main contact with you in case you get lost.
- Allowing for delays keeps you from rushing, gives you time to remain focused on the interview, and allows time for a pre-interview visit to the bathroom.
- If you arrive more than 15 minutes early, take a short walk either within or outside the building. Take notice of your surroundings.
- Be sure to carry all applicable map and train/bus schedules with you in the case you are lost.
Dress for Success
|Suits||Skirted or pants suits, in a solid navy, grey or black color is fine. Avoid frilly collars and cuffs.||A traditional suit is preferred to a blazer. The color should either be a dark blue, gray or black.|
|Shirts||A light-colored blouse is ideal.||White shirts are always your first choice. Solid blue is an acceptable alternative.|
|Makeup / Grooming||Natural looking and conservative. Avoid bright colors. Use a neutral or clear nail polish on clean and manicured nails. Avoid heavy perfumes.||Avoid heavy cologne or aftershave.|
|Hosiery / Socks||Light, natural color, plain style (no patterns).||Dark, neat and preferably over the calf.|
|Shoes||Should be conservative and compliment the color & style of the interview suit. Low to medium heels are ideal. Basic pumps, toes should be closed, no strappy shoes.||Clean and polished leather lace-up black or dark brown shoes are best.|
|Hair||Clean and neatly styled. Long hair should be worn as conservatively as possible.||Clean, well-groomed and professional looking. Beards and mustaches are neat and trimmed.|
|Neckties||Conservative silk ties are best. Tie should be solid or has small neat patterns. Be sure the knot is neat and centered on your neck. The bottom of the tie should just reach your belt.|
|Belts||Black or brown belt, one inch wide, no big buckles.|
|Accessories||One conservative, non-dangling earring per ear, one ring per hand. No dangling or distracting bracelets. No visible body piercing beyond earrings.||No flashy cuff links, rings or gold chains. Wedding or college ring is fine. No earrings or visible body piercing.|
During the Interview
Present at your best by acting with the utmost level of professionalism and self-confidence during your interview. Become aware of your verbal and non-verbal messages and how they reflect your enthusiasm for the position…
- Think in terms of how you can satisfy the organization's needs. Do your homework and be prepared.
- Read about the organization. Study the literature in the Career Library.
- Be familiar with literature on similar or comparable organizations. In other words, know the industry or field, so that you are able to compare companies.
- Know what position you are interviewing for.
- Know what is important to you, and be aware of your your skills and strong points. Be prepared to show how you will be an asset to the organization because of those interests and skills.
- Be prepared for all types of interview questions and see examples below. Some interviewers will use the open-ended, "Tell me about yourself," and lean back to listen to your response.
- You can prepare for this kind of question ahead of time by sitting down and writing a short autobiography. What have you done that you really enjoyed? What skills did you learn from your education, work and extracurricular activities? Which of these skills are most valuable to you personally, professionally, and academically? Use your imagination and write down even those things you have done which may not seem important to you, but may be of interest to an employer. Be prepared to "Tell your Story."
- Research the employer in advance of the interview. Ask intelligent, thoughtful questions and show genuine interest in the company. Try to assess the interviewer's sincerity and enthusiasm about the organization. Ask questions regarding your own requirements in a job such as organizational structure, diversity of assignments, access to other professionals, opportunity for professional development, extent of responsibility, independence vs. close supervision, and any other job-related areas that concern you.
- Concise, precise, succinct responses attract interview points. An interviewer's questions are asked not only to get answers, but also to learn how efficiently you handle data. Interviewers are unimpressed with vague or long-winded replies to questions.
- Interviewers want to be assured that you are goal-oriented and expect you to be able to discuss both your short and long-term goals. Listen during the interview to decide if your goals match up with company direction.
- "Do you have any questions about our company?" That question often strikes fear into the applicant and results in too many low-priority questions. Ask questions that touch on career growth, supervision, performance evaluation, professional development, and job responsibilities. Also, ask about new company projects or initiations.
- Separate yourself from other candidates by being clear on your passion for the position and why you would be an ideal "fit" for the role. Understand what is expected of you on the job, and how you could add value to that particular department"s mission.
Know YOUR story
A story is a short narrative about you. It demonstrates how well you understand your past experiences, including your accomplishments and skills as they relate to the position being offered. An interviewer will typically ask, tell me a little about yourself, or take me through your résumé, or tell me what brings you here today. That is your prompt to share your story.
Practice, Practice, Practice!! Aloud: to yourself, your classmates, career counselor, and family! You never know when you will have two minutes in front of an alumnus, career fair rep, or other key networking contact to share your story.
Be a STAR!
Your interview preparation should include identifying examples of situations from your past where you have demonstrated the behaviors a given company seeks (i.e. leadership, teamwork, time management). During the interview, if asked to tell about "a time when..." your responses need to be specific and detailed. Briefly tell them about the situation, what you did, specifically, and the positive result or outcome. Your answer should contain these four steps (Situation, Task, Action, Results or "STAR") for optimum success.
Situation: give an example of a situation you were involved in that resulted in a positive outcome
Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation
Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation's task
Results: present the results directly followed because of your actions
The interviewer will sometimes ask you open-ended questions to allow you to choose which examples you wish to use. Before the interview process, identify three or four of your top selling points and determine how you will convey these points (with demonstrated STAR stories) during the interview.
Whenever you can, quantify your results. Numbers illustrate your level of authority and responsibility. Refresh your memory regarding your achievements in the past couple of years. Demonstration of desired behavior may be proven in many ways, including examples from past internships, classes, activities, team involvements, community service and work experience.
- Greet the receptionist and introduce yourself and your purpose:
i.e.. "Good Morning, I am __________. I have a 10:00 interview with __________." Plan to arrive between 10 and 15 minutes in advance of the interview.
- Introduce yourself to the interviewer in a similar fashion. Extend your hand for a confident handshake.
Scope of Interview
- Be careful not to take the interview on tangents. Relevant asides and humor may enhance an interview, but should not interrupt the interview process.
- Keep your attention focused on the interviewer. Be careful not to become overly distracted by office furnishings or office happenings.
- Sit forward in your chair to show an interest in the position. Do not cross your legs or arms, as it creates a distance between you and the interviewer.
- Watch out for a tendency to fidget. Use hand motions only to add character and value to your responses.
- If you are interviewing with two or more company representatives, give the person who asks the question the most eye contact when answering, but be sure to also establish eye contact with all parties in the interview.
- Show your willingness to comply with requests for future interviews and references.
- You may be asked to complete an application for employment. Do show a willingness to oblige. Be sure your responses are neat and accurate.
- Be prepared to schedule a pre-employment physical examination.
- Before concluding the interview, reiterate your understanding of the "follow-up to the meeting" (i.e. If you need to send references, indicate when and to whom you will be sending them.)
- Indicate that your phone number and current address are on your résumé, should the interviewer have any further inquiries.
- When the interview is over, extend your hand for a confident handshake, and thank the interviewer(s) for their time.
- Leave promptly.
- Be sure to acknowledge the receptionist on your way out.
- Send a thank you letter via email within 24 hours to all parties involved in the interview. If the position is of high interest, follow up the email with a hardcopy thank-you card to all interviewers.
After the Interview
Send a "Thank You" letter within 24 hours of the interview to every person with whom you met. Emailed letters are preferred, but you may also send hard-copy notes.
- Remind the interviewer of the position for which you were interviewed, as well as the date. Thank him/her for the interview.
- Confirm your interest in the opening and the organization. Use specifics to emphasize that you have both researched the firm in detail, and considered how you would fit into the company and the position.
- As in your cover letter, emphasize one or two of your strongest qualifications, and slant them toward the various points the interviewer considered the most important for the position.
- Keep the letter brief; a half-page is plenty.
- If appropriate, close with a suggestion for further action, such as a desire to have additional interviews. Mention your phone number and the hours that you can best be reached. Alternatively, you may prefer to mention that you will follow up with a phone call in several days.
401 East 22nd Street
New York, NY 10010
May 17, 2006
Dear Ms. Mishka:
The purpose in writing this letter is to express my appreciation for the time you provided during my recent interview. I particularly enjoyed our conversation on _____________________ [...mention here a subject discussed during your interview...].
I am excited about the opportunity to work at XYZ Corporation and feel confident that my background and skills would allow me to make a significant contribution to your organization.
I look forward to further discussing this inspiring opportunity. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 212.343.4235 for any following up purposes.
Erin H. Cummings
Common Interview Questions
Tell me about yourself.
Walk me through your résumé.
What is it about XYZ Corporation that attracted you?
Describe what is it about the position that prompted you to apply.
Describe your experience at the Cooper Union. Tell me what it is like to be a student there.
If I spoke to your last boss, how would they describe your work style?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Describe your ideal working environment.
What are your goals, both short and long term?
Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) your job?
How would you describe yourself?
Tell me about your previous work experience.
How do you define success?
What motivates you to succeed or do your best?
What, do you feel, separates you from other candidates?
What qualities do you have that would be helpful on this job?
Is there anything important that you haven't had a chance to tell me about?
What salary are you seeking?
Do you have any questions for me?
Name a time when you were happiest at what you were doing.
Describe your most successful teamwork experience. Explain what role you played on this team.
Tell me about a time when you were working with someone who wasn't pulling their weight. How did you deal with this person?
Describe a time when you were working with harsh deadlines.
Describe a time in which your teammate or supervisor had a different set of values from you. How did you handle this situation?
Tell me about a time when you failed. What was it like for you and how did you recover?
Questions to ask the Interviewer
Describe a typical day on the job, if there is one.
What kinds of assignments/projects might I expect in the first 6 months on the job?
In what ways does your organization encourage professional development?
What do you like the most about working for your company?
How would you describe the company or organization culture?
What qualities are you looking for in a candidate who fills this position?
What skills are especially important for someone in this position?
To whom does the person in this position report?
What would be the nature of my relationship with my manager?
Describe how is the position reviewed.
Please describe the nature and makeup of the team with which I would be working.
What does the company value most and how do you think my work for you will further these values?