Interview Prep


If the prospect of an interview makes you nervous, understand that it’s perfectly normal. Use that nervous energy to your advantage. Remember that interviewing is a skill, not a talent that you are born with.

The purpose of the interview is two-fold. It is meant to determine

  1. if the candidate is qualified for the position or program and;
  2. if the position or program is what the candidate is really interested in.

The Roles of the Interviewer and the Candidate


The person who is doing the interviewing is interested in discovering what you, the candidate, can offer to the organization or institution. The interviewer’s role is to ask questions which are related to the position/program, your skills and experiences, and your career goals to determine whether you are the best candidate. The interviewer generally is the one who controls the interview.


As the candidate, you are interested in making a good first impression that will lead to an offer. Your role is to appear attentive and interested and to respond effectively to the interviewer’s questions. It is also necessary to ask questions of the interviewer. Well thought out questions indicate to the interviewer that you have given this position/program serious thought and researched the opportunity prior to the interview. You will want to learn specifics that will help you decide whether this position/program is worth considering, should you get an offer.

  • “A winning interview is the result of not only what the candidate does during the interview, but also what he or she has done before it.” Deborah P. Bloch, Ph.D., How To Have A Winning Job Interview

    Knowing yourself is your first task. You will need to articulate your career goals, related skills and experiences, personal traits and why you are interested in the position/program and the organization or school. Take some time to reflect on who you are, how you fit, and what makes you unique. Recall success stories from your past experiences. Interviewers are most impressed with candidates who are focused and can discuss their goals and qualifications. You do this by being well-prepared to answer various interview questions.

    Know the organization/institution. You will create a favorable impression if you are able to converse intelligently with the interviewer about the organization or school. Researching an organization requires time and effort but has big payoffs. Your knowledge of the organization/school may set you above the competition. You should know something about the industry, market, career field in addition to facts about the specific organization with which you are interviewing. Much of your research can be done online using sites highlighted in this guide. Nonprofits and some graduate schools may be a bit more difficult to research; at the least, you should know the size, mission, philosophy, job or grad program components, management (or teaching) style, research opportunities (for grad school), and products/services the organization of interest has to offer.

    Prior to the interview:

    • Read recruitment brochures, promotional materials, annual reports from the company/organization (job interview). Contact them directly to request these materials as well as the job or program description for which you are applying.
    • Read the job description. Become very familiar with the responsibilities of the position and the language used to describe what they are looking for. The questions they ask will revolve around those themes.
    • Use the organization’s website to learn as much as you can about them.
    • Use the Employment Research resources at the William H. Hannon Library to learn about the industry and the organization.
    • Talk with people within the organization or institution – perhaps Lions (use the Online Alumni Directory)
    • Activate your Big Interview account to sharpen your interviewing skills
    • Search Glassdoor to find resources and information on jobs and companies.
    • Brush up on your communication skills

    12 Key Steps to Winning an Interview

    1. Understand the interviewer’s point of view
    2. Develop your own information goals
    3. Get all the interview appointment information you need (e.g. time, place, office number where you will be meeting, the interviewer’s name, how many people you will be interviewing with…)
    4. Assess your own strengths and weaknesses
    5. Learn all you can about the job/program and the organization/institution
    6. Match your skills to the job or program requirements
    7. Plan how you will look as carefully as you plan what to say
    8. Turn nervous energy into positive energy through relaxation, visualization, and rational thinking
    9. Know the types of interviews and their general format
    10. Know the kinds of questions you will probably be asked
    11. Be prepared to answer a wide variety of questions
    12. Know the questions you want answered and when to ask them
  • Keep Your Answers Brief and Concise 

    Unless asked to give more detail, limit your answers to two to three minutes per question. Your answers should provide a complete picture while demonstrating your ability to communicate both efficiently and effectively.

    Prove Your Answers with Examples

    Interviewees tend to talk in generalities failing to convince interviewers of their assets. Include information about specific accomplishments and give examples. When telling stories, use the STAR method: Describe the Situation/Task at hand, the Action you took, and the Result of that action.

    Expect the Unexpected 

    During the interview, you may be asked some unusual questions. Do not be caught off guard. Many times they simply want to see how you react. Surprise questions could range from, “Tell me a joke” to “What time period would you like to have lived in?” Don’t think too hard. Just provide an answer and explain why you chose it.

    Image is Often as Important as Content

    Studies have shown 65 percent of conveyed messages are nonverbal. Maintain good posture, eye contact, and simple hand gestures. Show your enthusiasm in your facial expressions and voice inflection.

    Be Confident               

    Confidence goes a long way in standing out amongst the competition. If you truly believe you are a good fit, then act like it!

  • It Starts Before You Even Say Hello

    Make sure to arrive about 10-15 minutes early. And be nice to everyone, including the janitor and the secretary! You never know who’s opinion the boss wants. Give a firm handshake to your interviewer and wait to be asked to be seated.

    Small Talk is to Be Expected

    Many recruiters will begin the interview with some small talk. Topics may range from the weather to sports and will rarely focus on anything that brings out your skills. First impressions often are the most important so this phase of the interview can be very critical. Even though the small talk seems informal and relaxed, it has a definite purpose. Recruiters are trained to evaluate candidates on many different points. Stay away from controversial topics, such as politics and religion.

    The Recruiter has the Floor

    When the recruiter begins talking about your resume or asking for clarification, it is time to emphasize your positive traits. 

    It is Your Turn to Ask Questions

    By asking intelligent, well-thought-out questions you show the employer you are serious about the organization and need more information. It also indicates that you have done your homework. Focus on questions regarding company culture and vision. Interviewers love being asked about their experience too.

    The Closing Counts

    It is important to remain enthusiastic and courteous. Reiterate your interest in the position and ask what the next steps in the hiring process are. Then shake the recruiter’s hand and thank him or her for considering you. Follow up with a thank you note within 48 hours (see the CPD Thank You Note guide for more information).

    In Summary

    In evaluating candidates, interviewers are mostly concerned with:

    • Are you capable of doing the job well?
    • Are you passionate about the line of work?
    • And most importantly, are you a good fit for the organization?
  • In-Person/One-on-One

    A staple of the job application process, the traditional in-person, one-on-one interview is your opportunity to shine and to show a prospective employer why they should hire you. This is the most common and easiest to navigate. Just follow basic interview protocol.

    Group or Panel Interview

    A group or panel interview may be the most challenging type of interview. This type involves being interviewed by multiple people simultaneously. Remember to look them all in the eye, remember their names, and send thank you notes to each of them.

    Phone Interview

    Phone interviews are often used to screen candidates in order to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews. They are also used as way to minimize the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates. It is important to smile and show your enthusiasm since they cannot read your body language. Have your notes in front of you too!

    Video Interview

    Similar to a phone interview, video interviews are often used to screen candidates in order to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews, however can be useful at many stages of the hiring process. They are also used as way to minimize the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates.

  • Visit our Interview Attire page for a quick look at professional dress and business casual examples.

    During an interview, you have limited time to make a first impression. Your appearance and dress can reflect how you present yourself as an employee. Follow these guidelines when selecting what to wear for interviews, and networking opportunities with alumni or prospective employers.

    When in doubt, go with formal rather than informal attire. Your appearance should communicate that you are ready for a professional position.

  • Big Interview gives you on-demand access to interview practice and a library of pre-recorded interview questions categorized by industry, competency, and circumstance to refine your in-person and virtual interviewing skills. Activate your big interview account today!

Some information adapted from St. Olaf College, The Piper Center for Vocation and Career