Prepare for Your Interviews

Different employers interview in different ways. You may interview face-to-face with one person or several people (alone or in a group), over the phone or via Webcam (video online interviews). A first interview with a human resources representative is often used to pre-screen candidates to determine if they are qualified for the position. A second interview often takes place with a hiring manager and sometimes coworkers or supervisors for the position. This interview may include the same questions asked during pre-screening or more in-depth questions to define your fit for the position. You may also be asked to participate in a simulation or case study that allows you to demonstrate your problem-solving skills, or to make a presentation about yourself or a topic relevant to the job.

Before the Interview

  • Review the job description for clues about the questions you might be asked.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate examples of your strengths, weaknesses, skills, and personal qualities as they relate to the position.
  • Research the employer to better understand the culture and how you might fit in.
  • Practice answering interview questions with Big Interview.
  • Prepare your professional interview attire, copies of your resume, and references.
  • Obtain details about the interview including location, directions, parking, and the names and job titles of interviewers.

CREATe THE RIGHT IMAGE During Interviews

  •  Arrive 10-15 minutes early.
  • Turn off your cell phone or leave it in the car.
  • If needed, use mints–not chewing gum.
  • Be courteous and friendly to everyone you meet.
  • Shake hands firmly.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Wait for invitation to be seated.
  • Listen actively.
  • Speak in a clear, moderate voice.
  • Do not criticize past employers or coworkers (always be positive).
  • Demonstrate enthusiasm and interest.
  • Ask for business cards.

Research the Employer

Collect the following information about the employer prior to your interview. It is acceptable to bring brief notes to the interview regarding some of your findings.

  • Industry, products, and services.
  • Company mission, values, and goals (company culture).
  • Client base (who does the company sell to or what services does it provide?)
  • Company size and locations.
  • Recent history of expansions and/or mergers (including downsizing or restructuring).
  • Year founded.
  • Major competitors.

Analyze the Job Description

Review the job description for main requirements of the position. Determine what experiences and achievements make you qualified for the position by matching them to the stated requirements. Use the STAR method to describe your competency. Think about transferable skills from previous experiences that relate in skill (but perhaps not content) to the job you are applying. For example, maybe the company requires experience with a particular database. Although you have not had experience with that database, maybe you have experience with a different product and could therefore easily learn the new product based on your skills and knowledge.

Ask Good Questions

  • Your questions are a good indicator of your true interest and commitment to the position and the company.
  • Refer to the prepared list of questions based on your research and ask at least one question about the information given to you during the interview.
  • Don’t ask questions to which you can easily find answers.
  • The interviewer may ask if you have any additional questions. If you have no other questions, don’t try to make one up; instead, reiterate your fit for the position and the organization.

Questions you can ask

  • What orientation and training program is provided for new hires?
  • I read that you are planning a warehouse expansion. How will the expansion affect the work of the materials handling department?
  • What are the major projects the person in the position will be working on in the first six months?
  • What are the next steps in the process?
  • I don't have additional questions right now, and I'd like you to know that I think this position is a good fit for my skills and my desire to work for XYZ Company. Is there anything else you'd like me to know today that I have not asked about?

CLOSING THE INTERVIEW

  • Leave a final positive impression of yourself.
  • Make eye contact, shake hands and thank the interviewer(s).
  • Indicate that you would like the job.
  • Ask for business cards from the people you met, if unavailable, write down their names.
  • Call human resources to confirm spelling and get addresses/emails.
  • Make some notes to yourself immediately after the interview about each interviewer’s comments. This will help you write thank you notes and reflect on your impression of the organization.
  • Write down the interview questions that were difficult for you to answer. Try to determine why the employer was asking the question and what attributes or experience they were looking for.
  • Send thank you notes to all interviewers within 24 hours, expressing appreciation and enthusiasm, reemphasizing your fit for the position and commenting on something you learned about the organization.
  • If you accept another offer, call other employers where you interviewed and withdraw your application.

"Ms. Smith, it’s been a pleasure interviewing with you, and I look forward to hearing from you next week."

"Thank you for meeting with me today to discuss the ABC position with XYZ Company. I am very interested in this position.

Behavioral questions - "STAR" Method

Past performance predicts future performance. Behavioral questions probe for specific examples (stories) about your experiences. They often start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of when you…”  Formula to answer: STAR

Situation/Task

  • Describe a situation/task where you utilized your skills that has a positive outcome, or set the scene.
  • Be detailed but brief with your situation. Read the room. Stay positive.
  • Even if it is a negative situation you are describing, try to focus on what you learned or achieved.

Action

  • Outline the action(s) you took to accomplish the task(s) in response to the situation, or explain what you did.

Result

  • Present detailed result(s) of your actions, or how did it go? Were you successful?
  • The result will tell the employer how successful you were handling the situation.

Be careful not to slip into storytelling mode. Most of your response should be spent discussing your action and the result, not setting up the story background. Analyze the job description to determine key skills and personality attributes that the job will require.

Example:  Tell me about a time when you took on a task that was not assigned to you.

Situation / Task Example

"Last month I noticed that the employee bulletin board where I work had outdated notices posted. Employees had stopped reading it and began missing important announcements."

Action Example

"I worked with two of my coworkers and we set up a calendar and recruited everyone in the office to sign up for a month to keep the board cleared of old announcements and posted with current event and benefit information. We then sent an email to all employees letting them know what kinds of updated information they could find there."

Result Example

"Because of the up-to-date information, communication within the office improved and we saw an increase in productivity."

Example: “Tell us about a time when you influenced the outcome of a project by taking a leadership role.”

Situation Example

“Last semester I took a marketing course that required a group project focused on developing a marketing strategy for a new product at an existing company. Our professor divided us into groups of four. As a group, we decided to develop a marketing plan for a new electrically powered vehicle.”

Task Example

“Within our group, we developed a plan to equally divide the responsibilities of the project. After the first two weeks, it became apparent that an individual on the team was not fully participating. The team decided it was time to speak to this individual.”

Action Example

“I decided to speak with the individual one-on-one to discuss the reasoning for this person’s lack of engagement. Through this discussion, it became clear to me that changing this person’s responsibilities may re-engage him in this process.”

Result Example

“After our one-on-one conversation, the group agreed to redistribute the tasks of the project. Once this was done, everyone fell into their roles nicely. We finished the project ahead of schedule and received exceptional feedback from our professor.”

Example: “Tell me about a time when you took on a task that was not assigned to you.”

Situation Example

“Last month I noticed that the employee bulletin board I took a marketing course that required a group project focused on developing a marketing strategy for a new product at an existing company. Our professor divided us into groups of four. As a group, we decided to develop a marketing plan for a new electrically powered vehicle.”

Task Example

“Within our group, we developed a plan to equally divide the responsibilities of the project. After the first two weeks, it became apparent that an individual on the team was not fully participating. The team decided it was time to speak to this individual.”

Action Example

“I decided to speak with the individual one-on-one to discuss the reasoning for this person’s lack of engagement. Through this discussion, it became clear to me that changing this person’s responsibilities may re-engage him in this process.”

Result Example

“After our one-on-one conversation, the group agreed to redistribute the tasks of the project. Once this was done, everyone fell into their roles nicely. We finished the project ahead of schedule and received exceptional feedback from our professor.”

BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS EXAMPLES

Adaptability / Flexibility

  • "Tell me about a situation when you had to be tolerant of an opinion that was different from yours."
  • "Tell me about a time when you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control."
  • "Describe how you are flexible in your dealings with co-workers or classmates.

Describe your personal qualities that helped you in being flexible while working with different types of people.

Communication

  • “Give me a specific example of when you had to handle an irate customer.”

  • “Tell me about a time in which you had to use your written communication skills in order to get a point across.”

  • "Describe a recent miscommunication you had with someone. What did you do to correct or resolve the situation?

Describe a miscommunication you had with someone, and how you corrected or resolved the issue.

Decision Making

  • “Give me an example of a time when you had to make a decision without all the information you needed.”
  • "Tell me about a time when you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.”

Describe your thought process, resources, or help you sought, and the outcome or what you learned.

Initiative

  • “Tell me about a time when you were able to provide a co-worker with recognition for the work they performed.”
  • “Tell me about a time when you showed initiative and took the lead in a team project.”
  • "Give an example of a situation where you took on a task or duty at work that was not assigned to you."

Describe your reasoning for taking initiative and the result of your efforts.

Innovation / Creativity

  • "Tell me about a problem that you’ve solved in a unique or unusual way.”
  • "Describe the most innovative or creative project you have worked on."

Describe your thought process and how this may have differed from your peers.

Organization / Time Management

  • “Describe a situation that required you to do a number of things at the same time.”

  • “Give me a specific example of a time when you were unable to complete a project on time.”

  • "Describe what you do to prepare for exams."

Describe how you accomplished your tasks, or how you have improved on this since then.

Strengths / Weaknesses

  •  “Tell me about a time when you did not live up to your full potential.”
  • “Tell me of a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.”

Describe the positive impact of learning about your weaknesses, and how you are overcoming them.

Teamwork

  • “Give me an example of a time when you were working on a project and the others disagreed with your ideas.”
  • "Tell me about a successful team you were on. What did you do to contribute to the team?"

Describe your personal tasks and responsibilities on the team and how you collaborated with others to accomplish a specific goal.

QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND GOALS 

You can prepare for this type of question by doing a self-assessment of your values, interests, skills and personality characteristics, and by researching the employer.

  • What have you learned from some of your previous jobs?
  • Why did you choose your major/WMU?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What would be your ideal position?
  • How can you contribute to our organization?
  • How do you interact best with your supervisors?
  • How much independence or flexibility do you like?
  • How do you define success?
  • What are your expectations of your future employer?
  • What interests you about this position and our organization?
  • How have your educational and work experiences prepared you for this position?

QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESSES

Employers want to learn about both your strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to describe weaknesses as things you are aware of and working on. Show the interviewer you are a positive, proactive person, who learns from mistakes and takes responsibility for your own learning and errors.

  • Using a strength of yours, describe the strategies you use to avoid “overusing” your strength to the point of it becoming a “weakness.”
  • Describe the undesirable outcome you experienced (without blaming others) and end your story with a summary of what you learned from the experience or what you would do differently next time.
  • Describe a limitation or least favorite part of the job. Make sure this is not something that is critical to perform competently in the job for which you are applying.
  • Cite a weakness that you are working to correct and provide concrete examples of what you are doing to fix the problem, the progress you have made, and how these improvements will help the employer.
  • Cite a learning objective. After reviewing the job description, you may discover that part of the job requires more skill and experience than you now have. Rather than assuming the potential employer will not notice this weakness, develop a strategy to compensate for it.

NEGATIVELY PHRASED OR PRESSURE QUESTIONS

Employers want to learn how you handle stress or manage the least favorite parts of your job. Describe how you have overcome obstacles and learned from these experiences.

Examples

"What do you like least about your job?"

"My current job requires that I enter our vendor address, phone, and contact name changes into the vendor database. When talking on the phone with vendors, I used to jot down changes in my planner. At the end of the week, I had two or three hours of straight data entry to do. It was hard to discipline myself to keep it caught up. So, instead, when a vendor calls, I ask them if they would wait for just a moment while I pull up their record. I input changes while we are talking instead of saving them. I no longer dread the data entry because I feel on top of it."

So, you have no experience with XXX system?”

"In my internship, the inventory system was set up using XYZ. I was responsible for entering price and quantity data that was used in calculating net sales each month. The calculations were used for decision-making and effective management of inventory control. My information management skills are strong and with some training, I am confident I can learn this system quickly."

ILLEGAL QUESTIONS

Most interviewers are knowledgeable and highly trained in the skill of interviewing. On occasion, however, illegal or inappropriate questions may be asked naively or in an effort to build personal rapport with you. Interviewers should not ask about your origin/ethnicity, race, age, weight, marital status, disability, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, unless it is required to fulfill the job.

Answering Negative and Illegal Questions

  • Answer the question in a “friendly” way providing minimal detail. Then, change the topic quickly by asking a question about the job or interviewer’s duration with company.
  • Provide an answer that addresses what you believe is the employer’s “intent” that relates to your ability to perform the job.
  • Ask a question or acknowledge the employer’s question to clarify the information the employer is seeking.

Examples

"How old are you?" or "You look young; has that ever been a problem for you?"

"I prepare for my meetings and follow through on my commitments, which has helped me build good working relationships with my co-workers and supervisors. I think my dependability and maturity helps me to perform as well as people with more experience."

"Where were you born?" or "Where are you from?" or "Do you have U.S. citizenship?"

"Although I am an international student I have eligibility to accept internship employment, especially since it relates to my academic studies. Do you have other international student employees?"

"Are you married?" or "Is your partner willing to relocate?"

"I am excited about the opportunity to begin my career in the Chicago area. Yes, we are available to relocate to Chicago, and I can begin employment on or shortly after June 15th. Does that work?"