Interviewing is a conversation where the organization evaluates how your experience, skills, and attitude fit their needs, and you evaluate how well the opportunity matches your values and personal goals.
You’ll need to prepare in advance in order to present the most thoughtful and polished version of yourself. Think of this not as a passive situation where you’ll react to whatever is asked, but a chance for you to share examples and stories that demonstrate your motivation.
Interviewing gets more natural with experience. Work out the kinks when the stakes are low.
Explore this guide to help you enhance your interview skills:
- Preparing for an interview
- Tips for making a good impression
- Types of interviews
- Types of questions
- Tips for interview follow-up
Preparing for an interview: Research is critical
Maybe you’ve had success winging things in your past, but in a job or internship interview it is essential to demonstrate solid knowledge of the industry, organization, and position. Industry-savvy interviewees come across as enthusiastic, professional, and on top of their game. Failure to research a company beforehand comes across as lack of interest, and even laziness.
What to learn about the organization
- Location(s), size, products or services
- History, mission statement and/or stated values
- Clients, competitors, collaborators
- Challenges and successes
- Internal structure, leadership, culture/climate
- Recent news and current projects
Where to Look
- The organization’s annual report, website, blogs, and social media channels
- Industry related web sites and publications
- LinkedIn: look for the company profile and search for WU alumni who work there
- On-campus information sessions and events: look in handshake
- Your peers: reach out to alumni and friends
Tips for making a good impression
- As you research the organization, prepare a list of specific questions to ask your interviewer.
- Dress for success
- Bring a professional-looking folder with extra copies of your resume.
- Confirm directions and travel time beforehand and arrive 15 minutes early.
- Be gracious toward everyone in the office, not just your interviewer.
- Strive for good posture, eye contact, fresh breath, and a firm handshake.
- Smile and enjoy yourself. This is not a test; it’s a conversation about mutual interests.
- Ask each interviewer for a business card and follow-up with a thank you note.
Think About What You Have to Offer
The best way to confidently talk about yourself without bragging is to give concrete examples of times when you demonstrated your skills. Carefully read the job description for the employer’s most-desired qualities in a candidate. Then, for each one, think of particular projects you’ve undertaken in school, internships, previous jobs, leadership roles or service work where you developed or displayed those qualities or skills.
The employer’s ultimate goal is to find someone who will serve them well. If you relate your skills to the employer’s needs, you’ll come across as enthusiastic and insightful. Think about how your past experiences relate to your ability to accomplish for them. Demonstrate a clear connection between your abilities and employer’s needs, as well as why you’re interested in this specific position at this particular organization. Schedule a career coaching appointment to practice connecting the dots and to get feedback.
Types of Interviews
Interviews can happen at the WashU Center for Career Engagement, over the phone, online over Zoom or Teams, in groups, on-site, or in recorded video form. They could include a series of meetings, an analytical challenge (like a case or technical questions), a writing test, or a presentation. When you are invited to interview, ask what you should expect at various stages in the process. It will impact how you prepare. If you will need to travel to the interview, find out who will cover the costs.
Learn more about networking and informational interviews.
Case interviews are standard in management consulting. They can also come up in interviews for other business roles, medical school, teaching or social service positions.
Technical interviews can be unnerving; it is one of those things that most people dislike but still must go through for landing a tech position. Fortunately, it is a skill that you can improve through practice.
Organizations often use web tools for internship and first–round job interviews. This was
true before COVID–19 and it’s even more true today. Learn more about online interviews.
Finance Technical Interviewing
In many finance interviews, especially IB and PE, behavioral interviews are followed by technical interviews. These interviews provide additional opportunities to demonstrate your relevant skills and fit for the position. Learn more about finance technical interviews.
Behavioral Interviews are one of the most commonly used interview types because past behavior can be a great indicator to an employer of a candidate’s potential for future success. Learn more about behavioral interviews.
Industry specific interviews
In some industries, behavioral interviews are followed by case interviews or technical interviews. These interview types provide additional opportunities to demonstrate your relevant skills and fit for the position. These interviews require significant preparation so talk to your career coach about building a plan that works for you and will have you ready by the time your industry-specific interview skills are put to the test.
Types of questions
Practice is critical to giving answers you’ll feel good about. Like a comedian who practices joke delivery night after night, the more you tell your stories, the smoother they will sound when you do the real thing. This is not about rehearsing or sounding canned, but rather bringing your experiences and examples to the forefront so that they are available to you when you need them. Remember to always think about what the employer is trying to learn about you and strive to demonstrate the connection between your abilities and employer’s needs.
Interviewers commonly use these to start the conver- sation and get an idea of who you are. While they don’t often request an example or story, it is always a good idea to include details or experiences that back up (or “prove”) what you say about yourself.
Sample Traditional Questions
- Tell me about yourself.
This (or something similar) is the most common opener and one that you will knock out of the park if you prepare ahead of time. They are basically asking “Why are we having this conversation today?” Briefly talk about your studies and interests, experiences that have shaped your abilities, why you are interested in the organization and the how your skills are a match for the position. Do this in a nutshell; you’ll give details in other answers.
- Describe your strengths and a weakness.
Pick strengths that relate to the position and give examples that demonstrate how you know this about yourself. Pick one weakness that shows self-aware- ness and say specifically how you are working to improve. This doesn’t have to be a fatal flaw; it can be a stylistic or process-oriented thing, and might be the flipside of a strength. Trying to swing your perfectionism as a negative/positive is trite. Come up with something else.
- Where do you see yourself in three to five years?
They want to know how this position will fit into your plans. Be honest about your aspirations, either within the organization or not. Get a sense ahead of time about how long the organization expects people to stay in entry-level positions or the role that graduate school might play in advancement.
More Sample Traditional Questions
To prepare for these, see the earlier sections on research and thinking about what you have to offer.
- Why do you want to work for us?
- What did you learn from interning at X organization?
- How will your experience with X student group help you in this position?
- What sparked your interest in this industry?
- What qualifications will make you successful in this field/position?
- What is your preferred management style?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What makes you the best candidate for this position? Why should I hire you?
By asking these questions, employers hope to predict the sort of worker you’ll be and see how you’ve grown based on examples of past behavior. The best way to prepare is to come up with success stories. Think about successful projects from past jobs and intern- ships, programs and events you’ve put on with student groups, research accomplishments, impactful service experiences, and challenging courses. You’ll also be smart to think of stories where you didn’t handle things as well as you’d have liked. These “failures” are key to growth and talking about what you learned will demonstrate self-awareness.
The STAR Method
This is an excellent way to frame your stories and hit all the important points without rambling. Focus on your actions (I) versus group actions (we).
Situation: Set the scene. “I was interning at X organization when my supervisor assigned me Y project…”
Task: List specific objectives. “To do a good job, I knew I would have to do X, Y, and Z.”
Action: Describe what exactly you did to accom- plish the tasks. “First, I collected background information by doing X, and then I found that I needed to do Y.”
Result: State the outcome or what you learned. “Because of my recommendations, (X) happened.”
The key to this strategy is to tie your story back to one of the employer’s needs. “My experience with (X) will enable me to do (Y) in this new role.”
Sample Behavioral Questions
- Explain a situation where you jumped in and made a contribution.
- Tell me about a mistake you made. How did you solve the problem and bounce back?
- Tell me about a time when you had to multitask. How did you prioritize?
- Tell me about a time when you went the extra mile.
- Tell me about a time when you came up with a creative solution to a problem within an organization. What was the challenge, and how did you resolve it?
- Describe a time when you took an opportunity to persuade someone on an idea. How did you come up with and defend your view? What was the result?
- Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult person. What approach did you use? What was the outcome?
- Tell me about a time when you led a team. What was your leadership strategy, and what did your team accomplish?
- Tell me about a time you failed.
- Describe a time when you had to work under pres- sure. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?
Engineering and tech employers want to know whether their candidates can design a system or solve a problem. Technical interviews typically focus on concrete, demonstrable skills. As with behavioral questions, be as specific as possible in your answers and always tie back to the employer’s needs and how you can fulfill them.
Sample Technical Questions
- Tell me about a time when you used creativity to solve a problem.
- What kinds of situations have you been in that required project planning?
- When testing (X), how would you decide what to test for, given that there isn’t enough time to test everything?
- Describe the most interesting software project you’ve completed in school.
- Give an example of a project you initiated.
- In what ways do you contribute to your team?
- Describe a situation where you had to learn some- thing quickly.
- Implement an algorithm to sort an array.
Questions for You to Ask
At the end of your interview, the interviewer will ask whether you have any questions. Even if you asked questions during your conversation, you will want to have more ready at this point to underscore how much you’ve considered the role. This is a chance to ask about details that can help you decide whether you actually want to work for the organization.
Prepare 5-10 questions in advance. You’ll only ask 2-3, but this way you’ll have a few left if others get answered during the course of the interview. Don’t ask for any information that you could have found on the organization’s website. Instead, ask more detailed questions based on insights from your research, or for perspective from the interviewer.
Resist asking about compensation, benefits, or other potentially-sensitive topics at this point.
Ask questions like
- What makes an employee successful in this department?
- What are some of the challenges in this position?
- How would you describe your office culture?
- Tell me about a typical day on the job.
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- How does this position fit into the organization’s structure and this department?
- What are the department’s goals for the future?
- How will I be evaluated in my job?
- What can I expect about the next steps in the process?
- At the end of your interview, restate your interest in the organization and position. And remember to ask your interviewer for a business card so that you can send a thank-you.
Tips for interview follow-up
- Start the follow-up before you leave the interview. Be sure to ask – politely and professionally – when you might expect to hear back about next steps in the selection process.
- Send your thank-you notes right away; write them immediately after you leave the interview.
- Tie up loose ends. If your interviewer recommended you do something, like submit a reference, provide information or check out a website, make sure to follow-up.
- When you write to check on their decision making process, be gracious, reiterate your interest, and provide updates or pass along something of substance. If you don’t get an email response, try picking up the phone.
- Give them at least a week or two before each follow-up. It takes a lot of coordination to hire and pestering them will not work to your advantage.
- If you end accepting another offer, let them know right away.
Your Thank You Note
Shockingly, not everyone writes a thank you. This means that when you write one, it has a strong chance of making you stand out. It’s the polite thing to do, it’s another writing sample, and (best of all) it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your motivation and reliability. Handwritten notes are a nice touch and might be perfect in some cases, but when timing is critical an email is fine.
The note should be concise (about 10 sentences), but don’t write something generic and empty. Milk this chance to refer to the specifics of your conversation, remind them about something you have in common or something unique that you discussed. You can add anything you forgot to say, and emphasize what the opportunity means to you.
Here’s an example:
Dear Ms. Smith,
Thank you for taking time to meet me on September 9 to discuss the recruiter position at XYZ, Inc. I enjoyed learning more details about the travel aspect of the position and hearing about how your career progressed after you started in a similar role.
It was encouraging to learn of XYZ’s goal to double its staff size in the next three years. Being a part of the recruitment team would be an exciting and challenging opportunity. I was particularly intrigued by your team structure, and I am confident that my experience leading the intern hiring process at ABC has given me a strong foundation that I can build on and contribute to your goal for more seamless cross-team communication. As we discussed, I also look forward to using my inDesign skills to create the new employee newsletter.
Please contact me if I can provide any additional information. You can reach me by phone at (314) 935-0000 or by email at email@example.com. Thank you again, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely, Jill A. Student