Now that you’ve built a winning resume and cover letter, you need to prepare for the interview. The interview is your opportunity to promote yourself. It is about your ability to tell a story about yourself and articulate your skills, knowledge, interests, values and long-range plans. This is not the time or place to be shy or bashful. To ace an interview, follow the tips in each of the sections below.
What to expect
There are several different types of interviewing formats and styles. Don’t be surprised when you get to the interview.
Depending on the position you are applying for, you can expect at least one of these interview types:
- Screening: This interview usually lasts 30-45 minutes and can take place in person or on the phone. It is used to determine whether the company will invite you to continue in the selection process.
- Video screening: One-way process where company asks you to video record yourself answering questions that you send to them to screen.
- Phone or Skype interview: Make sure you are in a quiet location, able to focus on the call and speak clearly. Have your resume, job description, references and notes by the phone. If using a cell phone, make sure it is charged and you are in a location where you have good reception. Have a backup plan in case of a dropped call.
- On-site interview: This interview is conducted at a company facility. If travel is involved, the company may offer to pay for your expenses; do not assume this is the case. Keep receipts and carefully follow the guidelines provided by the company.
- Panel Interview: This interview is typically conducted in-person by a group of 3 or more people (however, products like Skype and Zoom have made it possible to conduct a panel interview online). Each interviewer will ask questions specific to their area of expertise. When responding, make sure to keep eye contact with all other panel members as well as the person asking the question.
- Peer Group Interview: This interview is conducted by a group of potential co-workers to assess your “fit” with other members with whom you may interact within the organization. Focus on being agreeable, approachable, and a team player.
- Interview over a meal: This interview is not a social function, it is part of the formal process. Manners count! Alcohol may be offered or available. It’s okay not to drink, but if you do, be conservative in your consumption.
- Second Interview: Similar to the first interview, except usually longer and involving more people who will assess your overall compatibility with the position and organization.
Some employers use the following strategies as part of the interview process. You may be asked to:
- answer technical questions.
- engage in an active simulation or assessment to demonstrate problem-solving capabilities.
- submit or evaluate a writing sample.
- give a presentation to the interview committee (often using electronic media).
- take an assessment to evaluate potential fit.
Day of the Interview
It is likely you will be nervous before your interview. Here are some tips:
- Personal hygiene: Shower and be well groomed.
- Leave time for mishaps: Traffic, road construction, flat tire—leave time in the event that something happens. If possible, do a dry run a day or two before to see how long it will take and traffic conditions at that time of day.
- Eat prior to the interview.
- Reduce sweaty palms: Keep a tissue in your pocket to wipe your hands before shaking hands. Putting unscented antiperspirant on your hands works, too.
- Be courteous to everyone at the interview location: You don’t know who will be interviewing you, so be polite and pleasant to everyone.
- Arrive early: Arrive at the interview site approximately 15 minutes before your interview. Do not be late! If you know you will be late, call and let the interviewer know.
- Casual conversation: The interview begins with light conversation meant to put you at ease. Use this time to build rapport.
- Down to business: The actual interview begins when the interviewer describes the position and organization. Listen for any recent changes and how the interviewer refers to the position.
- The employer will ask questions about skills, education, training and work history. Many standard or behavioral-based interview questions will be asked.
- Be selective about the experiences you present. Always emphasize the positive, but NEVER exaggerate or falsify information.
- Show confidence in your responses even if they ask about a skill or experience you don’t possess (example: “I have not worked with that particular software package, but I have worked with similar packages such as xxx and feel confident I can learn this program in minimal time”).
- When asked about your weaknesses, do not reveal a major flaw and be cautious about revealing a personal problem. Talk about an area you would like to improve and mention the steps you’ve taken to improve it as well as the results.
- Be truthful about your willingness to travel or relocate.
- The end of the interview usually includes the interviewer asking if you have any questions. The interviewer may also provide you with details of the next steps in the selection process. If not, this is a great question for you to ask. (“Can you tell me what your next steps are in selecting someone for this position?”).
- Do not ask about salary. If you are asked about it, provide a reasonable salary range based on your own research.
How to prepare
Interviewers ask common questions. Practice your responses to reduce interview anxiety and gain a competitive edge.
Review the Job Description
Review the skills and qualifications required. Prepare concrete examples of how your past experiences, skills and abilities align with the job description. Strategize ways to address skills you still need to develop.
Know the Organization
Research the organization’s website and understand the mission of the company. Note any important details (new products or services, news, acquisitions, etc.) as they could be mentioned in the interview.
Read the annual report and company literature you can find, attend on-campus information sessions and meet representatives at career fairs. Read newspapers, industry trade journals, and relevant websites, and listen to the news to keep informed about trends. It is not necessary to memorize, but your familiarity will be helpful in an interview.
Know the Interview Details
When scheduling the interview, clarify interview details. If you have further questions, it’s okay to contact human resources or the person who contacted you initially. You may want to confirm:
- The type of interview: “Is it a panel interview? Should I bring writing samples to the interview?” or “Are tests a component of the interview?”
- The length of the interview: “How much time should I allow for the interview?” If considering scheduling multiple interviews in one day, this will be important to know.
- Accurate directions to the interview location. Check the directions using multiple sources.
- Review your resume and cover letter to prepare examples.
- Bring multiple copies of your resume, references, and any other materials requested.
- Prepare questions to ask at the end of the interview if requested.
Practice answering questions before the interview. Here are suggestions:
- Review commonly asked interview questions.
- Record yourself (audio or visual) to practice.
- Eliminate filler words such as “um,” “like” and “you know.” Practice speaking slowly and clearly.
- Write down your answers or outline the points you want to cover.
- If an employer asks a question you aren’t prepared for, take a second to think or ask for the question to be repeated.
- Participate in Mock Interviews (schedule through the Voiland Internships and Career Services office).
- Review and select some challenging experience that reflects positively on your behavior including work situations, project-based or teamwork, campus activities, community service and leadership experience. Employers are investigating how you deal with problems, failures, difficult teams or supervisors.
- Focus on your strengths and positive attributes, without complaining or criticizing others.
- Brainstorm examples and accomplishments from each experience. How did you handle problems, show initiative and contribute to the outcome?
- Use the S.T.A.R. method to help you form an example:
- Situation. Describe the situation (what, where, when, who)
- Task. Talk about the task, problem or challenge
- Action. What did you do to address this problem or challenge? What action did you take?
- Results. What were the results of your actions?
- Present examples of how you solved a problem, addressed a challenge or completed a task and tie it to the job.
- Expect the employer to ask open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a “Yes” or “No”) about a past experience and then continue to ask questions that reveal any of the following:
- Communication skills, leadership and organizational ability
- Analytical and problem solving skills
- Your decision-making process
- Cooperative and/or competitive nature
- Initiative, flexibility, creativity
- Be honest. Don’t exaggerate. Your answers will be reviewed for consistency.
- Practice. Draw from several types of experiences to show depth.
What to Wear
You only get one shot to make a first impression, and less than 30 seconds to impress someone. What you wear to an interview makes a lasting impression. Make sure you look professional.
Wear clothing that is clean, pressed and businesslike. In most cases, “businesslike” translates to a suit. Women can wear a suit with either skirt or slacks. If you are uncertain about what to wear to an interview, review your interview invitation email for information such as “business causal” or “casual” interview wear. Look at the company’s website to learn more about the company culture and attend the WSU Etiquette Dinner & Fashion Show to learn proper etiquette at a business dinner and the proper interview clothing modeled by your peers. Here are some quick tips:
- Pressed clothes, no wrinkles
- Clean and polished business shoes
- Minimal jewelry, no facial piercings and cover your tattoos
- No sleeveless clothing, spaghetti straps, bare midriffs or low-cut blouses
- Skirts should be just above the knee when seated and not too tight
- Men should wear a plain undershirt under their dress shirt
- Go light on the cologne/perfume or do not use fragrance at all since some people have allergies
- No gum chewing
- Before the interview, turn off cell phone—not vibrate
- Have a couple of interview outfits so you have options if asked back for a second interview
- Simple classic outfits win over “fashion” References
Send a Thank You
Always, always send a brief thank you letter or email within 24 hours to your interviewers.
Refer to the interview, the knowledge you gained about the position and organization, and your qualifications and interest. This is not the time for an in-depth explanation of your skills or to explain any answers or mistakes you felt you made in the interview. Don’t exaggerate or lie. Apologize if you think you interviewed poorly or ask for feedback on your interviewing style.
Example Thank you Note: Quality Control Laboratory Assistant Position
Dear Mr. Arp,Thank you again for the time you spent with me on Friday, January 3, to discuss the Quality Control Laboratory Assistant Position. I am very excited about this excellent opportunity. I know that my background as a bioengineering major and my past experience as a vice president of the Biomedical Engineering Club will make me an incredible asset to EGP Laboratories.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Patricia M. Smith
If you don’t hear from a company within two or three weeks of submitting your resume or interviewing with them, follow up with a phone call or email.
Example Follow-up Letter: Engineering Internship Position
Dear Ms. Jones,I interviewed on Thursday, October 3, for the Engineering Internship position. I am following up on the status of the position. I am still very interested in the position and look forward to hearing from you.
Patricia M. Smith
How to negotiate your salary and benefits
If you are offered a position, you might have to negotiate your salary.
However, some salaries are not negotiable. Do not bring up the topic of salary, benefits and sick/vacation time in an interview or before you are offered the position – wait for the interviewer to address these topics first. When offered a position, you can ask about salary and benefits.
Do Your Research
Before starting to negotiate, it is important to do your research and to consider the following:
- The market value for the position. Use the following sites to help determine a rough salary range:
- Your skill set, years of experience and degree.
- Job location – salaries vary widely by geographic area and industry.
- Other benefits (e.g., vacation time, relocation costs, a delay in starting, flexible work schedule, professional development, mentorship opportunities, timed or scheduled pay increases, support for applying for an H1B visa, etc.) may also be considered as part of the negotiation. When looking at the job offer, it is best to first prioritize your needs.
- Your bottom line. Decide in advance if you are willing to walk away from the job offer if your counter offer is not accepted.
During the Interview
If asked how much you expect to earn, provide a range, not a single figure. If they will entertain a discussion, note that you are appreciative of this job opportunity, are keenly interested in working for them, and have conducted research indicating that $X to $X is more what you were anticipating for a salary.
Want further advice or have specific questions? Make an appointment with an Internship & Career Services coach.
How to accept or deny a job offer
There are many things to consider when accepting an offer.
Consider the following guidelines when accepting internship and job offers:
- Do not accept multiple offers. If you are not interested in a particular offer at all, please let that employer know immediately.
- Offers may not be negotiable.
- Carefully consider the job offer. Consult with family or others before your offer expires.
- Adhere to the agreed timeline for your offer.
- You may contact the organization for an extension if you need more time. It will be the employer’s decision whether to grant your request.
- Once an offer is accepted, do not continue applying and interviewing for other positions.
- If you have other pending offers, immediately notify those organizations that you have accepted another position.
- Do not back out from an offer you have accepted. By not keeping your commitment, you will damage your professional reputation and that of Washington State University.
- Research the company and the position you’re applying for.
- Research common interview questions and practice your answers.
- Dress appropriately for the job you want, be neatly groomed, and dress relatively conservatively. Bring breath mints.
- Map out how to get to the location before the interview, and plan to arrive 10 minutes early. If something happens and you must be late, phone the office as soon as you know that you are running behind.
- Bring all requested paperwork with you to the interview including your resume, an application, references, identification, etc. Extra copies of your resume and a portfolio (if applicable) are also good to bring.
- Be polite and cordial to everyone you meet; you never know whose opinion will count.
- Offer a firm handshake and make eye contact when meeting someone.
- Repeat the person’s name to help you remember it.
- Maintain good eye contact during the interview.
- Approach the interview with enthusiasm about the job and the company.
- Stress your achievements and talents.
- Give detailed answers to questions with examples. Explain how you would go about tackling the assignments and challenges of the position.
- Have an opinion when asked.
- Answer questions like, “What’s your biggest flaw?” intelligently, but honestly.
- Show off any research you’ve done about the company, position, and industry with examples or educated questions.
- Take time to think about how to answer an unexpected question. You can repeat the question to give yourself a little extra time.
- Prepare to answer questions about your salary requirements.
- Ask intelligent questions about the job, company, or industry. It pays to prepare a few before the interview.
- Close by indicating that you want the job and asking about next steps.
- Get business cards from your interviewers, or at least make a note of the correct spelling of their names.
- Write down some notes after your interview so that you don’t forget any details of what was discussed.
- Write a thank you note and send it within 24 hours of the interview.
- Evaluate the interviewer, the company, and the position to be sure it’s right for you.
- Rehearse your answers so much that you sound like you’re just reciting from memory.
- Dress too casually, too flamboyantly or in revealing clothing.
- Arrive smelling (too much perfume, cigarette smoke, etc.).
- Be late to your interview if you can possibly avoid it.
- Arrive stressed.
- Bring anyone else with you to the interview (a parent, spouse, friend, child, pet, etc.).
- Address your interviewer by his or her first name until invited to do so. Don’t assume you know how to pronounce their name, either; it’s better to ask the receptionist to be sure. Don’t assume that a female interviewer is a Mrs. or a Miss; use Ms. unless told otherwise.
- Slouch, fidget, or yawn while being interviewed. Don’t chew gum or bring food or drink into an interview.
- Tell jokes.
- Bring up controversial subjects.
- Be aggressive.
- Be self-aggrandizing, insinuating that you are perfect and have zero flaws.
- Take out any frustrations about the job search process on your interviewer.
- Speak negatively about your current or former company, boss, or coworkers.
- Offer up any negative information about yourself if not asked.
- Make excuses.
- Be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question.
- Answer every question with a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
- Bring up personal or family problems.
- Ask personal questions of your interviewer.
- Answer your cell phone, check messages, or text during an interview.
- Act as though you’re desperate and would take any job.
- Act as though you’re just shopping around or interviewing for practice.
- Indicate that you’re only interested in the job because of the salary, benefits, or geographic location. Don’t indicate that you intend the job to be a “stepping stone” to something else.
- Bring up salary, benefits, vacation time, or bonuses until after you’ve received an offer.
- Say that you don’t have any questions.
- Call immediately after the interview to find out if you got the job, or make repeated phone calls.
Career Coaching Drop-in Hours:
2:00 – 3:00 PM, Monday – Friday
Washington State University
Voiland College Internships and Career Services
PO Box 642718
305 NE Spokane St., Dana Hall, Room 138
Pullman, WA 99164-2718