Accepting an interview
Organizations will often reach out via phone or email to set up an interview with you. Make sure to respond to interview requests within twenty-four hours. Note that if you are conducting a phone interview with an organization in another time zone, you will need to be very clear about the time zone for your agreed upon time. If you are interviewing with a company in New York while here at Reed and they ask to interview you at 9 a.m., they likely mean 9 a.m. Eastern Time and 6 a.m. Pacific Time—make sure to confirm this with them.
Before the interview
There are several things you can do to prepare for an interview:
- Make a list of goals for what you want to convey to the employer (think of three themes you want the employer to know about you) and what you want to learn about the organization.
- Review the job posting to be familiar with the responsibilities of the position.
- Review your application materials to remember what you wrote and make notes of what you want to reference, expand upon, or add.
- Look at the staff page on the website and look up staff’s profiles on LinkedIn to be familiar with their role in the organization.
- Think of what interview questions you may be asked and rehearse your responses. Also remember that you can do a mock interview with a CLBR advisor!
- Write down questions that you want to ask (see a later section for details). You will typically be given five to ten minutes to ask your questions, so that usually amounts to three to five questions. Prepare more than five questions so that you can pick and choose based upon what is most important to you.
- Prepare materials that you will need, such as extra copies of your resume, a portfolio, other samples of your work, thank-you cards, a padfolio, notebook, etc. For day-long interviews, also think about bringing a waterbottle and some snacks.
- Figure out what you want to wear to the interview. A good strategy is to dress one level above what the company culture traditionally is. For example, if you are applying to work at a startup where everybody wears jeans, you may want to wear a nice pair of slacks with a button down shirt or blouse. If the organization is business casual, you can wear a suit. If you are not sure about the organizational culture, try to ask people who may know, do some research, or even walk by the organization if possible.
- Get plenty of rest the day before your interview.
Day of the interview
Here are some tips to keep in mind the day of your interview:
- Arrive at the location twenty to thirty minutes before the interview (check traffic if you are driving or taking public transit and allow for extra time). Check into the actual office where you are interviewing five to ten minutes prior to your interview.
- Stay hydrated and use the restroom beforehand.
- Remember that when you are in the waiting room or lobby before the interview starts, you are still being interviewed. Staff members may be around and can observe your behavior. Engage with everybody in a polite and friendly manner, and give cues that reveal your excitement for the organization by reading literature that is available and engaging with those around you.
- Remember that you can take notes during an interview. This is a good reason to bring a padfolio or notebook.
- Write down the names of everybody that you meet with, along with their titles, so that you can follow up later. Collect their business cards if possible.
- Make sure to ask questions during the interview. You will most likely be given five-ten minutes at the end of the interview to ask questions—try to use up all of that time.
- Also clarify the next steps before you leave. You can ask to know the approximate timeline for hearing back about hiring decisions, as well as any other logistics you would need to know (ex. when they want somebody to start, etc.).
After the interview
The interview is not over after you are done meeting. It is important to follow up to show your enthusiasm for the position and thank them for their time. If possible, it is a nice gesture to send a handwritten thank-you card, but the most important thing is to follow up within twenty-four hours in some form. If a card will not make it to the organization within twenty-four hours, follow up via email. The content of your note or email does not need to be very long—you simply need to thank the interviewers for their time, refer to something that was discussed in the interview, state your enthusiasm for the position, and let them know you look forward to hearing from them. Here is an example of an email you could send:
Dear [First name],
I wanted to thank you for meeting with me this morning to discuss the Office Manager role at your organization. I enjoyed learning more about the responsibilities of this position as well as your commitment to your staff’s professional development. I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to hearing from you. Please let me know if there is any additional information that you need from me at this time.
[First and last name]
Note: If you interview with multiple people, send a follow-up to each person you meet with.
Phone and Video interviews
Many interviews are conducted via phone or Zoom (or Skype), and it is especially common for a first interview or “phone screen” to be conducted via phone or video before an organization decides who to invite for in-person interviews. All the tips for preparation, note-taking, asking questions, and following up for in-person interviewing apply to phone and video interviews, but keep these additional tips in mind as well:
- If conducting an interview over the phone, make sure that you are in a quiet location, have good reception, and that your phone is fully charged. CLBR has an interview room that you can reserve if you would like a quiet place for your interview. Email email@example.com to request the interview room.
- If conducting the interview over video (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Go To Meeting, Skype), also make sure that you are in a quiet location. Unlike phone interviews, the interviewer can see your surroundings, so make sure that there are no distractions behind you (such as many people walking around or in and out of a room) and that you are in front of a neutral background. You can reserve CLBR’s interview room for this purpose as well: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- It is also recommended that you test the technology to ensure that everything is working properly when the interviewers call (do a test call with a friend first). If possible, use a wired internet connection. If you can't use a wired connection, make sure you're in a place where the wifi is strong and isn't cutting out.
- Even if nobody can see you, you should still dress as you would for an in-person interview. This helps you get into an interview mindset and perform your very best.
Types of interview questions
Potential employers will likely ask a variety of types of questions. Traditional interview questions help an employer learn more about you and are often centered around your strengths and weaknesses, goals, and workplace preferences. Behavioral interview questions prompt you to reflect upon past experiences so that an employer can get an idea of how you have handled situations in the past, thereby gaining an understanding of how you might handle similar situations in the future. For example, they might ask about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer, and your answer would provide them with insight about how you will work with customers in this new setting. Situational interview questions are forward-looking and ask you to reflect upon what you would do in a certain situation. For example, what would you do if you worked with a difficult customer? If you have had this experience, you could answer by reflecting on the past, but if you have not, this is a good chance to show the employer your problem-solving skills and ability to come up with a solution on the spot. Read a later section for various sample interview questions, and read below for strategies on answering questions.
- It is important stay focused when answering your questions and stay on point of the question that is asked. Try to strike a balance of being descriptive but concise. It can be very easy to keep talking and lose sight of the original question that was asked, so make sure to stay focused on the original question.
- Interviewers may ask two-part or even three-part questions. Feel free to ask for clarification or write down the multiple points so that you stay focused. You can also ask them to repeat the question.
- If anything is unclear to you about the question that is asked, make sure to ask for clarification.
- Remember that it is okay for you to take a reasonable pause after being asked a question so that you can collect your thoughts and deliver a focused answer.
- It is very common in an interview for you to include in an answer something that ends up being asked about in a later question. For instance, when answering a question about your strengths, you may talk about a time where you worked well in a team, and a few questions later, the interviewer may ask you about how you work as part of a team. When this happens, do not make the interviewer feel as if you are having to repeat yourself, and try to find another way to work your previous answer into a new answer or come up with something new to say.
- Always try to be specific and give examples. For instance, if asked about your strengths, go beyond just providing a list by giving examples of how you have used your strengths in the past.
- The “tell me about yourself” question is also very common, and this is a great opportunity to establish the main themes you want to come across during your interview. A good way to structure an answer is where you have been, where you are now, and where you are going (why you are applying for this position right now).
- You may also be asked if there is anything else you want the hiring manager/committee to know as your final question. Even if you felt you had the chance to cover everything you wanted, always say something for this question. If you do not have any new content to introduce, use this time to reiterate your interest in the role.
- There may be several questions during an interview where you are asked about things you have not enjoyed about past work experiences (ex. what has been a difficult interaction you have had with a co-worker), or other questions that may prompt you to say or imply something negative. For instance, being asked about how you like to be supervised can naturally lead you to talk about how you don’t like to be supervised. It is very important to keep a positive spin on things and not reveal any baggage during an interview. So, if asked about how you like to be supervised, do not talk about how it is difficult for you to be micro-managed. Instead, think of a positive supervisor relationship you have had and reflect on what made that so positive.
- Keep the STAR method in mind at all times. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and this is applicable for behavioral and situational questions. For instance, if asked about how you have handled a difficult customer interaction in the past, first set the scene (situation)—what organization were you in, what was happening, what were the basic details, and what happened that prompted you to take action (ex. why was the customer upset)? Next, explain what you need to do (task)—what was your role in responding to the customer? Then, explain the action that you took. Finally, wrap up your answer with the result. Was the customer satisfied? What did you learn?
- Although the STAR method is most commonly used for behavioral questions, it can also be used for situational questions, as you can project situations, tasks, actions, and results into the future.
- If you feel less than satisfied about any of your answers to questions, don’t worry. It is very common to feel as if you wanted to do better on one or two answers. The important thing is not to worry too much about that and not to let that affect the rest of the interview.
- Finally, remember that there are questions that interviewers cannot legally ask you, so make sure that you do not reveal anything that you do not need to and do not feel comfortable with. With a few exceptions (for more details see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website here), employers cannot ask about age, race, ethnicity, family planning, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political views, health history, disabilities, etc. If you are asked a question on these topics, remain polite but try your best to deflect the question, or decline to answer. If pressed, remember that you do not need to answer and understand that you can view this as a red flag for the organization. You can contact the organization’s Human Resources department after the interview to explain what happened and that you believed you should not have had to answer that question.
Overall, remember that an interview is a chance for the employer to get to know you and understand how you will fit into them team. Employers want to hire great talent, so they are rooting for you! Go into the interview with the expectation that the employer wants it to be as much of a success as you do.
- Tell me about yourself and why you are interested in this position.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses, and what have you done to work on your weaknesses?
- How does this position fit into your long-term goals?
- What do you want to accomplish in this position?
- What do you look for in a supervisor?
- What kind of team do you work best in?
- What role do you fill in a team?
- What is your ideal work environment?
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- What do you do to learn about your new organization when you start a position?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker. How did you handle that?
- Tell me about a time you had to navigate an unfamiliar situation.
- Tell me about a time you had to learn a new skill.
- Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.
- Tell me about a time you had to manage multiple competing deadlines.
- What would you do if you received a project with vague instructions?
- Describe a situation where you had to collaborate with a difficult colleague.
- Describe a mistake you've made professionally.
- Describe a situation when you needed to take initiative.
- What is the biggest challenge you've faced, and how did you solve it?
- Describe a time when you had to defend an unpopular decision you made.
- Is there anything that we did not already cover that you would like us to know?
Questions for you to ask
The questions you ask are as important as the answers that you give, because they show the employer that you are enthusiastic, engaged, and can come up with thoughtful questions. They also help you learn valuable information about whether or not a company is right for you. Keep these tips in mind when preparing the questions you want to ask:
- The questions you ask should not be anything that you could easily find from the website or basic research. Instead, think about questions that require a person’s perspective. For instance, you would not want to ask what the company’s mission statement is because that can be found on the website. However, you could ask how the company’s mission statement impacts employee’s day-to-day work, because only an employee could tell you that.
- The questions you ask can also reveal quite a bit about your interests and goals. For instance, if you ask about professional development opportunities that are available to employees, this shows that you are committed to professional development.
- Also think about questions that you need to know to know if a company is right for you. Are there any logistics you need to understand, like how much travel is required? Or, is there something you want to know about the company culture (ex. how often employees get to collaborate across departments)?
- While learning key logistics and cultural aspects are important, keep everything appropriate. For instance, an interview is not the place to be discussing salary—wait until an offer is made to discuss this.
- How has this organization changed over the years?
- What direction do you envision this organization going in?
- What is your goal for the person in this role?
- What is your main goal for next year?
- What is a project you are most proud of from this past year?
- What is your day-to-day routine like?
- What are you most excited about doing every day?
- Can you tell me more about a project you are currently working on?
- What sort of training and professional development opportunities are provided?
- What are the primary concerns/goals of your customers/clients/constituents?
- What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this role?
- What are your expectations for this role during the first thirty days, sixty days, year?
- What are the biggest challenges facing the company/department right now?