Interview Strategies

The interview is the heart of the job search process. It is your chance to meet with a potential employer and put a face to your application documents. To be best prepared for the interview, you must know how to match the employer’s needs to your skills and abilities. Follow these three steps to prepare for your next interview:

A successful interview begins before the interviewer starts asking you questions. Be sure to complete the following before your interview:

  • Review the company website, LinkedIn profile(s), social media, and research what other employees have to say on Glassdoor.
  • Create a list of questions for the interviewer.
  • Practice a variety of common interview questions.

Questions to Practice: Most questions asked by an interviewer will relate to your educational background, work experience, career goals, personality, and behavior traits. Regardless of the question asked, you’ll want to respond with information that is relevant to the position you are interviewing for. Here are tips for answering some of the most common types of interview questions:

  • Traditional Questions: Interviewers ask traditional questions to get an idea of who you are and what makes you unique. These questions typically ask about your goals and the needs of the position.

  • Behavioral Based Questions: Behavioral based questions are intended to discover how you would handle unique situations. You’ll want to answer these questions using the S.T.A.R. method:
    • S: Describe a situation. What were the circumstances surrounding it?
    • T: What were you tasked with in this situation? 
    • A: What action did you take? How did you do it? Be detailed here. 
    • R: Describe the result. What was accomplished? Whether it was a positive or negative experience, let the interviewer know what you learned/gained from the situation.

  • Negative Questions: Questions like “Describe your biggest weakness” can produce some anxiety since you don’t want to speak negatively about yourself to a prospective employer. Be sure to discuss a negative that you are currently working/improving upon. Example: “I used to miss deadlines, but I did some research on time management and discovered strategies that worked for me, such as using Google tasks and spending a set amount of time on different projects each day. Within a month, I saw a significant improvement.”
  • Industry-Specific Questions: For more industry-specific questions and how to answer them, check out Indeed’s Interview Questions and Answers and filter by job title. 

  • Illegal and Uncomfortable Questions: In the United States, there are some questions that are illegal for a prospective employer to ask in an interview if they are not related to the job. These include questions regarding your:
    • Race
    • Color
    • Sex
    • Religion
    • National origin
    • Birthplace
    • Age
    • Disability
    • Marital/family status

In some locations, it is also illegal for the interviewer to ask about salary and compensation history (it is not illegal in Alaska). Regardless of legality, talking about compensation is uncomfortable. Practice answering questions regarding compensation ahead of time. 

Questions to Ask: An interview is also your chance to interview the employer and assess if the position and company are right for you. It’s important to have 2-3 questions prepared before the interview. These questions come from detailed research and should not include questions that can be easily answered through exploring the organization's website. 

Best practices for interviews vary from culture to culture (such as eye contact duration, personal spacing, etc.). The advice outlined here applies to current standards within the United States. However, appearance and communication standards are evolving and we recommend researching and preparing for inclusivity as you are able. 

Appearance: Research the company cultural and industry standards of the organization you will be interviewing with. It is important to dress in a way that matches industry and company standards. Company dress code standards vary from conservative and fashion forward to relaxed. Here are the three most common work dress codes and their explanations: 

  • Business professional: Pant or skirt suit with a dress shirt or blouse. Matching socks/tie/shoes. Solid, neutral or dark colors.
  • Business casual: Dress pants or skirt with button-down shirt or blouse. More casual shoes. 
  • Casual: Well kept, clean, unwrinkled clothing. This may include jeans without holes or patches, and unbranded t-shirts.

Nonverbal communication: An interviewer wants to know that you are paying attention, alert, friendly, and confident. In most business and professional settings, you can achieve this by:

  • Maintaining conversational eye contact (3-5 seconds). If your interview has multiple interviewers, be sure to acknowledge all in the room. 
  • Avoiding filler words like “um”, “like”, “uh”, etc. as much as possible.
  • Sitting straight and avoiding habits that may convey nervousness/anxiety (like shaking and tapping) when possible.

Organization and Timelines: Culture often comes into play around punctuality and time management, with some organizations emphasizing promptness and others a bit more relaxed. When interviewing, it is best is to:

  • If in person, arrive 10-15 minutes before the interview to prepare. It’s also advisable to journey to the interview location a day before the interview to confirm travel time. Be sure to confirm the schedule, date, time and location at least one day before the interview. 
  • If virtual, test the interview video conferencing link, internet connection, webcam and microphone at least 30 minutes before the interview. Enter a virtual interview no more than 5 minutes before the interview.

Minimize Distractions: Whether in person or virtual, be sure to silence your cell phone. If virtual, alert anyone around you of your interview so you will not be interrupted. Review our Virtual Interview Tips for more information on preparing for virtual interviews.

The interview does not end after the questions are answered. It’s important to follow up and complete next steps. 

Send a Thank You Email: Be sure to include key information shared during the interview and email each person present at the interview individually, preferably the day following the interview. 

Follow Up: Often, an employer will let you know when they expect to reach a hiring decision during the interview. However, if more than two weeks have passed , you may wish to send a follow up email inquiring about any status updates. 

Managing an offer: Congratulations on receiving the job offer! Here are some aspects to consider when managing a job offer:

  • Ask the employer when they would like to receive your decision.
  • Research and compare the benefits and compensation being offered by the organization against national and local compensation rates. Some things to consider are:
  • Salary
  • Benefits such as tuition reimbursement, medical coverage, vacation time, sick leave, saving plans, stock options, or a flexible work schedule
  • Perks such as company car, training, etc.
  • Organization’s culture and growth potential
  • Evaluate what you will bring to the position. Consider your education, skills, and work experience.
  • Prepare talking points if you plan to negotiate your salary. Many employers
    expect job seekers to negotiate compensation and negotiation often leads to better lifetime earning potential. It is important to do your research and know that some offers may not be negotiable. Understand that with negotiation you may decide to walk away.
  • Accept or reject the offer after careful consideration. Be sure to receive a written offer after acceptance.

Managing a rejection: Rejection is a process that most job seekers will inevitably encounter during the job search and after an interview. Sometimes rejection has nothing to do with you, but more to do with the organization’s needs. However, it is important to use rejection for self-reflection and evaluation. If you were not extended a job offer after an interview, be sure to:

  • Respond to the rejection letter. Thank the interviewer(s) for their time and consideration, as well as the opportunity to meet with the organization. Ask for feedback and to show your continued interest in the organization. 
  • Continue to revise your resume and cover letter
  • Continue to practice your interview skills with friends or a Career Services professional.