Interview Tips

Interviewing can be nerve-wracking. You want to make the best impression possible, and sell yourself to the employer; meanwhile you are also assessing whether the position/organization is a good fit for your needs. No wonder people can get flustered during this process! To help you prepare, the Office of Academic and Career Services schedules mock interviews either with employers or staff members, and presents interviewing skills workshops. The following will give you some basic pointers on how to prepare for a successful interview.

FAQs About Interviews

What should I expect?

If this is your first interview, it will probably be as a screening interview (it might very well even be conducted via phone), and it will follow a fairly well defined script. The interviewer will start with small talk meant to set you at ease, followed by some information about their organization and the position for which you are interviewing. This will be followed by questions for you. You will know that the interview is coming to a close when the recruiter turns to you and says, “So, do you have any questions for me?” Be sure to have some questions prepared, as this will indicate your interest in and enthusiasm for the position.

What kind of questions might the interviewer ask me and what kind of questions should I prepare for them?

There are many questions an interviewer might ask you. Some of the more typical ones are: “Tell me what you know about our company?” “How would you describe yourself?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “How has your college experience prepared you for this position?” “What is your greatest strength/weakness?” “Why do you want to work for our organization?” For additional typical/recommended questions, see our Interviewing at a Glance handout

Questions you can ask the interviewer include: “Would you please describe the duties/responsibilities for this position?” “What do you consider to be ideal experience for this job?” “Why is this position vacant?” “Is there room for growth within this organization?”

Do not ask about salary or benefits during the screening interview – wait for the employer to bring them up.

How do I handle less-than-perfect aspects of my past if the interviewer asks about them?

One uncomfortable area for many students involves their GPA. Using this as an example, the best advice is to acknowledge the truth and try to explain it in a positive manner, “You ask about my GPA – it was a 2.5. I wish it had been better, but during my first year at Mary Washington I’m afraid I let the freedom go to my head and I didn’t study as much as I should have. Consequently, my grades suffered. However, if you look at my GPA once I got into my major, you will see that it was consistently above a 3.0 and last semester it was a 3.6.” Or, “I admit that my GPA is not as high as I would have liked. While I feel I developed excellent time management skills while at UMW, working 15-20 hours a week off campus and being involved in campus groups such as Class Council and writing for the school newspaperdid not leave me with as much time to study as I would have liked. However, the leadership, communication and organizational skills I developed while in college will be very beneficial to me in this position.”

How should I prepare for the interview?

First, you need to know yourself: your strengths and weaknesses, what you have to offer that is unique and why you want to work for this particular organization. Speaking of why, you should research the organization prior to your interview and learn as much as you can about its operations and about the job for which you are applying. You also need to be able to explain or elaborate upon all items in your resume and cover letter – remember that anything in either is fair game for an interviewer’s question! You also should practice answering questions for the interview. You can do this with a friend, or through a mock interview in our office.

How early should I arrive for the interview?

Ten minutes prior to the starting time is recommended. Be sure to get good directions, including information on parking, when you are invited to interview.

How should I dress for the interview?

Professional attire is almost always best. For men, this usually means a suit with an ironed oxford shirt and a tie. Women should also have an interview suit in a conservative cut (mini-skirts are not recommended but pants suits are generally fine), and pumps (no sandals). Natural looking make up can be used, but avoid extreme colors and both sexes should steer away from colognes/perfumes. To best plan your interview outfit, you should learn how people in the field typically dress, and strive to emulate their attire. In other words, if you are interviewing for a creative slot in an advertising agency you may dress a bit differently than if you are interviewing for a job with a more traditional accounting agency! Tattoos should be covered as much as possible except in the most creative of fields and piercings beyond one or two per ear removed.

What should I do after the interview?

Within 24 hours of your interview, you should have written and e-mailed a thank you note to the interviewer. This process will be easier if you have remembered to get business cards from each individual with whom you met. Do not abbreviate or use “text-speak.” If you want to go the extra mile, you can also send a thank you note via traditional mail.

What if the employer does not call me within the designated time frame?

You can call or email them and politely inquire about your status as a candidate. Don’t take it personally – sometimes unforeseen circumstances can lead to a delay in notifying candidates. If you have not been selected, try to respond graciously. If they tell you they haven’t yet made a decision, ask if they know when they will and ask if you may call back again