Interview Prep

An advisor works with a student to help him prepare for an interviewSo you’ve passed the first hurdles, your application, resume and/or personal statement made the cut and you've been offered an interview date.

Whether it’s an interview for medical school, a graduate program, or a job, winging the interview is one of the most common mistakes applicants make. It’s easy to think that your accomplishments or personality will get you through the interview, or that previous success equates to future success. But as the stakes get higher and the competition fiercer, preparation becomes essential.

The steps outlined below work well in unison with regular meetings with a career advisor. If you are a member of IUPUI’s Honors College or the School of Science (either currently enrolled or an alumni), you are welcome to come in for a mock interview with a PREPs career advisor. Simply click the "Meet with a Career Advisor" button to the right!

Step 1: Do Your Research

Continue researching the company with which you are interviewing. Identify common areas of interest and include those commonalities in your reasons for wanting to work with the company. Go beyond the company's website by using sites like Glassdoor.com or Studentdoctor.net, exploring the company's social media, and pay attention to their employee's LinkedIn profiles. Be sure to take careful notes of all this research.

Interviewers may ask if you know what's happening in their company. To prepare, research to see if the company has been in the news recently or if they have any upcoming products or projects they’re working on.

Beyond being able to answer questions intelligently, your research will also provide you with valuable information that will allow you to ask relevant queries and help you make a decision concerning your future with the company.

For even more tips on researching the organization, check out this video.

Step 2: Practice

Don't expect to provide polished answers to every question without having practiced first. The best way to practice for an interview is by attending a mock interview. A mock interview is an emulation of an interview used for training purposes. InterviewStream is a free online service that allows you to conduct mock interviews via webcam. After recording your answers, review the video to identify areas of improvement. You can also schedule a mock interview at PREPs by using the button to the right.

To the left, we've gathered a list of common interview questions. Keep in mind that the purpose of the interview is for the interviewer to make an informed decision as to whether or not you would be the best person for the position. Essentially the interviewer wants to know if you are capable of doing the work, you will enjoy the work, and you are a good fit for the program or company. The questions below are simply a variety of ways these basic three questions may be phrased.

How to Answer Tricky Interview Questions

"Tell me about yourself"

Sounds like a simple question, right? This question is not an icebreaker. The interviewer wants to know if you would be a good fit for the position.  This is where having an elevator pitch comes in handy. An elevator pitch is a concise, carefully planned, well-practiced description about yourself.

It’s easy to understand what a good answer to this question is by looking at a bad answer. Here’s a bad way to answer: "I'm engaged and originally from Chicago. My fiancé took a position here in Indianapolis three months ago, and I've been getting us settled in our new apartment. I'm now ready to go back to work. I've worked in a variety of jobs, usually customer-service related. I'm looking for a company that offers growth opportunities” 

Not only is the interviewee’s answer too personal, but it raises concerns as to whether she was an employee who would stay for long. For example, she’s engaged and when her fiancé moves, she moves too. She has some work experience with customers but didn’t emphasize what she did. She’s looking to grow. Will she be content with the job she is applying for? Will she stay long?

What she should have done was come with a prepared elevator pitch in which she emphasizes her strengths. For example, she is warm and easily connects with people. She is highly articulate, and one of her greatest strengths is follow-through. She has a reputation for always meeting deadlines. Here how she could have approached the question.

Mention past experiences and proven success: “I have been in the customer-service industry for the last five years. My most recent experience has been handling incoming calls in the high-tech industry. One reason I particularly enjoy this business and the challenges that go along with it, is the opportunity to connect with people. In my last job, I formed some significant customer relationships resulting in a 30% increase in sales in a matter of months.”

Mention strengths and abilities: “My greatest strength is my attention to detail. I pride myself on my reputation for following through and meeting deadlines. When I commit to doing something I make sure it gets done, and on time.”

Conclude with a statement about your current situation: “What I’m looking for now is a company that values customer relations, where I can join a strong team and have a positive impact on customer retention and sales."

Once you have a polished answer, practice it. This doesn’t mean memorize it (you don’t want your answer to be stiff from rote memorization) but get used to saying the various phrases you want to include.

"Tell me about a time in the past when you demonstrated…"

Questions that begin this way are called behavioral-based questions. Interviewers use these questions to predict your future performance.

We recommend using the S.T.A.R method to best answer these questions.  S.T.A.R stands for:

  • Situation: What were you doing? Who were you working with?
  • Task: What was the goal you were striving to accomplish or the problem you attempted to solve?
  • Action: What did you do to resolve the problem or reach the goal?
  • Result: How did the situation end? What did you learn from this experience?

Don’t expect to go into an interview and use this method perfectly the very first time you try it. It takes practice and preparation. Which is why it’s also important to prepare five or more success stories. List your skills and keys assets, then reflect on past jobs and pick out one or two instances when you used those skills successfully.

You’ll also want to present concrete, quantifiable data. This includes measurable information and details about specific accomplishments. You may already have this information listed on your resume, but practice talking about it.

Practice talking about yourself in front of the mirror. Observe your facial expressions, practice making eye contact with yourself, and pay attention to your posture. Make sure you aren’t fidgeting or playing with your hair. Practice your handshake with friends and family members. Body language accounts for more than half of all our communication, so checking your watch, yawning, looking out the window, giving a weak handshake, etc. communicates that you are not excited about the position."

Why do you want to work for us? or Why do you want to pursue this degree?

In order to answer this question successfully, you have to do your research. Use the following questions to get started:

  1. What are the organization’s leading products or services?
  2. What makes this organization or university different than others?
  3. What has happened recently for this organization? Acquisitions? New Products? Anything newsworthy?
  4. Who runs the organization? How many employees work for the org.? In how many offices? Is it big or small?
  5. What is the school or organization’s mission? Philosophy? Values? Vision?

Prepare by writing facts about the organization on notecards. Include reasons why you want to work for the organization, questions you have about the organization, news bits, and any other tidbits you may want to add. Study the notecards in the days prior to the interview so that you have the information in your brain and can deploy any facts, questions, or figures as necessary.

Here’s an example of an answer that demonstrates the interviewee’s research:  “First, I know what a growth story Evernote is! Didn’t I read recently that you’ve had three straight years of double-digit growth? I read in your annual report that you’re planning to introduce a new line of products in the near future. I jumped at the chance to apply here."

"Do you have any questions for me?"

It’s important to have questions about the company or school you are interviewing for. Not having questions signals that you are not interested in the position. Keep your goal in mind: you want to find a company that will be a good fit for your personality, skills, etc. So you should have questions to ask.

You should have already prepared for this part of the interview when you researched the organization. You probably came across questions along with way, but if not, here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. “Tell me some of the particular skills or attributes the ideal candidate for this position possesses.”
  2. “What do you like best about this organization? Why?”
  3. “What has been the company’s layoff history in the last five years? Do you anticipate any cutbacks in the near future and, if you do, how will they affect my department or position?”
  4. “Does this job usually lead to other positions at the company? Which ones?”
  5. “What major problems or challenges has the organization recently faced? How were they addressed? What results do you expect?”

We have created an extensive list of questions for you to choose from.

Make sure you have several questions ready to deploy in case your other questions were already answered. Three questions you should ask, if not previously addressed, include:

  1. “What are the next steps in the hiring process?” OR “When you do expect to make a hiring decision?”
  2. “If I am offered the position, how soon would you need my response?” OR “If I am offered the position, how soon would you need me to start?”
  3. “May I have your business card?” (Then use the card to send a thank you note to the interviewer afterwards!)

Illegal Questions

Unfortunately, you may be asked an illegal question during your interview. Be aware of what these questions are and what to do if you are asked one.

Illegal Job Interview Questions & How to Handle them

Step 3: Dress for Success

When choosing an outfit for your upcoming interview, be conservative! Don’t wear tight or revealing clothing, and do your best to cover up any tattoos or piercings, even if it’s allowed by the company’s dress code. Stick to appropriate attire, because the point of the interview is not to be remembered by your looks, but by the level of professionalism and the skills you have to offer.

Watch our video about professional dress or read the guidelines below in order to learn how to dress properly for your interview:

  • A tailored suit: Be sure the suit fits properly! There are places that will hem or tailor the suit to fit you precisely. If you choose to wear a skirt, be sure the length is at least to your knees. Appropriate suit colors include black, grey, or navy blue. If you want to add some color, do so by choosing to wear a brighter colored blouse or dress shirt. Lastly, be sure your suit is ironed. Wrinkles don’t make a good impression. Don't know how to use an iron? Learn how.
  • Tie: If you choose to wear a traditional tie or bowtie, be sure it coordinates with the rest of your outfit. Here's a quick video with tips.
  • Shoes: Dress shoes or flats are a perfect choice, but be sure to shine or polish them if necessary. If you prefer heels, choose a moderate pair. Make sure you can walk comfortably in your shoes before the day of the interview.
  • Jewelry: Limit yourself to two pieces or less. Avoid any jewelry that is noisy and distracting. Remove any ear, face, or tongue piercings prior to the interview.
  • Hair: If your hair is short, make sure it’s neat. If your hair is long, pull it back and away from your face, preferably in a ponytail. Any facial hair should be neatly trimmed.
  • Makeup: If you choose to wear any, use soft and natural shades.
  • Nails: Should be short, neat, and clean. Remove any chipped nail polish if need be.
  • Wear deodorant or antiperspirant: Do NOT wear any perfume or cologne. The smell of either of these may be offensive to your interviewer, best not to take any chances.

Polish your look

  • Get opinions from a professional audience about your interview outfit. Be sure to ask your parents, your grandparents, or any other professionals you know.
  • Being on time is always in style. Arriving late to your interview may hurt your chances at getting the job. If possible, drive to the interview location beforehand, time how long it takes to get there (allow for traffic if necessary), and stake out the parking situation.
  • Don’t smoke before the interview. You don’t want them to smell you before they see you!
  • Bring a leather padfolio with several crisp copies of your resume, your business cards, a notepad, and pens. 

Step 4: Make a Great First Impression

It takes only 12-15 seconds to make a first impression. So you need to know how to make the most of that moment.

  • Make sure you are at least ten minutes early, any earlier may make you too nervous.
  • Make sure your suit is clean and pressed.
  • Practice your handshake. It should be firm, dry, and make full palm-to-palm contact.
  • Make eye contact. This conveys a sense of confidence.
  • Speak slowly with a steady voice. This conveys a sense or professionalism.
  • Be aware of your body language. Make sure you have good posture and are aware of your gestures.

See our First Impressions video for more information.

Step 5: Follow Up

During the Job Interview

As the interview begins to draw to a close and you’ve asked your interviewer questions about the position, be sure to collect any business cards or contact information from the employer/interviewer before you leave.

Having a business card will make it easier to follow up. If for some reason you can't get a business card, use LinkedIn for the contact information of your interviewer.

After a Job Interview

The purpose of following up after an interview is to show your gratitude for being brought in to interview and remind the interviewer that you're a strong candidate for the job and should be given serious consideration.

Immediately send a thank you letter, note, or email message to everyone who interviewed you. Handwritten letters are best, but they aren't always feasible, thus email is perfectly acceptable. 

  • Use your follow-up note to reiterate your interest in the job and the company.
  • Remind the interviewer why you're qualified by highlighting your relevant skills.
  • Did you forget to say something? If there's something you had wished you'd shared during the interview, do it now.
  • Proofread your follow-up letters before you send them. A typo or grammatical error can hurt you more than it will will help.

For more information, see our Follow Up video.