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During the Interview

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When your interview actually begins, you are on the proverbial hot seat. It’s a tough place to be: under inevitable pressure, in the spotlight, with only educated guesses about what you’ll face.

Here are some tips that will help you to not only survive but thrive.

When You Arrive

  • Arrive for your interview at least 10 minutes early. Why put unnecessary pressure on yourself by forcing yourself to rush?
  • Assume the interview starts the moment you get to the building or even the parking lot. Be polite to everyone you interact with. Remember: You are likely being evaluated by everyone you see.
  • Know your interviewer's name and how to pronounce it. Know the names of top management in the organization as well.
  • Follow the interviewer’s lead. For example: 
    • Some interviews are conversational in tone while others are more structured, try to match their style. 
    • Typically in American business culture, the norm is to make eye contact and shake hands, but perhaps this isn’t the norm at the organization or it might not be culturally appropriate for the individual. Be adaptable to the situation. Also, if shaking hands and making eye contact isn’t culturally appropriate for you to do, you may want to let the interviewer know in advance or plan for how you will approach this at the interview.

How to Approach Answering Interview Questions

  • Understand that it takes time to develop a rapport with your interviewer. So listen carefully to the questions. Ask for clarification if you need to. Don't be afraid of pauses or of taking time to think. Some silence is OK (and it likely feels longer to you than to the interviewer). If you’re asked about something and you don’t have an answer that comes immediately to mind, take time to pause and collect your thoughts. You can even say something like, “I need to think about that for a moment.”
  • Answer questions as completely as you can. Emphasize your Core Career Competencies and other skills and how they relate to the position. Don't exaggerate or lie, but don't undersell your qualifications either. You have many talents to offer!
  • Be yourself and show confidence. Don’t worry about giving the “right” answer to each question, because there often isn’t one. The interviewer simply wants to understand who you are and how you would be a value add to the organization. 
  • Give specific examples to illustrate your points. Demonstrate how your experiences and skills (especially your development of the Core Career Competencies) make you a good match for the role. Tell detailed stories about things you've done and how they made a difference for a coworker, classmate, organization, etc. Emphasize what you can do for this organization, focusing in particular on the Core Career Competencies (which are, after all, the top traits employers look for in candidates).

Handling Illegal Interview Questions

In the United States, it is illegal for employers to ask you questions about your marital status, if you have children or are expecting a child, religious practices, political affiliation, race or nationality, sexual orientation, age, whether you have a disability, your gender, and whether or not you have been arrested. These questions are illegal because the information that could be shared in a candidate’s response may be used to discriminate against them. If you are asked an illegal question, you do not need to answer it. Instead, turn the focus back on your qualifications for the position. Learn more about how to handle illegal interview questions.

Key Interview Strategies

  • Listen for the clues that the interviewer's questions or statements provide. They'll give you a sense of what competencies, skills, and qualities matter most. Focus your responses on them.
  • Ask questions of your own, too. Doing so will demonstrate your interest and help you decide if this is a place you'd like to work.
  • Don't apologize or offer excuses for shortcomings. Instead, emphasize your willingness to learn new things and develop the competencies and skills you need.
  • When asked questions about something negative (like a weakness or a mistake), don't avoid the topic. Choose what you share carefully, then focus on a positive aspect. For example, explain how you managed a challenge, what you learned from a mistake, or what you'd do differently next time. This leaves the interviewer seeing that you are self-aware and able to manage problems.
  • Look for opportunities to insert accomplishment stories that highlight your Core Career Competencies, other skills, and background. Prepare some of these stories in advance and weave them throughout your interview.
  • Wait for a formal offer before discussing salary and benefits. Politely avoid this question if it comes up during the interview.

Ending Your Interview Effectively

  • Be alert to signals from the interviewer that it's time to wrap up.
  • End with a statement that summarizes your strongest Core Career Competencies and skills as well as your enthusiasm for the position. Prepare this statement in advance.
  • As you finish, ask about future contact. For example: "What is the next step in the interviewing process?" or "What is your timeline for the rest of the hiring process?" 
  • Thank the interviewer(s) for his/her/their time, and emphasize that you look forward to hearing back from the organization.
  • Ask for a business card (so you can send a thank-you note). If you're being interviewed by more than one person, get cards from each person.
The CLA Career Readiness Guide covers interviewing and a host of other career-related topics in depth. Access it online, or pick up a copy in CLA Career Services or in one of the CLA Academic Advising offices.