Preparation is the key to interview success. To market yourself during an
interview, you need to know your skills, abilities, and past accomplishments,
tie them to the needs of the organization, and communicate these qualifications
to the interviewer.
Based on the premise that "past performance is the best single predictor of
future performance", your goal is to demonstrate how your past experiences
predict future success. The hiring decision will be made by matching your
skills, abilities, and accomplishments (along with your personal attributes) to
the job requirements. Thus, it is essential that you provide substantive
examples of past behaviors.
This guide to interviewing is not an exhaustive commentary on the subject. To
best develop your interview skills, we suggest that you make an individual
appointment with a career counselor.
On this page you will find information about:
Analyze your interests, skills and accomplishments - not to mention your
passions and dreams. Identify examples of success from your past experiences.
You should be able to tell short stories that explain problems or situations you
encountered, the action you took to solve those problems, and the results of
Your interview challenge is to present these scenarios to employers by focusing
on the skills, abilities, and personal traits that allowed you to achieve your
successes. If possible, quantify your achievements.
Identify 2 or 3 "selling points."
Distinguish your employment candidacy from that of others. Determine how you
will convey these points during the interview using the model that is explained
in our Behavioral-based Interview.
Research the organization
Research the organization prior to the interview. Your research does not have to
be done covertly. Employers understand and expect students to do research on
their organization. Up-to-date information can usually be found on the Internet
at organization Web sites.
Acquire as much information as possible
Acquire as much information as possible about the position for which you are
applying. What skills are required for this position? What are the position
responsibilities? You may find it helpful to conduct an informational interview
with someone from the ISU Alumni Directory or with anyone who is currently
working in a position similar to the one to which you aspire.
Remember that the interview is a two-way exchange of information.
Your goal is to discover if the organization is a good fit for you. The goal of
the employer is to assess whether you are a good fit for their organization. Be
sure to prepare questions about the position and organization.
Conduct a Practice Interview.
This provides an opportunity to develop interviewing skills, have your
performance critiqued, and receive suggestions for improvement. To request a
practice interview, contact the Career Center.
You should approach the practice interview with the same preparation, research,
and dress that you would have for an actual interview. PLEASE BRING A BLANK
CD-R/CD-RW DISK to the practice interview for your personal documentation
and review. If you forget to bring a disk on which to record your interview,
blank CD's may be purchased at the Career Center front desk for $1.00
Research Before the Interview
Before interviewing with a company, you should always research the organization
Why Research the Company?
Researching the company will show that you are prepared and interested in the
position. Employers are far more impressed with applicants who already know
about their company than those who do not. In addition, the more research you
conduct, the better prepared you will be to match your skills to that
You need to know what services or products the company offers and any recent
accomplishments the company has made. You should also try to obtain as much
information as possible about the position for which you are applying. This will
help you relay to the company why you would be an asset to the organization.
Researching the company also helps you decide if you would like to work for that
organization. Gather as much information as possible about a company to
determine if it is a good fit for you, your skills, and what you have to bring
to an organization. You can also use the information you gather during the
research to rank the companies to which you are applying. This will help you to
more quickly make a decision if they offer you a position.
Another tip would be to look at a company’s annual report to get an idea of how
that company is performing financially. This can help you determine the
stability of the company and your job within it.
How to Research a Company
You should definitely know the company’s website very well. Visit the Career
Center and use our resources. There are multiple resources online as well, such
as vault.com, wetfeet.com, or hoovers.com to find information about a specific
company. Career oriented magazines such as Forbes or Fortune can be beneficial
in researching a company as well.
Don’t be afraid to contact the organization to do some research. If you know
someone employed by the company, you can speak with him or her. You may also
want to obtain pamphlets and brochures the company has to learn more about it.
Be certain that the research you conduct is from a reputable source. If you have
any questions about researching a company, you can contact the Career Center.
Make sure you don’t forget this important step in the application process!
The Interviewing Process
The Campus Interview
The campus interview is usually a 30-minute interview at the Career Center. It
serves as a screening process to determine if a candidate meets the basic
qualifications of the organization.
To make best use of the short, 30-minute interview, ask yourself:
"What 2 or 3 things do I want the interviewer to know about me that they can't
possibly know by looking at my resume?"
Create an interview agenda - 2 or 3 CAR situations that illustrate
certain skills, accomplishments, and/or personal characteristics that you want
the employer to remember. Then, weave your comments into the interview.
For underclassmen and graduating seniors who intend to interview with employers
on campus, we encourage you to make an appointment with a career counselor to
discuss your particular situation and utilize Sycamore Career Link to sign up for
The On-Site Interview
The Purpose of the Company Visit
You made a favorable impression during your campus/screening interview. The
employer was conducting these interviews to identify individuals for their short
list of job candidates or potential new hires. Through this process, the
interviewer identified YOU as having the skills and competencies, as well as
capabilities to become a productive employee.
The screening interview being over, the company visit allows the employer more
time (and more people) to assess your candidacy. Your task is to provide
compelling reasons for an employer to hire you. Keep in mind that employers want
people who will "fit" into their organization and represent it well. Therefore,
most second interviews involve meeting several people including those with whom
you would be working if hired. Interviewers may all have separate agendas in
evaluating your candidacy, and it is vital that you be consistent in your
One interviewer may talk with you about everything from sports to recent events
in East Asia. Another individual may ask you questions related to a real or
hypothetical situation, and still another person may question your knowledge
about their industry. In this scenario, the agenda of the interviewers is to
measure your ability: to communicate, to think on your feet, and to demonstrate
interest and knowledge of their field.
No two second interviews are alike. Be prepared for a long day, and be honest
and sincere in your answers. Remember that you will be evaluated not only on
what you say, but how you say it; by people having the same overriding concern -
"Can I work with this person?"
Preparing for the Interview
Ask about travel arrangements and reimbursement procedures. Organizations
have different ways of handling travel arrangements and reimbursement. Learn the
procedures before the interview. Ask for clarification if you are unsure.
If possible, obtain an itinerary and a job description before your visit.
Ask for a copy of the schedule for the day, listing the people with whom you
will be meeting. The person inviting you to the second interview should be your
Read about current events, reviewing articles about the company and
career field. Conduct a periodical literature search for articles at the library
or on the Internet.
Know the position for which you are being considered and be able to
articulate your interest in the organization and why you will succeed in the
Speak with alumni working at the company. Ask about their work experience in the
organization, and about the current direction of the company.
Know your resume. Take copies of your resume, references, and transcripts
to the interview.
The Interview Day
Dress appropriately. Dress to convince the interviewers that you fit into
the organization. Err on the conservative side.
Accept that the day will be long. Try to get a good sleep the night
before the interview day, and show enthusiasm and interest in the visit. Do not
act bored even when you have to answer the same questions frequently.
Be consistent. Do no try to read into an individual and give the answers
for which you think he/she is looking. Honesty and sincerity are essential.
Interviewers will compare notes at the end of your visit. Do not change answers
for each person with whom you meet.
Two Common Concerns
Salary. This subject will usually be addressed by the hiring authority in
the organization during your visit. If not, it is appropriate to inquire about
salary and benefits because you are beyond the screening interview. Keep in mind
that salary levels for entry-level positions (especially for management trainee
programs) may be set as standard for all trainees. The larger the organization,
the less flexibility exists to negotiate your salary, and any negotiation
usually involves minimal amounts. Information about salaries is available
through various Internet sources. This will provide you with a realistic figure
to consider. Another factor to consider is the cost of living in the area.
Living expenses vary greatly by region. A more important factor than beginning
salary may be the rate of advancement in pay and position. Do not accept a job
offer based solely on starting salary. Assess the total package.
Accepting an offer. The employer will inform you when they expect to make
a decision. If not, ask when you can expect to hear of their decision. Do not be
pressured into accepting a job offer. Even though organizations need to make
timely hiring decisions, you also need time to weigh your options. Ask for
additional time if necessary to make a decision. Employers understand that you
may be interviewing with several organizations and need time to make an informed
Write a thank-you letter to all of the people with whom you interviewed. Restate
your interest in the position and your appreciation for their time and
Behavioral-based interviewing focuses on experiences, behaviors, knowledge,
skills, and abilities that are job related. It is premised on the belief that
past behavior and performance predicts future behavior and performance.
The CAR model of interview preparation provides you with a systematic way
to practice and become familiar with behavioral-based interviewing. Below is a
guide to using the CAR system of interviewing:
C - Circumstance
The letter C in the CAR acronym refers to circumstance. Describe a situation so
that the employer can place themself in your shoes and understand the importance
of the event you are relating. For example, "As advertising manager for The
Statesman, the ISU student newspaper, I was confronted with the fact that
advertising revenue was significantly decreasing because many advertisers were
not renewing contracts."
A - Actions
The letter A in the CAR acronym refers to actions. After setting the stage by
describing the circumstance, tell the interviewer the specific actions you took
to resolve the problem. For example, "I designed a promotional packet and
compared the benefits of advertising in The Statesman with other advertising
media in the area. I also set up a special training session for the account
executives to discuss competitive selling strategies."
R - Results
The letter R in the CAR acronym refers to results. PLEASE understand that your
interview goal is to demonstrate a results-oriented background. Connect your
accomplishments to the position you are seeking. Even if the results didn't turn
out as you planned, tell the interviewer what you learned from the experience
and what you would do differently next time.
In our example about The Statesman advertising revenue, our closing results
could be something like the following: "As result of my efforts in designing
a promotional packet and sales staff training, we signed contracts with twenty
former advertisers for daily ads and five for special supplements. We increased
new advertisers by twenty percent!"
The CAR system allows you to tell the interviewer a "story" (with a
beginning, middle, and end) about how you achieved a goal. Use work experience,
activities, hobbies, volunteer work, school projects, family life - anything
that would be examples of your past behavior.
Review our sample interview questions to prepare for behavioral-based
interviews. Create your own CAR responses to the questions.
Sample Interview Questions
Organization and Planning Skills
- Describe a specific situation which illustrates how you set objectives to reach
- Tell me about a time when you had to choose between two or more important
opportunities. How did you go about deciding which was most important to you?
- Tell me how you normally schedule your time in order to accomplish your
- Describe a situation where you had a major role in organizing an important
event. How did you do it?
- Think about a lengthy term paper or report that you have written. Describe how
you organized, researched, and wrote that report.
- Give an example of how you organized notes and other materials in order to study
for an important exam.
- Describe a time when you reorganized something to be more efficient. How did you
- Think of a time when you made important plans that were fouled up. How did you
react? What did you do?
Interaction and Leadership
- Tell me about an event in your past which has greatly influenced the way you
relate to people.
- Give a specific example that best illustrates your ability to deal with an
- Some people have the ability to "roll with the punches." Describe a time when
you demonstrated this skill.
- Tell me when you had to work with someone who had a negative opinion of you. How
did you overcome this?
- Recall a time when you participated on a team. Tell me an important lesson you
learned that is useful to you today.
- Describe an instance when you reversed a negative situation at school, work, or
home. How did you do it?
- Describe a situation which best illustrates your leadership ability.
- Think about someone whose leadership you admire. What qualities impress you?
Assertiveness and Motivation
- Describe several work standards that you have set for yourself in past jobs. Why
are these important to you?
- Tell me a time when you have experienced a lack of motivation. What caused this?
What did you do about it?
- Describe a situation where you had to deal with someone whom you felt was
dishonest. How did you handle it?
- Describe a situation that made you extremely angry. How did you react?
- Tell me about a time that best illustrates your ability to "stick things out" in
a tough situation.
- Describe a time when you motivated an unmotivated person to do something you
wanted them to do.
- Give me an example of a time when you were affected by organizational politics.
How did you react?
- Give me an example of when someone tried to take advantage of you. How did you
Decision Making and Problem Solving
- Give an example that illustrates your ability to make a tough decision.
- Tell me about a decision you made even though you did not have all the facts.
- Describe a situation where you have had to "stand up" for a decision you made,
even though it was unpopular.
- Describe a situation where you changed your mind, even after you publicly
committed to a decision.
- Describe a situation that illustrates your ability to analyze and solve a
- Tell me about a time where you acted as a mediator to solve a problem between
two other people.
- Describe a problem that seemed almost overwhelming to you. How did you handle
- Tell me about a time where you have used a creative or unique approach to solve
a tough problem.
The following general questions will also help you prepare for employment
- Tell me a little about yourself.
- Why did you attend Indiana State University?
- What led you to choose your major or career field?
- What college subjects did you like best/least? What did you like/dislike about
- What has been your greatest challenge in college?
- Describe your most rewarding college experience?
- Do you think that your grades are a good indication of your academic abilities?
- If you could change a decision you made while at college, what would you change?
- What campus involvements did you choose? What did you gain/contribute?
- What are your plans for continued or graduate study?
- What interests you about this job? What challenges are you looking for in a
- How have your educational and work experiences prepared you for this position?
- What work experiences have been most valuable to you and why?
- Why are you interested in our organization? In what way do you think you can
contribute to our company?
- How would you describe yourself?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses? Give examples.
- If I asked the people who know you for one reason why I shouldn't hire you, what
would they say?
- What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
- What are your long-range career objectives? How do you plan to achieve these?
- How would you describe your ideal job?
- What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
- Do you have a geographical preference? Why?
Illegal Pre-employment Topics
It is illegal for employers to ask certain questions of candidates. Below are
some areas of illegal questioning:
- Marital status and social or living arrangements
- Profession of spouse
- Race, religion, or national origin
- Financial information
- Convictions of specific crimes related to the job
- Height and weight
- Pregnancy status and childbearing plans
- Number and ages of children or daycare provisions
- Foreign citizenship
- Academic degrees if not required for the position
- Military service discharge information
- Social activities as related to social clubs, religious groups, or other
organizations which are not related to your job or workplace
Questions Asked by the Candidate
Remember: interviews are two-way conversations with a purpose. Thus, you need to
ask well-formulated, intelligent questions that demonstrate your knowledge,
maturity, and interest in the organization. Equally important, you need to ask
questions that will help you assess your fit with an organization. It is
important to do your homework and avoid asking questions that are readily
answered in organization literature or Web site.
Here are some examples:
- Please describe the typical career path of a _________ in this
- How often are performance reviews given?
- What issues or concerns are facing this department/organization?
- What are the goals for this department/organization for the near future?
- What new projects has this department/organization recently undertaken?
- Why do you enjoy working for this organization?
- What qualities are you looking for in the candidate who fills this position?
- Who are the people with whom I would be working? Can you tell me a little about
- What professional development opportunities are available in this organization?
- What direction do you see this organization going in the future?
- What is the relationship of this organization with the local community?
- Do you encourage participation in community or professional activities?
- What resources would I have to do this job?
- From your perspective, what is the greatest challenge that the organization
faces during the next year?
- How would you describe the most successful employees in this organization?
- What characteristics do you possess that have made you successful with this
- What do you wish you had known about this organization before you began working?
- What do you think differentiates this organization from the competition?
After the Interview
Immediately following the interview it's important to submit a simple thank-you
letter. Thank-you letters are an easy way to show gratitude to the interviewer
for the time spent discussing your interests and opportunity with the company.
These letters can go far in showing competence, good manners, interest, and
Thank you letters should be clear and concise. They should include a brief
statement about when and where the interview occurred, and your expressed
thoughts of appreciation.