Special thanks to Ryan Torrey and Alisa Miettinen for contributing to this page!

It’s important to focus on the interview because like any athletic team you could be great on paper, but when it comes time for the game, some teams just don’t show up. With a couple helpful hints you can ‘show up’ when it comes time for that.

Our Golden Rule: Treat interviews like a conversation and the interviewer like a professional friend. This will decrease your nervousness and improve your ability to connect with your interviewer!

For what skills to highlight during your interview, see here.

Types of Interviews

  • Personal Interviews: During these interviews, interviewers are trying to get to know what your qualifications are for the position and what skills you’ll bring. There are three main types of these interviews:
    • In-person: Studies show that you’re much likelier to get a job through an in-person interview. Why? It’s easier to connect to a person who you actually meet. Also, these interviews tend to be used with candidates who organizations are more interested in. For example, several organizations will first hold phone interviews and then only invite applicants who they like to an in-person interview.
    • Phone: If you do get a phone interview, you’ll have to work twice as hard to connect with your interviewer (though on the plus side, unless it’s a video call, you can take the interview in pajamas). So how do you connect? You have to translate everything you’d normally do through non-verbal cues into a verbal statement. Instead of nodding, say mm-hm. Instead of waving your hands to show enthusiasm, add excitement into your voice, more than you’d do in a normal interview. Instead of smiling, laugh or thank them for giving you information, etc.
    • Group: If you do get called to a group interview, there’s a few ways to outshine your peers. Arrive on time/early so you can greet them as one of the first. Be proactive and answer questions lengthily. Be more appreciative than other people around you. If you interact with the other applicants or add onto their answers, employers will think you’re more confident.

  • Case Interviews: Case interviews are where the interviewers ask you to solve some problem, usually in a group. For example, at a case interview I attended, we had to agree as a group on how to allocate money for a product release at a company. I aced the interview by taking the lead – ask others for their input, try to rephrase the agreement you’re working towards and get people to agree, and make sure you keep others on time (“do you all want to talk about X now?”). Also, asking others if they’d like to vote on something is a great way to show leadership. In case interviews, you want to balance getting your opinions and expertise across with leading the others in your group. Don’t be a jerk, though! Don’t force your lead on others or try to screw over others in your group.

Prepare for the Interview

  1. Bring everything you need. This includes multiple copies of your resume, cover letter, and any other application materials. Most likely you the first interview isn’t one on one.
  2. If the interview is online, make sure your equipment works. Have someone do a test call, make sure the lighting is good with no overwhelming colors, and have water on hand.
  3. Go back to the advertisement you applied to. How was everything stated? Was it very formal or relaxed? What did you tell yourself? What did you tell them? If you would be the employer, why would they have chosen to read your application? This step gives you an idea what they’re looking for.
  4. Visit the company web page and social media. Read the most liked articles on their page. Figure out their ways and how they want to be seen by others. 

What to Wear

Dress one level above what people in this company’s culture wear to work regularly. At most companies, do not show tattoos or differently colored hair, and wear minimal makeup and jewelry.

When interviewing for a luxury hotel, I (Alisa) wore black slacks, a blue blouse, and a black blazer. The second interview I wore a gray and black dress with flat heels. If you look and feel your best it comes off your best.

Tips to Ace Any Interview

  1. Ace the first few seconds. The first seconds of your interview leave a lasting impression for both your interview and after. Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake (have a firm grip and keep your wrist stationary) and a smile. Also, ask them how they are and you can often compliment them on something pretty quickly. Even just saying “thank you so much for taking the time to interview me” is in a way a compliment because you’re acknowledging that their time is valuable. Always smile genuinely and slowly. Pause a split second before smiling so it seems more genuine.

  2. Nonverbal cues speak the loudest. The point of nonverbal cues is to make your interviewer feel comfortable with you. You should face your interviewer squarely and make frequent eye contact. Smile often. If they’re saying something interesting, lean forward. Naturally move your hands as you speak so that it comes across more conversational. Think about how you act on a date. Don’t be inappropriate, but the type of interest you show someone you care about is exactly the type of interest you want to show in an interview.

  3. Mirror your interviewer. If they are sitting a certain way, try to sit like them. Try to talk and position your movements as they do. Mirroring someone helps show your interviewer that you are engaged and paying attention, and that you are in line with them. This behavior, often called “the chameleon effect,” regularly causes others to like and trust you more. Professional networkers, negotiators and salespeople use mirroring to engage on a deeper level in a conversation and understand the person they’re talking with. This may sound like a big sales tactic and you’re right.

    But it’s also backed by science. Scientists using functional MRIs to study listeners and speakers have uncovered that they are “dynamically coupled,” with speakers’ and listeners’ brains responding and changing to signals from each other. Like a kind of wireless bonding of brains, the brain’s mirroring capacity is the basis for this interplay of signals and reactions, and nonverbal cues enhance it. Practically speaking, it may work best if you feel a sense of connection with the interviewer already and then try to mirror his or her behavior.

  4. Use the STAR Method. When interviewers ask you to tell them about your experiences at a job or  to “describe a time you were under a lot of pressure at work,” they’re often expecting you to elaborate, rather than just tell them what’s on your resume. Here’s where the STAR method helps. While this method sounds complicated, it becomes second nature after a few interviews.

    1. Situation: What is the context of your story? In setting the situation, you are telling your listener when or where this event took place. For example, “We were working on a six-month contract for a high-value client, when our agency merged with another, larger firm…”

    2. Task: What was your role in this situation? For example, “It was my role to lead the transition for my group while also communicating with our client to keep the project on track.”

    3. Action: What did you do? For example, “I set up weekly check-ins with the client to update them on the progress of the merger. This cemented an important level of trust between us. I also had regular one-on-ones with each person on the team, both to assess how they were handling the change and to make sure we would meet our deadlines.”

    4. Result: What did your actions lead to? For example, “We ended up completing the project on time, meeting all of their specifications. It was incredibly rewarding to navigate a lot of change and succeed under pressure.”

  5. Know the position you’re applying to. After speaking to several employers and asking them what bothers them the most during interviews, the number one pet peeve I’ve heard is, “The applicant didn’t know anything about our company.” It’s incredibly important to know the answers to the following questions before your interview. Or to at least know that you can’t find the answers to these questions online (in which case you can ask your interviewer).

    1. What does the organization do and how is it organized? (Also, who is in charge? Be sure you can name the CEO/President/Director.)

    2. Which team are you working with, who is on the team, and what does the team do?

    3. How is the organization/team contributing to society?

    4. What issues are important to the organization?

    5. What are some issues facing the organization and what are some innovative viewpoints or solutions do you have to them?

  6. Prepare questions about the company. Interviewers usually ask if you have questions for them at the end. Always prepare these questions in advance and have several. Here are some samples:

    1. Is there anything more I can tell you about myself that would make me a more competitive candidate?

    2. When will I hear back from you?

    3. How did you decide to work here?

    4. I saw you did [x] in your career. I’d love to learn more about how you got there.

    5. What is the work culture like in your office?

    6. If I get the job, how can I prepare to hit the ground running?

  7. Try to get the interviewer to talk more. People like talking about themselves and I have gotten every position I’ve ever applied to where the interviewer spoke more than I did. Answer their questions fully and at length, but always try to ask them about their lives and background and get to know them as a person. Interviews are about them seeing you as a colleague for years.

  8. Don’t be inappropriate. Dress smartly and professionally. Don’t ask about their marital status, sexuality, etc. Do not comment about what the interviewer is wearing. For small talk, go with something in their office, especially pictures of families, kids, or pets.

  9. Focus on the company’s problems. Companies are hiring you to solve a problem they don’t have the internal resources to solve. You should learn what the problems are and focus on how you can solve them. For example, if they need a new software engineer, they are probably having software problems or a specific goal they expect you to meet. Ask what it is and focus on showing that you have the skills to solve it.

Sample Interview Questions

Here are the interview questions we see most often! It can help to practice your answers to these questions before interviews.

  1. Tell me about yourself. (You can just explain your educational background and then give some generalizations about your experiences. For example, mine/Janani’s would be – I graduated from UC Berkeley in Political Science and have experiences with the federal government and think tanks. I’m really interested in your organization because of XYZ which fits well with my background in XYZ.)
  2. What is a challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
  3. What achievement are you most proud of?
  4. Do you have experience in ____? (You can fill in this blank with common subfields or skills in your field.)
  5. Where do you see yourself in five years? (They want to know if you’re planning on staying with the company. If not, don’t say that!)
  6. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? (Say a weakness and what you are doing to change it.)
  7. Tell me more about a certain experience on your resume. (It’s really helpful to review what’s on your resume before the interview. Use the STAR method described above.)
  8. Why are you applying to this position?
  9. What do you like about our company?
  10. What skills do you bring with you? Why should we hire you over other candidates? (You can list your great qualities here, which is fine. Better is to do your homework to find out what they want and reiterate that. Ask “is this how you see me in the role.”)
  11. How will this position help you achieve your goals?
  12. What is your current salary? (This isn’t really about how much you make. It’s asking how much you’re asking from them. Research what professionals in this field are usually paid, and and go up if you have some competitive advantage like a language or a skill. The best way to get paid well is to ask for it.)

Overcoming Interview Anxiety

Interviews can be really stressful and there’s no shame in admitting this. Chances are a lot of the people you’re interviewing with have also suffered from interview anxiety at some point. Here are some steps for overcoming it:

  1. Something that really helps is writing a list of questions that they’re likely to ask and practicing your answers in advance. (See our list above!) Practice with a mirror, with a friend, even film yourself.
  2. When you go into the interview, keep reminding yourself that it’s just a conversation. I’ve found to some extent the less I think through things at an interview, the better they come out! Also, remind yourself that everyone in the room was in your position at some point in time.
  3. To destress, if there’s a certain thing that calms you down (in my case, listening to music), arrive early to your interview and then take a few minutes to do that first.
  4. Find someone you can practice with. At my university, they used to offer mock interviews – see if someone you know is down to ask you interview questions randomly, and you have to respond.

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