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Knowing how to successfully interview is one of the most crucial elements of a job
search. Good experience, internships, leadership, and academics all look great on paper, but
unless you can talk about your background with enthusiasm and confidence, landing a job will
be challenging. Promoting yourself to others may be an uncomfortable notion, but with
practice, anyone can develop the confidence to “sell” themselves to a prospective employer.
Before the Interview
√ Think about what the employer is looking for. An employer wants to know if you can help solve
their organization's problems and meet their needs. Are you a good match for each other?
√ Know what you bring to the table. Examine your resume and the job description and think about
your skills and experience. Be prepared to discuss specific examples of:
• What you accomplished
• How you worked with others
• The challenges you faced and how you solved them or helped solve them
• What you enjoyed and learned
• What you would do differently, if anything
√ Do your homework. Thoroughly research the organization and the staff with whom you’ll be
interviewing. Know the organization’s mission, leadership, number of employees, products and
services, programs, and customers or clients. Dig deeply: What recent events that have happened
involving the organization? How it is structured, how it is doing financially, and who are its key
competitors? The bottom line: Employers hire candidates who take the time to learn about them.
Sources for finding out about an organization:
The organization’s website. But not just the front page. Read the “about us” section, past
press releases, staff bios, and annual reports. Follow the links.
LexisNexis. Available through the Neilson website, use this database to research articles from
major magazines and newspapers. Key word search the organization’s name and key staff. and CareerSearch. Use these search engines on the CDO website to gather indepth information about the field and the employer—its products, revenue, size, locations.
Informational interviews. Meeting with Smith alumnae and others in the field is a good way to
learn about an organization. Check our AlumNet for Smith grads to contact. Further details are
in our guide Informational Interviewing and the Art of Networking.
√ Find out with whom you’ll be interviewing, and what the day’s format will be. When you’re
called for an interview get the names and titles of your interviewer(s) and ask about the length and
schedule of the day. Depending on the position and field, you may be given a test on your writing,
quantitative, or database skills or participate in a case or group interview. Ask if you should be
prepared for anything specific. Get travel, parking, or public transportation directions.
√ Prepare some questions to ask your interviewer(s). Ask about new products, programs,
services, events, mergers. Other possibilities:
What are you looking for in a candidate?
What are your expectations for new hires? How can you best utilize my skills?
What would you add or subtract to the background of the person who held this position before?
What are some of the immediate challenges facing the organization? What will be the role of
the person you hire in facing these challenges?
Tell me how your future fundraising strategies will change with the new director on board?
What opportunities for growth do you offer?
Tell me about the culture of the organization. What kind of personality best fits the office?
What questions do you have that we haven’t addressed today?
What are the next steps in the hiring process? Do you have a general time frame in mind?
√ Research the the salary range for the field and location ahead of time. Good ways to do so are
on and through informational interviews with people in the field. If asked about your salary
expectations, you’ll need to be ready. Figure out your budget in advance.
√ Review your Facebook and similar profiles. Google yourself. Employers may do the same.
Practice, Practice, Practice
√ Interviewers aren’t just looking for “the right answer.” They’re also looking for a “good fit.”
Personality, enthusiasm, and confidence are often deal makers and breakers in an interview. Talking
about yourself and your experience with confidence builds the likeability factor that employers look for.
With practice, answering questions becomes easier and more natural. Some suggestions:
Attend an interview workshop.
Practice answering questions out loud—thinking about answers doesn’t help when you’re going
to be answering them verbally!
Practice with your friends.
Have a practice interview with a CDO advisor; bring along your resume and a job description.
√ Practice answering questions with specific examples from your past experience. In the
workplace, past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. Practice using phrases like, “Let
me give you an example…” and “For instance, when I…” Talk about jobs, internships, class projects,
sports teams, on-campus organizations, and the like.
√ Practice getting to the point. If asked, “Tell me about yourself,” focus right away on job-related
qualities and your interest in the position. An interviewer asking “How did you choose Smith?” wants to
hear how you make important decisions, not every detail of your college search. Practice speaking
without a lot of "ums," "uhs," “likes”, or "you knows."
It’s Showtime!
√ Arrive early. Be sure to have clear directions, including information on parking and security. Doing
a dry-run on a workday can help you plan and prepare for travel.
√ Bring along a professional-looking folder with extra resumes, a list of references, and a pad
and pen. If you need to take notes during the interview, do so sparingly. Focus your full attention on
the people with whom you’re talking. Review or make notes before or afterwards.
√ Be prepared for a little “small talk” at the beginning of the interview—about your trip to the
interview, current events, the weather, what’s happening on campus. The likeability factor starts now.
√ Convey passion, enthusiasm, confidence, and motivation! Smile, make eye contact, and shake
hands firmly. Remember: They have asked you to interview—they like you!
√ Be aware of body language. Sit up straight and listen actively—lean forward slightly, nod, and
smile ("I see," "Yes."). Watch the interviewer's body language, too. If you tend to gesture a lot, ask a
CDO advisor or a friend if it's excessive.
√ Emphasize the positive. Don’t volunteer information about your weaknesses but be prepared for
questions about them. Never speak negatively about previous experience, former employers,
professors, or supervisors. Instead, explain the situation briefly and emphasize what you learned.
√ Expect the unexpected. If you trip on the rug or a button flies off your jacket, if the interviewer
spills her coffee or the phone rings, maintain your composure and sense of humor. Interviewers have
different styles—most are pleasant and supportive but a few may seem rude or confrontational.
Stand your ground and show you can handle the situation.
√ Interviewers often ask behavioral questions to probe relevant skills. For a marketing job you
might be asked, “What would your marketing plan be for xxx product?” For a customer service job:
“What would you do if a client were rude to you?” or “Tell me about the most difficult customer you’ve
ever dealt with.” Behavioral questions may come up in a first interview, in second or third interviews
(more commonly), or not at all.
√ To prepare for behavioral questions, review the job description and your resume. What
specific skills, experiences, and qualities is the employer looking for and what specific examples
from your resume address these needs? Practice telling your “stories” as part of your preparation. It
may help to use the STAR technique as you prepare:
Situation - What was the situation or problem?
Task - What needed to be done? How were you involved?
Action - What did you do? What was your specific role?
Result - What were the outcomes? What did you learn or wish you’d done differently?
Example: The question, “Tell me about any team sports you play,” is designed to assess your ability
to work well on a team. Answer: “I spend a lot of time on the rock climbing wall at Smith. Not only is it
very challenging individually, but I have to communicate and work closely with a partner. I have to
pay attention to what she is telling me she needs in order to get to the next step on the wall, for
example, and I also have to help guide and coach her. I can see things she can’t, and vice versa. I
have learned a great deal about communication and support through a sport I once thought was an
individual activity.”
√ Some interviewers ask illegal or inappropriate questions about age, ethnicity, religion, race,
citizenship, military record, sexual orientation, marital status, arrest record, and/or disabilities. The
questions might be, “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Are you planning to have a family?” or “How old are
you?” You can refuse to answer, or ask why the question is relevant. You can just answer the
question if you choose, or address what you think is the underlying issue. For example, the question
“Do you have a boyfriend?” may be the interviewer’s clumsy way of asking if you can handle the
nights, weekends, and travel the job requires. You can say, “I’m aware of the time commitment
needed, and can assure you that I’m quite willing to put in the hours needed to do an excellent job.”
√ Don’t ask about salary or benefits at an interview, but be prepared to answer questions about
salary history or expectations. If asked about your expectations, try “I’m aware that the typical range
for this kind of position is ___ to ___, and I'd like to be at the higher end of the range given my related
skills and experience." This answer is positive and assertive but still non-demanding enough to leave
room for negotiation. Don’t ask for more money based on your own personal needs.
√ International students: Be prepared to answer questions about visa status. Be aware of
Optional Practical Training and change of visa status procedures, but don’t bring these topics up.
U.S. interview techniques may differ from one’s home country, so feel free to practice with a CDO
advisor. Consult the International Student Advisor about visa and OPT regulations.
√ Never leave an interview with an uneasy “I wish I had said…” feeling. Some good closing
questions and actions:
Is there anything about my background and experience that we didn’t cover today that would be
helpful for you to know?
What is the next step in the process?
Thank the interview for his/her time, and shake everyone’s hand before you leave—make eye
contact, and convey confidence!
Be prepared if your interviewer ends the interview with, “Is there anything else we should know
about you?” Have a succinct and enthusiastic summary of your qualifications ready.
√ Ask for the business card of each person who interviews you, or ask your interview host for a
list of your interviewers. You’ll need this for your thank you notes.
Dress for Success
√ Be remembered for what you said, not what you wore. Dress professionally. Observe people in
the field and dress a little dressier than they do day-to-day. When in doubt, err on the conservative
side. Avoid short skirts, tight or revealing tops, large, splashy patterns, distracting jewelry, and clubscene shoes. Leave your student accessories behind—backpack, coffee mug, water bottle, sneakers,
hiking boots. For winter interviewing, borrow or buy a coat if you can.
√ Dress appropriately for the field. Business interviews generally call for a conservatively-colored
skirt or pants suit, minimal jewelry, skin-toned hose, and dark, conservative shoes. Creative fields (ex:
advertising, PR, publishing, the arts), non-profits, and teaching allow for more relaxed attire: A blazer,
blouse, or sweater set, and tailored skirt or pants suit are appropriate; you can add a scarf for color. If
you have visible tattoos, nose rings, brightly-dyed hair, and body piercing, think about whether they’ll fit
in with the particular work environment.
√ Impeccable grooming, always: clean and neatly groomed hair and nails, no perfume, subtle makeup, and fresh breath (but no gum or mints during the interview), and don’t forget the deodorant. If
you're a smoker, be sure to wear smoke-free clothing to your interview.
After the Interview
√ Send thank you notes (hand-written or emailed) and requested information within 24 hours.
Mention your interest in the position and organization, highlight a key point or two, and show your
enthusiasm. Keep it short but sincere, and make a copy for your files. It is also a good idea to send a
follow-up note to anyone at the organization who has assisted you in your job search.
Other Types of Interviews
√ Phone Interviews. Employers in many fields initially screen applicants by phone, and sometimes the
phone rings without warning. Some strategies for successful phone interviews:
Be on a landline—avoid using a cell phone if possible.
Be in a quiet place where you can concentrate and won’t be interrupted.
Sit at a table; have your resume, paper, and pen close by.
Write down the names of the person(s) with whom you’re interviewing; refer to them by name to
help build a connection.
Smile—this will help convey enthusiasm.
√ Lunch or Dinner Interviews. Not the best time for spaghetti and meatballs... Order food that is
easy to eat and allows you to talk. Avoid alcohol, even if your interviewer orders a drink; remember,
you’re still being interviewed. Brush up on dining etiquette beforehand. Manners matter.
√ Group Interviews. Interview panels or committees are common in government, education, and
social service agencies. With more people in the room, make a connection by remembering and using
people’s names. Address everyone at the table when responding, not just the person asking a
question. If you seem to be talking with the highest-ranking person or the friendliest face, you may
offend someone else. From time to time, scan the room; make eye contact with even the lessengaged members. All are part of the hiring decision.
√ Follow-up Interviews. Many employers ask candidates for second or even third interviews lasting
all day and involving several interviewers. It's likely you'll have a meal with one or more people from
the organization; assume this is part of the interview. Depending on the field, you may be asked to
make a presentation, teach a class, or take a test. Ask what to expect before you get there.
Some employers pay for follow-up interview travel, lodging, and food expenses. Find out if the
organization will make and pay for all your arrangements or if you're expected to pay and be
reimbursed. Be sure to keep all receipts, and be conservative.
√ Career Fairs. Career fairs are a popular way to make an initial connection with employers. Go to
the fair armed with resumes, a smile, and a positive attitude. Review the list of organizations
beforehand. For those that interest you, know about the jobs available and research the organization.
While you won't have an official interview at the fair, first impressions count. Let the employer know
what you have to offer and why the opportunity interests you. Dress for the fair as for an interview.
√ Case Interviews. Consulting firms (sometimes other organizations) often use case interviews. An
interviewer poses a problem or a question and asks the candidate to explain the steps she would take
to solve it. The interviewer may not know the answer to the question but instead looks for problemsolving skills, logical reasoning, numerical agility and creativity, and the ability to brainstorm. For tips
on handling a case interview, see the CDO handout The Case Interview.
Congratulations! You Got an Offer!
√ It’s customary to ask for a few days or even a week to consider an offer. Express your
enthusiasm for the job, your interest in the organization, and agree on a specific deadline for your
answer. Once you accept a position and have a formal offer in hand, withdraw other applications.
√ As a recent graduate, you won’t have a lot of wiggle room to negotiate salary, but it is
acceptable to ask if there’s room for negotiation if you have the skills and experience to back it up.
Negotiate based on your skills, experience, and knowledge of the salary standards for the specific
field and location. In doing so, you are in a stronger position to say, "I am delighted at the prospect of
working for your organization and using my skills in this position. As you know, I have direct
experience in this area, and believe I bring significant skills to the position. Based on my background,
I’d like to negotiate the salary, and am hoping something more in the $___ to $___ range is possible.
Is there any room for negotiation?" Give a range rather than an exact figure. Never mention personal
budgetary needs as part of the negotiation. This is your concern, not the employer’s.
√ Sometimes organizations have room to negotiate, sometimes not, especially with entry-level
positions. As a newcomer to the field, you may not be able to negotiate a great deal so be prepared
with a Plan B: "I appreciate your considering my request, and I understand. I am still interested, and
would welcome the opportunity to join the organization.” Declining an offer is also acceptable. Do so
gracefully and professionally, and in a timely fashion.
√ Know how low a salary you are willing to accept and what risks you are willing to take. If
you decide to negotiate, be realistic and positive rather than strident or demanding. Employers may
rescind offers to inflexible candidates.
√ If you receive one offer but are really hoping for another, contact the other employer and find
out where they are in their decision-making process. It is OK to say, "I am very interested in this
position and organization—in fact, you are my first choice. Though I have received another offer, this
position is the best match for my strengths." Try to get an estimate of the timing involved. Then,
contact the offering employer and ask if you can let them know your answer by whatever date that is.
Keep following up with the employer in progress. Maintain your professionalism at all times.
√ It's not always possible to synchronize multiple applications satisfactorily. Imagine you have
all the job offers in hand and weigh their pros and cons—you may be able to simplify your decision.
√ ONLY under the most extreme circumstances may a candidate accept a position, and then
rescind their acceptance shortly after. Family illness, changes in family circumstances, and similar
extreme situations are the only times in which one can renege on an offer. Receiving a better offer is
not a legitimate reason. Accept a position only when you are truly ready to take the offer. Feel free
to consult the CDO for guidance.
√ When accepting a position, express your enthusiasm and request that the offer be
confirmed in writing. Establish a starting date, and be sure to discuss any prior commitments
already on your calendar. Share your good news with those who helped you along the way and don't
forget to withdraw your name from other searches.
Remember This...
An interview is a two-way conversation. It is your opportunity to evaluate an employer, position,
and work setting to see if the fit is right for you. Without being too casual, try to relax and be yourself
during the interview. Employers want to see your personality as well as your qualifications, and you
want to see theirs. Please feel free to consult the CDO at any point.
Have a great interview!
Sample Interview Questions
Tell me about yourself.
How did you hear about our company/organization?
What do you know about our company/organization? What trends do you see in our field?
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?
What are your career goals?
Tell me about your internship at ____. What did you enjoy most about it?
What do you find most and least attractive about this position?
Where do you expect to be in your career within five years? Ten years?
Why should I hire you?
How long would you stay with our organization?
How will your liberal arts education be relevant to the work you would do for us?
What do you know about the position I'm interviewing you for?
What skills, experience and training would you bring to this job?
How would a former colleague describe you?
What other experiences have you had that qualify you for this job?
What are you most proud of about yourself? What is your major accomplishment?
Give me an example of a team project you completed. What was your role? Was it successful?
What kinds of decisions are most difficult for you?
How have you spent your time in college?
What was the last book you read, film you saw, or sporting event you attended?
Describe your personality in three words.
Why did you choose Smith? In retrospect, how do you feel about that decision?
Why do you want to change careers? (Or why did you leave your last job?)
What would your boss say about your work?
Who is the most successful person you know? Why?
What kind of salary expectations do you have?
What is your math proficiency?
What are your computer skills?
How many languages do you speak?
How well do you communicate in writing and orally?
Why are you interested in this position?
Why did you choose this type of career?
How would you describe yourself?
What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
How do you determine or evaluate success?
Describe the relationship that should exist between a supervisor and those supervised.
Describe your most rewarding educational experience.
What major problem have you encountered and how did you deal with it?
For what other types of positions are you interviewing?
Cite a situation from your past that required you to act under pressure. How did you deal with it?
Sample Behavioral Questions
• Describe a situation where you used persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.
• Describe a time you had to think on your feet to extricate yourself from a difficult situation.
• Give me a specific example of a time you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
• Tell us what you did in your last job to build teamwork. How did you resolve conflict in the team? Be
• Convince me you can adapt to a wide variety of people, situations, and environments.
• Describe a time on the job when you faced problems that tested your coping skills.
• Give an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision.
• Tell me about a time when you used your written communication skills to get a point across.
• Describe a specific occasion when you conformed to a policy with which you did not agree.
• Give me an example of an important goal that you had set in the past and tell me about your
success in reaching it.
• Describe the most significant or creative presentation that you have had to complete.
• Tell me about a time you went above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
• Give me an example of a time you were able to communicate successfully with another person even
when that individual might not have liked you (or vice versa).
Smith College, Box 8888
Northampton, MA 01063
[email protected]
April 20, 2006
Jill Easton
Executive Director
Artists for Humanity
537 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 01234
Dear Ms. Easton:
Thank you for speaking with me yesterday about the public relations and development program assistant
position at Artists for Humanity. I enjoyed hearing about your experiences at AFH and meeting Greg
Smith and Kelly Greene. Please extend my appreciation to them as well.
I am excited about the possibility of contributing my public relations skills and studio art background to
AFH’s mission of facilitating collaboration between teen-aged artists, media representatives, and
potential donors. With my strong communication, organizational, and database management experience,
I am confident I would be an asset to the public relations and development team.
I have enclosed the writing samples you requested. If I can provide further information, please contact
Thank you again for your time yesterday. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Rebecca Jones
Rebecca Lee Jones
Enclosures: writing samples (3)