Interviews with prospective employers allow you to expand on the skills, interests, and qualifications highlighted in your cover letter and resume. This is where you can learn more about the organization and position and assess whether a job is in line with your personal goals and interests. There are many different types of interviews. Here’s how to best prepare for each one.
What are interviewers looking for?
Be confident in the fact that you already have the basic skills and qualifications an employer is seeking – otherwise they would not have requested an interview. An interview provides the employer with the opportunity to evaluate skills and abilities, experience, company fit, and personal qualities and interests.
Different types of interviews
The most common interview format, where employers meet with candidates individually.
- Make good eye contact
- Break the ice by asking casual questions or making small talk at the start of the interview – this will help you relax and connect with the employer
Panel interviews consist of two or more interviewers taking turns asking questions.
- Make eye contact with all interviewers when answering a question, not just the individual who asked it
Employers may hold group interviews to screen multiple candidates at once. These interviews can also involve a group activity that requires applicants to work together to solve a problem or complete a task.
- Listen to your fellow interviewees and be open to their ideas
- Don’t think of it as a competition, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to work in a team environment
Typically used as pre-screening but also when interviews take place in other locations. Verbal communication skills are especially important because the employer can’t see your facial expressions or gestures.
- Smile when speaking into the phone to help convey enthusiasm through your voice
- Dress professionally as you would for an in-person interview to help put yourself into an interview frame of mind
Before the interview
When you get the call
When you get a call for an interview, be sure to ask the following questions:
Who will be in the interview?
Knowing how many people will be in the interview and what role they play in the hiring process will help you prepare. Interviewing with one person is different from interviewing with three, and interviewing with the president is different again from interviewing with the human resources contact and the team leader.
Will there be any job-specific and/or testing?
There is nothing worse than being caught off-guard with testing even if it is not a test you can prepare for in advance.
How long will the interview be?
Shorter interviews tend to be more for screening, while longer interviews are used fpr more in-depth candidate assessments.
Where does this interview fit in terms of the overall hiring process?
Knowing this helps you to figure out two things: how long the hiring process will be, and what the focus might be for subsequent interviews.
Through interviews, an employer tries to determine three things:
Can you do the work?
Do you have the skills and abilities required?
Are you a fit within the industry, the company and specific work team?
Will you fit in with the organizational culture and get along with others?
Are you motivated to do the work?
Are your career goals in line with the job opening and the organization’s overall development plans?
If there is only going to be one interview, you can expect questions related to all three of these areas. If there are going to be two or three interviews, each interview will likely focus on one specific area. For example, a company may use an initial interview as a pre-screening tool to identify if you’re the right fit. Once this is determined, more in-depth skill-based interviews may follow.
Do your research
- Review the position posting and identify the specific skills or personal qualities required
- Complete a skills matrix by thinking about the stories that best represent you and your relevant skill set
- Research the company or organization to gain a better understanding of who they are and what they do
- Prepare questions about the organization to ask during the interview
Research a company to answer these key interview questions:
- Why do you want to work for us?
- What do you know about this company?
- What do you know about this industry? The market? Our competition?
You can also do research at the David Lam Management Research Library or refer to the Career Research Toolkit as a guide.
Interviewing is a learned skill that improves with practice. InterviewStream is a great tool for practicing and self-review, and can be found on the COOL home page.
Practice your responses to typical interview questions with a friend or family member. Get comfortable telling your stories and answering questions about your experiences.
Double-check the interview location and plan your route and travel time beforehand. If you are driving, know where you will park.
Arrive 5-10 minutes before the start of your interview. Arriving too early can be bothersome to employers, who may have other interviews and appointments before you. Waiting too long can also increase your nervousness.
Dress the part
First impressions count! In general, dress one step up from what the organization’s employees wear on a typical day. When in doubt, dress more formally.
Be conservative and attend to the details (e.g., polished shoes, dark socks, neat hair, no colognes or perfumes).
In your business portfolio, bring to each interview:
• Business cards
• Pen and paper
• Copies of your resume — one for each person attending, including yourself
• A reference list
• Letters of reference (optional)
• List of questions to ask
• Other supporting documents such as samples of work (optional)
Interviewing well takes practice
To hone your interview skills, you can book an appointment with a career coach, use InterviewStream to record and analyze your practice answers, and attend workshops like Extreme Makeover. Access all these tools through COOL.
At the interview
• Greet interviewer(s) with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and a smile
• Monitor the messages you send with your body language, e.g., hand gestures, slouching, fidgeting, etc.
• Monitor the body language of the interviewer(s). If they stop writing notes and look ready to move on, finish your point quickly
• Be honest with your responses
• Avoid slang expressions such as “ya know” or “like”
Don’t be afraid to:
• Seek clarification if you are unsure what the interviewer is asking
• Ask to have a question or parts of a question repeated
• Request a moment to think about your response or to return to the question later on in the interview
Employers often begin an interview by asking you to introduce yourself. One way to respond is by using the formula below:
• The ‘Beginning’: where you are from and how your education/training relates to the position
• The ‘Spark’: how you became interested in the specific field
• Steps: the experiences and activities that led to your career direction
• Goals: what you are looking to achieve with your long term career plan and how you intend to go about it
• Why you: The value you can add to their organization and attributes that set you apart from other applicants
Answering and asking questions
• Why are you interested in this position?
• What do you know about our organization/company?
• What is your greatest strength/weakness?
• What are your short and long term goals?
These questions require you to tell a “story” from your past experiences to demonstrate how you handled a particular situation. Employers ask these questions to assess how you might act in similar situations in the future. Prepare stories beforehand to respond to questions like the following, highlighting the skills they are assessing.
Answer behavioural-based questions by using the STARR formula:
• Situation: Background on the scenario, with enough detail for the interviewer to imagine it in his or her mind and be confident that it actually occurred.
• Task: The task you had to complete or the problem you faced
• Action: The steps you took to deal with the task or problem
• Result: The impact of your work. Was the problem solved? How did others react? What feedback did you get from your supervisor? What did you learn or accomplish?
• Relevance: How the skills demonstrated by the experience relate to the position you’re applying for
Under the Employment Standards Act of BC, questions pertaining to age, race, ancestry, religion, colour, sex, marital status, physical/mental disability, place of origin, political beliefs, family status, and sexual orientation are illegal (unless directly related to the position).
You should not answer questions about these subjects.
Questions for the employer
You should have some questions ready to ask the employer at the end of an interview to demonstrate your preparation and interest. This will help you determine if the organization and position are a good fit for you.
• Preface questions with research about the company. e.g. “In a recent press release you discussed your commitment to re-design your product life-cycle to suit triple-bottom-line sustainability principles. What inspired this decision?”
• Try to help your interviewers visualize you in the job. e.g. “How would you rate this position in terms of personal and professional development?”
• Have personality and, if the situation allows for it, make it personal. e.g. “I noticed in your LinkedIn profile that you are a golfer. What’s your favourite course to play?”
Ending the interview
The interviewer will often indicate the closing of the interview by asking, “Do you have any questions for me?” This is usually followed by the recruiter conveying what the next step in the recruiting/hiring cycle will be, and then thanking you for coming to the interview.
To reinforce your candidacy for the position, it is strongly recommended that you:
Re-state your interest in the position. Briefly summarize how your experience matches their needs. Thank the interviewer for his/her time:
• "Thank you for your time, Mr. Smith. I am very interested in this position, and I feel my degree in Finance and my industry experience equip me with the skills needed to be a good analyst.
I look forward to hearing from you."
• Ask for the interviewer's business card, if they have not already given it to you so that you have their contact information for follow up.
• Ask when you can expect to hear from them, or about the next step in the recruiting cycle.
After the interview
Send a personalized thank-you card or email to your interviewer(s). Address each interviewer individually by name. If you are unsure or have forgotten their names, research online or by phone to find out.
Your thank-you letter should be short, professional, without any grammatical or spelling errors and include the following elements:
• Thank the interviewer for taking the time to talk with you. Include the date of the interview and something of interest that you learned.
• Reaffirm your interest in the company by pointing out issues discussed during the interview that appeal to you.
• Revisit the aspects of your skills and background that match the position. Include any you didn’t get to discuss during the interview.
•If necessary, dispel any concerns you feel the interviewer might have had about your candidacy. Close the letter a further note of thanks, and a reminder that you look forward to a response.