Home Services & Support Career Services Interviewing ABCs of Interviewing
PDF Print E-mail

ABCs of Interviewing

Arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled interview time. (See "D" and "C" below). Introduce yourself to the receptionist or secretary: "My name is ____________ and I am here for a 2:00 interview with Mrs. Jones". If there is nothing the receptionist asks you to do, you can always use this time to check your appearance, throw away gum if you are chewing any, silence your cell phone. That done, if they have reading material about the company available where you are asked to wait, always pick that up and glance through it.

Bring: your resume, contact info (name, dates, address and phone number) for all previous jobs; the same contact info for your 3 references (all of whom you have spoken to already to ask their 
permission to use them as a reference); your portfolio and/or e-Portfolio link if applicable. Many employers will ask you to complete their job application prior to the interview, so having all this info
prepared will allow you to stay calm and professional - and appear very well-prepared!

Call if you are running late. Do everything possible to arrive 15 minutes early, but sometimes things beyond your control happen. Have the employer's phone number with you and call at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the interview if you are stuck in traffic, car breaks down etc. Try to estimate when you will arrive and ask if they would still like you to come. Apologize for the inconvenience.

Drive to the interview location the day before so you are sure of where you are going. Clock the trip so you know how long it will take you, but leave extra time anyway in case you hit traffic. Even if you are traveling by train or bus, make the trip ahead of time.

Eye contact is incredibly important. You must look your interviewer in the eye in a professional yet friendly manner throughout the interview. If you do not make eye contact, the interviewer may interpret that as disrespectful, that you are shy and lack confidence, or that you are hiding something or lying. In some cultures, it is respectful to avoid eye contact but when interviewing in the United States, eye contact is expected and important. Practice ahead of time if you are not comfortable.

Friends are important in our lives ... but not on your interview! Unless both of you interviewing in a group interview format, don't bring your friend with you to the interview. Ditto for children (and parents). We love 'em, but you can't be your most polished and professional best if you have to worry about what they are doing while you are interviewing. If you have to rely on someone to drive you to the interview, please ask them to wait somewhere else or return to pick you up after the interview.

Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake, a look directly into the eyes and warm smile . Too strong of a handshake just plain hurts and too weak of a handshake makes you appear timid or unsure of yourself. Also, don't sit down until the interviewer invites you to do so.

Honesty. Always. On your resume, in the interview, you must represent yourself truthfully. That said, there are techniques to help you answer some difficult questions and preparation is the key. Suppose, for example, you were fired from a previous job and the interviewer asks why you left that job. Read here for truthful ways to phrase an answer to that question. Just remember: be truthful but wrap up your answer with a positive slant.

Inappropriate and/or illegal interview questions are tricky. Interviewers cannot ask questions related to age, race, marital status and more but while discrimination does still exist, most interviewers ask these questions without malicious intent. Usually the questions are posed by inexperienced or untrained interviewers who ask these questions while trying to get to know you better or while trying to determine something they really can ask. For example, an interviewer cannot ask your age but they can ask if you are over 18. Learn the types of questions that are inappropriate but, more importantly, decide how to address them if asked. And that's the tricky part: becoming confrontational may hurt your chances at a good job so deflecting the question or addressing the concern behind it may be a better strategy. If, for example, an interviewer asks you "Do you have any children?", you may chose to answer his/her concern by saying "There is nothing in my personal life that will prevent me from arriving to work on time, maintaining a superb attendance record and focusing all of my energies on the job". Learn more here.

Jitters? Nervous? Honestly, it happens to almost everyone. But if you are well-prepared, you have given yourself tools to help calm your fears. Take a deep breath and give yourself a moment to formulate your answer before responding to a question. Of course, mock - or practice - interviews help tremendously because you rehearse how you will respond to common interview questions. Just try to be yourself - your most professional self. True story: a candidate recently found himself so flustered on his interview that he was stumbling over his own words. Nothing was coming out right. So what did he do? He stopped, took a breath, smiled and said to the interviewer "I am so nervous! This just isn't me, I am a very good communicator and I get along well with people". The interviewer told him to relax and started chatting with him in a casual way, and suddenly he realized she was slipping technical questions into the conversation. And yes, he got the job. It may help to remember that many interviewers are actually just as nervous as you are - it’s true! Get more tips on calming your jitters here.

Know your resume. Sounds obvious, but it helps to have a copy of your resume with you for your own reference during the interview, as well as a copy for the interviewer in case s/he asks for it. That way, if the interviewer refers to something specific, you can be sure you are addressing the same area.

Listen when the interviewer is speaking. Try - hard - to understand what s/he is really saying. Listening is not just waiting for your turn to speak; if that's what you are doing, then you are not hearing what is being said (BTW that's true all the time, not only on an interview ). Listen, understand what is being said or asked, and then formulate your answer or response. Its perfectly OK, even suggested, to take a moment to compose your answer so don't panic. Listen to non-verbal body language too. What?? Yes, it’s true that you can learn a lot by "listening" to the interviewer's body language. Click here for more on this.

Mock, or practice, interviews will help you rehearse and prepare for your real interviews. Truthfully, the more you practice, the better you will be. Selling yourself is not something that comes naturally, so learning how to discuss your strengths without sounding boastful might take some effort. But, like many other skills, you can definitely learn and improve with practice.  Career Services in Edison Hall 100 has a tool to help you practice via a computer with a webcam but you can always mock interview with a counselor or staff member. Call 732-906-2595 to make an appointment (be sure to state that you want a mock interview, so we will be prepared).

Never ask about salary, vacation time or other benefits during your interview unless the interviewer brings it up. Avoid giving the impression that time away from the job is on your mind before you start! Similarly, asking about salary tells the interviewer that money is more important that the job. Most of us need a decent salary to live, let's face it, but the interview - especially the first interview - is not the appropriate time to discuss it.

Offer concrete examples to support your claims about your skills and experience. Instead of simply saying "I have good customer service skills", provide an example such as: "I won the outstanding customer service award for following up with our clients to ensure they were satisfied with our products." In much the same way as you did when preparing your resume, stress accomplishments and achievements.

Phone Interviews. Sometimes an employer will schedule a time to call you for an official interview conducted over the phone. But be careful! You must consider each and every contact with the employer via the phone or otherwise to be part of your interview.  Why? Because the employer does! S/he is evaluating you every step of the way, including how you handle yourself on the phone or when called unexpectedly. For that reason, keep a pad and pen near the phone throughout your job search, and carefully take notes when the employer calls you to schedule your interview. If you live with 
others, ask them too to use that pad only for your interview information. Remember to record the employer's phone number, ask the caller to spell his name, write down the date, time and address of the interview. This will help you maintain that professional & positive persona from the very first contact the employer makes with you. Click here for more information.

Questions, good ones, demonstrate your interest in the company, their business and in the job for which you are applying. Prepare a few questions in advance so you are ready when the interviewer asks you "Do you have any questions for me?" ... and most will ask. Questions can come from info you learned via their website (see "R" below) or from this list of possible questions (also read the ones NOT to ask!)

Research the company before your interview by reviewing their website or other info (your local public library is a good source). Understand their services and products, become familiar with their customer base. Read any current newsletters or announcements they have posted. Google the company name. Read any employment posting they may have on their website - it’s a great way to learn the attributes they value.

Standard interview questions, i.e. those common questions that you are likely to face in an interview, are available all over the internet and in most job search books. Click here for one list of standard interview questions. Review those questions ahead of time, even take a moment to jot down your responses and then rehearse speaking those answers until you can deliver them comfortably and in a natural way. Perhaps even more important than the standard questions, however, is guidance on how to answer them! Click here for info about answering.

Thank you note sent to the interviewer afterward is such an easy thing to do that its amazing how few candidates bother. Simply sending a note, therefore, instantly separates you from the other candidates. Some say a handwritten note is best, others say email arrives faster ... but regardless of which you chose, a short note thanking the interviewer for his/her time and expressing your interest in the position is always the professional thing to do. Always, always, always spell-check the note for usage and grammar or ask someone to proofread it for you before you mail it. How do you know where to send it? Ask the interviewer for his or her business card at the end of the interview.  Click here for some examples of thank you notes to help you get started.

Understand the message your body language is delivering. Does your jiggling foot scream that you are nervous? Does stress cause your voice to get too loud? Are you forcing a smile that appears arrogant? Don't betray your careful preparation by telling a different story with your body language. Here are more tips for speaking the right body language.

Verify your references before you give out their names. You should have three (3) references who are not family members: past employers, professors, internship supervisors, someone you did volunteer work for - any of those make an excellent reference. But because of various laws regulating the release of personal information, you may need to complete a form or put any request for a reference in writing, especially if you are asking a professor. Some companies refuse to provide anything more that dates of employment when asked for a reference. Nothing you can do about that, but knowing their policy allows you to warn your prospective employer so there is no misunderstanding (some HR people assume that any employer who simply verifies dates of employment is using that to hide a negative reference. So if you are aware that your previous employer always enforces that policy, you can pro-actively tell your new employer). What if your former employer is now out of business? Unfortunately, that's not uncommon. If you have a way to contact a former supervisor, great.  But if you have no way to get in contact with them, there really is nothing you can do so don't worry about it. However, if you are still employed by the company when they go out of business, ask your supervisor to write a letter of reference that you can keep on file for future use.

Wear professional attire. Read more here.

Xtras: The night before the interview, make sure to print out directions to the interview, check that you have gas in the car or confirm the time you are getting picked up. Gather your resume, references and the employer's phone number to take with you. Finalize what you are going to wear, and check the clothes to make sure everything is clean. Polish your shoes if they need it (one employer claims he always checks out the candidates' shoes because if the candidate paid enough attention to detail that the shoes are shiny, its a good sign!) Set your alarm and go to bed early. Make sure you eat before you get to the interview, preferably at home so you can check your teeth and be sure you didn't spill anything.

You. Bottom line is that the employer is trying to measure you against the job: do you have the skills? will you fit in with the team? Are you the best candidate? No matter what interview format or style of questions asked, all interviewers are seeking to figure out whether you are the one by assessing:

  • Your communication skills
  • Your ability to articulate your views
  • Your ability to perform under pressure
  • Your ability to think on your feet
  • Your personality

Zoned in. Be energized, enthusiastic, confident, and comfortable. Show interest in the company and in the position you are interviewing for. Make that connection with the interviewer and deliver with thoughtful answers and personality plus. CollegeGrad.com claims the single most important thing you can bring to an interview is your passion for the position!


updated March 2009



File Type
Questions You CANNOT Ask
Questions You Can Ask