University of Wisconsin-Madison
UW-Madison Crest
Connecting UW Students and Employers

Prepare for Interviewing

Please note: If you are already in a major, your home career services office may have major-specific career resources to aid you in your search. Search by your major or career word for the appropriate career services office:

Haven't chosen a major? The Cross-College Advising Service and Exploration Center can help you find a fit.

Prepare for Interviewing
Different Types of Interviews
Typical Questions & Questions to Ask the Recruiter
Dress for Success

Interviewing from the Recruiter's Viewpoint

Before you prepare for the interview, stop and take a step back to review the interview from the recruiter's viewpoint. Think about why each question is asked - some say to analyze the question behind the question - and try to understand what skills or attributes are actually being evaluated in your response. If you can understand this process and prepare accordingly, you will not only survive, but also succeed in interviews.

Interviews are business meetings. Prepare accordingly. Know what you want to talk about; know your resume thoroughly; be able to cite examples of skills, lessons learned or goals met all across the resume page. Dress like you care. Give the impression that this is an important meeting for you.

Recruiters will not try to embarrass you or cause you stress. They have a difficult task in conducting 10 to 15 interviews daily. Help them select you by being prepared. Ultimately, recruiters must find from 1-5 candidates who "fit" their needs. The quality of candidates referred for second, on-site interviews is a direct reflection on the recruiter's ability to know and choose talent. His or her job is a difficult one.

This is where all your work ultimately pays off - skills assessment, resume development, and communication with targeted employers. Preparation and practice are key to successful interviewing. A lack of thorough employer research is often interpreted as poor preparation and a lack of interest in the employer.

  1. Know your resume inside and out. Be able to thoroughly and comfortably discuss any item on the resume thoroughly by citing specific examples.
  2. Understand that the resume emphasizes your skills and accomplishments; it will serve first as a deciding factor leading to an interview. Once an interview is scheduled, the recruiter will often direct the interview using the resume as an outline.
  3. Verbally practice answering questions (Yes! Out loud!) and talking about your skills and accomplishments. Recall how in Skills Assessment, we emphasized the importance of spending time writing descriptions for skills, strengths and accomplishments. Now is the time to practice again!
  4. Review and organize facts found in employer research. Demonstrate your knowledge of the employer's products or services. Take it a step further by clearly drawing the link - the match - between your skills and the employer's needs. Do not leave this important step open for employer interpretation. Show them the match!
  5. Attend employer information sessions on campus. Introduce yourself to the recruiter(s) and mention that you are looking forward to your interview the next day. Ask intelligent questions and show enthusiasm.
  6. Prepare your portfolio, clothing, and transportation the night prior to the interview. Check the weather forecast for any contingencies you will need to make. Get plenty of rest. Set dozens of alarm clocks, if necessary. You will not be able to recover if you are late.
  7. Dress with respect for the importance of the interview. Show you care!
  8. Every answer requires a specific example to support your claim; never provide a simple one- or two-word answer.
  9. At the end of the interview, it is extremely important for you to ask questions. Lack of questions indicates lack of interest. Finally, summarize your interests and qualifications for the position.

PRACTICE OUT LOUD: It's not easy talking about yourself

Now is your time to talk about yourself. After all this preparation, you should know what to say! If you are thoroughly prepared, you know skills employers are seeking, what strengths and accomplishments you have developed, and what this particular employer needs in new hires! You know your resume and do not need to refer to it throughout the interview. You have practiced talking about your skills and have reviewed lists of potential questions. You are ready and able to talk.

Before you go through an actual interview, you should first go through at least one practice interview, with your career services office, or even with a friend. Practicing interview responses is key to understanding how to improve your interviewing skills.

The mock interview is more than an opportunity to work out interview jitters; it is an opportunity to practice and improve your interviewing technique and answers. It is also a chance to hear constructive feedback from someone with experience in the field. It is not enough to look at an interview question and say, "Yeah, I know the answer to that one."

Attitude: The Most Important Aspect of Interviewing

Source: collegegrad.com, 2003.

The key element to successful interviewing is not your experience, your grades, what classes you took, your extracurricular activities, or any of the other basic necessities. Those skills are what got you the interview. The key element to successful interviewing can be summed up in one word: attitude. If you want to rise above others with better experience, better grades, or better anything, you will need to work on developing a highly positive work attitude.

Your attitude determines whether you will "make the cut" or be discarded. Remember, there are plenty of competitors with the ability to do almost any given job - especially at the entry level. The way most employers differentiate at the entry level is by candidates' attitudes toward the job. Your attitude is often what recruiters will remember when the dust has settled after reviewing 10, 20, or even 100 candidates - the one who was sincerely willing to put forth [his or her] very best effort. If you have the attitude of wanting to do your very best for the company, of being focused on the company's needs, of putting yourself forth as the person who will be committed and dedicated to fulfilling their needs, you will likely be the one chosen.

Why is attitude so important? Because most companies already have their full share of multi-talented superstars who care about no one but themselves. Ask any manager who the most valuable member of his team is, and he will point not to the overrated superstar, but to the person who has the "can do" attitude, the person who can be counted on in any situation, the person who truly strives for excellence. Give me a team player who is achieving at 99% and I will take her over a flashy superstar who is running at 50% efficiency any day of the week. And so will 99% of all hiring managers. So don't worry if you are not "superstar" quality. If you can show me, in your words and actions, that you are ready to put forth your very best effort toward achieving excellence, you will be chosen over the superstar.

You can show your winning attitude in the way you present yourself. Incorporate the actual words "positive attitude," "excellence," and "striving to be my best" into your interview language. Then show by your stories and examples how these words positively affect your life. Show me when and where and how you have put forth extra effort above and beyond the call of duty. Show me how you beat a deadline, how you excelled in a project, or how you made a difference by going the extra mile. If you can show me, by words and examples, your "can do" attitude, it is you I will hire, while all of the superstars will receive polite rejection letters to add to their growing collections.

Attitude

The longer I live the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, talent or skill. It will make or break a company - a home.

The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace that day. We cannot change our past - we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.

The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. - Anonymous

25 Worst Job Interview Mistakes

Source: Thomas Staffing, "Interviewing Mistakes to Avoide, The 25 Worst Job Interview Mistakes," www.thomas-staffing.com.

  1. Arriving Late
    Nothing makes a worse impression. If you can't turn up on time for the interview, what on earth would you do as an employee? If there is even a remote chance that weather, traffic or hard-to-follow directions might be a problem, leave absurdly early just to be sure.
  2. Arriving Early
    Don't arrive too early, either! Arrive (in the building) at 3:30 for a 4 o'clock interview. Arrive in the waiting area 10-15 minutes before the interview. Relax somewhere nearby, focus on the interview, have a drink of water, review your portfolio and employer research, and check hair and clothing.
  3. Dressing Wrong
    How you look has a lot to do with how you are seen. Often in the very first few minutes of the interview, the decision is made whether it's going to be a turndown or a second interview. It either clicks on or it clicks off, and the remainder of the interview is spent validating that early judgment. Dressing too casually can ruin your chances. The safest choice for any interview is a tailored suit in a conservative color like black, navy, gray or tan. Even the executives in wildly creative fields will respect you for knowing that a job candidate should look businesslike.
  4. Dressing in a Rush
    If you select your clothes right before you leave, you won't have time to fix the loose button or wrinkled shirt you've just discovered. In the job interview, neatness counts. Try on your entire interview attire several days before the appointment. That way you can make any necessary improvements, repairs or purchases.
  5. Smoking
    In one Seattle University study, up to 90% of all executives surveyed said they would hire a nonsmoker over a smoker if their qualifications were equal. Anyway, smoking makes you look nervous. If you smoke, brush your teeth and use breath mints. Smell your clothes - really! Yuck!
  6. Drinking
    Even if this is a lunch or dinner interview and others are ordering cocktails, it is always best to order mineral water or soda. Only if your host insists on buying a bottle of wine should you have a few sips from the glass to be social. Don't finish the glass, or they will pour you a new one. You need to be alert for this experience, not mellow.
  7. Chewing Gum
    Gum is not a good substitute for cigarettes or self-confidence. Gum chewing looks appropriate only in vintage movies.
  8. Bringing Along a Friend or Relative
    Don't laugh - this happens! Tempting though it may be, resist the urge to bring someone along to hold your hand or help you fill out applications. Even being seen saying goodbye to your best friend or your spouse at the building door can make you look as if you didn't have the nerve to get there on your own. Being picked up afterward also reeks of dependency.
  9. Not Doing All Your Homework
    It is not necessary to memorize the company's annual sales and profit figures, but you should know something about their products or services. One candidate lost out on an AT&T interview by mentioning the company's involvement in a news story that had been about ITT. Check out information about employers on websites or in business magazines. Also remember, some of the best information can come from people who used to or currently work there.
  10. Skipping a Dress Rehearsal
    You wouldn't make a speech to a class or student organization without planning what you're going to say, yet people walk into job interviews every day just assuming that brilliant words will leap to their lips. Don't assume. Make a list of the questions you'd ask if you were interviewing someone for this job then rehearse the best answers using a tape recorder and/or a friend for feedback.
  11. Not Admitting a Flaw
    To the question, "What is your greatest weakness?," illustrate a weakness that you've tackled successfully. Respond by identifying the weakness, describing specific steps you have taken to improve, and communicating the results. For instance, "Lack of confidence in my presentation skills was a weakness when I first arrived at college. Since then, I have sought out situations where I was forced to develop stronger communication skills. I have taken a speech class where four class presentations were mandatory. And, as an officer in ASME, I have gradually become more confident in speaking to both large and small groups. I now realize the importance of having and continually improving excellent presentation skills." Be honest: Nobody believes you when you say your flaw is working too hard.
  12. Not Knowing Your Own Strengths
    Researching the company is only half your pre-interview homework assignment. You have to research yourself as well. You must know your own background so thoroughly that you are prepared to answer any question about it without hesitation and in enough detail to satisfy the interview. Hesitating, being vague on certain points, or groping for proper words destroys the effect you are trying to create. Make a list of ten work-related things you do well or know a lot about. Then, during your interview rehearsal, come up with graceful ways to bring them up.
  13. Asking Too Many Questions
    If you were the interviewer, would you hire someone who hijacked the entire interview and put you on the defensive? Enough said.
  14. Not Asking Any
    On the other hand, when the interviewer asks, "What questions do you have?," replying that he/she has covered the subject so well you don't have a thing to ask about is a bad idea, too. It makes you look uninterested, unimaginative or both. Take this opportunity to "close" the interview with a question or two. Also summarize your strengths and interests in a brief 1-2-minute statement, "In addition to my questions, I would like to emphasize my interest in working with your company. I feel I have the right background and specific skills, such as ______ to make immediate contributions and fit in with your existing team of engineers."
  15. Inquiring About Benefits Too Soon
    Ask not what the company can do for you but what you can do for the company—at least at this point in the selection process. If you seem more interested in the three-week vacation policy or the new dental plan than in actual job duties, the prospective boss may develop serious concerns about your priorities. Naturally, you have a right to know about the benefits package, but chances are the personnel representative or hiring manager will bring it up on his/her own. If this doesn't happen, you can broach the subject after an offer has been made in writing. Explain that the offer you will accept depends on the value of the whole compensation package.
  16. Revealing Your Price Tag (never bring up $$)
    Did you ever really want to buy a new "toy" before knowing how much it cost? It may have taught you to look at the tag first, in case the price is out of the question. Things work similarly in a job search. Let people discover your qualifications before they mention salary. If they ask about expectations, you might say, "Yes, I have some salary thoughts, but I need to know more about what the job entails." Or, "I have brought the UW-Madison Career Center's average salary statistics with me for our discussion, but I would need to look at the entire job offer package prior to making a decision." Or, "I am willing to consider any job offer you extend to me. What did you have in mind?"
  17. Crying Discrimination
    Not every recruiter knows exactly which questions aren't allowed; in complete innocence they may bring up a forbidden issue. Don't jump up and scream accusations. Instead, reassure him/her that you can handle all your responsibilities. Even if the intentions aren't honorable, a dramatic protest is unlikely to get you the job. If you don't get hired, then you can file a complaint. If you do, you can bring up the issue later as an employee—and make important changes from the inside.
  18. Bad-Mouthing Your Boss
    Never say anything negative about a person or employer for whom you have worked. It brands you as a complainer.
  19. Name Dropping
    Attempts to play "who do you know" with your interviewer have backfired. Drop the name of someone and it could turn out to be the hiring manager's worst enemy. Announce that you went to school with the chairman of the board's daughter, Felicia, and it can come off as elitist. Even worse, the interviewer may wonder why Felicia didn't ask her dad to put in a good word for you. A much better way to use inside contacts: Ask them to recommend or introduce you to the powers that be.
  20. Energy Failure
    It doesn't matter if you only slept four hours last night and are coming down with a cold. When you get to the interview, you have to appear bright-eyed and eager. Job candidates with lackluster attitudes rarely get the offer. Mental energy is what it takes, so psych yourself up before making your entrance. Some speakers play music right before presentations. Play an upbeat tune in your head. Think of yourself as a presenter whose show must go on.
  21. Handshake Failure
    A limp or otherwise distasteful handshake is like bad breath, one of those things that even your best friends may never tell you about. So try this: Go to a trusted buddy and say, "If I were going to develop the world's most perfect handshake, would I make mine a little firmer, a little more gentle, a little shorter, longer or what?" Then shake her or his hand to demonstrate.
  22. Glancing at Your Watch
    Clock-watching gives the impression that you're late for a more important date. Avoid that problem by asking beforehand, how much time you should allow for the interview. If the interviewer asks, "Will you have time to meet our vice president?" then you can check the time and make a decision.
  23. Playing the Hero(ine)
    In 999 of 1,000 jobs, you will work as part of a team. Never convey the message, "You guys have really messed it up, but I can show you how to turn this company around." Instead, stress how well your talents and experience would mesh with those of others in the department.
  24. Losing Your Cool
    Expect the unexpected. Occasionally, interviewers have been known to test job applicants by surprising them with loaded questions or blunt comments, such as, "What makes you think you can handle this job?" Remain calm, even though your injured ego may be fleeing for the nearest exit. Some companies like to see just how professional you are.
  25. Lastly...
    Now that you've absorbed the "do's and don'ts" of the job interview, feel free to set this aside, reflect on the purpose of the interview and its importance to you, and concentrate on what a fine job you will do. Then relax and be your best self.

Follow-up the Interview

This is where most students end the process - interview is over - now just wait for a response. No! Take initiative and responsibility for pursuing this employment opportunity further! It is imperative for you to indicate your appreciation for the recruiter's time and to continue to express your interest in the position. A very small percentage of students actually send a thank you message and follow-up the thank you message with another statement of interest. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. Employers are interested in hiring people who are interested in the position! Indicate your interest by continuing to communicate with the recruiter until a decision has been made. Use discretion regarding frequency - do not become a "pest."

The interview is not the end of the job search process; follow-up is required. It is important not only to evaluate your interview presentation, but also to continue a dialogue with the recruiter. What does this mean? It means that it is in your best interest to follow-up the interview with a thank you e-mail or letter and maintain a regular follow-up schedule (approximately every 2 weeks) until the employer or you has made an employment decision.

Within one to two days, send an E-mail message thanking the recruiter for the interview, clarifying topics discussed in the interview, and re-emphasizing interest in the employer's opportunities. A well-written, well-timed thank you message will not get you a job, but it can tip the scales if all other factors are equal.

By sending a thank you message, you will:

  • show common courtesy and appreciation
  • stand out from the crowd
  • reiterate interest in the opportunity
  • make points you forgot during the interview and
  • demonstrate your writing skills.

Regularly contact the recruiter after the thank you letter; do so approximately every 2 weeks until a decision is made. Be persistent without being pushy. Offer to provide other materials, such as transcripts or samples of your work. Keep copies of your communication; maintain business card file. Develop a spreadsheet with employer names, recruiter contacts, interview dates, and follow-up dates. Maintain a current, efficient follow-up routine.

Quick Tips to Take Away

On to Different Types of Interviews

Back to Top