Preparing for an Interview

Job interviews are incredibly stressful events, even for the gregarious amongst us. You improve your chances of winning the job if you prepare for each interview as though it were the only one in the world.

Preparing includes several steps:

  • Decide how you will answer common interview questions and write the answers down
  • Develop a strategy for answering unexpected questions or questions you cannot prepare answers for.
  • Write down the answers you will give for inappropriate or questionable questions.
  • Rehearse the interview process from beginning to end, including a couple of “dress rehearsals” with actual companies.
  • Keep a list of companies you have contacted, an up-to-date appointment calendar, and a pencil by the telephone so you have them when the scheduler calls.
  • Create an interview kit to take to every interview. This should include a checklist of what you have to do prior to leaving for the interview.
  • Buy or borrow a business briefcase or portfolio to take to interviews.
  • Check your wardrobe and buy, clean, or repair the clothes you need for interviews. Have your dress shoes repaired and polished professionally. Have at least two interview outfits in case you have to go to more than one interview at a company.
  • Maintain your haircut and manicure so that you can go to any interview on short-notice and look well-groomed.
  • Know what your transportation Plan B is in case your car breaks down when you have an interview or on the way to an interview.
  • Practice shaking hands to perfect the firm, brief business hand-shake.

Answering Common Interview Questions

You do not know what type of interview questions you will be asked until you are asked them. You can, however, anticipate some of the questions that will be asked.

These are questions that professional recruiters use, that are recommended in books and seminars on interviewing, and that researchers have uncovered and that professors teach. You should have an answer to these questions and it should be written down. The process of deciding what your answer is, and writing it down, helps you recall the answer when the question is asked.

Collect as big a list as possible of possible interview questions. Sort them by type, if you like, and categorize them into subject areas to make them more manageable. This is the kind of activity you need to do on a computer. If you use a word processor, put each question on its own page, with the question type and category at the top of the page.

No question should take more than a couple of minutes to answer. Some very broad questions, such as “where do you see yourself in five years” should be answered very succinctly, while a question about how you approached a specific problem in the workplace may require a bit more time to answer well.

It may take several drafts to get your answers clearly focused and well-stated. Read reach draft loud to make sure the flow and tone are conversational. When you are happy with the answer, read it aloud to someone who will give you constructive feedback. Use as many of your anticipated answers in practice interviews as you can.

Find the questions

There are a number of college career services that have developed lists of common interview questions for their student clients. Several of these lists are posted on the Web. There are also lists on some job boards and on several career guidance sites.

University of Waterloo: Common questions and a discussion of how to handle questions designed to discern how you behave in work situations.

Job Search: This channel on The About Network has several lists of questions. Although the Job Search Technical channel is aimed at technical workers, it is a good place to find these lists. Start at

You can download a Word document with questions and sample answers at

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee: The Common Interview Questions at has a section from recent graduates with questions about your college experience.

iVillage Job Resource Center: Fifty questions are group by subject area with help in practicing your responses.,10109,196965_192749,00.html

TrueCareers: There is a nice list of questions at

Answering the Big Three Questions

The ubiquitous traditional questions should not be ignored in your preparation. Interviewers ask them because your response provides them with important clues. In the list below, Carol Martin an interviewing expert with a long career in human resources management, shares this advice:

  • Can you tell me about yourself?” “Your answer to this question sets the tone for the rest of the interview. Focus is the key — avoid a rambling answer,” says Martin “What do you want the interviewer to remember most about you? List five strengths you have that are pertinent to this job — experiences, traits, skills, etc.
  • What are your long-term goals? “If you’re an organized type of person, answering this question may be a piece of cake,” says Martin. “No one can tell you exactly how to answer this question – it will come from what is important to you. However, the more focused and employer-centered you are about your goal, the better your chances of steering the interview in the right direction.
  • Why should we hire you? “Develop a sales statement. The more detail you give, the better. This is not a time to talk about what you want. It is a time to summarize your accomplishments and relate what makes you unique,” advises Martin. “Like snowflakes, no two people are alike. Take some time to think about what sets you apart from others.”
Categories Careers, Interviewing

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