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Performing During the Interview

Professional Conduct / Etiquette

As the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. That statement especially rings true with regard to interviewing! Here are some tips for making a great first impression:

  • Turn your cell phone off before you even walk into the building (consider leaving it at home/in your car if you can)!

  • Carry a portfolio with a pad, pen - this is far less cumbersome than a briefcase.

  • Be sure to have several extra copies of your resume with you.

  • Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early: that is what “on time” means. 30 minutes early is awkward, and if you are running late, contact the employer!

  • Visit the restroom. Catch your breath, check yourself in the mirror, and put your best face on!

  • Greet the receptionist warmly. Treat everyone you meet politely: the building security guard; receptionist; employees you pass in the hall; other individuals who may also be in the waiting room. The minute you set foot in the employer's space (building, campus, etc), you are "on".

  • Spend your waiting time getting focused and taking in your surroundings.

  • Greet your interviewer with a smile and a firm handshake; make eye contact.

  • Maintain an alert but relaxed posture during the interview.

  • Take your cue from the interviewer as to when the meeting is over.

  • Avoid using slang!

  • Do not discuss salary or benefits in the first interview.

  • Shake hands firmly, smile, thank your interviewer for this opportunity to meet, and reaffirm your enthusiasm for the position. Ask for a business card.

  • Make sure you have contact information for everyone you’ve spoken with and send “thank you” e-mails the same day.

Dining Etiquette

If lunch or dinner is part of your interview day with the employer, remember that this time is still part of the interview. The tendency may be to let your guard down during meals, but you should not become too casual. You are still "on" and in interview-mode, regardless of whether you are having dinner with a senior manager, or lunch with a peer-level employee of the company. Manners, Meals and Interviews offers tips for the dining interview experience. 

Ethics

No discussion of interviewing could be complete without also mentioning ethics. Ethical issues in the interview process usually center around honesty, and they aren't always clear-cut. A general rule of thumb is to always be honest about the information you provide, both on your resume and in an interview. Not doing so can come back to haunt you, even many years later, if it is discovered that you gave misinformation.

Refer to the Career Brief "Ethics and the Job Search" for more help in this area.

Common Interview Questions

The following are some questions to use when preparing and practicing for your interviews. Keep in mind that these are not all of the possibilities, but rather a range of topics that are commonly covered during the interview process. More questions can be found in our Interviewing Guide.

Practice answering these and similar questions out loud, not in your head. Practice until you are able to answer these with ease and confidence. Don't memorize your answers or they will sound that way! Use these questions as your opportunity to demonstrate how your skills and experience make you the best candidate by referring to the qualifications of the position and making a direct connection. Remember to always be positive and honest when answering.

Sample Interview Questions

Tell me about yourself.

What do you know about our company and why do you want to work for us?

What special skills do you have that would make you stand out from other candidates?

How do you think a friend or professor who knows you well would describe you?

What is your greatest weakness and what have you done to overcome it?

What was the last book you read, film you saw or sporting event you attended?

What are your long-range career goals and how are you preparing to achieve them?

Why are you interested in this career field?

What other types of jobs or organizations are you considering?

Do you have plans for graduate school?

What do you see yourself doing in three to five years?

Why did you choose Vassar?

Tell me about your college activities.

Please describe your most rewarding college experience.

Tell me about the role you usually play in a group.

If you could relive your college experience, what would you do differently?

How has your coursework prepared you for this position?

What is your GPA and how do you feel about it?

How have you spent your summers for the last four years? What did you learn from these experiences?

What do you see as your major strengths as they apply to this position?

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment and why?

What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?

In what kind of work environment are you the most comfortable?

What factors will be important to you besides starting salary?

What salary range are you expecting? (If possible, you may want to state that you are more interested in the content of the position at this point and would be happy to discuss salary when an offer is presented. But research salaries in advance in case they push the issue.)

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.

Tell us what you did in your last job to build teamwork. How did you resolve conflict in the team? Be specific.

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).

Industry Specific Interview Questions

Spotlight on Careers

Spotlight on Careers is a project through LACN that allows you to research 40+ industries through topic specific pages that include links for internship searching as well as resume and interview advice specific to that industry.

Vault Campus

Vault Campus provides a variety of career guides, with which to conduct company and industry research as well as a jobs and internships database. To create a free account on Vault you must first navigate from our CDO homepage and then use your Vassar email address to set up an account.

Glassdoor

Glassdoor gives you access to interview questions that are asked at specific companies/organizations. It also helps you learn more about companies/organizations, see reviews of companies/organizations and the salaries/benefits that they offer, and search for jobs

Questions You Can Ask the Interviewer

At the end of almost every interview you will be asked if you have any questions for them -- and you MUST have questions for them. Several thoughtful questions will demonstrate your interest in the position.  Try to ask something you could not just find on the organization website. Be sure not to ask questions which were already answered, were included in materials you were given, or that is easily obtained through independent research prior to the interview. Additional questions to ask the interview can be found in our Interview Guide.

 Select a few from these choices:

  • What are the top traits of your most successful employees in this position (or similar positions)?

  • What do you enjoy the most about working here?
  • Do you have a formal training program? (If yes) How long is it and could you describe the type of training provided?

  • How will my performance be evaluated, and how often?

  • What do you consider to be the major challenges facing the industry today?

  • What are the next steps in the hiring process and when might I expect to hear from you next?

Handling Illegal/Improper Questions

The focus of interview questions should be, “What does the employer need to know about you and your qualifications in order to decide whether you can perform the functions of the job?”

That said, there are a number of topics which are irrelevant and illegal for an interviewer to question you about. In the U.S., employment law prohibits employers from discrimination on the basis of certain "protected classes". In federal law, these categories include: race, sex, disability, age, religion, national origin, and military/veteran status.  Additionally, some (but not all) states also have state laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. It is unlawful for employers to ask questions that might be used to discriminate based on any of these protected categories.

What should you do if you feel that the interviewer is asking an improper (and possibly unlawful) question? Pay attention to the information you're being asked for and be prepared for how you will answer if you are asked an illegal question. Here are a few ways you might choose to handle the situation.

1. Address the question directly by asking how that information affects your ability to do the job.

2. Answer truthfully.

3. Remind the interviewer that the question is illegal.