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Preparing Before the Interview

Below you will find general advice that we provide for all interviews as well as specific tips for different types of interviews you may encounter.

Interview Preparation Tips for All Types of Interviews

  • Confirm the time, date, and location of the interview. Determine who will bear the costs of transportation, meals, and overnight lodging associated with the interview, if necessary.
  • Confirm the title and correct spelling and pronunciation of the interviewer's name.
  • Obtain directions, and allow plenty of time to get there if it is in person. Consider making a test run to the interview site on a similar day/time as your interview will be so that you can make sure you know how to get there and account for any possible traffic you may encounter on the day of the interview.
  • Research the organization and know what the position entails. Learn as much as possible about the size, location, products/services, and benefits by reading everything you can. The organization's website is a great place to start. Also, become familiar with recent events affecting the industry as a whole.
  • Think about how your experience, education, and interests relate to the position. Your responses will reflect your self-confidence, ability to communicate effectively, and interpersonal skills. This process will be helpful when answering questions like "Why are you interested in the organization?" or "Tell me something about yourself."
  • Be very familiar with everything on your resume and be prepared to talk about any of it.
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer.
  • Practice! Take advantage of the Potential Interview Questions provided in our Interviewing Guide and practice answering the questions out loud.

Types of Interviews

Screening Interviews

Screening (or “First Round”) interviews may take place on campus, at recruiting fairs and conferences, on the phone, or at the employer's office. Often the people who conduct screening interviews are from human resources departments. Their job is to weed out candidates and recommend promising ones. A typical screening interview lasts about 30 minutes. Many of these interviews follow a structured format, usually beginning with a few minutes of pleasantries to put you at ease, followed by questions about your academic/work background, skills, and future goals. The interviewer may tell you more about the organization or position, and will probably give you a chance to ask some questions. If you are not told what comes next in the application/hiring process, feel free to ask.

Telephone Interviews

Telephone interviews can be an intermediate step, especially if the organization has limited travel funds. If you are having a telephone interview, keep a few things in mind:

  • Ensure that your voicemail message is professional and to the point.
  • Notify roommates that you are expecting a call from a potential employer and find a quiet place where you will be free of distraction. If you are in your room, ask your roommates not to enter the room during the interview. Put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, if needed! If your interview is between 9 - 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday you can reserve our telephone interview room at the CDO.
  • Answer the phone with "Hello, this is (first name/last name) speaking" when the employer calls so that they know they have you on the phone and it removes any awkwardness in the beginning of the call.
  • Remember that your interviewer cannot see your body language (posture, eye contact, and facial expressions) all of which make up a large part of communication. Therefore, pay extra attention to your rate of speech, and be sensitive to pauses and breaks in the conversation.
  • Talk only when necessary. Since you lack the visual cues of body language to determine if you’ve said enough, mark the end of your response with a question such as, “Would you like more details of my experience as an intern with XYZ Company?”
  • It is important to convey energy through your voice; if you are soft-spoken, be sure to speak up. And even though it sounds funny, make sure that your breathing is not too heavy. Remember to SMILE!
  • If possible, ask beforehand if you will be on speakerphone to a room full of people or in a one-on-one conversation.
  • Take advantage of the fact that you are not "seen" by having all your notes in front of you so that you can refer to them during the interview. This includes your resume, cover letter, job description, and any interview notes you have prepared.
  • Some people find it relaxing to wear comfortable clothes, thereby avoiding the formality and perhaps nervousness that comes with traditional interview attire. On the other hand, some people find it puts them in the proper mindset to wear interview clothing, even though it obviously does not matter on the phone. In any case, you want to be in a posture where you can be alert, professional, and at the top of your game. This energy will translate through the phone!
  • If you're using a cell phone, make sure it is charged and has good coverage.
  • Let the employer end the interview. Then you should say, “Thank you for your time” and reiterate your enthusiasm for the position.
  • Just like a face-to-face interview, follow up within 48 hours with an email or note thanking him/her for their time and consideration.

Videoconference/Skype Interview

Interviews via Skype or other web-based programs are becoming more common as organizations are becoming more global in scope. Sometimes, if a candidate (or an interviewer) is unable to travel for an on-site interview, a videoconference interview will be substituted in its place. Here are some tips to assist you with Skype interviews:

  • Have a professional Skype username and profile picture as this is the first impression you will make
  • Prepare your surroundings -- remove any distractions behind you as this is what they will see. Make sure your interviewing space is distraction free, well-lit, and professional.
  • Make sure all other programs are closed on your computer so they do not cause a distraction or make any noises.
  • Practice makes perfect. The first couple video calls tend to be awkward as you need to figure out where to look, what to do with your hands, or how loudly to speak. If you practice ahead of time you can work these issues out prior to the interview.
  • Look the part by researching the company/organization to get a feel for how to dress. It is better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
  • Look at the camera, not the screen. The tendency in a Skype interview is to watch yourself or your interviewer on the screen, but looking directly at the video camera is the only way to maintain direct eye contact with your interviewer.
  • Smile! This tends to come more naturally for in-person interviews than it does for computer-based interviews.
  • Demonstrate that you are actively listening. Throw in a couple "Mhmms" or "yes" as the interviewer speaks so they know you are following what they say. If you get a question that catches you off guard, use active listening to buy yourself some time: "What I hear you asking is (rephrase the question)." This gives you a little more time to think and also demonstrates to them that you are listening!
  • Keep interview preparation materials/notes by you so that you can casually glance at them.
  • Address any technological problems/issues immediately if they do occur.

If you need a quiet space to have a phone or Skype interview, you can use the CDO!. Call the Office to make arrangements at (845) 437-5285.

In-Person (or Second Round) Interviews

In-person interviews offer a chance for you to visit the organization to interview with the hiring manager. You are usually provided with a schedule for your interview in advance. They can last anywhere from half an hour to two days, and will consist of a series of half-hour to hour-long interviews with several individuals. If you are not provided with a schedule in advance, it’s okay to ask with whom you’ll be meeting during your visit.

Dining or other social interaction with your interviewers is often part of the package, and you may be reimbursed for travel, lodging, and meal expenses incurred on your way to and from the interview (always verify this in advance, when you make your initial interview arrangements). Remember that if you are dining with your interviewers you still need to be in interview mode (select your meals carefully; avoid soups, spaghetti with sauce, or other particularly messy or difficult-to-eat foods no matter how tempting they might be).

Group Interviews

Group interviews are typically first round, on-site interviews during which you will be in a room with many of the job candidates at once. If you are going into a group interview situation, it’s likely that you will be told directly about the process in advance.

Behavioral Interviews

This type of interview is based on the theory that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Emphasis is put on detailed examples as opposed to hypothetical situations. For example, merely stating that you were in a leadership position will not suffice to emphasize your supposed leadership skills. The interviewee must describe action he/she took and give examples of situations. These questions are usually open-ended and do not elicit a certain desired response. Often behavioral questions will be a part of any type of interview -- so be prepared for questions that start with, "Tell me about a time when..." or "Can you give me an example of..." as these are cues that they are asking behavioral questions

To succeed in behavioral interviews you'll want to learn S.T.A.R. stories! Experts in behavioral interviewing suggest the S.T.A.R. approach to answering questions: State the Situation and your Task, describe the Actions you took, and then sum up the Result. You might also develop various anecdotes that could give the interviewer an idea of who you are.

  • Does the job require good organizational and managerial skills? Discuss the planning, coordinating, and delegating you did for a campus committee or student organization.
  • Does the employer need someone who's a stickler for details? Maybe you could talk about how the Administrative Assistant at your on-campus job always gave you letters to proofread.

By using experiential anecdotes rather than flat descriptions and yes-no answers, you will create an accurate and believable picture of yourself.

Case Method Interviews

Case Method Interviews are most common with consulting interviews. A candidate is given a problem to solve and the object is not to come to a specific solution, but to allow the interviewer to observe your analytical and problem-solving skills through the process you take to reach a conclusion. For more information on preparing for this particular type of interview, download the Vault Guide to the Case Interview (Vault Guides are free for Vassar students.)

Review the tips from these top Consulting Firms when preparing for your case interview.

The Career Development Office has a copy of Case in Point by Mark Cosentino that you are welcome to check out at any time. We highly recommend reviewing this book in your Case Interview research.