Skip to main content

Preparing for an Interview

Research the Employer | Practice | Attire | Logistics

Although there are multiple types of interviews, many interviews have a similar structure. After a short welcome conversation, the interviewer often provides a summary of the position and the organization. The major portion of the interview involves questions to learn about your background and experience as it pertains to this position. Your goals for the interview shoudl be to:

  • Present yourself as a polished, capable future colleague by providing great first and last impressions.
  • Demonstrate your qualifications and the contributions you could make with honest and enthusiastic answers.
  • Learn more about the position, organization, and workplace culture.

After the search committee questions, the interviewee is often given a chance to ask a few questions. During the conclusion, you should restate your enthusiasm for the position, mention any qualifications that you have not discussed, and thank the interviewers.

As you are preparing, consider how you will demonstrate your interest in the position and relevant experiences throughout the interview.

Research the Employer

Before any type of interview, dedicate time to research and planning. Learn more about the organization—it will improve your performance at the interview, enable you to ask smart questions, and, most importantly, help you assess the opportunity. You should research:

  • History, philosophy, and mission of the organization
  • Organization’s website, including culture and structure
  • Recent news/press releases
  • Contributions to the industry or field
  • Job description

Practice

There is no substitute for practice. Find opportunities to use your interview skills. Come prepared to share your strongest experiences. Here are some tips for developing your interview skills:

  • Anticipate the questions you might be asked and how you would respond.
  • Recall 10-12 stories that highlight skills or experiences relevant to the position. Be sure to include those that demonstrate your communication abilities, leadership, and other soft skills.
  • If you are expected to present a talk, practice it in front of an audience.
  • Identify questions you want to ask the interviewers.
  • Mock interviews can help you hone your skills. The Career Center offers mock interviews.

Illegal Questions

While it is illegal for employers to consider an applicant's race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin when making an employment decision, you may encounter inadvertent questions about these topics. A few questions that you should not be asked include:

  • Are you a U.S. citizen? (It is acceptable for an interviewer to ask if you are authorized to work in the U.S.)
  • Where were you born? What is your native language?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you married? How many children do you have?
  • Do you have any disabilities? (It is acceptable to ask if an applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the job.)

It is common for these questions to arise in social situations with well-meaning (but ignorant) interviewers. For example, during a campus visit lunch, a committee member might mention something about her children, then inquire if you also have children. When responding to such questions, assess the situation and do your best to understand the concern or reason for the question. Sometimes you may determine that you are comfortable answering the question. Other times, you may want to try to deflect the inquiry. In general, avoid responding with a combative tone. It is acceptable to volunteer information that would be illegal for interviewers to ask.

Questions about Salary Requirements

It is not uncommon to be asked about your salary requirements during at the time of application or interview. You may need to answer questions about your salary requirements at this time, but avoid negotiating. Here are a few tactics that might help:

  • Research salary ranges before the interview so your responses are appropriate.
  • Provide a range instead of a single dollar amount to give more options in the negotiation.
  • Avoid committing to a specific dollar amount if asked.

The following sample phrases may be useful:

  • “I applied for this position because I am very interested in this position, and I know I can make an positive impact once on the job, but I’d like to postpone discussing salary until we are both sure I’m right for the job."
  • “I expect to be compensated at a rate that is commensurate with my education and experience.”
  • “My requirements are negotiable.”
  • “What would you hope to pay someone in this position?”

Interview Attire

It is imperative that you are dressed professionally and that your hygiene is impeccable for job interviews. Appropriate interview attire can vary by the formality of a discipline. Even if professionals in this field usually dress casually, it is better to dress more formally for the interview.
 
Standard suggestions for interview attire:
  • Women: Business suit or tailored dress (skirts should be just above the knee or lower); pantyhose; polished shoes.
  • Men: Business suit with a pressed dressed shirt and conservative tie, polished dress shoes and dark socks.
The best sartorial advice for both men and women is probably to wear appropriate and comfortable professional clothing. Key guidelines are:
  • Clothing should be well-tailored and pressed.
  • Hair should be neat.
  • Shoes should be polished.
  • Fingernails should be clean and trimmed.
  • Cologne or perfume should be avoided.
  • Avoid excessive jewelry or cosmetics.
Be aware of the setting and schedule for the visit. If you will likely go on a walking tour during your visit, choose shoes that will enable you to walk comfortably for several blocks. Clothing should also be climate appropriate.

Logistics

Minimize stress and present yourself professionally—the small details matter!

  • Know the name and phone number of your contact. Request the schedule for your interview in advance if possible.
  • Look up directions and parking in advance and allow sufficient travel time.
  • Bring a professional notepad and pen as well as extra copies of relevant information, including your résumé/CV and references.
  • You may also need to bring additional materials, if appropriate, such as slides or notes for a presentation or samples of your work.