Step 3: Interview Skills

interview skills

Interviews are often the most important part of the job or internship hunt. You've already impressed the employer with your skills and writing abilities in your resume and cover letter, but the interview gives you the chance to show who you are as an individual, and how you perform under pressure. The below sections will cover how to prepare for the interview, no matter what questions or scenarios are thrown at you.

Interview Tips

Preparing for the interview
  • Be sure to review the job description beforehand and look at the skills and qualifications required.
    • Come up with concrete examples of how your past experiences, skills and abilities align with the job description.
  • Research the organization and know what they stand for.
  • Inform yourself about any important details about the company, such as new services offered, news, etc. that could be mentioned in the interview – it’s important to show that you’ve familiarized yourself with what is currently happening at the organization.
  • Practice your answers to the interview questions listed under the section "Answering the Tough Questions".
    • It is best if you practice your answers with another person. This can be a friend or family member, but we are also able to offer you mock interviews by appointment.
    • Do your best to speak slowly and clearly, and eliminate filler words such as “um,” “like,” and “you know”.
    • Know that if an employer asks a questions you weren’t prepared for, it’s okay to take a second to think or ask for the question to be repeated.
  • Be familiar with what is in your resume and cover letter – the interviewer will want to see consistencies.
During the interview

Whether you are having a phone or Skype interview, arrive at your chosen location 10-15 minutes early so you will not feel rushed when it is time to talk.

Interviews generally follow this structure:

Beginning

  • Light conversation to put you at ease
  • Try to build a rapport with the interviewer, but be very wary of using humor.
    • Not everyone has the same sense of humor, so it is best to hold back on the jokes until you start working at the organization.

Middle

  • Interviewer describes the organization, office environment and position
    • Listen carefully! You can ask more about this at the end of the interview, but you don’t want to ask them to repeat something they’ve already said.
    • This is an appropriate time to take quick notes on the information the interview gives you about the company. Be sure to maintain eye contact and don’t frantically scribble on your notepad. Just write a word or phrase to remind you of what was said.
  • Employer will ask questions about your skills, education, training and work history
    • Be selective about the experiences you present. Always emphasize the positive, but never exaggerate or falsify information.
    • Be confident in your responses, even if you are asked about a skill you don’t possess (Ex. “I haven’t worked with that particular computer program, but I’ve worked with similar programs such as ________ and I feel confident that I can learn this program in minimal time”).

End

  • The interviewer will usually ask you if you have any questions
    • See our list under the "Questions to Ask at the End of an Interview" section below for examples of questions that you could ask the interviewer.
    • You want to have a potential list of questions ready – when the interview asks you if you have any questions, you don’t want to say no.
    • There is also the potential that the interviewer will not ask you if you have any questions. However, you should have at least one or two questions prepared to ask anyway, because this will reflect well on you.
  • Sincerely thank the interviewer for considering you. Reiterate your interest in the position.
Commonly asked questions
Tell us about yourself.
  • This is a brief overview of your professional background, not your entire life story.
    • Don’t mention hobbies, extracurricular activities, family, etc.
  • Develop a 1 minute overview that summarizes where you are in your educational career, and discusses your experiences, expertise, knowledge and skills.
  • Emphasize a pattern of interests, skills and accomplishments. Focus your response around a certain theme related to your major interests and skills.
What are your strengths?
  • Look at the internship posting and pick strengths that relate to what the employer is seeking.
  • Each strength you choose needs to have a strong example of what you did and why it was valuable to your previous employer.
  • A good way to frame your strengths without sounding like you’re bragging is to frame them in terms of what other people have told you.
    • For example: “At my last personal review, my manager told me that my written work is among the best in the company.”
  • Try to avoid typical skills that most people will say they possess. These include things like “hard worker,” “determined,” “driven,” etc.
    • Think in terms of knowledge based skills – things you have gained from education and experience (i.e., computer skills, languages, training); transferable skills – portable skills you take from job to job (i.e., communication and people skills, analytic problem solving, etc.); and personal traits (i.e., dependable, flexible, etc.).
  • Think about your biggest accomplishments in the different positions you have worked in. What skills helped you to achieve them?
What are your weaknesses?
  • Do not reveal a flaw that would hinder your ability to excel in the job.
    • i.e. Saying that you “have trouble getting up in the morning and getting to work on time” would send a major red flag to the interviewer.
  • Pick a weakness that does not directly relate to the skills asked for in the job description.
  • Pick a weakness that is relatively minor and fixable.
    • For example: “I get nervous speaking in front of large groups” is something that can be improved with practice. “I am very shy and often have trouble speaking up in meetings” suggests a personal trait that would be very hard to change.
  • Mention the weakness briefly, then address what you have done or are doing to improve.
    • For example: “I would say that public speaking is an area that I could work on. I’ll be the first one to present at a team meeting, but I get nervous when speaking in front of large groups. However, I’ve been taking a public speaking course in order to improve, and on the most recent presentation, I received one of the top grades in the class and my professor said she noted a huge improvement in my performance.”
  • Try not to pick a standard answer that the interviewer has heard before, i.e. “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”.
Why do you want to work for our organization?
  • Your answer needs to indicate that you’ve really thought about where you want to work and have done your research into the organization.
  • Come up with 2-3 reasons for why you want to work for the organization.
  • Read the organization’s mission statement and/or "about" page and mention why you agree with them or why this information makes you passionate about an internship here.
  • Think of reasons this job is a good match for your skills, strengths, experience and background. What can you bring to the organization?
Why should we hire you?
  • Highlight the top 3 or 4 best reasons to hire you.
    • Make sure that you back them up with concrete examples instead of giving a laundry list of skills.
  • Think in terms of the skills you can offer and the value you can add.
  • Do a skill-matching exercise to compare the skills the organization needs with what you can offer.
  • Don’t reiterate everything on your resume – keep it to 1-2 minutes and focus on your most compelling points.
  • Think of what makes you unique compared to other applicants.
What to do if you are given a question you didn’t prepare for/don’t know how to answer:
  • Take your time – acknowledge that the question was asked and that you’re thinking about it by saying something like “Hmm…that’s a great question. Let me think about that.” This gives you enough time to work through your first thought and keeps you from using filler words to avoid awkward silences.
  • It’s ok to detail your thought process out loud. Sometimes interviewers are trying to get a sense of how you work through problems.
  • Try redirecting the question. For example, if you’re asked about a skill that you don’t have try to relate it to a similar skill you have experience with.
  • If you are asked something that you simply don’t know, such as about a definition or concept, no amount of stalling will be able to help you.
    • Don’t say that you “don’t know” – instead, provide a more positive answer, in which you say you are not familiar with the concept, but are a quick learner, have been learning more about that subject, etc.
    • You could also detail the process of how you would handle not knowing something in the workplace, and the steps you would take to find the answer on your own.
Other commonly asked interview questions:
  • Tell me about a time you had to deal with a problem at work and the steps you took to solve it.
  • What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
  • How does this internship fit in with the career path you envision for yourself?
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  • Give an example of a time that you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
  • How do you handle pressure?
After the interview

Within 24 hours after the interview, it is important to send a thank you email to the interviewer, in which you reiterate your interest in the position.

If you haven’t heard back from the organization for 2-3 weeks after interviewing with them, you can send a follow-up email to inquire about the status of the position.

Questions to ask at the end of the interview

If the employer has already addressed the answer to a question in the interview, you don’t want to ask it again.

  • What are the typical day-to-day responsibilities of this internship?
  • What have your most exemplary former interns accomplished in this internship?
  • How much guidance is given to interns in developing future career goals?
  • What do you enjoy most about your work with this organization?
  • Can you tell me more about the work environment? Is it more team or individual oriented?
  • Can you tell me about the next steps in the selection process?

When you are researching the organization prior to your interview, it is important to write down any questions that arise. The more questions you can ask that are specific to the organization and show that you did your research, the better.

Do not ask about pay, hours, etc. These are questions you can discuss once you are offered the internship. Also, don’t ask for feedback on your interview performance or ask if you got the internship.

Interview Situations

Phone Interviews
  • When scheduling the interview, make sure you know:
    • The time of the interview (keeping in mind the 3 hour time difference)
    • Who will be calling whom (we recommend that you call the interviewer)
    • The correct phone number to call
  • Ahead of time, choose a quiet room where you receive good phone reception.
    • Make a test call to a family member or friend to check that the reception is clear.
  • Be sure that your phone is fully charged.
  • Have your application and other relevant documents (job description, resume, cover letter, references, etc.) with you so that you can refer to them during the interview.
  • If interviewing at home, ask your roommates to not disturb you and to minimize distractions.
  • During the interview:
    • Be sure to smile! It makes a big difference in the tone of your voice and how confident you sound.
    • Standing up while talking has the best impact on the projection and tone of your voice. You can sit upright at a desk also, but don’t lay down on your bed or sit on the couch.
    • Dressing up (at least a little) for the interview will help you feel more professional.
    • Don’t get distracted by anything else – focus only on the interviewer!
    • It can be a good idea to have a pen and paper with you to jot down notes about things you want to ask the interviewer later or important information that they provide you.
  • Prepare answers to the most common interview questions and have bullet point notes – these are only to jog your memory! Reading off a page will sound unnatural.
Skype Interviews
  • Choose a room that is quiet and has a blank wall that can be used as a background.
    • We can possibly reserve a meeting room for you if you have a Skype interview. Please email us if you would like to discuss this option.
  • Make sure that your Skype username and profile picture are business appropriate.
  • Make a test call to a family member or friend to make sure the internet connection in the room is good.
  • If interviewing at home, ask your roommates not to disturb you and to minimize distractions.
  • During the interview:
    • Dress professionally, as if you were going to an in-person interview. Don’t try to get away with the blazer on top, sweatpants on bottom look. You don’t want to have to worry about the interviewer potentially seeing your casual bottoms, which would come across as unprofessional.
      • Keep in mind that darker colors look better on screen. Avoid overbearing patterns.
    • Sign in to Skype 10 minutes early and be prepared for the call. This a good time to review any notes or your resume.
    • When interviewing, look at the camera and not the screen. This will make sure you keep direct eye contact with the interviewer.
    • There can often be a delay in transmission. Wait a second or two before answering so that you ensure the interviewer is done speaking.
    • It can be a good idea to have a pen and paper in order to jot down notes of things you want to ask the interviewer later or important information they give you. Just be sure that you are only writing down a word or phrase to jog your memory, and are not frantically scribbling on your notepad. You want to maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
When they want to talk NOW
  • Be prepared with a response if you receive a call from an interviewer asking if you are available to talk immediately.
    • Handle the situation with enthusiasm, but buy yourself some time to prepare. It’s reasonable to answer with something like, “I would very much like to speak with you about the internship position. May I call you back in 30 minutes? What number should I call?”
  • Buying yourself some time will give you some time to gather your notes, look over information about the company, and find a quiet place to conduct the interview.
What to do when you receive an offer

Congratulations! Getting your first internship offer is a very exciting experience. Follow our steps in order to ensure that you respond to your offer in the appropriate manner:

If You Want to Accept the Offer

  • Fantastic! Be sure that this is the internship that you truly want, because you cannot change your mind after you accept.
  • Many times, organizations will offer you the position verbally over the phone. Accept the position over the phone, then follow up with a thank you email in which you restate that you accept their offer and confirm your start dates.
  • Ask the internship coordinator if there is anything you can do to prepare for your first day.
  • If you have any questions for the internship coordinator, such as about the dress code, this is a good time to ask
  • See our email templates on page ___ if you need guidance on what to include in the email.

If You Need More Time

  • If you have received an offer but are waiting to hear back from another internship, you can ask for more time to think about the offer.
  • When requesting extra time, first tell the internship coordinator that the opportunity sounds very interesting, and then ask “When would you need my final decision by?”
    • Don’t let the internship coordinator know that you are considering other offers.
  • The date the internship coordinator gives you is the date you must respond to them by.
    • Don’t string the organization along. They are extremely busy and need to hire interns as soon as possible.
  • If the date they request your response has arrived but you haven’t heard back from organizations you were waiting for, you still must tell the internship coordinator whether you accept their offer or not.
  • See our email templates on page __ if you need guidance on what to include in the email.

If You Want to Reject the Offer

  • Be extremely prompt with your response if you know you want to turn down the offer. You want to allow the organization enough time to hire other interns.
  • Thank the internship coordinator sincerely for their offer and tell them that you regrettably have to decline their offer.
  • You do not have to justify your reason for turning down the offer.
  • See our email templates on page __ if you need guidance on what to include in the email.