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Successful Interviewing

Before the Interview

  • Attend an Interview Skills Workshop given by Career Services.
  • Be prepared to discuss how your skills, interests, and background can be of benefit to the organization.
  • Research the position, the organization and the community.
  • Find "insider" information including company mission statement, strategic objectives, corporate values and pertinent organization changes.
  • Have a professional telephone greeting on your cell phone or answering machine.
  • Practice answering questions out loud with a friend or family member. You may also make an appointment for a mock interview with your career counselor.

Preparing for Questions

  • Know the information on your resume.
  • Prepare an agenda for the interview, listing the points you want to make.
  • Create a list of the skills/qualities you have to offer an employer (organization, leadership, computer knowledge, dependability, flexibility, etc.) that relate to the position you applied for.
  • Think about 1 or 2 weaknesses and what you have done to successfully overcome them.
  • Prepare detailed descriptions of relevant situations that reflect positively on you. Be ready to describe the situation, your action and the outcome.
  • Prepare for all types of questions, including open-ended, situational, and behavioral
  • Research salary information so that, if asked, you have a reasonable range in mind
  • Don’t speak negatively about your peers, faculty, former employers or other companies
  • Be prepared with questions to ask the employer (refer to back of handout)
  • Conclude the interview on a strong, positive note

Professional Image

  • Take time to be well groomed: moderate makeup, light or no perfume or aftershave, ironed clothes, polished shoes
  • Dress in business attire: for males the usual dress is a suit or dress jacket and slacks; for females it is a suit, dress or pantsuit
  • Select shoes, handbags, briefcases and watches that are conservative. Avoid flashy jewelry and accessories
  • Be courteous to everyone you meet: receptionists, secretaries and others
  • Be confident, poised and enthusiastic
  • Be professional and use professional language
  • The more professional you look and act, the more likely employers are to assume you can perform the job successfully

During the Interview

  • Arrive early
  • Bring extra copies of your resume
  • Be sure to know the correct spelling and pronunciation of the interviewer’s name and whether use of first or last name is appropriate. Ask if you’re not sure.
  • Meet the interviewer with a firm handshake, a friendly smile and a polite greeting
  • Use body language to show interest (appropriate posture and eye contact)
  • Listen attentively to the questions
  • Ask for clarification when you don’t understand a question
  • Give complete answers and use specific examples and accomplishments whenever possible
  • Use illustrations, descriptions, statistics and testimonials to support your claims
  • Answer questions with honesty and sincerity
  • Be aware of the time allocated
  • Remember to breathe, smile and be yourself!

Follow Up

  • Ask about the next step in the process
  • Thank the interviewer and collect a business card
  • Take a moment to make some notes after each interview
  • Write and send a thank you email and/or letter within 1-2 days to everyone who interviewed you
  • Forward any requested materials promptly
  • If you have not heard from the company within 2-3 weeks, contact the interviewer and inquire about the status of the position
  • Keep a record of all interviews, correspondence and subsequent follow-up
  • Be persistent and maintain an optimistic outlook

The Telephone Interview

  • Be prepared by keeping resume and notes by the telephone
  • Clarify and write down the name(s) of the interviewer(s) to whom you are speaking
  • Speak clearly and directly into the telephone
  • Exhibit personality and energy through voice tone and inflection
  • Be factual in your answers
  • Provide details and examples of your experience
  • Take notes

The Behavorial Interview

  • Review the job description carefully
  • Know how to relate your experiences and skills to the position
  • Select situations and experiences in which you have demonstrated the behaviors important to the current job
  • Be prepared to discuss how you personally contributed to the success of the project, situation or event described
  • Talk about specific actions, behaviors, and results related to the job
  • Listen carefully to the questions, ask for clarification if necessary, and make sure you answer the questions completely.
  • Be detailed and specific, make sure each situation has a beginning, a middle and an end

Questions Frequently Asked

Education and Academic Achievements

  • What factors determined your choice of major?
  • Why did you choose Cal Poly?
  • In what campus activities did you participate? Were you in a leadership role? How did you lead?
  • Which courses have you enjoyed the most? The least? Why?
  • What is your GPA? Is it reflective of your best efforts?
  • If you could do so, how would you plan your education differently?
  • Describe your most rewarding college experience? Your greatest challenge?
  • Were you financially responsible for any portion of your college expenses?
  • Give me an example of a project (or Senior Project) you have completed and take me through the steps you used to complete it.
  • Describe the system you use for keeping track of multiple projects? How do you track the progress of various projects in relation to their deadline? How do you stay focused?
  • Tell me about a time when your professor (supervisor) was not available to clarify an assignment; how did you proceed? Was there anything you would do differently? What was the outcome?
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you took an unpopular stand regarding an issue at school (work). What was the situation? What was the outcome?


  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Describe one of your accomplishments.
  • If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
  • Who are your role models? Why?
  • How do you determine or evaluate success?
  • Describe how you set an example for other peers/employees.
  • Give me an example of something complex that you needed to effectively communicate to others. What made it complex? Why was it difficult to communicate?
  • Tell me about a risk you took to achieve a goal.
  • How would you rate your writing skills? What steps have you taken to improve your writing skills? Describe the most difficult report you had to write.
  • Tell me about something you have done that is very creative.

The Job

  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • What is your idea of how our industry works?
  • What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
  • What type of work environment do you prefer?
  • What interests you most about this job? Least?
  • If you were hiring a graduate for this position, what successful characteristics would you look for in a candidate? What qualities would a successful manager possess?
  • What are some of the key challenges you think a new person in this position would face?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What contributions would you make to our organization?
  • What do you know about our company? Our product? Our service?


  • Describe your job-related skills and experience and how they would relate to this position.
  • What have you learned most from some of the jobs you have held?
  • What did you enjoy most about your last job? Least?
  • How do you think a former supervisor would describe your work?
  • Tell me about an event that really challenged you. How did you meet the challenge? In what way was your approach different from others? What solution did you provide to your employer?
  • Explain your role as a group/team member and an example of how you persuaded other people to take action. Were you successful? How have you dealt with conflict within a group situation?
  • Describe a time where you made a compromise for the overall good of the team. Why was compromising the right thing to do?
  • Give me an example of your ability to manage or supervise others.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stress that tested your coping skills. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you wish you had done more planning. What happened? How could it have been avoided? What did you learn from this experience?

Career Goals

  • What are your long range career goals? How are you preparing yourself to achieve them?
  • What specific goals, other than those related to your occupation, have you established for yourself for the next 5 years?
  • What characteristics do you possess that will make you successful in your career?
  • Who or what in your life influenced you most with regard to your career objectives?

Questions to Ask Employers

  • Why is the position available?
  • What are your company's goals for the next two to three years? What are the long term goals?
  • What outside influences affect your company's growth?
  • What are some common characteristics of successful employees within your company?
  • What are some characteristics of your company that make it attractive?
  • What is the greatest challenge facing your staff (department) now?
  • What is a typical day like?
  • What types of assignments may I expect the first six months on the job?
  • What type of training is available?
  • Why do you enjoy working for this company?
  • What has been your career path within this company?
  • Is relocation likely or required?
  • What are your expectations for new hires?
  • How will the person who accepts this position be evaluated? By whom?
  • When can I expect to hear from you?
  • Do you have a detailed description of the position for which I am being considered?

Career Services' Interviewing Handout
Use Big Interview to learn and practice your interview skills.

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