Preparing for the Interview
Preparation is key to a successful interview. In many ways, preparation will be similar for all types of interviews. In any interview format, you want to make sure you are presenting your best self. The best way to ensure interview success is to practice.
Do Your Research
- Explore the organization’s website and social media to learn about their history, mission, services, structure, and recent news.
- Re-read the position descriptions.
- Utilize Glassdoor to research interview questions for the organization, and employee reviews and ratings.
- Use LinkedIn to find potential employee and alumni connections, and reach out to them to gain first-hand knowledge about the company, work environment, values, etc.
Know Your Story
- What do you bring to the table that is unique to you? (i.e. skills, abilities, experiences, knowledge ). What contributions will you bring to the employer?
- Why are you a good fit with the organization?
- What contributions will you bring to the employer?
- What major points do you want to get across during the interview?
Prepare Questions to Ask
You can ask the same questions of several people since typically no one will know what you asked the last person or will ask the next person. Questions do not have to be profound, but they should get to information that’s important to you to evaluate your interest in the position. Not having questions prepared can make it look like you’re not interested in the position .
Tip: Avoid questions that could easily be answered through information on the employer's website or social media and questions about salary and benefits.
- Utilize Big Interview. Through William & Mary, you have open access to Big Interview's online interview preparation. Create an account with your W&M sign-in credentials for free access to both their Fast Track and Mastery Track curriculums.
- Access includes:
- Informative videos on the different types of interviews, interviewers, etc.
- Commonly heard interview questions and how to answer them.
- Practice interviews organized by industry or program.
- Confirm all details of the interview: time, date, length, location of interview, parking instructions, etc. If it's in person, consider a test drive to confirm directions and potential travel time if possible.
- Remember to bring papers, pens, and take copies of your resume in a padfolio or folder. Ask the company representative if there is anything else you will need to bring.
- Review the names and titles of the people you will be meeting, and remember to ask for business cards at the end of each encounter. This will aid in writing your thank you notes later!
What to Wear
Dress in a manner that is appropriate for the industry. Formality may differ between business formal, business casual, or casual, but do always try to look clean and polished. If you do not have business-appropriate attire, you may be able to borrow from the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement's Dress to Impress closet. The Dress to Impress (D2I) program provides current W&M students with the opportunity to borrow professional attire for job, graduate school, and internship interviews, as well as professional networking events and other career-related opportunities. To review available items and to try them on, please complete this form to request an in‐person appointment. Allow up to 24 hours for a response to your request form.
Additionally, if you need assistance purchasing apparel, the career center sponsors bi-annual Suit-Up days where you can buy discounted professional attire through JC Penney. Look for dates in TribeCareers.
Virtual or Phone Interviews
- Ensure you are in a location with strong WiFi and/or cell signal.
- When using your phone or computer, turn off notifications that could be distracting.
- Choose a quiet interview location free from disruptions.
- Conduct your interview close to an outlet and have a charger ready in case your battery runs low.
- Be sure you know how to use the platform for your interview and have the appropriate software on your computer if applicable. It may be helpful to practice with someone using the platform ahead of time.
- For video interviews, try to find a location that is both well-lit and has a neutral background. Consider virtual backgrounds if needed and if the platform allows.
- You can reserve a quiet room for phone and virtual interviews in the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement, Monday-Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., through the advising appointments link in TribeCareers; filter by Type: Cohen Interview Room Reservation.
Interview Types & Formats
There are different formats for interviews based both on the company and stage of the interview.
Some companies start off with a phone interview for screening purposes. These are typically much shorter than an in-person interview.
There are two types of video interviews: one-way and live. In a one-way video interview, you will record your responses to set questions and submit them through an online software system. In live video interviews, you will be interacting directly with one or more interviewers, similar to an in-person interview. See “During the Interview” for more details about potential platforms for video interviews.
Second interviews and other subsequent rounds will differ. In-person interviews usually consist of a series of interviews with several individuals including your potential supervisor, co-workers, and higher-ranking staff members. Your day could include a tour, meal, and/or a panel interview. Office visits or on-site interviews are generally the final step before an offer is made and should allow you and the employer to get a good sense of your fit for the position. During an on-site visit you will meet a number of people who will evaluate you on the basis of your qualifications as well as get a feel for your personality and fit with the organization. The people you talk with will be asking themselves: Would I like to work with this person, or have them working for me? You should ask yourself these same questions.
On-Campus Interviews/Recruitment (OCR)
Some companies will recruit through our On-Campus Recruiting (OCR) program, which is a great opportunity to interview on campus, fitting in with your schedule. On-Campus Interviews usually take place on-site at the Office of Career Development and Professional Engagement in the fall or spring, or sometimes virtually. Use the “show me” search filter in TribeCareers under job search to find OCR opportunities.
Interview Question Types
Different interviews may feature different types of questions. This could be based on the nature of the work or the preference of the interviewer. Below, we have listed a few different types of questions you might encounter and some strategies to better assist you in answering them.
Standard questions are usually general in nature and asked across all industries and position types. Some standard questions you will want to prepare for include information about yourself and the company. Some examples include:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Tip: Don’t tell your whole life story. Keep the answer targeted and focus on your interest in the position and what qualifies you to be there.
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- Tip: Be as specific as possible. Your research can come in handy here to show what you know about the company and/or the role and why you are interested in working there.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
- Tip: It’s okay if you don’t know 100% where you see yourself, but think about generalities of what you want and make sure to include how this opportunity fits into your professional goals.
- What do you consider to be your greatest strength? Greatest weakness?
- Tip: This question is asking about traits you have that make you strong for the role. Be true to yourself, but think about a strength that you think might fit well within their team or the strengths of the role. For a weakness, don’t focus too much on the negative, but give a true answer. Think about the severity of the weakness, what it says to employers, and always be sure to highlight what you have done/are doing to improve.
Behavioral questions are designed to help the interview learn about your character, your experiences, and how you will fit in with the organization or team. These questions give you a chance to showcase your best performance by talking about your past experiences that are relevant or skills utilized. Provide relevant examples that are related to specific skills required of the position.
- Tip: Consider how relevant skills can also be transferred from less relevant experiences.
- Tip: Apply the STAR Method to reply to behavioral questions. Brainstorm, organize, and practice talking about the experiences you want to potentially highlight in the interview ahead of time.
- Situation: Choose a situation or scenario from your experiences that would showcase your abilities/skills to answer the question. Keep the details relevant to what the interviewer needs to know to understand the context.
- Task: Describe the specifics of what you were tasked with/what you were trying to achieve, the goals of the project, or the context of the situation.
- Action: Discuss in specific detail how you handled the situation and what YOU did. Keep in mind that team efforts can sometimes be useful to share as well, but you generally want to focus on what you did.
- Results: Discuss the results and outcomes of your work, behavior, and efforts. This provides a resolution to the story and can show what you gained or learned.
- Sample Behavioral Questions
- Discuss a situation where you worked within a team.
- Describe a time you failed at something and what you learned.
- Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.
- Tell me about a time when you set and achieved a goal.
- Tell me about a time when you made sure a customer was pleased with your service.
Case Interviews are usually designed to see how you think quickly to analyze problems or situations. They are used primarily in specific industries such as consulting or business and not necessarily expected in every interview. However, if you expect a case interview, it is a very good idea to prepare. Here are some tips for case interviews:
- Showcase your thought process, creativity, and communication skills.
- They are typically not searching for the "right answer," unless it is a technical question, it’s more about the process and how you got to your answer.
- Manage your time during the interview. You may only have 30 minutes or an hour to gather your thoughts and present an answer.
- Be creative and willing to brainstorm without commitment. Once again, the process is just as important as the end solution.
- There will be variations in how you will interact with your interviewer. It is okay to ask them questions to clarify as you are solving the case, but sometimes they are less responsive. Assess the situation and adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to accept coaching and listen to feedback, especially as you practice mock cases, but keep in mind that your problem-solving ability or technical skills will be at the forefront.
- Bring closure and summarize your answer or solution well. Organize your answer in a cohesive way and make sure you respond to all pieces that were originally asked of you.
- Show enthusiasm and a positive attitude.
- Types of Case Questions: Questions may be styled as:
- A brainteaser, to make you think outside the box
- A market sizing or industry-related concern
- A pattern or trend situation
- A client scenario to see how you’d present a solution to solve a problem
- Sample Case Questions
- Your client is an outdoor sports gear manufacturer. How would you increase sales of reusable water bottles over last year?
- Estimate how many shoes were sold in the U.S. to teenage girls last year.
- How would you reduce costs within an organization that is losing market share?
- Case Interview Prep
- Some companies will have practice case interview demos on their website that you can walk through to prepare. Some examples include:
- There are a few websites with both free and paid case prep resources that you might want to check out:
- The Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement also offers a case interview prep program that typically takes place each winter or spring. The program is usually 5-6 sessions and features alumni working in various consulting organizations who share their expertise and lead students through case prep and practice. We typically also offer a summer case practice program. Find out how to sign up on TribeCareers.
- In some roles, particularly in the technical space, you may have to complete a technical style interview. This may be similar to a case interview, but the problem you have to solve is to fix broken code or to correctly code a given scenario.
- This helps to show the recruiter your technical skills and abilities so they feel confident you can do the tasks required of the job.
- Technical interviews also may require some preparatory work, but typically you will have the skills asked for before applying. For instance, you are either familiar with Python or not. It is still a good idea to practice, even if you do have experience. You may also have the option to choose a coding language you are familiar with to complete the required task.
During the Interview
The interview process often has many steps.
- There will often be a first-round interview. This is sometimes referred to as a screening interview.
- Sometimes the initial interview will happen via phone or digitally with the HR recruiter, hiring manager, or committee.
- Other times, this initial interview may be one sided, without a live person to interact with. Many companies use digital interview technology where you will have to record your responses to set questions and submit them in an online software system. Some examples of these programs include: HireVue and Yello.
- Tip: Some companies may use a digital assessment tool to screen candidates. This usually happens either after you submit your application or at the same time. Some examples of digital screening tools include: Criteria (formerly Revelian) and HackerRank.
- Next, there is often an in-person or second round interview. Sometimes, there are even subsequent rounds depending on the organization.
- This allows the hiring manager or hiring committee, as well as others from the organization, to get to know you a little better and for you to get to know them, the company, and the culture.
- It is typical for the organization to host this interview in person and on site at the office. However, it is occasionally done in other formats such as virtually or at an alternate location (like a joint office space or even a restaurant).
- Sometimes, this interview will be an hour or two, and other times it may be a full day. Your day could include a tour, meal, and a panel interview. You may encounter several different interview sessions with various constituents, assessments, group projects, or even prepared presentations. This all really varies by the company and the industry and you should be given a schedule ahead of time to prepare.
- During the in-person interview, it is common to talk to many different people at the organization including those who work directly within the department and those who work outside of it. Keep in mind that every employee you meet, from the person who greets you at the door, to the employee you meet with for lunch, to the people with whom you formally interview, is evaluating your qualifications and fit for the position. Interview days can be very long and tiring. It is important to be fully prepared, rested, and nourished.
- Finally, after all interviews have taken place, the hiring manager, committee, or HR team will discuss all the applicants’ performance and qualifications and make decisions on who to hire. This may take a week or more, or it may only take a couple of days depending on the company.
Tips for Acing the Interview
Now that we’ve discussed format, let’s talk about tips for how to ace the interview!
Arrival & Timing
Remember, that being early for an interview is a very good idea – BUT – keep in mind that being too early is often awkward for the host. Plan to arrive about 10-15 minutes before the scheduled interview start time.
Plan Your Route
Especially if you are in a new location, make sure you have planned well for how long it takes to get there, where to park, how long you need to walk, where the entrance is, etc. If your interview is virtual, make sure you have checked your technology, speakers, background, and microphone.
Social Receptions or Interview Meals
Sometimes a portion of the interview may take place either the night before or during that same day, in a more social setting. You may sit down for a meal with the hiring manager or attend a pre-interview reception with other candidates.
Remember this is an additional opportunity to speak with employees, learn more about the work environment, and discuss mutual interests. It is also a chance for them to get to know you, so be sure to open up, but keep it professional. Make honest attempts to be outgoing and to meet other company representatives if at a social reception. Note: Even if you are of legal drinking age, the best rule of thumb is to avoid drinking. You want a clear head and no distractions.
Keep non-verbal communication in mind including a solid handshake, eye contact, smile, and engaged posture.
- Show interest in the job and organization; be yourself, show enthusiasm, and confidence.
- Provide solid examples with details; avoid one-word or super short answers. Remember, it's a conversation so provide details and don't be afraid to ask questions.
Things to Avoid
- Do not ask specifics about salary or benefits until after you receive an offer.
- Avoid answers that skew too negatively, or if you do mention something negative, be sure to turn it around in a positive light by saying what you learned or how you improved.
- Avoid polarizing topics such as politics or religion.
- Don’t gossip or talk about former colleagues or supervisors in a negative light.
After the Interview
After the interview is over, remember that you still have a couple of things to do.
Thank You Note
Always thank the interviewer for their time and reiterate your interest in the opportunity. It is good to do this in person at the end of the interview, but also as a follow up after you leave the interview.
- Send a thank you note within 48 hours of the interview; an email or handwritten note is appropriate. An email may be better if you know they plan to make a decision quickly.
- Examples of thank you notes can be found under our networking section or in the professional correspondence handout.
Reflect on the Interview
- What do you think went well, and what could you improve for next time?
- Remember that if you do not receive the job, you can always ask for feedback so you know how you can improve for your next interview. Sometimes there is nothing you could do differently and they just selected another candidate. At other times, however, it can be helpful to know what your weaker areas are so you can work on them.