The Catholic University of America

Successful Interviewing


  • Is there a good match between you and the employer?
  • Will the job be satisfying and will it meet your personal goals?


  • Does the applicant have the necessary skills, experience and background to meet the needs of your organization?

Preparation is the key to successful interviewing. There are three important elements:

  1. Knowing yourself - skills, interests and career goals
  2. Knowing the employer - information about the position and the organization
  3. Knowing how your skills, interests and career goals relate to the needs of the employer

Other important factors include being familiar with the interviewing process, projecting a professional image and utilizing effective follow-up strategies. This guide will address these and other issues.

Step 1:

Knowing Yourself - Self-Assessment

The first step and foundation of the job search process is a thorough assessment of your skills, interests, goals, and values. This process is equally important for career decision-making, writing resumes and cover letters and interviewing. Consider the following:

  • What skills do you have and like to use? Take into account skills from all aspects of your life - work, study, activities.
  • What interests you? How would you describe your ideal job and responsibilities? What issues are important to you?
  • What are your goals? What gives you personal satisfaction in a job? What type of work environment do you prefer?

Step 2:

Researching the Employer

You've been invited for an interview! Preparation is important. Where can you obtain additional information about an organization?

  • People in the field (friends, neighbors, associations, professors, etc.)
  • Literature from the organization's public relations, human resources or college relations office
  • Employer Home Page information on The World Wide Web
  • Directories in career services offices and public libraries
  • Newspapers and national news magazines
  • Trade and professional journals and publications
  • Chamber of Commerce publications

Interviewers will want to know why you want to work for them. Knowledge of the position and the organization will help you see if there is a "fit" with your skills, interests and goals. With this in mind, explore these areas:

  • Positions and career paths
  • Organizational history & future plans
  • Training and continuing education
  • Salary ranges and benefits
  • Types of clients and services
  • Issues & trends in the industry
  • Size; headquarters & locations
  • Philosophy of organization
  • Organizational structure
  • Major executives & their backgrounds
  • Management & decision-making style
  • Organizational culture & values
  • Financial health
  • Organization's competitors
  • Work environment

Step 3:

Preparing Questions for the Employer

Once you have researched the employer some of your questions may be answered. However, your research may raise new questions or the need for more details and clarification. Use the interview to gain additional information about the employer. Thoughtful questions also demonstrate your interest and motivation. The following areas may serve as guidelines for questions:

  • Day-to-day responsibilities of position
  • Typical career paths and opportunities for advancement
  • Performance evaluations - type, by whom, frequency
  • Orientation and training for new employees
  • Opportunities for continuing education; tuition benefits
  • History of position - creation, turnover, etc.
  • Strengths and weaknesses of organization/department
  • Major challenges facing organization/field
  • Long-range plans for organization/department
  • Organizational structure; communication channels; management style
  • Philosophy of organization
  • Expectations with regard to travel, relocation, overtime
  • Multicultural diversity and sensitivity
  • What interviewer likes/dislikes about the organization
  • Geographical area - cost of living, housing, recreation, schools
  • Starting date; hiring process and timeline for decision-making

Since many of your questions may be answered throughout the course of the interview, listen carefully so you won't ask what has already been answered. You may, however, ask for additional details or clarification.

Step 4:

Preparing for Interview Questions

Once you have confirmed that you are interested in the employer, prepare for the interview so you sound confident and can provide informative and convincing answers. Think about how your coursework, activities and experience relate to the employer's needs. The following are some key areas to explore:

  • Special skills and abilities
  • Interests
  • How supervisor/friend/professor would
    describe you
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Description of your work style (managing, organizing, etc.)
  • References - employers and faculty
Work Experience
  • Responsibilities and achievements
  • Relation of previous jobs to position
  • Likes/dislikes about previous jobs
  • Challenges you have encountered
    and how you solved them
  • Reason for leaving previous jobs
  • Choice of major/field
  • Favorite/least favorite courses
  • Papers, research, design projects
  • Internships
  • Grades and honors
  • Choice of college
Values and Needs
  • Things which bring personal satisfaction (variety, challenge, work environment, etc.)
  • Ideal job and responsibilities
  • Key values (service to others, fighting pollution, etc.)
Extracurricular Activities
  • Types of activities - school, community, athletic
  • Length and level of involvement
  • Leadership roles
  • Responsibilities and contributions
  • Leisure activities and hobbies
  • Travel
  • Type of position you are seeking
  • Short and long-term goals
  • Salary requirement
  • Geographical preference
  • Plans for further study
Job or Employer
  • Why interested in job/employer
  • Why employer should hire you
  • Your qualifications for position

Anticipate the interviewer's questions and practice your answers through role playing, making an outline or even practicing in front of a mirror. As you give thought to possible questions, try to respond to them with details and specific examples. Avoid generalizations, "yes/no" responses and cliches such as "I like to work with people."

Remember there is no one "right" answer. Answering questions effectively means you must formulate your own answers based on who you are.

Step 5:

Advance Arrangements

Learn as much as possible about your interview arrangements. You can overcome some of your nervousness by knowing what to expect and being prepared. Areas to consider are as follows:

  • Location (building address, suite, room, etc.)
  • Telephone number (in case you have questions or need directions!)
  • Length and number of interviews
  • Names and positions of those with whom you will be speaking (supervisor, colleagues, personnel, company executive, benefits coordinator, etc.)
  • Type of interview (one-on-one, interview panels, etc.)

The schedule may also include testing (e.g., knowledge, personality, medical, drug screening, etc.), a tour or a dinner/reception.


For local interviews, be sure to obtain complete directions, including information on parking or nearby public transportation. Some employers will reimburse you for your mileage, fares, and/or parking, so keep receipts.

Some employers cover expenses for out-of-town interviews. Reimbursements typically cover transportation costs, meals and lodging. However, be sure to bring enough cash to cover a taxi, meals and tips until you are reimbursed. Again, save all your receipts. Employers will let you know of their reimbursement policy and procedures at the time they set up your interview.

Allow adequate time for travel, including the possibility of heavy traffic and parking problems. Try to arrive 10-15 minutes before the interview. You never want to start off the interview with an excuse for being late!

Resumes, Portfolios, Etc.

In most cases the prospective employer will already have a copy of your resume and/or application. However, it is helpful to bring other copies to the interview in case your original one is not available. You may also wish to bring other materials to the interview: transcript, writing sample, slides/photographs, newspaper clippings, letters of reference, etc. Have these items ready in case the employer should ask.

Professional Image

Wear clothing that is appropriate for the organization with which you are interviewing. A conservative or business-look is best for most interviews -- a suit and tie for men and a suit or classic, tailored dress for women. Convey an image of professionalism and confidence.

Your interview may include a tour or reception. Be sociable, but remember that this is still business and you're still being evaluated in an informal way. If food is served, select something easy and neat to eat so you can converse easily. Also it is probably best to avoid alcohol and smoking.

Be courteous to secretaries and support staff. They may also have input into the selection process ... and you may be working with them in a few weeks!

Step 6:

The Interview

Employers have different styles, philosophies and approaches to interviewing. Some are highly structured, whereas others have a more free-flowing approach. Furthermore, interviewers are not equally competent. So while some may be very adept at eliciting your ideas and interesting you in the position, others will not be as effective or enthusiastic. Be a good listener and observer -- adapt quickly!

Despite the differences in interviewing styles most interviews will have a similar structure and will consist of three elements:

(1) Opening (5-10 minutes)

You don't have a second chance to make a good first impression. Smile, look the interviewer in the eye, greet him/her by name and shake hands firmly. How you come across initially -- self-confidence, friendliness, attitude -- can determine how receptive the interviewer may be to the substantive information you share during the rest of the session.

Interviewers typically begin the interview with "small talk" (conversations about the weather, current events, etc.) to help you relax. Others may start with "Tell me about yourself." or "What would you like to know about the company?"

(2) Information Exchange (20-40 minutes)

The bulk of the interview will be the information exchange. The employer will ask questions to see if your skills, interests and goals relate to the organization's needs. And you will have an opportunity to see if the position and organization is what you are looking for.

Concentrate on what is being said rather than how you are doing. Listen to the interviewer's questions and statements. When answering a question, pause to give yourself time to compose a thoughtful and concise answer.

Pace yourself if you have a full day of interviews. Be prepared to answer the same types of questions throughout the day. Don't view interviewing as a one-way communication exercise. Rather, consider yourself a potential colleague and participate fully with your ideas and questions.

(3) Closing (5-10 minutes)

The interviewer may give you the first sign that the interview is coming to a close when he/she asks if you have any further questions. At this point you may also have an opportunity to briefly summarize your interest(s) and/or qualifications.

If not yet addressed, ask the interviewer about remaining steps in the selection process and when you can expect to hear a decision. Let him/her know where you can be reached if there are further questions.

Thank the interviewer, shake hands, and make your exit with as much confidence in leaving as you did in coming.

Step 7:

Thank You Letter

After the interview write down answers to any questions you may have asked or any important time lines. Also note the names of people you met, such as secretaries or members of a department.

Send a typed thank you letter promptly. (In some cases the employer may ask you to call back the next day.) If there seemed to be one official contact person for your interview, direct the note to that individual. If you interviewed with a group of people, you could direct the note to the person who initially arranged your interview, while asking that your appreciation be extended to all.

Briefly express your appreciation for the interview and the opportunity to learn more about the organization. Reaffirm your interest, qualifications and any important points which were discussed. Let them know which factors were particularly attractive to you.

If, on the other hand, you discover that you are no longer interested in the position, it is a professional courtesy to inform the employer of your decision to withdraw from the selection process. You may thank him/her for the opportunity to learn more about the organization, but that the position does not meet your goals and/or interests at this time.

Step 8:

Follow Up

If you do not hear from the interviewer by the date that was promised, something unforeseeable may have delayed the decision-making process. It is also possible that someone else was made an offer and has asked for time to make a decision. In any case, it is appropriate to call the interviewer and inquire about the status of your candidacy.

If you do not get the job, remember that interviewers, organizations and jobs differ greatly. Perhaps at a later time you will find a position in which the needs of both you and the employer will be met. Look upon your interviews as a learning experience -- an opportunity to learn more about yourself and about the people and organizations in your field of interest.

Final Interview Tips

In addition to strong qualifications, employers are greatly impressed by candidates who demonstrate or do the following:

  • Arrive on time
  • Knowledge of the organization and field/industry
  • Awareness of interests, skills and career goals and knowing how they relate to the position for which he/she is interviewing
  • Self-confidence (but not an arrogant or know-it-all attitude)
  • Sharp communication and conversational skills
  • Listen to the interviewer and smile, nod and act in a way that demonstrates sincere interest
  • A firm handshake and confident eye contact


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All contents copyright © 1996
Revised: May 23, 2003.