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Ace the Interview

REFINE THE BASICS

Congratulations! You have toiled through the application process and your hard work has FINALLY paid off because you just received an interview request! After you've danced, called your parents, and shouted for joy, go back and read the interview offer carefully and send an email, thanking your contact for the invitation and accepting the offer to interview. Depending on how your contact wants to interview you, you may be speaking through Skype, the phone or in-person.

 

GET THE DETAILS IN ORDER

  • Know your contact. If you have the name of your contact, look her/him up on LinkedIn.
  • Revise & review your resume. Customize your resume to the specific position. Make sure you are intimately familiar with each section of your resume and are prepared to be questioned about each item.
  • Fill your binder. How many people are you going to be interviewed by? Double that number in printouts of your resume. Also print out your company research and read it before the interview.
  • Prepare your elevator pitch. It is almost certain you will be asked some version of the "So tell me about yourself" question. Make the most of your answer by touching briefly on your background, relevant experiences and how they relate to the organization and position in 30-40 seconds.
  • Don't be late. If you're doing a phone or skype interview, make sure you have found a quite space that has a reliable phone/wifi connection. If you're traveling to the interview, drive to the location the day before in order to see how long it takes you to get to the company and plan to arrive early on the big day.

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Explore the Practice the STAR Method page to understand what questions employers are likely to ask and how you can best answer them. Then, check out Interview Stream by logging into your myCCO account and clicking on the "Interview Stream" link (under the Shortcuts column on the right hand side of your myCCO dashboard).

Interview Stream allows you to simulate job interviews by responding to pre-recorded interview questions and practicing both verbal and non-verbal communication skills through a webcam. Afterwards, you can send your practice interviews to anyone you'd like to get feedback from!

Want even more practice? Once you've completed Interview Stream, you can schedule an appointment with a CCO Career Consultant for an mock interview. 

PRACTICE THE STAR METHOD

You will likely encounter behavioral questions during your interview. These go beyond the standard “What are your 3 greatest strengths?” into questions like, “Tell me when you applied your 3 greatest strengths during a project.” In fact, Give me an example when...” or Tell me about a time when… are the most common ways to start behavioral interview questions.

Why do interviewers ask these questions? Because the best way a hiring manager can know how you’re going to do in your future job is to inquire how you performed in a past experience. Your answers to these types of questions show credibly and thoroughly convey your skills and capabilities to the interviewer.

Sound intimidating? It shouldn’t, because you are simply telling a story about an experience! The best way to answer these kinds of questions and impress recruiters is to apply the STAR method. Each letter represents a step, as explained below.

 

S: SITUATION

  • First, describe the setting in which your example takes place. What were you doing? Who were you working with? What project were you working on? Example answer: “During my role as an Event Planning Intern this past summer, I supervised a group of 5 in order to host monthly events.”

T: TASK

  • Second, explain how the situation changed and how you were expected to address that change. What was the goal you were striving to accomplish, or the problem you were trying to solve? Example answer: “Upon reviewing annual reports, I noticed attendance had dropped 30% and I wanted to find a solution to this problem."

A: ACTION

  • Next, clarify the specific steps you took in order to address the task at hand and demonstrate skills you utilized in each of those steps. What did you do to solve the problem or reach the goal? Example answer: “I distributed surveys to gather feedback on our events and used this research to design a new, more effective promotional package using Software X.”

R: RESULT

  • Finally, explain how your actions contributed to the overall end product. How did the situation end? (Quantify results if possible.) What did you learn? Example answer: The company was able to utilize the promotional packet I created for future events. After implementing some of the new strategies developed from the feedback I gathered, we raised event attendance by 20% within the first year. I learned it’s important to continually adapt to strategies through marketing and research.”

 

It’s a good idea to formulate a STAR answer for a variety of questions. If the job description specifies skills a candidate should have, practice developing a STAR answer for examples surrounding those (for example: a company that stresses the importance of leadership will likely ask you to describe a time where you stepped into a leadership role).

 

EXAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (some are behavioral)

Personal

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you choose to interview with our organization?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths?
  • Can you name some weaknesses?
  • Have you ever had any failures? What did you learn from them?
  • Of which three accomplishments are you most proud?

Experience

  • Give an example of a situation in which you provided a solution to an employer.
  • How do you think a former supervisor would describe your work and attitude?
  • Give an example of a time in which you worked under deadline pressure.

Education

  • Why did you choose your major?
  • In which campus activities did you participate?
  • Do your grades accurately reflect your ability? Why or why not?

Career Goals

  • How do you feel about travel?
  • Give an example of a time where working with a team led to success.
  • Are you able to work on several assignments at once?

 

CONDUCT COMPANY RESEARCH

There are many things that can give you an advantage in an interview. Most often we think about our own attributes: our qualifications, our skills, and our ability to communicate. However, you can gain a competitive advantage by also demonstrating your knowledge of the company.

 

Here are a few guidelines to help you conduct COMPANY RESEARCH before the interview:

  • Understand the company’s industry. Who are its main players? What are the major products and services?
  • Know the basic trivia of the company. What is the history? Who’s on the current leadership team?
  • Understand the company’s products or services. You’re not going to get quizzed on how many different types of air compressors Ingersoll Rand has, but you should know that they have air compressors...and what they are.
  • Get up-to-date on the news. They’re not expecting you to have the inside scoop on who got promoted to Assistant Manager of Division X or what office was recently renovated.  They are expecting you to know if they’ve recently been acquired, or if they made headlines in the Wall Street Journal for radically reducing how much energy is used in production. If you think it’s something people in every office is aware of, try to make a point to be aware of it too.
  • Understand the mission statement. Chances are this is what business centers around. Understanding the stated purpose and values of an organization will help you highlight your personal purpose and values that are aligned.
  • Read through a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a very concise report that highlights the strengths and weaknesses within a company, as well as the external opportunities and threats it faces.

 

There are PLENTY OF RESOURCES that can guide you through these steps:


Learn from top employers by watching videos on the CCO Employer Channel!


DRESS FOR SUCCESS

Good first impressions are vital. In an interview, the goal is to sell yourself. You want to leave the room trusting that you’ve made a credible argument on who you are and why you deserve the job. It’s important to remember that it’s not just what you say that influences the impression you convey; among many other things, it’s also about how you dress. Dressing for an interview is a crucial step in the interview process. So, how do you do it? View helpful tips below and also check out this info graphic that compares business professional to business casual. 

 

GENERAL TIPS

  • Formal from head to toe. It’s typically understood that an interview should be business formal attire (ie. a full suit). The goal is not to match what you have heard is the company’s day-to-day dress code. Unless specified otherwise, it is best to be overdressed than underdressed.  
  • Lose the wrinkles. Iron your clothes, a wrinkled shirt can easily convey the impression you are careless or sloppy.
  • Stay simple. You had your chance to rock a camo tux at prom, stick to neutral-colored suits for your interview.
  • Make sure it fits. People rarely hit overnight growth spurts in college. A recruiter may have a hard time seeing past your suit with quarter length sleeves or flood-style pants.
  • Match! Make sure your colors complement each other and avoid anything outlandish (eg. orange shoes, LED belt buckle, fedora).

 

WOMEN

  • Simple blouse. Keep the pattern discrete, the frills minimal, and the neckline tame. Essentially, if your top does not draw attention to itself, you’re good to go.
  • Skirt optional. You’re free to wear a pantsuit or a suit with a skirt. Neither is better than the other - it’s about what you’re more comfortable in. However, if you do decide on a skirt, make sure it fits appropriately. Small slit, no more than 1-2 inches above the knee, and not tighter than it needs to be. Also, if you opt for a skirt, wear panty hose.
  • Be comfortable in your shoes. Don’t wear anything you are unable to comfortably walk in. You stumbling or falling is much more memorable than how cute your shoes were. Flats or simple heels that match your suit are your best bet.
  • Let your hair be. There’s not a set answer on whether or not to put your hair up. You know your hair best, and if you’re uncomfortable with it a certain way, you’re going to feel and act uncomfortable. However, whatever the case, make sure your hair is in a position where you will not play with it. Make sure it is clean, brushed, and away from your face and hands.
  • Minimize how much you accessorize. Go ahead and add some personal flair, but keep it simple. If interviewers have to wonder why you’re jingling, why a flower is growing out of your head, or whether or not your ring will stab them when you shake hands, you are focusing their attention on the wrong things.

 

MEN

  • Button up. Wear a solid-colored shirt that allows you to fasten every button. Make sure the shirt is neither too baggy or too tight. The sleeve length should stick out about ½ inch with your suit jacket on. An undershirt is suggested to allow the shirt to fit most appropriately.
  • Wear a tie. A tie completes the suit. If your suit and shirt are solid, a patterned tie is appropriate. If your suit is striped, avoid a tie with stripes.
  • No white socks! The only people who can get away with white socks and dress pants are Pee Wee Herman and Urkel. There’s not room for a third person on that list. Wear dark socks that match your suit. If you prefer patterned socks, it is suggested you match them to your tie.
  • Dark shoes. Wear nice dress shoes that are black, brown or burgundy. If they are scuffed, polish them.
  • Go baby face. No one wants to hear it, but the beard should go. A clean-shaven face makes you look much more well-kept and groomed.
  • Belt it. Wear a belt that matches your shoes. If you have a preference for suspenders, get buttons sewn into your pants so you don’t have inexpensive clips showing.

QUESTIONS TO ASK

The interview is wrapping up. You’ve made it through the questions. You’ve told the interviewer about yourself, described a time when you handled conflict within a group, and even explained how you prioritize! So you’re done, right? Not quite.

Once the interviewer completes the behavioral, technical, or personal questions, he/she is going to ask you one final question: “Do you have any questions for me?

Here’s the thing-this is still part of the interview. It’s not a footnote, or something your interviewer just happened to think of. Prepare for this by preparing a few questions to ask in advance. Keep in mind-there are questions you should ask, as well as questions you should not ask.

 

A handful of BAD sample questions include:

  • WHAT DOES YOUR COMPANY DO? Do your research beforehand - other candidates certainly have. Even if you had fantastic answers for every question you were asked, this could easily get you thrown into the “no” pile.
  • WHEN CAN I TAKE VACATION? You won’t have to ask for vacation if you ask this question, because you won’t even get the job. This kind of question implies that your priority is not working for the company, but taking off work!
  • WILL I HAVE TO TAKE A DRUG TEST? This question is probably just as detrimental to you as a drug test coming out positive. They both imply the same thing.
  • WHAT IS THE SALARY OF THIS POSITION? This should never be brought up in a first round interview. If later round interviews lead to this topic area, it may be appropriate to discuss. Most often, it’s best to wait for them to bring this up.
  • DID I GET THE JOB? Chances are they are on a timeline for hiring new people. They’re not going to drag the process out any longer than necessary. They will tell you when they know.

 

A handful of GOOD sample questions include:

  • What does it take to be successful in this organization?
  • What does a typical day look like in this position?
  • What is the organization’s culture like?
  • What is your favorite part about working for this company?
  • What kinds of assignments might I expect in the first six months of the job?
  • Will I have the opportunity to work on special projects?
  • What is the next step in the hiring process?

The intention of these questions is to demonstrate that you are interested in SUCCEEDING within the organization. It’s a chance to finalize your impression as a qualified candidate and help you decide if this company is the right place for you. Remember, a company and candidate both have to want each other for the match to work. Use this opportunity to help YOU figure out if the company is a match for you

SEND A THANK YOU

Follow-up after the interview by sending a thank you letter through email or mail within 24 hours. If you know your interviewer will be traveling over the next few days, email is the best way to ensure he/she will receive your thank you note in a timely manner. Otherwise, a handwritten or typed letter is a bit more formal and appropriate.

 

THANK YOU LETTER STRUCTURE:

Paragraph 1

  • Express gratitude toward the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you.
  • Reiterate your interest in the position and organization.

Paragraph 2

  • Remind the interviewer of your qualifications for the position.

Paragraph 3 (optional)

  • Include anything you forgot to mention in the interview, or later realized would’ve been a good thing to mention.
  • Follow up with any additional information requested in the interview.

Paragraph 4

  • Express thanks again and state that you look forward to being in touch with them in the near future.

Ace the Interview

REFINE THE BASICS

Congratulations! You have toiled through the application process and your hard work has FINALLY paid off because you just received an interview request! After you've danced, called your parents, and shouted for joy, go back and read the interview offer carefully and send an email, thanking your contact for the invitation and accepting the offer to interview. Depending on how your contact wants to interview you, you may be speaking through Skype, the phone or in-person.

 

GET THE DETAILS IN ORDER

  • Know your contact. If you have the name of your contact, look her/him up on LinkedIn.
  • Revise & review your resume. Customize your resume to the specific position. Make sure you are intimately familiar with each section of your resume and are prepared to be questioned about each item.
  • Fill your binder. How many people are you going to be interviewed by? Double that number in printouts of your resume. Also print out your company research and read it before the interview.
  • Prepare your elevator pitch. It is almost certain you will be asked some version of the "So tell me about yourself" question. Make the most of your answer by touching briefly on your background, relevant experiences and how they relate to the organization and position in 30-40 seconds.
  • Don't be late. If you're doing a phone or skype interview, make sure you have found a quite space that has a reliable phone/wifi connection. If you're traveling to the interview, drive to the location the day before in order to see how long it takes you to get to the company and plan to arrive early on the big day.

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Explore the Practice the STAR Method page to understand what questions employers are likely to ask and how you can best answer them. Then, check out Interview Stream by logging into your myCCO account and clicking on the "Interview Stream" link (under the Shortcuts column on the right hand side of your myCCO dashboard).

Interview Stream allows you to simulate job interviews by responding to pre-recorded interview questions and practicing both verbal and non-verbal communication skills through a webcam. Afterwards, you can send your practice interviews to anyone you'd like to get feedback from!

Want even more practice? Once you've completed Interview Stream, you can schedule an appointment with a CCO Career Consultant for an mock interview. 

PRACTICE THE STAR METHOD

You will likely encounter behavioral questions during your interview. These go beyond the standard “What are your 3 greatest strengths?” into questions like, “Tell me when you applied your 3 greatest strengths during a project.” In fact, Give me an example when...” or Tell me about a time when… are the most common ways to start behavioral interview questions.

Why do interviewers ask these questions? Because the best way a hiring manager can know how you’re going to do in your future job is to inquire how you performed in a past experience. Your answers to these types of questions show credibly and thoroughly convey your skills and capabilities to the interviewer.

Sound intimidating? It shouldn’t, because you are simply telling a story about an experience! The best way to answer these kinds of questions and impress recruiters is to apply the STAR method. Each letter represents a step, as explained below.

 

S: SITUATION

  • First, describe the setting in which your example takes place. What were you doing? Who were you working with? What project were you working on? Example answer: “During my role as an Event Planning Intern this past summer, I supervised a group of 5 in order to host monthly events.”

T: TASK

  • Second, explain how the situation changed and how you were expected to address that change. What was the goal you were striving to accomplish, or the problem you were trying to solve? Example answer: “Upon reviewing annual reports, I noticed attendance had dropped 30% and I wanted to find a solution to this problem."

A: ACTION

  • Next, clarify the specific steps you took in order to address the task at hand and demonstrate skills you utilized in each of those steps. What did you do to solve the problem or reach the goal? Example answer: “I distributed surveys to gather feedback on our events and used this research to design a new, more effective promotional package using Software X.”

R: RESULT

  • Finally, explain how your actions contributed to the overall end product. How did the situation end? (Quantify results if possible.) What did you learn? Example answer: The company was able to utilize the promotional packet I created for future events. After implementing some of the new strategies developed from the feedback I gathered, we raised event attendance by 20% within the first year. I learned it’s important to continually adapt to strategies through marketing and research.”

 

It’s a good idea to formulate a STAR answer for a variety of questions. If the job description specifies skills a candidate should have, practice developing a STAR answer for examples surrounding those (for example: a company that stresses the importance of leadership will likely ask you to describe a time where you stepped into a leadership role).

 

EXAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (some are behavioral)

Personal

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you choose to interview with our organization?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths?
  • Can you name some weaknesses?
  • Have you ever had any failures? What did you learn from them?
  • Of which three accomplishments are you most proud?

Experience

  • Give an example of a situation in which you provided a solution to an employer.
  • How do you think a former supervisor would describe your work and attitude?
  • Give an example of a time in which you worked under deadline pressure.

Education

  • Why did you choose your major?
  • In which campus activities did you participate?
  • Do your grades accurately reflect your ability? Why or why not?

Career Goals

  • How do you feel about travel?
  • Give an example of a time where working with a team led to success.
  • Are you able to work on several assignments at once?

 

CONDUCT COMPANY RESEARCH

There are many things that can give you an advantage in an interview. Most often we think about our own attributes: our qualifications, our skills, and our ability to communicate. However, you can gain a competitive advantage by also demonstrating your knowledge of the company.

 

Here are a few guidelines to help you conduct COMPANY RESEARCH before the interview:

  • Understand the company’s industry. Who are its main players? What are the major products and services?
  • Know the basic trivia of the company. What is the history? Who’s on the current leadership team?
  • Understand the company’s products or services. You’re not going to get quizzed on how many different types of air compressors Ingersoll Rand has, but you should know that they have air compressors...and what they are.
  • Get up-to-date on the news. They’re not expecting you to have the inside scoop on who got promoted to Assistant Manager of Division X or what office was recently renovated.  They are expecting you to know if they’ve recently been acquired, or if they made headlines in the Wall Street Journal for radically reducing how much energy is used in production. If you think it’s something people in every office is aware of, try to make a point to be aware of it too.
  • Understand the mission statement. Chances are this is what business centers around. Understanding the stated purpose and values of an organization will help you highlight your personal purpose and values that are aligned.
  • Read through a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a very concise report that highlights the strengths and weaknesses within a company, as well as the external opportunities and threats it faces.

 

There are PLENTY OF RESOURCES that can guide you through these steps:


Learn from top employers by watching videos on the CCO Employer Channel!


DRESS FOR SUCCESS

Good first impressions are vital. In an interview, the goal is to sell yourself. You want to leave the room trusting that you’ve made a credible argument on who you are and why you deserve the job. It’s important to remember that it’s not just what you say that influences the impression you convey; among many other things, it’s also about how you dress. Dressing for an interview is a crucial step in the interview process. So, how do you do it? View helpful tips below and also check out this info graphic that compares business professional to business casual. 

 

GENERAL TIPS

  • Formal from head to toe. It’s typically understood that an interview should be business formal attire (ie. a full suit). The goal is not to match what you have heard is the company’s day-to-day dress code. Unless specified otherwise, it is best to be overdressed than underdressed.  
  • Lose the wrinkles. Iron your clothes, a wrinkled shirt can easily convey the impression you are careless or sloppy.
  • Stay simple. You had your chance to rock a camo tux at prom, stick to neutral-colored suits for your interview.
  • Make sure it fits. People rarely hit overnight growth spurts in college. A recruiter may have a hard time seeing past your suit with quarter length sleeves or flood-style pants.
  • Match! Make sure your colors complement each other and avoid anything outlandish (eg. orange shoes, LED belt buckle, fedora).

 

WOMEN

  • Simple blouse. Keep the pattern discrete, the frills minimal, and the neckline tame. Essentially, if your top does not draw attention to itself, you’re good to go.
  • Skirt optional. You’re free to wear a pantsuit or a suit with a skirt. Neither is better than the other - it’s about what you’re more comfortable in. However, if you do decide on a skirt, make sure it fits appropriately. Small slit, no more than 1-2 inches above the knee, and not tighter than it needs to be. Also, if you opt for a skirt, wear panty hose.
  • Be comfortable in your shoes. Don’t wear anything you are unable to comfortably walk in. You stumbling or falling is much more memorable than how cute your shoes were. Flats or simple heels that match your suit are your best bet.
  • Let your hair be. There’s not a set answer on whether or not to put your hair up. You know your hair best, and if you’re uncomfortable with it a certain way, you’re going to feel and act uncomfortable. However, whatever the case, make sure your hair is in a position where you will not play with it. Make sure it is clean, brushed, and away from your face and hands.
  • Minimize how much you accessorize. Go ahead and add some personal flair, but keep it simple. If interviewers have to wonder why you’re jingling, why a flower is growing out of your head, or whether or not your ring will stab them when you shake hands, you are focusing their attention on the wrong things.

 

MEN

  • Button up. Wear a solid-colored shirt that allows you to fasten every button. Make sure the shirt is neither too baggy or too tight. The sleeve length should stick out about ½ inch with your suit jacket on. An undershirt is suggested to allow the shirt to fit most appropriately.
  • Wear a tie. A tie completes the suit. If your suit and shirt are solid, a patterned tie is appropriate. If your suit is striped, avoid a tie with stripes.
  • No white socks! The only people who can get away with white socks and dress pants are Pee Wee Herman and Urkel. There’s not room for a third person on that list. Wear dark socks that match your suit. If you prefer patterned socks, it is suggested you match them to your tie.
  • Dark shoes. Wear nice dress shoes that are black, brown or burgundy. If they are scuffed, polish them.
  • Go baby face. No one wants to hear it, but the beard should go. A clean-shaven face makes you look much more well-kept and groomed.
  • Belt it. Wear a belt that matches your shoes. If you have a preference for suspenders, get buttons sewn into your pants so you don’t have inexpensive clips showing.

QUESTIONS TO ASK

The interview is wrapping up. You’ve made it through the questions. You’ve told the interviewer about yourself, described a time when you handled conflict within a group, and even explained how you prioritize! So you’re done, right? Not quite.

Once the interviewer completes the behavioral, technical, or personal questions, he/she is going to ask you one final question: “Do you have any questions for me?

Here’s the thing-this is still part of the interview. It’s not a footnote, or something your interviewer just happened to think of. Prepare for this by preparing a few questions to ask in advance. Keep in mind-there are questions you should ask, as well as questions you should not ask.

 

A handful of BAD sample questions include:

  • WHAT DOES YOUR COMPANY DO? Do your research beforehand - other candidates certainly have. Even if you had fantastic answers for every question you were asked, this could easily get you thrown into the “no” pile.
  • WHEN CAN I TAKE VACATION? You won’t have to ask for vacation if you ask this question, because you won’t even get the job. This kind of question implies that your priority is not working for the company, but taking off work!
  • WILL I HAVE TO TAKE A DRUG TEST? This question is probably just as detrimental to you as a drug test coming out positive. They both imply the same thing.
  • WHAT IS THE SALARY OF THIS POSITION? This should never be brought up in a first round interview. If later round interviews lead to this topic area, it may be appropriate to discuss. Most often, it’s best to wait for them to bring this up.
  • DID I GET THE JOB? Chances are they are on a timeline for hiring new people. They’re not going to drag the process out any longer than necessary. They will tell you when they know.

 

A handful of GOOD sample questions include:

  • What does it take to be successful in this organization?
  • What does a typical day look like in this position?
  • What is the organization’s culture like?
  • What is your favorite part about working for this company?
  • What kinds of assignments might I expect in the first six months of the job?
  • Will I have the opportunity to work on special projects?
  • What is the next step in the hiring process?

The intention of these questions is to demonstrate that you are interested in SUCCEEDING within the organization. It’s a chance to finalize your impression as a qualified candidate and help you decide if this company is the right place for you. Remember, a company and candidate both have to want each other for the match to work. Use this opportunity to help YOU figure out if the company is a match for you

SEND A THANK YOU

Follow-up after the interview by sending a thank you letter through email or mail within 24 hours. If you know your interviewer will be traveling over the next few days, email is the best way to ensure he/she will receive your thank you note in a timely manner. Otherwise, a handwritten or typed letter is a bit more formal and appropriate.

 

THANK YOU LETTER STRUCTURE:

Paragraph 1

  • Express gratitude toward the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you.
  • Reiterate your interest in the position and organization.

Paragraph 2

  • Remind the interviewer of your qualifications for the position.

Paragraph 3 (optional)

  • Include anything you forgot to mention in the interview, or later realized would’ve been a good thing to mention.
  • Follow up with any additional information requested in the interview.

Paragraph 4

  • Express thanks again and state that you look forward to being in touch with them in the near future.