Preparing for an In-person Interview

Published: Tues., January 23, 2018

Congratulations. All of your job applications have paid off and you have an in-person interview with the company or organization. You have made it to the final round of the job search process. Whether you will be interviewing at a university, a research lab, a business, or any other type of organization, there are a few things you should be doing to be successful at the interview.

Research the Department/Organization

Your preparation is crucial. In the interview, it is important to show that you know about the company and understand as much as possible what you would likely be doing. Start by looking at their website to see what information is available. What do they say about the work they’ve been doing? Do they list any recent accolades? What is the mission of the organization? What information do they give about your future colleagues? If there is additional information you would like, search for it. You can easily find faculty members’ recent publications through searching databases. Businesses or non-profits may have recent news articles about their work. Public colleges and agencies may have salary information or other information about the organization readily available. Review the position description again and see what they say about the job responsibilities so that you can prepare for the questions you think you will be asked.

If you applying for a faculty position, read more here for information on that process and questions to prepare for.

Prepare your answers to questions you will probably be asked. These questions often include:

  • What would you consider you greatest strength? What would you consider your greatest weakness?
  • Why are you interested in working for our organization?
  • Describe your experience working collaboratively on teams.
  • How do you manage several tasks of equal priority? What would you do differently in the future?
  • What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
business suit
"Business " by Steve wilson; licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dress Appropriately

Dress professionally. It’s always better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. Even if you are going into a field where people dress more casually on a daily basis, dress nicely. Generally, wearing a business suit will be appropriate for most positions you would be applying for. For men, plan to wear a dress shirt, tie, and a dark colored suit. For women, a business suit (with either a skirt or pants) and a nice blouse should be appropriate. Dress shoes should be in good condition and you should be able to walk comfortably in them. Avoid wearing anything that might be distracting, such as excessive jewelry or a very brightly colored shirt. Feel free to have someone else look at your outfit to make sure that it looks professional. Remember this is the first impression the will have of you and you want them to see you as professional and well put together.

Be On Time and Be Prepared

Arrive at the interview location early. Arriving at least 10-15 minutes early is a good practice. You may have a wait a few minutes in a lobby, but being early shows respect for the interviewer and the position. Turn your phone off or mute it for the interview and leave it in your bag or pocket. Remember, as soon as you are at the interview location, even if you are waiting in a lobby, you are “on.” Don’t let them see you tweeting or playing with your phone before the interview. If you need something to do, look over your notes.

Plan to bring some copies of your CV or resume and possibly other relevant materials submitted with your application. For example, for faculty positions you might bring copies of your teaching portfolio. For a writing job, you might bring your writing sample. Even if you have submitted them previously you may be meeting with someone who hasn’t seen it or they need to be reminded what is in your materials.

Prepare Questions

Bringing questions for the interviewer shows you have done your research and are interested in the position. You should always have some questions to ask at the end of the interview. These questions should be things that cannot be easily found on their website. Good questions ask them to share more about the intricacies of the job or work environment. For example, if you know you would likely be involved in a particular project, ask about the details (who, if anyone, would you be working with; what programs would you be using; and what are the expectations or goals for the project?). Even better, you could ask them to talk about their goals for the organization or for the person in that position. This shows that you are thinking long-term about how to be as productive as possible. Be prepared to talk about your own goals if you were in the position. Talking about your plans if you were in that position shows you have given thought to the position and how you might accomplish the goals and drive the organization's work forward.

Research the Area

If this job is out of state or out of the area, research living expenses in the area. What salary would you reasonably need to live in the area? Would you be happy living in this area? If you have questions, there may be an opportunity to ask those questions. Interviews for faculty positions often have time to ask these sort of questions. Those who are applying positions in industry or other fields where there may be less time to ask these questions, use the time after your interview to explore the city and see if you would be happy living there.

Take a Breath

Relax. Yes, it may be difficult to relax and be confident but it is important that you try to do so, even if you are secretly nervous. Take a breath. If you like to meditate or engage in other practices like that, take a few minutes to center yourself before the interview. You will make a much better impression if you do not appear to be to excessively nervous. Remember you wouldn’t have gotten to this point if they didn’t think you have the necessary skills. They're not trying to trap you; they want you to succeed, too. So relax and show them just how qualified you are.

If you find yourself getting nervous at the interview, take a breath or have a sip of water before you answer. Having a pause before you speak can show thoughtfulness, so don't worry if you need to take a few seconds to think about your answer before speaking. It's better give a clear answer, than immediately launch into a more meandering response. Practice your answers to questions you think you could get asked if you are nervous about saying something wrong.

Send Thank You Notes

After the interview, send a short thank you note to the interview, or interviewers if you met with multiple individuals. This doesn’t need to be anything elaborate--often a simple email will suffice. While this may not be the deciding factor for whether you get the job, they will remember if you took the time to do this and this will leave them with a lasting positive impression of you. Remember if you get the job, you want them to think of you as courteous and someone they could get along with. This may help them see that in you.